India: The blue city of Jodhpur

12th – 13th February 2015

The Quiet American prompted me to visit Vietnam especially Hotel Continental (HCM). “The Fall” pushed me to see India and due to the memorable last scene of Tarsem Singh’s epic movie, Jodhpur became a must. Like the movie, Jodhpur is the last city of my adventure. Although, I’m going to say goodbye to this ancient country in a matter of days,  the feelings that I’ve experienced will stay with me for a lifetime.

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I left early for Jodhpur and asked my driver/bodyguard to drop me off at a little village located between the two cities: Ranakpur. Towards the western side of the Aravalli ranges that guarded Udaipur from constant attacks, Ranakpur is famous for intricate pillars, monkeys and the three-storey tall Jain temple.  It was built by a businessman in the 15th Century following a divine vision. Rising from the slope of a hill and quietly nestled amongst the trees, the light colored marble were carved in the most exquisite fashion. More than 1444 pillars graced the temple and no two are the same. The carvings are rich in symbolism,  with ties to history and mythology.  Rajasthan is famous for art and architecture and this Jain Temple is one of her finest. SONY DSCSONY DSCFour entrances representing the four directions with multiple shrines and chambers and lots of pillars makes this Jain Temple truly divine.

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Just like looking up at the Sistine Chapel- Am I in heaven?

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Naturally cool and marvelous, I lingered for ages since due to its serene nature, I ended up sitting beside one of the marble elephants, looking out at the hills and filling in my diary. Like the individual who first constructed this temple to bear resemblance to a serene heaven, sitting amongst such carvings and statues really makes one believe for a second that they are in another world. I can’t stand crowds of tourists who, instead of taking in the quiet beauty of their host country, would create commotion and fight for THAT photo opportunity. I was glad that I didn’t bear any witness to such ridiculous behavior.

The drive to Jodhpur after lunch was nice and smooth along many of India’s highways. Unlike the highways in China which charges outrageous fees especially if you venture West of the country, I feel that the highways in India (in terms of charges) is more clear and cheaper.

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Before we arrived in Jodhpur, my driver decided to take me to a very local shrine seldom visited by tourists. It is a place where drivers go to wish for good luck and most importantly: safety. Many truck drivers go there and locals too. They visit to pray for good luck. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the shrine except that there is a motorbike protected in a glass panel with flowers as its decoration. I hanged out with the locals who were delighted to see me and despite the language differences, we did sit down to have a chat.

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Jodhpur is the second largest city in the state of Rajasthan. Since it is on the edge of the Thar Desert, it is often seen as the Gateway to Thar. It is always sunny and hot so many people call it the Sun City. However, I much prefer to call it the Blue City (ARGH!!!! THE FALL!!!! ) Another historical city founded in 1459 AD by a Rajput Chieftain, Rao Jodha, it became the new capital of the state of Marwar. Famous for forts, palaces, temples, spices, fabrics and a booking handicraft industry, Jodhpur is a must and shouldn’t be missed if traveling in Rajasthan. I guess Jodhpur is called Jodhpur after Rao Jodha, who as a Chief of the Rathore Clan is credited with the origins of this city.  This Blue City was first known as Marwar. Founded in 1459, it was Jodha who decided to move the capital to present day Jodhpur after his thousand year old fort became no longer safe.  An interesting story behind the construction of this Fort is as follows:  The first foundation was laid in May on a rocky hill and legend has it that Jodha had to displace a hermit known as the Lord of the Birds. The hermit was not pleased and cursed that the fort will suffer from scarcity of water. A house and temple was built yet even today, drought still descends upon the fort every 3-4 years. To ensure that the sit is propitious, a man was buried alive in the foundations. In return, this man’s descendants still live in an estate bequeathed to them by Jodha.

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After arriving in my guesthouse and spending some time waving to the cute little kids that lives directly opposite my room, I spent the first afternoon walking  around the clock tower and the busy streets. I crashed two weddings on my first night since February is wedding season. One was a local family and the other was the son of the hostel that I was staying in. I understand that it is rude though but then being such friendly folks, they were more than happy to let me tag along and walk behind the white horse. So I’ve mentioned before that I’m attracted to shiny, bright and colorful things as well as music and commotions. I was passing through one of those many blue houses when loud and upbeat music caught my ears. I ducked inside the courtyard and there I was, dancing along with the music and celebrating the wedding of a young man who, along with his white horse will go and fetch the bride who lives a village away. It was fun and reminded me of Wendy and Saurabh’s wedding as well as my “tattad tattad” dance performance.

