Situated on the eastern edge of the Great Indian Thar Desert, Jodhpur was founded in AD 1459 by the warrior Rathore Rajput Chief, Rao Jodha. The second largest of Rajasthan’s great cities today, it is also by far the oldest. Deep within it lies the old Walled City, a bustling microcosm watched over by the mighty colossus of Mehrangarh Fort (www.mehrangarh.org). This charming old city is the western desert’s great melting pot, and its lanes are filled with people from all walks of life and every corner of the region.
The Shahar is also an architectural and urban marvel. Though under relentless attack from the ravages of modernity and changing tastes, it remains full of wonder. Haveli town-houses of breathtaking beauty; an ancient Deodi entrance to a new ordinary house; an intricately carved over-hanging Jharokha window-balcony; an exquisite Jaali frieze in the famous rose-red sand-stone; a Chowk square blessed by a 300 year old sacred Peepul Tree; a Chowk court-yard of perfect proportion hidden away; incredible water-bodies – from Jhalra to Talab – Step Wells to Public Tanks; a dilapidated Burj bastion here, a shaded Gali cul-de-sac there; Temples and Mosques galore; the crumbling remnants of an elegant red sand-stone wall. . . In fact, the entire old city was completely walled in till the 1950s with the six monumental Pol gates closing up from dusk to dawn. The walls have all but been absorbed; the gates still stand, splendid and mute witnesses to a safer and more ordered past.
Commercial order lives on though, in a system akin to the European guilds, with specialized markets like the ‘Kapron ka Bazaar’ (Cloth) and the ‘Sarafa Bazaar’ (Silver & Jewelry); from the ‘Dhaan Mandi’ (Grain Market) to the ‘Mirchi Bazaar’ (Chillies & Spices), to an entire Betel Nut Lane. The Sardar Clock Tower Market (listed once by Condé Nast in the ‘100 Great Markets of the World’) on the other hand, is a veritable super-market; offering everything from street-food to textiles to bangles: American WWII jerry cans to Indian Army ammunition boxes.
Unmarked but clear divisions exist in the residential sections too. The most striking is Brahmapuri, the Colony of the Brahmins – that gave rise to Jodhpur’s most recent allure as the Blue City. For centuries, the fastidious priestly class has whitewashed its homes with a dash of indigo. It cools and keeps bugs away, and is now known as the Walled City’s aesthetic signature.
More than any other medieval Indian city, Jodhpur’s Shahar has been able to retain its old-world charm: a delicious, and thoroughly contagious, feeling of contentment wafts through the often manic lanes. Time stands still if nothing else does; an innate, and surprisingly contemporary, sense of style is everywhere to be seen; an inherent glamour pervades; all warmed up with an age-old tradition of hospitality polished true by the desert sun and air.