As usual, we were greeted with a throng of overenthusiastic tuk tuk drivers as we got off the bus in Jodhpur.
And as usual, we shopped around until we found someone who agreed to a price we were willing to pay. And as usual, he told us that he knew where our guesthouse was. And as usual, he then put us in a tuk tuk with another driver, assuring us that this driver knew where it was too. And as usual, he didn't.
After half an hour of navigating the narrow and chaotic backstreets of Jodhpur, including two phonecalls to the guesthouse to have him explain to the driver where to go (which didn't help - he still didn't understand), we managed to find our way to Karma Heritage Hotel.
This place was certainly worth the effort. Our room was enormous, and beautifully decorated, housed in an heritage building. We happily decompressed, before heading up to enjoy a relaxed rooftop dinner with views out over the city.
Jodhpur is the second largest city in Rajasthan, and is usually called 'the blue city'. Just 250kms from the border with Pakistan, it is also a key base for the Indian Air Force, Army, and Border Security Force. It wasn't unusual to see or hear fighter jets flying overhead, and there were plenty of uniformed men around the town.
The most notable feature of the city (aside from its stunning and imposing Mehrangarh Fort) is the tangle and sprawl of blue buildings, spilling out to the city walls. Although there is no concrete reason as to why so many of the buildings in the city were originally painted blue, it is thought to be linked to Brahmin, an Indian caste containing priests and teachers. The colour blue is associated with Lord Shiva, the destroyer of evil, and the transformer - whom many of the Brahmin worshipped. Another possible explanation is that the colour reflects the sunlight well, helping to keep the houses cool in the oppressive heat (Jodhpur is also known as the Sun City, as it receives some of the most sun year-round in India). Whatever the reason, it makes for a picturesque and strangely calming stop in Rajasthan!
Built in 1460, and one of the largest forts in India, Mehrangarh Fort towers imposingly over the city. Naturally, this was our first sightseeing stop in Jodhpur.
After a short (but steep) walk from our guesthouse, we entered the fort and picked up yet another fantastic audio tour. We spent the next 10 or so minutes exploring the walls at the base of the fort, and walking up the long 'driveway' to the entrance gates, all the while dodging people trying to sneakily take photos of us.
Our audio tour imparted an interesting anecdote during our walk up the hill. Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur, picked Bhakurcheeria Hill (the mountain of birds) as the site for the fort, and in the process, displaced the only human occupant, a hermit named Cheeria Nathji (the lord of birds). As he was driven out, he cursed the Rao Jodha, saying "May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water". This threat was taken very seriously (oh how times have changed), and Rao Jodha consulted with priests to determine how to remedy the situation. They decided that they should build a temple in the fort (makes sense), building a house for the hermit in the fort (again, sure), and by appeasing the gods with a human sacrifice (wait, what?). A volunteer bravely agreed to be buried ALIVE in the foundation. That doesn't sound like a great way to start a city if you ask me, but what do I know...
We dutifully followed our audio tour around the fort, enjoying spectacular rooftop views out over the old city. Soon, we were done with our audio tour, and went off to explore the grounds of the fort. We found ourselves separated by some male and female lines running up the side of the driveway, which made me roll my eyes so hard I nearly hurt myself. But we do what we're told. Except that I end up walking up along the walls, with no way to get down, and Zev ends up walking at ground level, with no way to get up. It filled me with so much rage, almost inexplicably. I don't need your protection, let me walk where I effing want. Sigh.
From the fort, it was a short walk to Jaswant Thada, a cenotaph built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in 1899 in memory of his father. It also serves as the royal crematorium. The finely carved marble building, set in peaceful gardens with expansive views over the city was a great place to break from the tooting of horns that echoes through the city.
