36 hours in jodhpur, capital of the kingdom of marwar

“The work of angels, fairies and giants … built by Titans and coloured by the morning sun … He who walks through it loses sense of being among buildings. It is as though he walked through mountain gorges.”
~ Rudyard Kipling, English author, 1900

Kipling was referring to Mehrangarh Fort in the above lines. Jodhpur city’s magnum opus.

It is hard to separate the two. The Fort and the City of Jodhpur.

Jodhpur, or Jodhana as the locals refer to it or Blue City as tourists know it, was established as a result of the fort. Yet, it was the city which sustained the citadel, towering 122 metres above it, for 550 years.

Deep in the heart of the scorching arid Thar Desert, the ensemble seems to be straight out of a fantastical fable. Narrow twisting lanes encircle the foothills of the precipitous rocky outcrop topped with Mehrangarh Fort chiselled out of the rock. Except that it is all for real.

The year was 1459. Rao Jodha, the 15th Rathore clan ruler of the Marwar Kingdom was convinced the old capital Mandore was not safe anymore and set out to find a new one, which he did. A crag with endless views across the plains. He called his new city Jodhpur, after himself.

Priests and traders soon flocked to the city to provide religion and commerce. Rao Jodha’s descendants and their queens not only added palaces to the fort, but also temples and stepwells in the bustling streets below. There was no looking back now. Though the old city has expanded well beyond its city walls and gates to become Rajasthan’s second largest city, its historical heart is easily explored on foot or a tuk tuk.

Here’s a 36-hour itinerary to discover Jodhpur’s wonders. Day 1 for the Have-To’s and Day 2 to feel its pulse. Wishing you happy travels, because some places still appear to be straight out of a fairy-tale. 🙂

Day 1 Morning: Mehrangarh Fort, one of the world’s grandest forts



The 550-year-old heavily fortified fort contains within its high walls delicate palaces and airy courtyards built by multiple rulers, each adding their own personal touch to the family home.



Clockwise from top left: Sheesh Mahal [bedroom of Maharaja Ajit Singh, early-18th Century], Phool Mahal [Hall of Special Audience of Maharaja Abhay Singh, early-18th Century], and Takhat Vilas [bedroom of Maharaja Takhat Singh, 19th Century].


Moti Mahal, the oldest part of the fort, dates back to the 16th Century. It served as the Hall of Public Audience.


Left: Chhatri dedicated to Kirat Singh Soda, a soldier who fell at this very spot whilst defending Mehrangarh Fort; Right: An uphill winding road leads to the fort, passing seven monumental gates on its way.

Mehrangarh. It means Citadel of the Sun. An apt name for the home of a clan who claimed descent from the Sun god himself. But when Rao Jodha decided to build the fort, he had christened it differently. He called it Chintamani—the Wish-Fulfilling Jewel.

One of the world’s grandest forts, Jodhpur’s iconic Mehrangarh Fort stands atop a steep hill, its ramparts seamlessly merging with the rock to rise 122 metres above the hot, dusty plains around it.

Fortified further with towers, seven gates and an uphill narrow entrance, this masterpiece in Rajput military architecture was almost impossible to conquer. I say almost, because it was captured briefly by Sher Shah Suri, Akbar, and Aurangzeb. But it always came back to the family and is still owned by them.

There’s an interesting story on why it worked out so. Actually, two stories.

When Rao Jodha decided to build his fort on the hill, there was a hermit already living on it who was not too happy about having to leave. To lift the hermit’s curse, a voluntary live burial was required as per prevailing customs. A gentleman by the name Raja Ram Meghwal offered to do the honours and was interred alive in the fort foundations. In return, his family was, and still is, looked after by Jodhpur’s royal family.

The second story narrates how the female warrior sage Karni Mata of Deshnok was invited to lay the fort’s foundation stones and bless them. She’d also done it for the fort at Bikaner. So powerful were her blessings that whilst most Rajput forts were abandoned over time for some reason or the other, Jodhpur and Bikaner are still fully owned by the ruling families’ descendants.

Not much remains of Rao Jodha’s original structure. Most of what one sees in the 1,200-acre fort today dates back to the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries. These comprise of lace-like ethereal palaces and airy sun-lit chowks or courtyards inside heavy fortifications, forming an unusual combination which grew organically over the centuries.

