The mere mention of Jodhpur brings lasting visuals of blue-colored buildings, brightly dyed clothes, women dressed in mirrored ghaghra cholis, moustached men donning colorful pagadis, and spicy delicacies. Atop the stunning visuals, it is characterized by equally stunning royalty and grand architecture. Guest contributor Tuhina Verma, with her two besties, went backpacking to this fortified town. She recommends to steal a long weekend and a list of things to do.
Jodhpur, often referred to as the ‘suncity’ of Rajasthan – given its high levels of solar irradiation throughout the year, once served as the capital of the erstwhile Marwar kingdom. Founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, the chief of Rathore clan, it quickly gained prominence on the country’s trade map. Today, people from the community, known for their astute business skills and established in virtually every nook and corner of India, are a brand unto themselves. How can a city on the periphery of a desert offer so many distinctions?
Day 1: Clock Tower-Mandor-Osian
Curious, I strapped my backpack, stepped off the train, and into a Jodhpur city bus to its famous century-old landmark of Clock Tower or Ghanta Ghar. Built by Maharaja Sardar Singh, it serves as an entrance to the Sadar Market – known for its outlets selling textiles, silver jewellery, handicrafts, and other souvenirs. Beware, if you are on a budget, as we were, the market holds few temptations!
The lure with using a city bus is the accessibility of free local guidance! You just have to chat up with fellow commuters, who are eager to help travelers get the best of their city. There’s perhaps no better way to sightsee a new place than to rely on local intel. After the clock Tower, we were tipped to head toward ancient town of Mandor – barely fifteen kilometers north.
The 6th century town was the erstwhile capital of Marwar until Jodhpur took over. The town hosts ruins of a once-splendid Mandor fort with a Hindu temple inside. The sculpted Mandor gardens, on the other hand, boasts well maintained architectural masterpieces such cenotaphs and temples. Legend has it that Ravana’s wife Mandodari was a resident of this town and hence, some local residents consider Ravana as their son-in-law – with even a temple dedicated to him. Mandor Gardens also hosts a museum displaying archaeological findings from the area and commemorates its rulers and heroes. If you are looking to build an element of peace and tranquility in your day, you must visit this heritage site.
A subsequent 50 kms bus ride took us northwest, from 6th century Mandor to 8th century Osian, spelled alternatively as Osiya or Osiyan. Once a flourishing center of trade and a major religious center for Hindus and Jains, Osian lost much of its sheen after the sack by Muslim invaders in the 12th century. For its heritage of millennium-old characteristic temples, it has been fondly referred to as the Khajuraho of Rajasthan. Amongst the cluster of places of worship, such as those dedicated to Mahavira, Surya, Harihara, Vishnu or Shiv, the highlight for us was a visit to the picturesque Sachiya Mata Temple (featured). Located on higher ground, the fully functional temple has many statues dedicated to Goddess Sachi, the Real Mother. It got memorable, as we happened to be there just in time for the aarti and witnessed a unique musical instrument that allowed a solo performer to play distinct sounds of jhaanjh, manjeeri, and even drums – all at the same time! Do not miss out on this!
Osian is at the mouth of the great Indian desert and is so referred to as the oasis of Thar. There was no way we were turning back without scaling a sand dune! This is where the most touristy stuff happens – haggle hard to hire a auto-rickshaw, get to the arid desert, haggle again for a short camel safari or a jeep ride to climb up the dune, and spend time absorbing the surreal sunset scenery or enjoy a game of volleyball or throwing frisbees. Instead of a safari, we chose to hike up and almost collapsed at the top. It took more time than a camel or a jeep, and filled up our clothing and shoes with sand. Given a choice, we would repeat it all over again. It just so much fun to walk on sand!
Day 2: Mehrangarh Fort-Jaswant Thada-Ummaid Bhavan Palace
If you are staying inside the fortified blue city of Jodhpur, as we were, chances are you won’t take your eyes off of the fort in the sky. Located on higher ground, the truly majestic Mehrangarh makes for an imposing landmark, and one that completes Jodhpur’s identity. On our second morning, we hired an auto-rickshaw to explore the beauty and grandeur of this magnificent historical edifice. If you sense that I am going overboard with flowery adjectives to describe this splendid fort, you are probably right. Complete with a museum, it remains one of the best forts that I have been to. Here’s an interesting tip – did you know that some Hindu warriors clans worshiped Goddess Chamundi, a demon-slayer and one of the seven matrikas (mother goddesses)? Before leaving, do not miss to visit Chamunda Mata temple inside the fort. Every part of Mehrangarh commands a story. Instead of reading it all up, I would urge you to plan 4-hours or more, hire a day-guide, visit this marvel and the newly created Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park. Oh, and you may book yourself a flying fox / a zip-line ride to end the tour! Meanwhile, let this picture fill in.
