Where: Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
When: I spent four days in Jodhpur in October 2011.
Why: I visited Jodhpur twice on my Himalaya adventure and Indian back packing trip. I stayed in Jodhpur for two nights, then I caught the train to Jaisalmer. After Jaisalmer I stayed in Jodhpur for another two nights before moving on to Udaipur.
When we lived in South Korea my boyfriend (now husband) and I went to see Batman Three. Without giving too much away, at one point in the movie Christian Bale climbs out of a hole in the ground in front of an amazing, cliff-top, desert fort. I turned to my boyfriend (now husband) and said ‘I’ve jumped off that’. That amazing desert palace is the Maharaja’s palace in Jodhpur.
Out of everywhere that I went in India, I think that Jodhpur was my favourite place. I loved this beautiful, blue, desert city. Jodhpur is an old city, a majestic city and it is very beautiful. This is a city of palaces and town houses; a blue oasis city, surrounded by desert.
Jodhpur is a cool city. Not only does it have an amazing palace, some good bars and a relaxed populace – it also has the Flying Fox zip wires, which run from the castle (hence me jumping off the castle) – and whilst I was there it was the Riff Music Festival – which is run by the Maharajah to showcase Rajasthani music.
However, much as I loved the riches of Jodhpur, Jodhpur is also the place which broke my heart. I have never seen such poverty as I saw in Jodhpur. The morning I departed for Jaisalmer, there must have been over 100 people asleep on the station forecourt – including whole families. At night, people slept on road sides, on walls. These were people with literally nowhere to go and nothing to call their own. It was a level of poverty that I had not seen before and that I find hard to comprehend.
So Jodhpur is an interesting city of contrasts: the old, the new; the rich the poor. It did seem a city that was trying to tackle their issues though and to make the most of itself, which is perhaps one reason that I liked it so much. Unlike the antipathy that I found elsewhere in India, Jodhpur seemed to be up and coming and trying to do something. It is a beautiful oasis city and I hope that everyone can enjoy it.
On this section of the trip I travelled from Jaipur to Jodhpur, then a few days later I travelled to the oasis city of Jaisalmer. The only train route to Jaisalmer is from Jodhpur, so I then backtracked to Jodhpur for another two nights – then I travelled on to Udaipur.
Jaipur to Jodhpur
I caught the train from Jaipur to Jodhpur. The journey took about four hours hours and cost 614 rupees (£8) for a second class, air-conditioned ticket. I booked my tickets online at Cleartrip.
Jodhpur station was great. It was the one station in India where I had virtually no hassle – and it has a steam train outside.
Jodhpur to Jaisalmer
I caught the train from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer and then back again. This journey took about six to seven hours and cost 602 rupees (£8) for a second class, air conditioned carriage and 976 rupees (£12) for first class. First class was okay, but I was trapped in a small compartment with a family who dominated the space. I think I’d have preferred to be in the open standard carriage where I would have had more space and a breeze blowing through.
The train to Jaisalmer left at 5 a.m., and my hotel owner had been very rude about me departing at that time and said there would be no people about. Well, he was wrong – there were lots of people about at 4.30 a.m. In fact, I saw more policemen that morning than I see in a year in England. I did, however, have a problem with the dogs. The dogs in India are usually quite placid in the day, but at night they rule the city and you are in their territory. There were loads of packs, all across the city. My guide on the Himalaya trek had told me that you just had to let them know who is pack master, and you have to shout them down. This worked for most of them but there were one or two who really scared me – and i was glad when a tuk tuk pulled up to rescue me. I paid the guy double because he was a knight in a shining ‘tuk tuk’.
Jodhpur to Udaipur
There’s no train line between Jodhpur and Udaipur, so to get to Udaipur I caught the bus. This departed from Kalpatru Cinema Road. The bus had the most annoying horn ever and the driver used it constantly, and it took forever to get to Udaipur (about seven hours). It was an interesting journey though, our high double-decker bus navigating dirt tracks, and we drove past monkeys! We stopped half way at a cafe for a toilet break and snacks.
My hotel, Durag Niwas, booked the bus ticket for me. From what I remember it cost 200 rupees (about £3).
You can get ticket prices and times online at Red Bus I can’t guarantee how reliant this website is for actual bookings as I didn’t personally use it myself, but they do have comprehensive useful information about the various services.
I got about in tuk tuks and on foot. Jodhpur is a very walkable city. I walked up to the fort and around to most parts of the city, though when I stayed at Durag Niwas I did get tuk tuks as it was a little too far to walk. The tuk tuks from the city centre to Durag Niwas cost me about 150 – 300 rupees (£2 – £4).
What I did on my holiday
Mehrangarh Fort dominates Jodhpur. The fort is huge! And because of it’s location, on top of a cliff overlooking the plateau, it looms over the city. It’s also a very good looking fort/castle. Mehrangarh Fort looks like a wild, desert palace (which it is) and this is why it was featured in Batman 3.
