The city of the One Thousand and One Spices

Our arrival to Jodhpur wasn’t too pleasant. After a 7h long bus journey through the dessert the bus driver decided to drop us all at the outskirts of the city rather than bringing us to Jodhpur’s bus station. Of course outside there was an army of auto rickshaws waiting for all the tourist to get off the bus… We had arranged a free pick up from the bus station with Zafra (the owner of the guest house where we were going to stay), but we had no idea where we were! So, once we managed to get away from all the auto rickshaws, we tried to talk to some of the locals to find out in which area of the city we were at. Most of the locals barely spoke English so after 10 mins using “sign language” and a tiny map, which they normally don’t know how to read, we were able to understand where we were and could finally call Zafra. We later learned that bus drivers usually do this when the traffic is bad.

Jodhpur is the second largest city in the state of Rajasthan. The city is also known as the “blue city” due to the blue color of the houses in the old city. Jodhpur was the capital of the kingdom known as Marwar. The city’s main landmarks are Mehrangarh Fort, Umaid Bhavan Palace, which is both a hotel and the current residence of the last Marahaja (while wealthy and with lots of influence he no longer has political power), The Jaswant Thada mausoleum, and Sardar Market with its clock-tower. We only visited the fort and the market.

Mehrangarh Fort was built in 1459 when Rao Jodha decided to move the capital of his kingdom to a safer place. Because its location, it sits on top of a hill, and because how it was built, it is enclosed by imposing thick walls, the fort has never been taken by force. We visited the fort one sunny morning and while a bit expensive if you compare it with the price non Indian have to pay (we paid 300 INR each + 200 INR for the camera) it is totally worth it. You get a free audio guide on arrival that explains to perfection the different areas of the fort and palaces, the different events that took place in it, the paintings, items in the museums… We loved the views of the city from the walls of the fort!

Sardar market is a spice market set in the center of the old city around the clock tower. Crowded by both Indian and tourists the colours and the smell of the spices overpowered our senses. We wondered around the narrow streets looking curious at the hundreds of different spices, without really knowing what they were until we found by chance Jitender’s little shop in one of the back alleys of the market. The kind Jitender spent 20 minutes with us explaining with passion all the different spices, lentils, rice… he had in his shop and without asking for anything in return. As I really wanted to send home some spices and because of the good impression Jitender left on us, we went back the day after and bought a good mix from him! Hopefully they should be reaching home now (you never know how long it takes with Indian Post!).

Walking around the old city we run into Spice Paradise, a little shop owned by Rekha and her husband Anil where they run cooking courses. We had heard about Rekha’s tea and food from another travelers blog. We went in just to inquire about the cooking courses (800 INR per person) and Rekha’s kindness and her Masala Chai enchanted us, so we asked her to book us in for the course on the following day. As we were told, we arrived with an empty stomach, and thank god! There we meet Ian, a Canadian guy who was going to do the course with us, and after the introductions the cooking began! We learned so much about how to use the spices and how to make so many delicious Indian dishes… from the traditional Masala Chai, to the mouth watering Shahi paneer, the Makhania lassi (not for those dieting), the yummy Byriani and of course without forgetting all the range of breads: Chapati, Naan, Parathas, Puris. We ate all the dishes as we finished cooking them, and even though we could barely move after eating so much, they were 5 hours of food happiness!

We read that from Jodhpur it was also possible to do a Safari tour around the Bishnoi villages (600 INR per person). The Bishnois are a community that are known for their true love to the nature and animals. Even though we are not too fond of this kind of touristy tours, we decided to give it a try because of the good reviews. So, on our last day of our stay in the “blue city” we got picked up from our guest house by the jeep that would take us to the Bishnoi villages. We started our tour by visiting a Muslim pottery family where even I tried to make a clay pot (not very successful I have to say). Next stop was at the house of a local family where they cooked lunch for us and they showed us how they make durries (some kind of rugs). Then, we visited the house of a Bishnoi family where they did the opium ceremony for us. Although opium is ilegal, it is commonly used to make tea at the ceremonies.They poured a little bit of the tea in our hands and while we were a little concerned of getting a bit high, we drank it. And for those curious it had no effect on us at all!! After a ride through the dessert trying to scout peackocs and gaceles, we finished our tour dropping by a textile factory before heading back to Jodhpur. The tour wasn’t what we expected, while it can be interesting for some other people, it disappointed us as we felt a little bit trapped and forced to buy everywhere throughout the tour.

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Accommodation

We stayed at Hill View guest house, nice place close to the entrance of the fort run by Zafra, a local turned polititian. We were recommended this guest house by Juan, a chatty Venezuelan that we met in Jaipur. He asked us to give Zafra back the 100 ruupies that costed to send the diary he forgot when he stayed there. While the room was quite basic, it was clean and had an attached bathroom. We only paid 300 INR per night. As in Pushkar hot water was running all day except in the morning when there is a general power cut in the city (9am – midday). On the less positive side the water tank was tiny, we had no washbasin to wash our hands of brush our teeth, the food of the restaurant wasn’t great and there was no wifi.

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