A backpacker’s tale of Jodphur – The Blue City

It all happened so fast, the screech of the brakes, the flashing of full beam lights, the swerve and then the head on collision…or rather the collision with its head. The ‘it’ being a cow, a cow who had decided to fall asleep with its head resting on the road: the cow is now at a different resting place. Comparatively we escaped rather lightly from the whole escapade – a slight jolt to the neck, a little bang of heads – no real physical damage.

The psychological damage however was a different matter – not for either of us – but for our driver, for our very devout, completely vegetarian, Hindu driver (Cows being sacred within Hindu religion). Shittish was not in a good way. Pulling over onto a bumpy, pot-holed truck stop, he got out of the car and frantically started scrubbing the front with a white cloth, which turned cruelly red with each swipe.

Sat in an awkward state of silence in the back of the car, really not knowing what or how to appease the situation, Sophie, Sophia and I were rendered mute as tears started to slowly trickle down his drawn face. It was a ‘would you like a cup of tea moment?’ if ever there was one…and incidentally that is exactly what he did. A cup of Chai and a beedi later, we were back on the road and found ourselves in the Hari Krishna guest house in less than an hour.

Our other travelling companion (Tom) had taken the over-night bus, which considering the winding roads through the hills that we had encountered the day before – the winding roads that we had scarcely navigated our way through, was, we decided either rather brave or rather stupid. Nonetheless, it was decidedly more economical and Tom arrived in one piece with the added bonus of a cattle collision free journey! We met him at the guesthouse (or Haveli) reception early and set out for a day’s exploration of Jodphur, or ‘The Blue City.’

Positioned on what was an overland trading route, Jodphur was founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, the Rathore ruler of the kingdom of Marwar. Like Udaipur, Jodphur boasts a Rajput Palace (Umaid Bhavan Palace) but this is where the similarities between the two cities culminate. From the green, hilly terrain of Udaipur, Jodphur was hotter, drier and flatter and though the Palace is a definite highlight, it is not (as in Udaipur) the focal point – that would be the Mehrangargh Fort.

Built into an ochre coloured rock face, the subliminal nature of the Fort has led it to be described by Rudyard Kipling as ‘the creation of angels, fairies and giants’ and inspired Aldous Huxley to write: ‘…from the bastions of the Jodhpur fort one hears as the gods must hear from Olympus.’ Our guesthouse was positioned at its feet.

Morning and with only a day and a half to explore, we found a backstreet and asked some children (with some dubious sign language) which was the best route to take to the Fort. Happily pointing and laughing (tourists seem to present real comic value) we followed their instructions and walked steadily upwards along a winding cobbled street. After dragging Tom away from a hawker, who was determined that we should have a breakfast of ‘exceptionally crispy toast’ at his house, we finally made it to the entrance.

Looking at the huge fortifications, the vast gates – I found myself thinking of The Iliad…and Lord of the Rings, it was as though every detail of the colossal complex was meticulously planned for battle.

The one thing that particularly grasped our attention, (even over-shadowing the bastioned walls – that were in places up to 24 metres (79 ft) thick and 40 metres (131 ft) high) was the main gate-way through to the inner palace. With our audio guides firmly positioned in each ear (remarkably good in their own right) we listened to a peculiarly accented man explain its invention. The gate, which is set at a right angle to the stone path that leads to it, was designed like this so that in battle the opposition’s forces, which included heavily armoured elephants, could not generate enough speed or force to break it down – that combined with the sinister spikes that jut from it.

Once through the outer fortifications, one steps into a different world, a Palace world – decadent, opulent and regal. Now you understand why the protective measures were gone to; from golden and marble thrones, to intricately woven traditional costumes, to bejewelled swords and armour, the architecture and its contents were phenomenal.

With our ear-pieces still in place, we reached the highest point of the Fort which gave us a panoramic view of city below. Like a faded watercolour painting, the houses beneath blend into a swash of blue, peppered with orange and brown – the residue of years of wear, tear and dusty dirt. It was one of those moments: a mental photograph that will forever be stained into your memory.

The evening was spent wandering around the bazaar, but after the copious amounts of items and money squandered in Udaipur we decided to be more frugal and soon headed back to the rooftop restaurant of the hotel, ordered some kingfishers and deliberated over the extensive menu. Though giving up our carnivorous tendencies on arrival, we were yet to be bored of the numerous herbivorous treats on offer. Malai Kofta, Veg Jhalfrezi, Kashmiri Dum Alu, Palak Paneer, Chana Masala, Dal Makhini, Paneer Pasanda were just a few of the curries, with breads ranging from Chapattis, Rotis, Naans and my personal favourite the Parantha.

After perusing the various dishes we made our respective choices – I settled on a Kashmiri Dum Aloo (potatoes stuffed with cottage cheese in a rich white gravy) and a parantha (a shallow fried chapatti), whilst the others opted for rice and paneer curries (cheese based). Wafts of spices filled our nostrils and pots and pans clattered in the kitchen. Twenty minutes later, with our stomachs filled contentedly, we made our way to our beds – all agreeing that Jodphur was fabulous.