To get to the fort from the town you have to walk up quite a steep hill or get a tuk tuk along the circuitous entrance road. Obviously, being a defensive building they don’t make it easy to access. I walked to the fort the first time I visited and I quite enjoyed the walk up from the town centre: it was hot but I went past lots of beautiful blue houses, interesting shops and cafes, and past cute goats. There were also beautiful views over the desert and the blue city.
At the base of the main complex are defensive walls and a beautiful gateway. Just inside these walls were the ticket booths. I only bought a ticket for the main section of the palace (i.e. the royal apartments). The walls, crenelations and the palace plateau were free to visit.
Also in this lower part of the complex were the gorgeous palace gardens. Not only are these gardens a lush, precious, peaceful space in the desert – this is also where the Flying Fox Zip Wires are based. We did our practice mini-zip in the garden and then our first major zip line flew just over the tree tops before careering out over the castle walls. (See below for more information on the zip wires).
To get to the palace from the ticket office and gardens is a further climb, up through imposing, high gateways – which stank of bats – and then at the top there is the palace plateau. This open area at the top of the mount has defensive walls, cannons, a temple and amazing views over the city and the surrounding desert. From what I understand, it was free to access this area and there was only a charge to visit the fort/palace.
The palace was really interesting to visit. The first section was a museum containing personal items of the maharaja’s – including wonderful litters, covered in fun, funky lions (litter as in the transport people are carried in, not as in trash litter). The next section on my visit were the maharaja’s private apartments and these were very ornate and lovely, covered in mirrors, coloured glass, gold leaf. There were beautiful balconies and lace windows to peer out of; people in traditional dress playing traditional instruments and wonderful wall frescoes. It was really interesting, very atmospheric and there was loads to see. I spent about two to three hours here in total.
The fort was founded in 1459, so it is old. It is one of the largest forts in India. It has quite an exciting history, which you can read about on Wikipedia.
The current ticket price for international visitors in 600 rupees (£10). This includes an audio guide. It is quite expensive, but I think it is worth it and this is one of the places that I visited where I felt my money was being used to preserve the palace. To use a camera there is an additional fee of 100 rupees (about £2).
You can get up to date ticket and opening hour information from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust website: www.mehrangarh.org.
Flying Fox Zip Wires – Mehrangarh Fort
As I said in the intro, the desert castle that was in Batman 3 – I jumped off that. That is because I did the Flying Fox zip lines course, which runs zip lines off the castle and around the castle grounds.
This was possibly the best thing that I did in India (apart from climbing the Himalaya); and weirdly, it’s all thanks to Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London. I saw the posters for the Flying Fox all around Jodhpur, but I was a little bit scared to try it – but then I saw a quote from BJ on one of their posters and it made me laugh so much that I decided to try it. I didn’t have time to go on my first visit to Jodhpur, but I decided that I would do it on my second visit, after Jaisalmer.
I was really nervous about doing the zip wire – but I felt the fear and did it anyway. The crew who ran the wires were lovely (most of them were nice, young Brits), and they were so calm and fun that they helped me to not be scared.
The zip wires ran from the castle gardens. Before we went on the main zip wires we did a mini-practice zip wire in the castle garden where they trained us on what to do. We were given a harness to wear, two ropes to hang from and gloves – which were our brakes.
The first zip wire ran from the castle, over the castle walls, over a massive drop, over a lake, down to the grounds. We went so close to the walls and the trees that I thought my feet were going to touch them for a minute. It was brilliant! One minute we were over the secret garden, the next minute we were rushing out into the open air on the other side of the castle walls. I zoomed over a lake, and then it was time to brake and gently touch down on the landing platform.
We then had to walk a little way before doing a zip over a valley, a zip over a lake, a few other zips and then a huge zip over two lakes and the castle walls.
It was brilliant, over far too fast for my liking and I can’t wait to go back. As a trip, as a company, as everything, I highly recommend these guys and if you see their trips anywhere, I would try it – but this trip especially. The crew were fantastic. Not only were they a lot of fun and safe, but they were also a great mine of information about Jodhpur and they told me loads about what to see and where to eat and drink.
The trip cost 1,400 rupees (£20), but it was so worth it. We did six zip lines and the whole tour took about one and a half hours. If you do the tour, wear sensible shoes, such as trainers. You can borrow shoes, but better to wear your own.
Incidentally, I seemed to be following the Top Gear team around India. Everywhere I went, people would say, oh Top Gear were here a few days ago. They didn’t go to this zip wire, but apparently they did go to the Flying Fox zip wire at Neemrana Fort, which is near Delhi. .
On my second trip to Jodhpur, I was reading an article at breakfast about this music festival that they hold in the city – called RIFF music. The festival is held to showcase the music of Rajasthan – and it sounded well cool. I was sad I wasn’t going to be there to see it – until someone told me that that was the reason they were in the city and it was actually starting that night!
