Although I have been to India before, I recently added to my knowledge of the country with a wedding celebration in Delhi, (my own), and a re-visit of the Golden Triangle and Jodhpur.
Jodhpur is a little off the main path of the classic Golden Triangle (Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra) trip and because it’s a 6 hour drive from Jaipur, my hunch is that it’s often over-looked though it certainly shouldn’t be. Nicknamed the ‘Blue City’ for the Brahmin houses painted deep indigo, it’s a city that is incredibly well preserved from a historical perspective (Jaswant Thada and Mehrangarh Fort are the main attractions and absolutely worth a visit) but also one that’s incredibly approachable.
Meandering thru the Old City markets felt like stepping back in time-it wasn’t uncommon to step out of a shop to find a man with a camel making local deliveries. Similar to the Maasai Markets in Kenya that are a treasure trove of beaded wares worn by the average person wearing on any given day, Jodhpur is a phenomenal stop for jutis (traditional curled toe leather shoes embroidered in bright colors) worn by shopkeepers and maharajas alike. My one splurge on this leg of the trip was at Maharani Textiles, a five floor fabric emporium below a grand warehouse of treasures full of hand-painted trunks, porcelain urns, and intricately carved doors (much like you’ll find in Zanzibar). Sitting with a cup of chai (also much like you would find in Zanzibar!), Rahul and his team opened up countless duvets displaying classic styles from the many regions around India. I made off with a traditional hand sewn phulkari bedspread (from Punjab where my new mother in law hails).
On to Jaipur, we dodged large trucks, cows, pedestrians, dogs, bicyclists, and buffalo which was a small taste of what was to come. Throughout India is a fantastic system, if you will, of Heritage Hotels that were the former palaces of the Maharajas and Maharanis before the taxes posed after Indian Independence from Britain made them unaffordable to maintain as private residences. You’ll find many current Maharajas still living in sections of them with several wings taken over by large hotel groups-Taj being a prevalent one. If walking through the markets of Jodhpur was a time warp, walking around the candlelit inner courtyards at night listening to qawalli music is utterly transformative. As atmospheric as the night was, nothing could prepare me for the opulence of the Amber Fort the following day. Extravagance, glamour, and ingenuity don’t even begin to describe this feat of engineering, and art. The Taj Mahal is spectacular in its own right but Amber Palace is breathtaking. Bonus: it houses the world’s first Jacuzzis where the bubbles were physically pumped into the deep tubs by hand.
Beyond the palace, it’s a quick drive before you end up in the countryside again, away from the bustle and buzz. Peacocks saunter not far from the road and monkeys playfully jump from tree to tree. For a small token, a man at the monkey temple will translate what the monkeys are saying for you…not sure I buy it, but who knew?
Although I got my fabric fix in Jodhpur and on previous visits to India, Jaipur is the mecca of the Indian textile and gem industries. A lover of block print, I was in rapture when my guide connected me with a local artisan so I could learn the process, and I even tried my hand a weaving a rug-I’d never paid much notice to rugs in the past, but the process is absolutely astounding.
My two great loves when I travel are culture and landscapes and the sub-continent is absolutely bursting with both. Throw in the fabulous textiles, art, and architecture of Rajasthan (I’m still an art history major at heart), the jaw-dropping beauty of the Himalayas and the incredible people of central Nepal and it was nothing short of an Extraordinary Journey.