We could not brave the sun to enjoy the Desert Rock Park and chose to move to the nearby and calmer Jaswant Thada; a cenotaph commemorating Maharaja Jaswant Singh. A peaceful place, it offers beautiful architecture, silence, and relaxation.
So far in out exploration, our enthusiasm carried us through. To top it, each place that we went to turned out to be splendid in its own right. But we ran out of luck at Ummaid Bhavan – it failed to capture our imagination in much the same way. Part of this edifice housing the erstwhile royal family of Jodhpur is converted into a hotel. Ummaid Bhavan Palace is perhaps one of the largest private residences in the world, and only a small portion with a museum inside is open to visitors. We were in and out of it within 15 minutes! In hindsight, a private residence is just that. Private. So unless you are splurging to stay in a royal five-star hotel room, you do not need to plan much time to explore this sprawling point of interest!
Day 3: Bishnoi Village-Om Banna Temple
After the dampener at Ummaid Bhavan, Jodhpur sprang up yet another pleasant surprise – a story of a community’s love for it’s natural environment, a story of heroism. This is from a few centuries ago, when a king, to get wood for construction, sent his soldiers to chop Khejri trees. The Bishnois, nature loving people, simply hugged the trees in protest. They stood up against an army and paid for it with their lives. Over 350 people died in that peaceful expression. When soldiers returned with wood, the king was traumatized with news of the incident. Moved, he formulated rules to prohibit harming trees and animals in the community’s villages. That prohibition norm is in force till date and conservation is a way of life here. Our hostel suggested and arranged a day trip to visit this incredible Guda Bishnoi village. A guide from the community, driving an open jeep, picked us up from the Clock Tower, narrated anecdotes on the way about their lifestyle and history – including details of the story above, took us around the village, helped spot the endangered chinkaras (blackbucks), before taking us home.
His mother, an old lady dressed in ethnic clothes and jewellery, welcomed us with the widest smiles. Our guide then offered a traditional opium drink! As we sipped, he demonstrated how to make it too. Soon, the happy drink had us change into Rajasthani clothes and try more of community’s lifestyle – operating a manual flour mill (chakki), witness hand printing of clothes, and roll up our sleeves to make a clay pot – things that left us with achy hands for weeks and memories of a lifetime. You do have the option of buying clay lamps and other souvenirs – something that’s difficult to resist!
Jodhpur’s charms never cease to captivate. On our last day, we felt we could have done with more time here. A chance discovery of another fascinating story led us to Om Banna temple, further south from Bishnoi village. One of its kind – where the deity is a motorcycle! Beat that. Many highway commuters stop by to pay their respect here to a Royal Enfield 350 cc Bullet motorbike. I wouldn’t spill the beans on this one and would urge you to consider hiring a guide for an emotive narration of this local legend.
Food and Drinks
Street food nourishes the soul. Try mirchi vadas, samosas, pyaz kachoris and other snakcs near Clock Tower. For meals, try the best of gatta curry, ker sangari, mix veg, and other sides, with chapatis at any dhaba (highway eatery). While in the city, you must visit the popular Gypsy restaurant for these and more. For a slightly upmarket experience, try visiting On the Rocks restaurant (NH 65, Ajit Bhawan Palace, Ajit Colony). For an authentic opium drink, head out to Bishnoi village! Irrespective of your budget, Jodhpur offers enough delicacies to water your mouth!
Clothes, crafts, or classic jewellery – Jodhpur has it all. Head out to Sadar Market near the Clock Tower for a choice of sarees, leheriya, bandhani or other local textiles. While at it, explore the clay or marble souvenirs, and ethnic silver jewellery. The only tip here, as anywhere in India, is to bargain wisely.
Jodhpur has three national highways passing through, it is the headquarters of the north western division of Indian Railways, and has an airport with daily flights to major cities across the country. As such, getting in and out of the city is no problem at all. For city and suburban commute, use the city bus service or haggle to hire an auto-rickshaw – a private ride. Here’s a tip: For Jodhpur’s relatively compact size, you do not need to research extensively about local transport. Locals are friendly and eager to help. Just ask.
This is a no-brainer – look up a hostel inside the fortified blue city. It is pocket friendly and offers a taste of traditional lifestyle. We showed up without a reservation and found something quaint to retire within 15 minutes of walking the neighborhood. Most guesthouses are family-run, sport a courtyard surrounded by rooms on multiple levels, and a terrace cafe.
Here’s a suggestion I want to leave you with – Jodhpur is centrally located in the state and well connected. If you intend to backpack across Rajasthan, it would serve well to make this blue city, as your base. Thank me later!
Pin this for later!
Have you been to this indigo marvel of Thar? How was your experience? We would love to hear from you (please scroll below to leave a comment).
Disclaimers: (1) Maps, wherever used on this site, serve a representational purpose only. Backpacking Series does not endorse or accept the boundaries shown, names, or designations used by map providers. (2) This story / article is based on personal opinions of the author. Backpacking Series is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity and it does not assume any responsibility or liability arising out of use of any information provided herein.