Jodhpur to Ranakpur to Udaipur Tues 8 – Wed 9 December 2009
Jodhpur was a busy metropolis, far more "full on" than the last few cities we'd visited. We had been waiting for a message from our friends from Dee Why Tony and Michelle who are currently in India on a tour of Rajasthan and had been planning to meet up with them in Udaipur. Somewhere along the line we had got our wires crossed re: their dates so it was a shock when we realized that they arrived there the next night. We were really keen to meet up as (particularly given the rate at which we travel!) it's likely to be many years before we're back in Australia! So we decided to head straight to Meherangarh the fort which overlooks Jodhpur City which we'd heard from various quarters was unmissible - and then continue on the road to make Udaipur the next day.
Thankfully the fort was such a major landmark that everyone knew where it was and we were soon heading up the very the steep winding path to reach this immense monument perched on a rocky ridge from which it overlooks the city below. We had a nice surprise when we arrived as we saw a familiar car in the car park - Thomas and Christine our German overlander friends had obviously arrived before us.
Time now being of the essence we headed off to see the fort. It really was truly magnificent - up there with the best we'd seen in Rajasthan - equally amazing was the view down over the city below as Jodhpur (particularly the old city) is painted a lovely shade of blue. Apparently this was initially done to reflect that the property was the home of a Brahmin but now non-Brahmin paint their homes this colour too. The colour is thought to repel mosquitoes and other insects and I guess it would be pleasantly cooling in the fierce heat of the summer.
The fort is very imposing surrounded by immense battlements and seven pols - or gates. Being built from the same rock as it is perched on it blends in and seem to be part of the hill to which it clings. Initially dating from 1439 it has been added to over the last few centuries by the various ruling maharajas. We walked through the immense gate where the 31 tiny hand prints on display commemorated that the fort had been the site of a Sati. This took place in 1843 upon the death of Maharajah Man Singh when his widows all chose to die on his funeral pyre - making them the last Sati martyrs of the Jodhpur dynasty.
We took the audio tour and very good it was too with an introduction form the Maharaja of Jodhpur (with a very cut glass English accent!) who still runs the fort. The whole thing was very well set up - very clean and well maintained and the narrative was very interesting.
Inside the fort the terracotta latticed network of courtyards and palaces was exquisite. We saw Singhar Chowk where coronations took place. Quite amazing was the audio narrative from the present Maharaja talking of his coronation in the early 1950s. His father died tragically in a plane crash and he was only 4 when he was thrust into power in this way. Talking of the day of his coronation he said that he hadn't known that his father was dead at the time but recalled being surrounded by big men with moustaches and being told he would now have to take on more responsibilities. At 4 years old!!!!
The Maharaja's reign has been one that has seen a great deal of change in the royal role as the British left and the Maharaja's power was removed though he seemed to retain a lot of wealth! He seems to have carved out a successful role here maintaining his family's history for the nation. We had heard previously that despite Rajasthan being so close to the Pakistani border during partition in 1947 as a result of the intervention of the various maharajas who guaranteed Hindus/Muslims safe passage in/out of the country this region was spared the bloodshed which happened elsewhere.
The museum inside was really interesting having all sorts of artifacts from the various maharajas. There were many palanquins or covered carriages on display which were used to transport the royal ladies who kept strict purdah. The one in our picture is a pretty simple one compared to some but it has an interesting story. Apparently it was used by the Maharani during a visit to England the early 1900s. The English press were driven into a frenzy by the Queen's insistence on practicing purdah and were desperate to get a picture of her. They finally succeeded in getting a shot showing the royal foot getting into this carriage and rushed it to the front page. The Maharajah was so outraged he bought every paper and had them immediately destroyed and all sold papers were recalled. If you'd kept one it'd be an interesting keep sake now. Gotta love the English press!!!!
Also on display were (of course!) many weapons - all beautifully inlaid with ivory and precious jewels and many incredible miniature paintings.
The complex housed many diverse palaces -all very opulent with much gold paint and glitz in evidence. They certainly knew how to live!! One of the maharajah's private quarters - which he shared with 30 wives and numerous concubines - was hung with Xmas baubles -dating from the mid 19th century this was apparently a sign of european influences!!
The nearby zenana or women's quarters had a variety of beautifully designed screens through which the women could peep at the goings on in the world outside without being seen. On display here were the cradles used by the royal (male!) babies some of them seriously OTT!
All this luxury needed defending and there was an impressive array of cannons along the fort walls. This was a magical spot gazing down at the blue city and hearing the noise (it was mosque time when we visited) carrying up from the town below. The small Hindu temple - dedicated to the goddess Durga - also struck up its nightly bell ringing. It was a very evocative place to sit and watch the sun go down.
