Day 129: Jodhpur, India. We had a nice lazy start to the day, catching up on sleep, and sitting on our hotel terrace in the sun, reading and drinking coffee.
Late morning we headed out to visit Rao Jodha Desert Park, a 72 hectare park which contains ecologically restored desert and arid land vegetation. We spent a while wandering through the old town on the way, checking out incredible old buildings and tiny open fronted shops selling everything from saris to screwdrivers, and cute dogs resting in the sun.
Lil spotted an Indian sweet shop and stopped to buy what looked like iced fudge, which we ate later – and which was addictively delicious. There was a huge choice of sweets in glass fronted display cases, plus some golden pastries and syrup sitting in a large metal pot – all way too tempting.
We also stopped to take a look at Toorji’s Step Well, which was built in 1740 by the consort (queen) of Maharaja Abhay Singh. Stepwells are wells or ponds where the water is reached by descending sets of steps to the water level. Apparently Jodphur has over 100 stepwells, some tucked away in the narrow streets, though this is the only one we’ve stumbled on so far.
Jodhpur is known as the Blue City, as many of the houses in the old city are painted light blue – though there seems to be no consensus on why blue was chosen. Some say the colour is associated with the Brahmins, India’s priestly caste and the blue houses belong to families of that caste. Others say it’s to keep the buildings cool in the sun. And yet others say it’s because termites caused significant structural damage to buildings and that chemicals, including copper sulphate, were added to the whitewash to fend them off.
Whatever the underlying reason for the blue – it’s gorgeous. Wandering about the streets and laneways is a treat, and brings back memories of small laid back villages on Greek islands.
We stopped for brunch at a rooftop cafe above a guesthouse in another old haveli, with glorious old stone walls and intricately carved wooden doors and panels. It was a steep climb to the rooftop, where the views across the blue painted buildings were also sensational. While we were sipping our coffees, we could hear singing and chanting coming from the local temple across the rooftops.
The waiter at the cafe is called Dilip, and he’s from Nepal. He must be pretty fit as he has to constantly run up and down the stairs from the ground level of the cafe to the rooftop, to take orders and deliver food. He now lives and works in Jodhpur, which he loves, but says he misses his family dreadfully at times. He was pretty keen to hear that we liked his cooking (stuffed paratha and a simple toasted sandwich), which we did. A lovely guy, very welcoming and rightly proud of his achievement to move from Nepal and find work in Jodhpur.
On the last stretch of the road to Rao Jodha Desert Park, a motorbike pulled over and a guy took off his helmet, got off his bike and started chatting to us. He’s a student in the city, and whenever he spots tourists (which can’t be very often at this time of year), he takes the opportunity to stop and say hello and practice his English. A lovely guy – and of course we had to pose for a selfie.
We entered the grounds to the Desert Park, paid the entrance fee, and got a map and briefing from Hersh, the guy at the reception desk. Hersh pointed out a monitor lizard hiding in the hedge. Jim was disappointed to hear that he’d missed seeing a 2 metre cobra (one of the top three deadly Indian snakes) which had slithered into the entrance way only 30 minutes prior to our arrival. Lil wasn’t quite so disappointed.
We set off for our walk around the park, which is fabulous and fascinating. It was opened in 2006, created by removing the non-native plants that had taken over the land and replacing them with native ones. It also gives a good impression of what hiking in the desert must be like – arid and hot and rather uncomfortable.
The desert park has more spectacular views of Mehrangarh fort, from the opposite side of the city.
When we got back to the reception area, we had a great chat with Hersh about the recent treks he has done, and the wildlife sanctuaries he’s visited. He’s a keen photographer with a nice looking camera, and showed us lots of photos of panthers and other wildlife he’s encountered along the way. Jim spent some time going through an Indian birds book with him to identify a small falcon we’d spotted on our walk.
Hersh also showed us a photo of the cobra we’d missed earlier in the day, and a video of a different (even bigger) cobra that head-butted his shoe under his desk last August, before making its way into his office. All in a day’s work, as they say.
We said our goodbyes, and wandered back through the old town, stopping to buy some fruit at the market. We had a late afternoon coffee at an old coffee room tucked above a strip of shops. We were the only people there, but the coffee was great and Lil got to read the India Times and catch up on local news.
After a rest and some more reading and research at our hotel, we headed back up to the rooftop for dinner again. The restaurant gets great reviews for its authentic Rajasthani food, and it really is sensational. This evening we had a super-hot chili paneer and a spicy local sesame dumpling dish.
Tomorrow we’re planning another lazy start to the day, then a visit to Mehrangarh Fort which should be interesting and fun. And Jim’s day will be made even more special if we manage to spot a two metre cobra along the way. Lil says hopefully not.