If Rajasthan meant the ‘abode of the Rajas (kings)’ they certainly had enough of them and a quarrelsome bunch needing no end of forts. The scattering of princely states across what is now called India must have been an administrative nightmare for the British.
And so it was on to Jodhpur – the blue city – where the most fairytale of forts, Mehrangarh, overlooks the city.
Building of the fort started in 1450s and to ensure a successful result one poor man was buried alive in the foundations. In return the rulers promised to look after his family and their descendants which apparently they still do to this day. How this bizarre arrangement ever came to be wasn’t covered in the audioguide. Heading inside the main gates was another blast from the not-too-distant past. The hand prints of queens made on their last exit from the palace for their husbands funerals on their way to commit sati.
The practice of widow burning was banned by the British with the famous response by Napier, one of the British rulers:
“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs”
The interior of the palace and guide was particularly well preserved splendour while the exterior walls still had pock-marks from cannon balls betraying less relaxed history. Over the course of a few hours the weather changed with my first glimpse of monsoon rains.
Black clouds rolled, winds picked up and violent torrential rain started and just kept going. Stuck without umbrella or rain jacket I had to wait it out in the gift shop where the miniature paintings took my eye.
Painted in extreme detail with brush hair from a squirrels tail they can take days or weeks to paint depending on the size. I picked up a typically Rajasthani scene after some well-mannered haggling back and forth.
As I waited by the exit a piece of strung up tarpaulin was getting more and more bulbous with the weight of water until a member of staff came along with a tall ladder and pushed one side where the whole lot – hundreds of litres of water crashed down and send people scurrying!
On my way back down the winding streets with cascading streams of water these kids were revelling in the novelty of the rains – trying to swim uphill against the water!After my fill of Jodhpur I headed via nightbus to Udaipur. I was very impressed to get a fully flat bed compartment (they even have double beds on the opposite side of aisle) though half way through the trip the air flow started pumping petrol fumes into the interior of the bus – needless to say despite being somewhat lightheaded I didn’t get a good nights sleep! Udaipur is a beautiful lake-side city with traditional ghats (steps leading down to the water) and laid back ambience – perfect for a rest stop for a couple of days. The most famous sight in the town is the Taj Lake Palace hotel which featured in the James Bond movie Octopussy.
With room rates starting at £250 a night (without breakfast!) it wasn’t quite the backpacker hangout although I did manage to find some beautiful places from which to enjoy an evening G&T overlooking the lake sunset for a fraction of the price!