If pressed on which was my favourite city in India, I would say it was like having children and I couldn’t possibly choose. But secretly, I suspect all parents do have a favourite, and I admit I hold just an extra special place in my heart for Jodhpur.
The ‘Blue City’ is fascinating. Full of authentic and amazing experiences, some have described it as Jaipur twenty years ago before the influx of visitors. So get there quick. Although, as ancient traditions are so easily intertwined with the modern in India, I suspect Jodhpur is not going to be changing its old-world character any time soon.
I guess my affection for Jodhpur does have something to do with meeting the very charming and gracious Maharaja himself, as well as borrowing one of his vintage cars complete with a white-gloved, turban-clad chauffeur for my transfer to the airport. As you do! The busy traffic parted like the Red Sea, children smiled and waved as we passed and I felt a taste of what royal life must be like.
It probably also has to do with Swaroop, my ever so efficient butler at Umaid Bhawan Palace (pictured above) who has previously served Prince Charles, Mick Jagger and Liz Hurley when she married Arun Nayar here. As if a stay at one of the largest residences in the world wasn’t enough to make a girl feel like a princess. This is a hotel like no other: the present home of the royal family, the second wing of this art deco palace is one of the most luxurious hotels now run by Taj.
For less grandeur but a genuine experience in an altogether different way, Raas (pictured below) also captured my heart. A unique boutique hotel occupying four original sandstone buildings and three sleek, modern additions, it is set in the heart of the old walled city with its houses washed in Jodhpur’s distinctive indigo hue and its twisting, narrow lanes. The awe-inspiring Mehrangarh Fort seems to hang over the open spaces and is visible from many of the 39 stylish rooms.
The Fort, founded in 1459, dominates the city, clinging magnificently to a hillside and offering panoramic views of the kingdom of Marwar. This is the location for what has to be the most spectacular gala dinner any incentive winner could dream of: welcomed by a procession of guards in their ceremonial dress and all manner of dancers, musicians and entertainers, before sitting down for a lavish dinner which is then finished off by dazzling firework displays.
Jodhpur is also synonymous with polo. No prizes for guessing this is where jodhpurs were invented, and you can have a tailor-made pair for much less than the ones currently featuring in all the glossy magazines. There are also spices, textiles and exquisite handicrafts to bring home from the bustling bazaar near the Clock Tower, deemed one of the ‘100 Great Markets of the World’ by Conde Nast.
Venturing out of the city into the Thar Desert on a jeep safari, one can explore temples, palaces and the villages of the Bishnoi tribe - a people committed to preserving nature. You can even camp out under the stars in the most lavish manner at tented camps such as Chhatra Sagar (pictured below), an idyllic lakeside spot which makes the perfect stop off point between Jaipur and Jodhpur.
The vivid colours set against the arid desert landscapes, the rich history, the warm hospitality of the people and the experiences this medieval city holds makes it captivating, exhilarating and my favourite child…so far. I want to go back. Now.