JODHPUR AND MUMBAI - Our
longest road trip was between Jaipur and Jodhpur, only 350 kms
but taking almost eight hours.
We wanted to stop on the
way in Ajmer, which houses the shrine of the Sufi saint Khwaja
Moin-ud-din Chishti (mere gharib nawaz) whose followers include
Emperor Akbar and more recently Indian music director A. R.
It is said that seven pilgrimages to Ajmer are supposed to
equal one to Mecca.
However, after seeing the commercialisation of (Moin-ud-din’s
brother) Salim Chisti’s mausoleum in Fatehpur and warnings from
our guide that it is a long walk from our car to the dargah
through very dirty streets and with too many beggars, we
Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan is known as
the blue city since most of the houses near the Mehrangarh
Fort, the older part of Jodhpur, are coloured blue.
Devout followers of Lord Shiva, who is always denoted in
a blue hue, the residents have decided to paint their houses
this calming colour
Cleaner than the previous cities we visited, we stayed at
Ajith Bhavan, an heritage hotel which has old style
rondavels but with modern interiors.
Ajit Bhavan is extension of a palace which is occupied by a
cousin of the Maharajah, the hotel being part of their property.
Lovely gardens, lots of chirping birds and old items like
cooking pots, hoes, horse and wagon paraphernalia are spread out
throughout the grounds.
In the past, Jodhpur was the capital of the Marwar kingdom
from where we get the Marwari Jains who eat no garlic, onions,
eggs or meat.
They have a separate township behind the fort where all the
above food items are totally banned.
In Jodhpur the king is called Rao, not Maharaja and you will
see different coloured and styles of turbans and tilaks
(annotation on the forehead, very typical in India) depending on
the origin of the family.
400 feet above the city, Mehrangar Fort is actually a
combination of many palaces spread over five kilometres and the
current fort was built in the period of Jaswant Singh
Entry through the fort is through seven gates of which one is
the Loha Pol (blood gate), the final gate into the main part of
the fort complex which still bears the hand prints (sati marks)
of the ranis who in 1843 immolated themselves on the funeral
pyre of their husband Man Singh.
Men’s chambers were golden in colour while the women had red
sandstone finish, the former being taller had bigger doorways
while the women had much smaller doorways.
Women, were kept in purdah so could only observe what went on
in the courtyards from raised balconies through specially made
screens so that they could look down but no one could see up.
The nearby lake, which is less than half it’s original size
now, had a special water wheel system operated by camels.
Water could be taken up to the top of the fort (400 metres)
through this system.
You can see some very well preserved old cannons on the
ramparts which also offer breath-taking view of the city.
War in those days was a heavy affair with the Kings outfit
weighing 5kg. and a soldier’s armour 11kg. plus the heavy sword.
Hilts on the sword were small because a prince would be
trained in warfare from the age of 12 and probably did not live
beyond 30 or 40 as most died in battle.
There is a room were different cradles are on display, each
prince had their own cradle.
An interesting art collection is housed in one of the rooms
as is the hundreds of years old armoury.
Paintings by Mughal artists had side profile and sharp noses
on rice paper thus preserved very well, while Hindu artists
painted the front profile.
Other galleries display the elephant howdah (seats used by
the royals to sit on the elephants), Palanquins, Turbans, Folk
One very interesting display that we saw in one of the
galleries was a ladies’ make up box with two long wooden
appliances on either side.
We were told that these were dumbells for the royal ladies to
keep fit since all they did was sit and eat all the time – gyms
existed even four hundred years ago.
If you are lucky and they are not closed for renovation
or because of graffiti you can see the Moti Mahal (Pearl
Palace) – built by Sur Singh 1595-1619 and the largest
period rooms with five alcoves leading onto hidden balconies
so that his five queens could listen in on court proceedings
without being seen; Sheesh Mahal (hall of mirrors), Phool
Mahal (Palace of flowers) – a grand room where dancing girls
performed under a ceiling of gold patterns where only male
royals were allowed; Takhat Vilas – residence of Rao Takhat
Singh (1843-1873), the last ruler to reside at the fort.
While this last room is still traditional you can see glass
balls on the ceiling attributed to western influence that was
brought in by the British.
