- Jodhpur has traditionally been overshadowed by neighbours Jaipur and Udaipur
- But visitors are now seeing it as an increasingly chic part of Rajasthan
- Highlights include the medieval Mehrangarh Fort, built in the 15th century
Visitors to Rajasthan used to skip Jodhpur and make straight for the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur or Udaipur, with its Lake Palace. But no longer, because the ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur is a star attraction.
The skyline is dominated by two awe-inspiring buildings. Mehrangarh Fort, built on a rocky outcrop in the 15th century by Jodha, the city’s founder, overlooks the narrow streets of old Jodhpur. On a hill across town is Umaid Bhawan, the vast art-deco palace built by Jodha’s descendant, Maharaja Umaid Singh, in the Thirties.
The rich and famous have long headed to Jodhpur for the polo, or for the RIFF music festival, where you might see the current Maharaja, Gaj Singh II, chatting to Mick Jagger or Prince Charles. But now an ambitious programme of regeneration projects are opening up Jodhpur’s Walled City, with trendy cafes, boutiques, and hotels catering for tourists and well-heeled locals.
Mehrangarh Fort is one of the largest forts in India, and contains one of the country’s most impressive museums.
Admire the elephant howdahs and palanquins (like a sedan chair) used by the Indian nobility until the 20th century, when they swapped them for Rolls-Royces.
The Turban Gallery shows countless variations of this colorful head-dress. Climb to the ramparts to take in spectacular views of the city — with its sprinkling of houses painted blue (as is traditional for the homes of Brahmins) — and the palace.
Pink elephants on parade: Rajasthan is one of the most flamboyant parts of India
Before independence, a third of India was ruled by Indian royals who answered only to the British Viceroy. So the palace commissioned by the Maharaja of Jodhpur in the Thirties was vast and very grand, built to house a king and his court.
Inspired by the Hindu architecture of Angkor Wat, but with a dash of art deco, Umaid Bhawan was completed in the Forties — just as the Indian princes lost their powers with Indian Independence.
Today, the Maharaja and his family occupy one wing, while the rest is one of the world’s finest hotels, run by the Taj Group. You can sleep in the Maharaja Suite, visit the Palace Museum or dine at Pillars, overlooking the gardens.
OLD TOWN TREATS
The old town is undergoing a transformation. JDH, the Walled City Urban Regeneration Project — named after the city’s airport code — aims to restore the old buildings to their former glory but with a modern twist.
The first big project was the Step Well — a deep well, built in the 1740s with an elaborate geometric design of steps so hundreds of people could access water at the same time. Now teenagers splash about contentedly in the pool of the well.
In the neighborhood are boutiques Via Jodhpur, Royal Blue, Hot Pink and Gem Palace and Jharokha 360, for drinks, movies and Rajasthani cuisine.
Maharani is renowned for supplying superb Indian textiles, from pashminas to silks and traditional prints, while Maharana near the Clocktower is great for spices and teas.
Go to the Stepwell Cafe for tea and a snapshot of family history. On the walls you’ll see photos from old Singh family albums. Many of them feature Sir Pratap Singh, Regent of Jodhpur — the dashing figure who popularised jodhpurs when he played polo in England.
Blue meets pink meets green: Jodhpur offers a fascinating glimpse of the real India
FIT FOR A MAHARAJA
Umaid Bhawan is still very much a royal palace — last year TripAdvisor dubbed it the best hotel in the world — and you’ll be treated like a maharaja. The interiors evoke the Raj and there’s an outdoor pool and indoor pool with art deco murals of the Zodiac.
Raas in the old town is an 18th-century haveli townhouse with 21st-century additions. Splashing around in the pool while looking up at the Fort is pure bliss.
Pal Haveli, near the Stepwell Square, is the more affordable option. But, wherever you stay, it’s worth visiting Raas and the Palace for supper or a cocktail.