Palaces to look out for are Moti Mahal [Pearl Palace], Phool Mahal [Flower Palace], Sheesh Mahal [Mirror Palace], and Takhat Vilas. Amongst the courtyards, make sure you have a dekko at Shringar Chowk where coronations were held. The fort also includes six galleries displaying royal howdahs, palanquins, artifacts, miniature paintings, textiles, and armoury from the royal collection.

Jodhpur’s royal family lived in Mehrangarh Fort till 1943, after which they moved to the Umaid Bhawan Palace. In 1972, the entire fort became a Museum and opened its doors to the public.

Do make your way right to the top. The ramparts lined by 18th Century cannons offer splendid views of the city below. At the other end of the fort is the Chamunda Mataji Temple dedicated to Rao Jodha’s favourite goddess. Live folk cultural performances take place throughout the fort, all through the day, adding a further magical touch to this royal home high up in the air.

Travel tips: 1) Timings: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM. Reach early so you have the whole morning to explore. 2) If walking up the steep entrance is a daunting idea, lifts are available to the top. 3) Take a guided tour first to get your bearings. Follow it with a leisurely stroll.

Day 1: Lunch at Cafe Mehran inside Mehrangarh Fort

Café Mehran inside the fort premises offers a limited menu, but wholesome meals. Plus, one does not often get the opportunity to eat at a 550-year-old fort!

Day 1 Afternoon: Stop 1: Jaswant Thada, the Taj Mahal of Marwar



Jaswant Thada Memorial, built in 1906, is a temple used for ancestor worship by Jodhpur’s royal family.


Cenotaph of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II with the memorial in the background. The cenotaph is flanked by two smaller ones which mark the cremation sites of two of his wives. One of them is for the queen who commissioned the memorial. He had a total of eight wives.

Nestled on a low hill next to the Mehrangarh Fort is the Taj Mahal of Marwar: Jaswant Thada, a temple honouring the Maharaja of Jodhpur’s ancestors and the royal cremation ground.

Sheer poetry in stone, though of a different kind from Agra’s Taj, the colossal memorial is encased in intricately carved shimmering white marble. It was commissioned by Maharaja Jaswant Singh II’s beloved wife and completed by their son Maharaja Sardar Singh in 1906.

Maharaja Jaswant Singh II [rule 1873 – 1895] is often considered to be one of Jodhpur’s most important rulers. His reign was marked with prosperity, reforms and development, especially with regard to bringing drinking water and irrigation to the barren desert city.

Before Jaswant Thada was built, the last rites of Jodhpur’s rulers and their worship used to take place in Mandore, the old capital of Marwar, on the outskirts of Jodhpur. After 1906, the tradition was shifted to the new site.

Various small marble-clad cenotaphs to the memorial’s right mark where Jaswant Singh II’s successors were cremated. The memorial itself is designed as a temple with portraits of the entire line of Rathore Rajputs on display. Hindu rituals for the deceased are still carried out inside as part of ancestor worship, a tradition common amongst Rajput clans.

Travel tip: Once done exploring the site, walk through one of the small gates behind the manicured gardens. The deserted and poignantly lovely cremation ground and sandstone cenotaphs of royal family members lie on the edge of the dusty, rocky ridge.

Day 1 Afternoon: Stop 2: Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, getting to know the Thar Desert


Four clearly marked trails in Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park offer an insight into what the terrain around Mehrangarh Fort looked like originally.


Left: Devkund Lake adjoining Jaswant Thada Memorial is a haven for waterbirds; Right: Local fossils on display at the park’s Visitors Centre in Singhoria Pol, a 17th Century gateway to Jodhpur city.

When one thinks of the Thar Desert, what immediately comes to mind is a romanticised panorama of sand dunes. The truth is a third of the Thar Desert is rocky, which is a far bleaker and more unforgiving habitat than a sandy desert. Yet, it has fostered many princely States.

Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, spread across 70 hectares, was specially created in 2006 to reinstate the natural ecology of the area surrounding and below the Mehrangarh Fort. To recreate what it was like before modern unrestrained urbanization and the exploitation of natural resources took place.

Four trails cut through a landscape of pink volcanic rock known as ‘welded tuff’ formed approximately 700 million years ago. The topography has been restored and nurtured to house some 250 native plants from across the Thar Desert. Among the most beautiful of these are 40 species of delicate desert grass. One of the perks of the restoration has been the return of indigenous birds and reptiles to the area.