The fort is a popular site for musical and dance performances
and film shooting, the most recent was the 2012 release of The
Chamunda was the kul devi (family goddess) of the kings and
her idol was installed in a temple in the fort in 1460.
She remains the Maharaja’s and the Royal Family’s goddess and
is worshipped by most of Jodhpur’s citizens who still come to
pray at the temple on holy days.
There was an old man sitting in one of the rooms smoking
a hookah with an interesting contraption by his side.
Opium was very legal a few hundred years ago in
In fact, the guide was quick to point out that "opium is
not good if you smoke it but perfectly all right to drink in
small quantities, making you very relaxed and happy".
The poppy flower grew abundantly here in Rajasthan and
it’s seeds were cultivated for opium.
This was put in a muslin bag with some water and the
concoction would drip out of the hanging bag into a
These juices were then drunk by men, women and children
alike – they must have been a really happy lot in those
Not very far from the fort is the Jaswant Thada, a mausoleum
built from the best Makrana marble by Rao Sardar Singh in 1899
in memory of his father Rao Jaswant Singh II.
Near it is the crematorium and other smaller cenotaphs of
members of the royal family, the construction of this structure
officially moved the royal crematorium out of the fort to this
Handicrafts and textiles from Jodhpur are the biggest money
earners and the city is also becoming very popular (like Jaipur
and Udaipur) for high profile weddings.
We also had the best masala chai (tea) here in Jodhpur and
you can purchase this masala from many shops in the bazaar.
Umaid Bhavan, the official residence of the Maharajah built
in 1927 and at one time was the biggest private residences in
Now a small portion is occupied by the royal family, a few
rooms have been converted to a museum, while major part of the
palace is a hotel run by the Taj group and is now closed to all
A room at the hotel can set you back about 50,000 rupees
going up to 100,000 rupees a night.
The king’s collection of vintage cars are also on display.
Lying just 250 kilometres from the border with Pakistan,
Jodhpur is an important base for the Indian army, Indian Air
Force and Border Security Force (BSF) and you can see MIG jets
speeding across the skies on reconnaissance flights every day.
This meant that for our flight to Mumbai we had to undergo
very strict security checks (though nothing like Srinagar) and
we boarded our craft in an cordoned off area to keep prying eyes
off the air base.
The wreckage of a shot down Pakistani military aircraft with
an upside down flag of Pakistan on it, is proudly displayed at
the main gate of their base.
MUMBAI - Traffic is always chaotic in
Mumbai and the Taj Lands End (Bandra) is a welcome sight for
sore eyes, ears and brains. Once inside you are totally cut
off from the madness that is outside and are treated like
You would pay between 10,000 and 12,000 rupees for a double
on bed and breakfast for a sea facing room but it is worth every
Mumbai is a city that never sleeps, there are so many buzzing
nightspots and restaurants from low to very high end, that one
is spoilt for choice.
While in Mumbai you should try out Trishna (only in South
Mumbai) and Mahesh (three branches the closest one in Juhu) for
really good seafood, Elco market (Bandra) for their pani puri,
pau bhaji, matka kulfi and of course the really cheap shopping
but keep an eye out for quality, Only Parathas that has by far
the most variety of Punjabi parathas and the best sarson da saag
and makki ki roti complete with traditional white butter.
Only Parathas have many branches in Mumbai and one in Dubai
but the closest to Bandra is their Palli Hill branch.
Lucky Restaurant in Bandra sells the best biryani I have ever
had and this fact is verified by none other than Salman Khan,
his brothers Arbaaz and Sohail who have given their views which
are pinned with pride on their boards.
Again, if you are not used to spicy food, you must ask for
mild food wherever you go otherwise your mouth will be on fire.
A wonderful and memorable trip, unfortunately too short as I
would have preferred a few extra days to be able to experience
all that I did more comfortably.
India has some beautiful and very well preserved historic
monuments and sites but unfortunately not many see them as such
and have caused so much damage through graffiti, forcing the
authorities to close down certain areas, which is a real shame
for those who appreciate these sites.
Travelling across beautiful India should be an all year
Four renowned Indian emperors have lived in mighty Agra Fort