So I went along to the first night concert which took place at the clock tower in the main market square. Normally the market square was a dusty place of noise, dirt, dust, cow poop, stalls etc. The festival organisers had put up a stage in front of the clock tower and a carpet over the whole square, so that people could sit down and relax whilst they watched the music. It was great. I could feel the heat of the ground through the carpet, locals sat on the rooftops all around the square. It was so atmospheric.
The music was good, but a lot of it wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea (and I usually like world music) – although I did like the beat boxer Jason Singh (who’s from Manchester). I also liked the dancers who balanced a child on a tea tray on their heads. The BBC later did a programme about the festival – and all I can say is it’s the sort of music that Alan Yentob likes (and it was the most boring programme ever!)
The festival is organised by the Maharajah, who apparently went to school with Mick Jagger. Mick has been seen at these festivals before, so every now and then a rumour would spread through the crowd ‘Micks here. Micks here’ – and everyone would turn around for a look. I never saw him though.
I only stayed at the festival opening night for an hour or two as I had an early bus to catch, but it sounds like the festival is amazing and that events take place all over the city at all times of the day. It was very cool and I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in world music.
Old town and markets
The centre of Jodhpur is the old town, which has gates and a wall. The centre of the old town is the clock square which has the old colonial clock in the centre.
Jodhpur’s old town seemed to be one endless market. Most of the stalls were actually permanent, open shops. It was more like a desert bazaar than a market with stalls – but they ran for streets and streets. There were pots and pans, clothes, sweet shops, nut shops, food shops, book shops, toiletries shops. I had a lot of fun wandering the streets and looking at everything. Most of the stuff in the shops was not that great and I only bought some toiletries, but it was a good way to get an insight into the everyday Indian life.
Where I stayed
Blue House Guest House
I’m not going to recommend the Blue House Guest House, not because of the hotel but because the staff were so rude to me.
The Blue House Guest House is an Escher type maze of a house, located in the heart of the Blue City. It’s actually a very nice hotel. My room was gorgeous: I felt like a princess in a palace. They also had a roof top restaurant, which overlooked the fort (although pretty much everything in Jodhpur overlooks the fort – you can’t miss it).
So room wise, it was very nice – but it was the attitude of the family who ran the guest house that put me off – the granddad in particular.
The guest house offered a free pick up service from the station, which I pre-arranged. But when I got there, there was no one there to meet me, so I made a very expensive phone call to them and they said they’d send someone to pick me up. Eventually, a tuk tuk man found me and took me to the hotel. When we got there, he said I had to pay (only £1 or something) but I said no, it was free and the hotel were paying. So we went in to the hotel together, where we were ignored by the granddad – and then he shouted at the tuk tuk driver to go away and leave him alone (I wish I’d paid him now, poor thing).
I had booked the hotel through Hostelbookers. The hotel put me in a much more expensive room than I had booked and wanted to charge me double. I refused. He said his son would sort it out for me when he came back.
Later on, I asked him about getting a tuk tuk at 4 a.m. (my train to Jaipur left at 5 a.m.) and he shouted at me that I was being stupid and that I should buy a bus ticket off him. He told me I would be attacked and that there would be no tuk tuks or taxis out at that time (he was wrong) and he was just very rude to me. Fair play, he did get up at 4 a.m. to let me out, but by this point I just wanted to get out of there.
The son who seemed friendly was never there. He was always at the sister restaurant (whose food was awful by the way – so was the food at the hotel). Even the boy grandchild was rude to me and tried to boss me around.
They did honour my booking in the end and the room was great, but I wouldn’t stay here again.
I booked the room through Hostelbookers and it cost me 1,100 rupees per night (£14.50) for my private double, ensuite room.
In contrast, the people at Durag Niwas couldn’t have been nicer.
This hotel was recommended to me by a German couple who I bumped into a few times around India. The Durag Niwas was set up as a charity to help empower Indian women. From what I understand, the hotel is a front for the charity to offer the women employment and to train them in new skills – so not only are you getting good value accommodation if you stay here, you are also doing something to help.
The hotel isn’t located in the centre of town, but it is in a nice quiet area. I arrived quite late, as my train from Jaisalmer had been delayed by an hour or two. The hotel owners met me (in the road) and explained that I had been upgraded for that night as the water wasn’t working in my allocated room. The room they gave me was wonderful, with a mosquito-net draped bed and thick cuddly covers.
I did have to move to my actual room the next night, which was very basic – but it was cheap and en-suite and the room I had opened right onto the courtyard.
The hotel was based around a central courtyard where everyone met to eat, drink and chat. I made a few friends here and this is where I discovered a lot more about what was going on in the city. They also had books and magazines that we could borrow and swap.
The hotel served a nice breakfast and basic food and they were really helpful in booking my bus to Udaipur for me.
I loved that this hotel is trying to do something to help people, as well as being a good business. It’s an amazing social enterprise and unlike the Blue House Guest House, I was happy for these people to have my (small amount of) money. The hotel wasn’t very central, but tuk tuks are cheap and the atmosphere here made it worth it.
My en-suite room cost me 350 rupees (£5)/night.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny, unless otherwise stated. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.