In Rajasthan, where colors rule and the sun shines golden, the odds are that you’ll return from your travels armed with stunning photographs of camels silhouetted against the sunset, rolling sand dunes, and turban-clad, mustachioed men – the usual suspects, so to speak. Jodhpur , however, offers plenty of chances to get creative and add some cool back stories to your pictures.
Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan sits on the edge of the Thar Desert and promises visitors the opportunity to experience a city with a 500-year old history, to witness true royal opulence and to be overwhelmed by the magnificent architecture outlining the skyline.
Rather than documenting only the majesty of the Mehrangarh Fort or the luxury of the Umaid Bhawan Palace, here are five ways to take some fun photographs around the desert city:
Mehrangarh Fort: Rise like the Dark Knight
Rudyard Kipling called it the “work of giants” – built of red sandstone and rising a 122 meters above the city, the formidable Mehrangarh Fort defines Jodhpur’s skyline and is one of the best photography spots in Jodhpur.
The 15th century fort houses within its ramparts mini-palaces like the ‘Sheesh Mahal’ and ‘Moti Mahal’, translating literally to the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ and the ‘Palace of Pears’. Yes, they are exactly what they sound like. Galleries within the fort showcase remnants of the 20th century regal era – everything from weapons to palanquins are on display.
Mehrangarh is one of the best-maintained forts in all of Rajasthan and a true testament to the Rathore fortitude, but recently, it’s gone down in the books of cinema history for a rather unanticipated reason. Batman fiends might recollect that the forbidding landscape and the fort provided the backdrop to Christian Bale’s epic prison-escape scene in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Batman, after scaling walls and breaking bones, escapes a notorious underground prison to emerge in the arid countryside at the base of the Mehrangarh Fort. And now, you too can strike a nonchalant pose in the same setting. To truly replicate the scene though, remember to look effortlessly dismissive about the matter– wall-scaling and prison break-outs are just a regular day’s work after all.
Visit in the early hours of the day, before the unforgiving afternoon sun really starts beating down. Stop by for a quick bite at the breezy Café Mehran, a restaurant in hues of white and blue built in to a section of the fort. An informative audio tour is available at the gate and will offer bits of interesting information – like how the fort was never once taken in siege during battle. The fort is open 7 days a week, from 9AM to 5PM. Entry tickets cost Rs.300 and include an audio guide and a map of the fort. Go before May, when the summer really sets in.
The Blue City: Do it like a local
The oldest parts of Jodhpur stretch out at the foot of the Mehrangarh Fort like an expansive carpet of stubby blue buildings melding into the horizon.
The blue houses of Jodhpur’s Brahmapuri area have earned the town the moniker ‘the Blue City’. The reason for the color isn’t definitive: some believe it had to do with upper caste Brahmins painting their houses blue, while others believe the paint cools the interiors and keeps mosquitoes away.
The Mehrangarh fort’s high parapets undoubtedly proffer the best views of the blue city, but a street tour of the indigo façade-lined narrow lanes offers a glimpse into traditional Rajasthani lifestyles.
In stark contrast to the parched hues of the Thar Desert, the blue frontages lining the by-lanes breathe fresh life into the city – and your photographs. While the bright houses and street life make great shots, this is a chance to show off the blues in your wardrobe and take some fun photos.
Blend in with the local architecture in your denims and best blues, but don’t be surprised if you find your path blocked by a clamoring child or a stubborn cow. That’s right, these are the mean streets of Jodhpur.
Take an autorickshaw from outside the fort gates once you’re done exploring Mehrangarh and ask your driver for a tour of this part of town. This shouldn’t cost you more than Rs.200 and you can get some great shots while maneuvering the alleyways. Go before the sun sets.
Umaid Bhawan: Hot wheels in the house
The Umaid Bhawan Palace – one of the largest private residences in the world – is home to Maharaja Gaj Singh II and the royal family of Jodhpur. Situated atop Chittar Hill at the highest point of the city, the opulent 347-room sandstone palace is divided into three sections: the royal residence, a museum, and the heritage Taj Hotel.
