Archive for the ‘Jodhpur’ Category

Blue city & sandstone palaces

Jodhpur, also called ‘The blue city’ (most of the houses and larger buildings are painted in blue to deter insects) was founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, the Rathore ruler of Marwar.  Located on a major trade route, the city soon became a flourishing trade centre. The merchant class, known as the Marwaris, have retained their entrepreneurial skills and many today run big businesses.
Jodhpur, the Blue City

We arrived at our hotel, the Umaid Bhawan Palace in the late afternoon. Built in local sandstone, the light brown colossal building resembled a drip sandcastle. This is one of the newest palaces in India, commissioned in the 1920’s (hence its art deco interior decoration) by Maharaja Umaid Singg (whose 63 year old grandson and 2 adult Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotelchildren, a princess and the recently married prince and his wife are still living in a wing of the palace).  The building project was initiated to create jobs for the famine-stricken people in the district.  It took 3000 men 15 years to built the huge building as well as laying 19 km of railway tracks to transport the sandstone. The reason why this building reminds one of the many splendid buildings in London, is because HV Lanchester, who was also the architect of the central hall of Westminster, created a pleasing fusion of Rajput (scalloped arches and canopied windows), Jain (ornately carved stone and pillars) and European (Italian-style domes – one is a 60m high double dome spanning the cavernous central reception hall of the hotel) architectural styles to create the 347 room royal residence. The grandson converted the building and reconfigured the rooms to create a 67 room hotel. The hotel has 340 staff members.

Set in park-like grounds with View from our room and balconyextensive lawns, the exterior of one of the wings of the hotel with its bastions, turrets and cupolas almost had a Scottish castle appearance.  A large number of bougainvilleas (19 different colours) had been clipped into round bushes: the tufts of colour balls seen from our balcony looked like cupcakes with colourful frosting as the papery flowers only appear on top.

Mehrangarh Fort, the ‘Sun Fort’As a morning excursion, we arranged a driver to take us to Mehrangarh Fort (which means the ‘Sun Fort’), the former residence of the founder of Jodhpur, 1459. (Incidentally, the word for horse-riding breeches – jodhpurs – (those baggy trousers on the hips and tight from the knee down) was coined from the city’s name.)  The incredibly well-maintained fort was built on sheer rock that suddenly rises 125m from the flat city.  High walls, a series of 7 gates with sharp metal spikes to stop charging war elephants and canons protect the inner palaces. Over its 500 year history no Mughal army succeeded in capturing the fort.  Some sumptuously decorated palace rooms gives one a glimpse of opulent palace life: beautifully painted rocking cradles, palanquins (upholstered chairs in silk which were carried by 4 men), elephant howdahs (silk and silver decorated chairs placed on top of elephants), ivory-inlaid furniture, tapestries, miniature paintings and walls encrusted with mirrors and precious stones. Especially of note were the lace-like chiselled and carved screens in the women’s palace (“zenana”), that I couldn’t stop photographing.

Women's quarters

The ‘zenana’ – women’s palace quarters

Afternoon teas were served in the Trophy Bar. I did not feel very comfortable with all the stuffed animals, mounted antelope heads, bear and tiger skins; so we arranged for the rest of our stay to have our tea in the large foyer topped by the incredible dome. While my travel partner tucked into pastries or cakes, I asked that the bar snacks be brought to be, which was usually a bowl with three compartments, containing traditional spicy Rasjastani Bhujia, wasabi roasted chickpeas and cumin peanuts. The tea menu was impressive, making this a treasured Indian tea ceremony.

We had a beautiful Musicians at dinnerdinner one night in the Indian restaurant, Risala. I again arranged beforehand what I wanted to eat, so that starters, mains and breads be made vegan. The service was top notch, and all sorts of little bowls with interesting nibbles were brought to us between courses – all quite spicy though! Since the rooftop restaurant, Sunset Pavilion, only serves barbequed meats, we had our other two dinners at Pillars overlooking the stunning gardens. They serve both Italian and Indian menus, and you can mix them up as well. Again, I asked the chef to make me a dish with ingredients I requested (not on the menu). My meals were extraordinary – I was so happy! One evening when I felt like something light, I asked for grilled artichokes, zucchini and eggplant; freshly grated carrot, fresh baby tomatoes, olives and balsamic mushrooms. Everyday a group of musicians played on the steps in front of the restaurant in the early evening as we sat down to our dinner.

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