The 1-kilometre-long Yellow Gully Trail makes for a perfect one-and-a-half-hour afternoon walk. The trail drops down behind the visitors’ centre into an old hand-hewn stormwater canal. For the initial 200 metres one walks through a narrow canyon of rock which gradually opens up to reveal the fort amidst a stunning rugged vista.

Travel tips: 1) The entrance to the park is a short walk from Jaswant Thada. 2) If you have extra days in Jodhpur do also try out an early morning walk with a trained naturalist guide for a fee of Rs. 200 per person. You will need to book one day in advance for it. The number is: +91 95 7127 1000.

Day 1 Afternoon: Stop 3: Umaid Bhawan Palace, home of Jodhpur’s current Maharaja


The royal family-run museum at Umaid Bhawan Palace offers the visitor a unique opportunity to see part of the Art Deco-cum-Edwardian palace.

At the other end of Jodhpur, on Chittar Hill, in a direct line of vision from the fort, is Umaid Bhawan Palace, the last of India’s great palaces and the 6th largest private residence in the world. It was commissioned by Maharaja Umaid Singh who ruled from 1918 to 1947.

Calling it grand would be an understatement. Built over 15 years from 1929 to 1944 as a drought relief measure along with other public works, its construction generated employment for over 3,000 people at a cost of Rs. 94,51,565. Henry V. Lanchester, a famous Edwardian architect, designed the building whilst Polish artist Stephan Norblin decorated its 347 rooms and interiors in the Art Deco style.

The palace today is the home of Umaid Singh’s grandson Maharaja Gaj Singh II. Part of it was converted into an uber-luxury hotel in 1978 run by the Taj Hotels group.

Though access to the hotel is prohibited unless you are staying the night or have a restaurant reservation, and entry to the Maharaja’s residence is out of bounds without special permission, the only section one can access is the private family museum attached to it. Which is still worth the commute across town.

The museum offers a wonderful peek into royal life through its special exhibition on Maharaja Umaid Singh and the making of the palace, along with special galleries comprising Art Deco rooms, an antique clock collection, and the personal lives of the current royal family.

Travel tips: 1) Museum timings: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM. 2) Photography is allowed.

Day 1 Evening and into the Night: Dinner at indique Restaurant and Bar for a 360-degree view of royal Jodhpur

For the ultimate finale which encapsulates everything one would have seen over the day, head to the rooftop restaurant indique Restaurant and Bar in Pal Haveli.

With a 360-degree view of Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Umaid Bhawan, Gulab Sagar and the Clock Tower, all lit-up in golden light at night, I cannot think of any other place that comes even a close second in terms of views.

The food and service are so-so, but the views … aah, they are to die for!

Day 2 Morning: Walk 1: Navchokiya Heritage Walk



Daily life in Navchokiya, the neighbourhood which has given Jodhpur the name ‘Blue City’.


View of Navchokiya from one of the temples built into the outcrop.

With Jodhpur’s main attractions behind you, Day 2’s morning is dedicated to discovering Jodhpur’s lesser-known secrets—on foot.

Wrapped around the soaring rocky outcrop topped with Mehrangarh Fort is a spread of blue houses. Known as Navchokiya, the neighbourhood is the reason behind Jodhpur’s more popular touristy name: The Blue City.

Since the city’s founding in 1459 by Rao Jodha, Jodhpur’s Brahmin or priest community have been calling this area their home. To set themselves apart from other Hindu castes, in a society deeply entrenched in the caste system, they decided to paint their homes blue.

Their descendants continue to live within these havelis, where traditions and rituals carry on, undisturbed and undiluted, as they have for the past 550 years.

A good way to discover Navchokiya’s treasures is through a 2-and-a-half-hour heritage walk which takes one to the top for a panoramic view of the Blue City, and then slowly winds its way down through picturesque alleys and squares where daily life plays out in idyllic domesticity.

En-route, stops include Shri Jwala Mukhi Devi Mandir high up on the cliff with its gigantic effigy of Hanuman standing sentinel against the rock, and a temple dedicated to Eloji, the god of sex, in one of the town squares.