There was a museum and craft centre on the way out - with demonstrations of local handicrafts and selling of these and Durries - locally made rugs. We were a bit late in the day and only caught them packing up. A lot of the men demonstrating and selling their wares were from families which had practiced this craft for 8 generations. The initiative to display it in this way and thus keep the craft alive came from the present Maharajah and it was very well done.
We treated ourselves that evening. We'd decided to camp up on the hill top near the fort that night and rather than hike down into the old city we went for dinner at Mehran Terrace the only restaurant right on the fort ramparts. It said in the guide book that you needed to book and we tried and tried but the phone rang out. We decided to give it a go anyway and found that we were the only diners! Not surprisingly if they don't answer the phone as it'd be a hike up here just to find they were shut! Apparently the food has had mixed reviews but they had a new manager and had obviously lifted their game as whilst the menu was very limited - really it only had Rajasthan Thalis - it was very good. The view and ambience - a candlelit table overlooking the fort with 2 robed waiters just for us - was superb and the Thali offering a real mix of local flavours was wonderful. In honour of my birthday next week we even splashed out on a bottle of wine - very decadent for us!
Getting back to our room (or parking spot) with a view we met up with Christine and Thomas and enjoyed a look at the films/pictures they'd taken - very good we were a bit jealous! It looked really interesting down in the blue city but we decided to keep going so we'd have chance to meet up with Tony and Michelle.
We got up very early next day (6am) and hit the road again towards Udaipur. We had a few issues getting on the right road as there were very few signs (in English anyway!) and they only seemed to provide them once they were no longer needed i.e.) once you'd got well underway on the correct road. Throughout our travels in Asia we find there are some places that we just can't pronounce in a way which is understandable to locals. Udaipur was one - we tried again and again "U-die -pur …Ooo de Pur" etc etc …and met blank looks. Eventually I resorted to writing it down at which point they'd say "Ahh…Udaipur" pronouncing it in exactly the same way as we had…. to our ears anyway!
Anyway we eventually got on the right road and hit a lovely area called Ranakpur. We were excited to see 2 very dressed up camels as we felt we were in the middle of nowhere and thought they must be going to a "local" event , but the drivers offered rides and spoke good English so we quickly worked out that we were deep in tourist -ville. This lovely valley -90km out of Udaipur - is a tourist mecca and home to a few up market looking spas due mainly to the presence nearby of India's largest and apparently most impressive Jain temples. We hadn't even known of them but as it was 11am and the main temple opened to non- Jains at 12pm so we decided to stay and have a look. We were really glad we did as they were jaw droppingly spectacular.
First we took in the 2 smaller temples - both with some spectacular marble carving - and the small Hindu Sun temple - the first one (we think!) we've seen but the real show stealer was the large Chaumukha Mandir or four faced temple.
Built in 1439 this immense structure had truly breath taking marble carving covering every inch. The huge array of halls are supported by 1444 pillars every single one of which is different!
It was amazing and understandably full of international day trippers mostly coming from Udaipur. We were so pleased that (purely by luck not research or planning!) we hadn't missed this.
Finally we arrived in Udaipur in the early evening of Wednesday 9 December. We headed straight to the tourist information centre to get a map. We had actually rung them from Ranakur. When we'd stopped at the local RTDC (government hotel) for lunch firstly we'd rung their sister hotel in Udaipur to see if we could camp there the night, but were told they had wedding bookings solidly for the next 3 days and so there was no room at the inn - or in the car park. So we then rang the tourist information office where we also bombed out - they told us to ring the municipal council where we got passed around between lots of people who didn't speak English. We gave up and went to the tourist reception centre on arrival just to get a map. When we got there we really lucked out as the Assistant Director (Ms Sumita Saroch) - a lady who was a real mover and shaker - was in residence. She was really helpful - and told us it was nonsense there was no room at the RTDC. She barked down the phone at them and as if by magic suddenly there was room for us to park!! We're not sure if it was a genuine misunderstanding - they had no rooms and might not have grasped that we were bringing our own - or whether they didn't want us there but either way we got a good quiet camp spot so we were very grateful. So - dodging the multiple wedding processions taking place around town - we made it to the RTDC Kajri had a quick shower and were off to meet Tony & Michelle.
They were staying at the gorgeous Karohi Haveli down on the lake and we met them on the roof top terrace and had a great evening catching up. They too are loving "incredible India" and had lots of great stories to tell. It was definitely worth the rush to get there to see them and we'd now got a good base from which to spend the next few days exploring the romantic city of Udaipur.