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Weddings in India is a huge social event where extended families all join in the celebration. I love the colors, the beautiful saris and of course all the singing and dancing which fits perfectly with the joyous day. I headed back to the guesthouse and realized that wedding number two is going on so once again, I joined in the fun and danced along with the family up on their rooftop. The mighty fort watched us on.  Everyone can dance in India.

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My last day in Jodhpur was spent lingering in Mehrangarh Fort which dominates the city skyline. As the largest in the state, the fort has never been taken by force. Yep- 500 years and it’s untouchable. Sitting on top of a 150 m hill with 3 km of massive ramparts around it, you feel safe and away from the busy streets below once you are inside the fort. This is hands down the best spot to see the blue city so it came as no surprise that Tarsem Singh chose this as the background of the last climax scene in his epic movie “The Fall.”

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Mehrangarh Fort (मेहरानगढ़ का किला) ( مهراڻ ڳڙهه‎) was built in 1460. There are vast courtyards and beautiful palaces inside its stony walls. There are many gates ( seven to be exact) – all built to represent something. For example, many were built to commemorate various victories. One bears the scars of bombardment by cannonballs and another shows the handprints or sati marks left behind by the wives of the Maharaja who killed themselves on the funeral pyre of their husband in 1843.SONY DSCBanned by the British and no longer practised, it is now a tangible reminder of love, sacrifice, honour and culture.

SONY DSCThe huge fort is also home to many more palaces from the Pearl Palace (the King’s Audience Hall)  to the Flower Palace to the Mirror Palace. yes, it is a room with a different theme.

SONY DSCThere is also a great museum and gallery which holds a collection of goodies used in the past.  It is always hard to stop myself from pinching such treasuries. As a greedy little bottom, I sometimes fail to understand that it belongs to mankind and not to an individual.

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You get a sense of how blue the city is when you look out into the city. It is said that the people paint their homes blue to keep cool due to the amount of sun that the city gets every year. Others say that it also helps to keep the mosquitoes out while many agree that it is an ancient practice. It is thought that the Brahmins or a priestly group in the caste system started to paint their houses blue to indicate their high status. Since they live in the Northern part, the most bluest part is also located in the North-ly direction. Whatever version it is, it is a well chosen colour and very visually delicious.

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I decided to linger and explore deep into the fort. The outside palaces and garden grounds are just as interesting and particularly a great spot to watch the entire structure from afar. You do forget just how tiny you are when you are inside the fort…especially if you are in one of the many palace rooms.

SONY DSCWhilst walking around the fort, a man called out to me “Hello madam!” I turned around and saw him smiling along with his family. I stood there thinking about the encounter then he pulled out his camera and showed me a photo.

“See, look, we saw you in Udaipur. Yes? City palace!”

Wow- I bumped into this lovely Indian family in Udaipur and now, they are here with me again in Jodhpur. Small world!

SONY DSCSONY DSCAs I continued my way around the outer sections of the fort, I met a great traveller who was exploring on his own as well- Kenneth. From our brief yet interesting chats, he definitely is a travel veteran.

SONY DSCI was envious after hearing his travel tales around the Middle East since that is another region that I wish to explore. It is always great to engage in conversation about topics that falls into our interests and travelling is one of those topics that I won’t shut up about. Although it is simple and much easier to travel by myself, there are times when I wish that someone is there to a) take a photo for me and b) enjoy + share with me the view and c) listen to my blabbering. After spending a whole day talking to myself and quietly enjoying the fort, it was most comforting to meet another traveller. We continued chatting then stood quietly at the walls of the fortress. We looked out at the Blue City…..and continued chatting about life, the meaning of travelling and more future adventures. Time is my enemy and as much as I wanted to stay for coffee, I had to dash off.  I might not see him again. Like all the travellers that I’ve met during my past adventures, we will probably only cross path in each other’s lives for a day- NO! for a few hours. “Common now Wen….darn it…..this awful emotional side is seeping through again! Just kill it! Why are you attached to a complete stranger? Do not freak anyone out! Nothing is ever yours except memories and that moment when you occasionally think about it.” 

I left with a smile – like the movie “The fall” and like “Roy”, the adventure ends here.

SONY DSCMy day ends here and I watched as this great fellow traveller disappears within the walls of this great fort. I watched as this host country slipped out of my fingers like all the past great countries who allowed me to enter and see their beauty.

Emotional again…damn it you cry baby!

Goodbye India.