The walk also meanders past water tanks once used by royalty behind monumental gateways, and water wells purified by the roots of banyan trees, still in use by the plebs. The locals swear by its sweetness and purity and are of the firm belief it is the only water that will do for cooking and drinking.

Do start early, for the climb up is a demanding one.

NOTE:
You may also like to read: Navchokiya: Brahmins and the Blue City of Jodhpur.

Day 2 Morning: Walk 2: Stepwells and Temples Heritage Walk


Toorji Ka Jhalra, a 200-feet-deep 18th Century sandstone edifice, doubles up as a public swimming pool and place to hang-out for local residents.


Shri Gangshyam Ji Mandir boasts of splendid gold leaf murals of Krishna on its walls and ceilings dating back to 1761.

My second recommended walk in Jodhpur is centred around its stepwells and temples. Why? Because it offers a unique opportunity to get under the city’s touristy mantle and instead feel it’s pulse amidst local legends and stories galore.

Unlike Navchokiya, which is the neighbourhood expressly for the Brahmins or priests in Jodhpur, the area on the other side of the fort is inhabited by the Rajputs, Ravana Rajputs, and other castes. It is this area which is the focus of the second walk.

Dotted with historical stepwells around Ghanta Ghar or the Clock Tower, each water reservoir has a story to tell. There’s Gulab Sagar, a wealthy concubine’s gift to Jodhpur, Mahila Bagh Jhalra, an Irishman’s ‘clean-up’ mission, Tapi Baori, Jodhpur’s secret stepwell, and Toorji Ka Jhalra, the city’s public swimming pool.

Jodhpur’s temples in this part of town are no less evocative, with a tantalizing mix of tales and art. They include Shri Gangshyam Ji Mandir, a temple built specially to house a Queen’s personal idol of Krishna. There’s Kunj Bihari Mandir, Jodhpur’s famed concubine Gulab Rai’s public statement of political clout and love. And lastly, Achal Nath Shivalaya, Jodhpur’s oldest Shiva temple which warrants a visit for its double shivling and the shrine of Baba Ramdev inside.

Baba Ramdev aka Ramdeo Pir is Rajasthan’s most popular local deity spanning religion and borders, royalty and plebs, humanity and divinity, and is found all over the desert State.

NOTE:
You may also like to read: Stepwells and Temples of Jodhpur’s Old City.

Day 2: Lunch at the quirky Sam’s Art Cafe

If you started off early this morning, you would finish the two walks just in time for lunch [give or take 2.5 hours for each walk]. A perfect place to chill and replenish after the invigorating morning is Sam’s Art Cafe.

There’s a reason why Sam’s Art Cafe tops TripAdvisor’s Jodhpur’s restaurant list, along with many other lists as well. The food is super-delicious and reasonably priced. The ambiance, filled with gorgeous artifacts, is hard to beat. And the personal attention one gets from the owners and staff is the cherry on the cake.

The fact that the cafe is situated right next to Toorji Ka Jhalra where the heritage walks end makes it easy to access. What to eat? There’s Cafe fare, Pancakes, Indian, Chinese, and Italian. All freshly-made.

Day 2 Afternoon: Mandore, the Royal Cenotaphs in the old capital of Marwar


Sandstone chhatris on top of the hill in Mandore mark the cremation spots of Jodhpur’s queens and earliest rulers including Rao Jodha.



Cenotaphs of a different kind, the devals in Mandore Gardens are in the shape of Hindu temples and are dedicated to Jodhpur’s past rulers. These devals belong to Maharaja Ajit Singh [top picture] and his father Maharaja Dhiraj Jaswant Singh [above picture].

Nine kilometres north of Jodhpur is Mandore, the old capital of the Marwar State. This little town served as the Rao rulers’ seat of government and imperial palace before Rao Jodha decided to move to the current location and build Mehrangarh Fort in 1459.

One tradition, however, did not change even after the shift. Mandore continued to be used as the royal cremation ground for its rulers. Right up to the time Jaswant Thada was built in 1906.

There are two groups of cenotaphs in Mandore. One is a collection of sandstone chhatris atop a hill, much like those of Rajput rulers in other princely States such as Bikaner and Jaisalmer. The second, and relatively newer lot, lies at the foot of the same hill and is now part of the Mandore Gardens.