Built in a style inspired by 1930’s art deco, the construction of the palace began in 1929 and took fifteen years to complete. Of the palace’s three wings, only the museum is open to the public – the hotel is exclusive to guests and diners while the private residence is, naturally, private.
The museum houses a small collection of family heirlooms – black and white photographs, antique Victorian timepieces, and 19th century weapons. If stuffed leopards, hunting trophies and model airplanes are your thing, this is the place to be.
An often missed feature is the outdoor display of gleaming vintage automobiles in their glass-fronted enclosures. The palace garage has slots for up to twenty cars and houses a fleet of brightly colored Rolls Royce models that occasionally make their way out to vintage car rallies. Occupying pride of place, however, is what is considered the most valuable car in the world – the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.
Opportunities to get photographed with rad wheels like these don’t come around too often.
The museum is mostly indoors, so it is possible to visit in the late morning or afternoon. The Umaid Bhawan Place is open 7 days a week, from 9AM to 5PM. Entry tickets cost Rs.50. Guided tours of the museum are available.
Clock Tower Market: Bargain, bargain, bargain
The burnished clock tower is the iconic centerpiece of Jodhpur’s old city, and spreading around it in arterial lanes is the chaotic Sadar Market.
It is in this neighborhood that you will find traditional havelis, or mansions, standing next to an army of street vendors selling leather, spices, fabrics and souvenirs. The market is a swarming mass of rickshaws, scooters, cattle and people. This is where all the action is at.
If the flavorful Rajasthani cuisine has begun to grow on you, this is the place to get your spice fix. Stock up on laal maas masala, tandoori masala and curry powders at M.V Spices or Maharani Spices. You’ll find leather shops selling satchels and cowboy hats, fabric shops selling local bandhej and bright tie-dye prints, jewelry stores and so much more on these lanes.
Jodhpurs are the region’s number one export to the field of fashion, and here’s where you’ll find these hard-to-wear-but-impossible-to-remove riding pants. If you do manage to try them on without losing all dignity, take a picture. It’s a feat worth remembering.
Street-shopping is never complete with a good haggle, and just like in every Indian street market, it’s important to bargain for your curio of choice in Sadar Market. Test your negotiating prowess against some of India’s most persuasive shop owners and document your haggles – it counts for major bragging rights back home.
Go in the evening when the sun isn’t blazing down on you. It’s hot and it’s crowded, so carry a water bottle, navigate the lanes carefully and keep these safety tips for India in mind.
Local Cuisine: Spice all around
Eating a spice-laden explosion of a traditional meal while visiting Rajasthan is de rigueur. After all the shopping and exploration, replenish at a rooftop restaurant, or be adventurous and indulge in some street snacks.
The fiery specialty of the region, Laal Maas, is meat cooked in a curry of red chillis and yoghurt. Hot, spicy and delicious, the flaming red dish is best accompanied with a cooling green salad. On the Rocks – a lovely garden restaurant – is good for both Indian and Continental food, and particularly known for their Laal Maas.
Some traditional havelis in the Clock Tower area have now converted to hotels, and many of these house rooftop restaurants with amazing fort views. Indique – the in-house restaurant of the Pal Haveli Hotel – overlooks the Gulab Sagar Lake and the Mehrangarh fort, and is especially magical at night when the city is lit up.
Like much else in Rajasthan, the food is colorful, overwhelming and worth photographing. Don’t forget to sample fried street snacks like Mirchi Vada at the Clock Tower Market. Wash it down afterwards with a cooling Lassi, a drink made with blended yoghurt. Whether its colorful curries or steaming street snacks you’re eating, you’ll want photographs of the food you eat in India to remember these flavors.
Most popular hotels in Jodhpur have al fresco dining, either rooftop or garden, ideal for dinner. Street stalls in the Clock Tower market offering fried snacks like Mirchi Vadas and Kachoris are best visited during the daytime or early evening.