Starting to get hungry, we headed back into town, again weaving our way through the sleepy back alleys before finding our way to the busier heart of town. On our way to lunch, we stopped to check out Toorji's Stepwell, built in 1740. Until recently, this stepwell was largely neglected, It has since been drained, cleaned and restored, exposing intricate carvings. Apparently a popular swimming spot with locals, including local kids who have a great time bombing into the water, it was fairly abandoned when we arrived - probably because the heat of the middle of the day was too much, even for swimming!
After a stop for lunch at nearby Om Cafe, we headed back to the guesthouse, feeling pretty beat after a full on morning out in the heat.
Flying Fox Zipline Tour
We were up bright and early the next morning, making our way back up to the fort to get the adrenaline pumping. We'd booked a ziplining tour, our first 'adventure' activity in India.
There were 8 of us on our tour: a couple from Australia, a guy from the US, a guy from Slovakia, and a mother and daughter from India.
This was a very different experience to adventure activities in New Zealand. The two guides, while very nice, had the combined personality of a bag of wet cheese. And while the company was quick to assure everyone that their safety procedures meet the European standards, we were given leather gloves and told to brake by 'grabbing the wire to slow down'. Hmmmm...
Regardless, we had a great time, zipping across 6 lines, ranging from 70m to 300m. The views were amazing, with the fort, the blue buildings, and the desert environment as our background. The whole thing was over in about an hour, but it was a pretty cool activity to be doing in such a spectacular setting.
Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park
After reading some amazing reviews online, we decided to check out Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, a short walk from the zipline, and we were SO GLAD we did.
We arrived at the gate, and managed to get ourselves a guide, having read that it was worth the 200r ($4NZD) to have access to their incredible knowledge - boy were they right.
Our guide started by giving us some background to the park. Created in 2006, and run by a local charitable agency, the 70 hectare (170 acre) park was created to try to restore the natural ecology of the area (something that, as New Zealanders, we can strongly identify with). He explained that a former leader of the area introduced Mesquite in an attempt to better prepare the area for droughts - it grows well with little water, provides wood for fires and building material, and provides food for livestock. Of course, the plant took over, decimating the natural plant life in the area.
Mesquite (Prosopis juliflora) is incredibly difficult to eradicate - in order to remove the plant's roots, you need to dig down at least 45cm. In the hard, rocky ground, this was a huge undertaking. The organisers employed local people known for their expertise in mining to help clear the site, with each worker tasked with removing one plant per day. It took a long time, but eventually the site was clear! Using the locations of the Mesquite as a guide to where plants would be able to find water and nutrients, they replanted the site with natives, and after some trial and error, they flourished.
As a result of regenerating the natural plant life, they saw an increase in insect life, which in turn led to an increase in bird, reptile, and small mammal populations.
We spent over an hour exploring the trails with our guide, who pointed out beautiful birds and well camouflaged reptiles, and explained how the native plants had adapted to survive in the inhospitable desert climate.
The whole park was visually stunning, and the ethos behind it, as well as our informative and charismatic guide made the whole experience an absolute must-do if you ever find yourself in Jodhpur.
Clock Tower and lovely locals
For lunch, we decided to head to the Clock Tower in the centre of the old city. While hardly remarkable on its own, the Clock Tower sits firmly in the centre of bustling Sardar Market, where you can find anything your heart desires - for the right price. We managed to find exactly what our heart desired - lunch.
We sat down at Cafe Royale, which we'd hunted down because I saw that they served Vada Pav, which I knew would make Zev a happy man. We enjoyed a delicious lunch paired with refreshing drinks, and ended up chatting with the cafe owners for about half an hour about our time in India. The son, who would've been in his late teens, gave us all sorts of useful hints and tips for apps to use while travelling India, and they talked about how taxi drivers even try to rip them off as they commute to and from the cafe! These lovely people run a great establishment, and we left very happy customers.
We started our next day at the soul crushing hour of 6am, as we headed off to catch our 7am train to Pushkar. All went well, and after a surprisingly empty train ride (we were two of only eight people in our carriage), we arrived in Ajmer, the closest train station to Pushkar.
Lots of love,
S & Z