The cenotaph of Rao Jodha, Jodhpur’s founder, and Panch Kunda, a set of cenotaphs belonging to Jodhpur’s queens are to be found on the hilltop. Cremated according to Hindu religious rites, the queens’ red sandstone cenotaphs are impressive, in particular that of Maharani Surya Kanwar, daughter of Maharaja Pratap Singh of Jaipur, with its 32 pillars.

Those in Mandore Gardens, in sharp contrast, take on a completely different form. With soaring spires, the multi-tiered, intricately carved edifices similar to Hindu temples are known as devals. Except that these are not temples in honour of any gods, but dedicated to the dead rulers.

Don’t miss the magnificent deval of Maharaja Dhiraj Jaswant Singh who became ruler at the tender age of 11 and breathed his last at Peshawar on 28 December 1678 during battle and that of his son Maharaja Ajit Singh.

Travel tips: 1) Take a tuk tuk to reach the cenotaphs perched on the hill. Once done, either walk down a rough trail through the hill to get to the devals below or ask the tuk tuk to wait for you and come down the motor road. 2) There tend to be monkeys playing inside the devals. Ask the guard to shoo them away before you enter.

Day 2 Evening: Souvenir-shopping at Sardar Market


The vibrant, forever-crowded Sardar Market around Ghanta Ghar aka the Clock Tower is one of the oldest markets in Jodhpur. Founded by Maharaja Sardar Singh, Jodhpur’s ruler from 1895 to 1911 [he was Maharaja Umaid Singh’s father], the market is loud, chaotic, colourful, and bursting to the brim with Indian handicrafts.

Bargaining is part of the deal, but don’t bargain too hard, please. For the shopkeepers, it is their bread and butter.

Before you leave, may I suggest you get yourself a pair of handmade embroidered jootis or a vivid silk bandhani dupatta [long scarf] as a memory of Jodhpur’s treasures, both famous and secret. ❤

Travel tips:

[Note: This blog post is part of a series from my 35-day solo and independent road trip through Rajasthan from 17 October to 20 November, 2021. To read more posts in my Rajasthan series, click here.]

12 thoughts on “36 hours in jodhpur, capital of the kingdom of marwar

  1. I’ve been to Jodhpur twice – once with my family and once with my best friend. Your trip is exactly all the things my best friend and I did during our trip even down to places we ate our meals at. It’s the perfect itinerary for cultural immersion. We also ate a lot of street food – near the clock tower – we tried lassi, kachoris and ghewar. Infact we got SO much of it packed to take home with us. ☺️
    My family trip was a different kind of amazing since we stayed in Umaid Bhavan Palace and literally just chilled in the hotel for most of the trip. (This was before Taj took over the hotel.) One of my favourite stays ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am glad you explored Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park and the cenotaphs at Mandore too. Aren’t they both wonderful! Not many venture that deep into Jodhpur. I loved the hike through the wilderness and the cenotaphs on the hill. Jodhpur has to be one of Rajasthan’s more charming towns. It is small, oozing with heritage, and almost frozen in time. Lucky you, staying at Umaid Bhawan. Must have been quite an experience. 🙂

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  2. Every time I see images of Mehrangarh Fort, it never ceases to amaze me. The scale, the imposing location, the curves and details. And the addition of a little bit history in this post only makes this place even more appealing.

    What’s mind-boggling about this dry, and in your word “unforgiving”, part of India is the fact that it has seen so many royal families flourish over the centuries. Such circumstances are usually associated with a land that is fertile and blessed with an abundant amount of water.

    This is a really nice summary of what one can do and see in Jodhpur, Rama. It will surely come in handy when I decide to visit this city one day in the future (sooner than later, I hope).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed it is incredible–the culture and prosperity that has emerged from the Thar. All credit goes to its people who could turn even the desert into a life-source.

      Am very happy you found the post useful and plan to refer to it during your travels to the city. But please, do stay more than 36 hours. After exploring its sights and armed with a deeper understanding of Jodhpur, just chill and absorb the ambiance. Walk its by-lanes, hang out at its cafes, speak to locals, connect the dots. It is easy to feel at home in the old city. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • There is no dearth of folklore in India. Hehe. I was told the two stories by the guide at Mehrangarh Fort. I love the way you and Richard have traveled so extensively. Kudos to you guys. Seriously. 🙂

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