Umaid Bhawan Palace
Our private tour cost €72 for both of us. This included our driver, our guide, a lovely air-conditioned new SUV and all entry tickets. Entry tickets are substantially more for tourists than for the locals, so having these included in our tour takes a lot of inconvenience out of the day. The car picked us up at 8:30 am and brought us up into the mountains to see Umaid Bhawan Palace Museum which was beside the Umaid Bhawan Palace. The palace was the wedding venue for Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra (f you are interested) and the Grand Royal Suite there cost €1500 per night which includes full board. Bet I would have gotten a turkey dinner there at Christmas if we hadn’t chosen to stay in the uncle's place. So yes the guy who owns our hotel is the uncle of the present king. Anyhow, we had a little look around the museum and while there we were told that palace construction was started in 1923 as a generous famine relief project for the stricken people of Jodhpur. This naturally brings to mind the many wonderful follies built around Ireland during our similarly stricken history. I’m not quite sure if this fall within an analogy of "every cloud has a silver lining" but never ceases to amaze me that nobody thinks of giving starving people food! Moving on, the museum was interesting and the car collection a little more so. The car collection included a few Rolls Royce cars and a few MG sports cars, a collection 007 would have be proud to feature in any movie.
Front of Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
On we went to Jaswant Thada, the cremation site of the Royal family. Here was constructed another palace type structure for the care of the ashes of these royal personages. I have come to realize that what is impressive about the Taj Mahal is not its uniqueness but its size and its considered architecture of perfect symmetry. By contrast this marble cenotaph monument is a retreat of tranquillity and beauty. It is approached through beautiful tiered gardens by a red stone walkway over looking a beautiful lake. The wealth and power these royals controlled seemed limitless. This structure was built in 1899 just on the heels of the 21st century. There is nothing in Europe to compare to these huge and intricate structures of memoriam even for those European of similar royal standing.
Jaswant Thada, Jodhpur
Our next stop was Mehrangarh Fort which was built in 1459 and sits on top of a mountain overlooking the city, particularly the Blue city immediately below its walls. It was a bit of a trek up to the fort as the road to it is very steep but I made it with just a few breath catching stops. The guide was very informative as to the defenses and the use of elephants in warfare. The gates are broad and tall to allow for elephants to pass through, the mode of transport at that time. But your enemy had elephants too so how they prevented the enemy pounding down the great gates with their elephants was to put spikes protruding out from the gates at just about elephant head height. Surely once the elephant was stabbed in the head with the spikes it would turn and run? “Nope!” said our guide, apparently in the good old days before elephants became cute they were the best war machines, especially if they were drugged. According to our guide, elephants were routinely drugged with opioids so that they would not feel the spikes sticking into them. The solution to this was to add poison to the spikes which would eventually kill the elephant before they got through the gates.
We walked from the road toward the steps which clung unrailed to the exterior of the building and this brought us up to the living areas of the fort. The steps were packed with people waiting to take the elevator up to the next level. I was sitting on the wall opposite posing for a picture. Suddenly, there was an audible intake of breath from the stairs opposite followed a second or two later. The wails of a small child, perhaps about three year old could be heard. It wasn't difficult to figure out what had happened. The child had fallen from the stairs onto the stone ground below, about six feet, but luckily no broken bones. It was shocking and an accident just waiting to happen. I am confident it had happened many times before, health and safety are a personal issue in India. I daily think it was a miracle that I have not had an injury. The fort had many ornate rooms and a view from the top out over the countryside. There was an open courtyard where the king would do his kingly work and settle local disputes or meet foreign dignitaries to discuss his kingly thoughts...whatever they may be. The queen was not allowed out of the palace but did like to see what was going on, so the king had built lattice windows surrounding the court where she and his many, many wives or consorts could sit and peep out through the holes but no one could see into them (concealing the queen and consorts from the public). Our guide told us that the queen had the last word in judgements as the King valued her opinion. I find this a difficult concept to accept, that a women who spent her life looking at the world through tiny peep holes in a window had more power than the king.
The Blue City
There was a walkway from the far end of the fort which went directly to the blue city below. I knew nothing of this place other than the buildings were painted a beautiful azures blue. The fort gives the best vantage point from which to view the blue city and to appreciate the name. From a distance it looks very beautiful with the sun shining down intensifying the jewel like blues. We made our way down a narrow winding path from the fort to the back of this ancient city. The streets became narrower and steeper. Houses seemed to be stacked tightly together with barely room for to people to walk abreast. As we went further into the city the streets seemed to close in and at some points we were walking down alleys that only one person at a time could pass through. There were dogs everywhere. I’m afraid of dogs at the best of time and these confined alleys were not helping. The blue city is an ancient city dating back over 500 years and everything seems to have been an add onto what was already there. On the higher elevations an open drain flowed just below the front door step of each of the houses. As we progressed further down and toward level ground I noticed manholes, some leaking onto the streets. Add to that the bustle of people, tuk tuks and motor bikes, dog crap everywhere. I turned and I couldn’t get out of the place quick enough. I really found the whole experience stressful. The closest comparison I can make is to ask you to imagine Merchants Arch beside the Ha’penny bridge in Dublin, now pack, lets say, a hundred people in there, some motor bikes a couple of stalls, a dog or three and some leaky drains. The guide could clearly see I was not coping and didn't understand why I was acting like a mad woman. He did his best to continue the tour and so brought us to the Stepwell and we concluded the tour at the clock tower. We finished the tour early and I claimed illness as I really did not want to cause offense. These were peoples' homes and place of business, a very far strength from the highly sterilized zones we in Europe have become used to living in. I'd still remember the smell of the Liffey running through Dublin city and the dirt of the streets but how quickly I had put those memories behind me and I have no desire to re-enact them. The guide kindly delivered us back to the hotel and later sent a video of the parts of the trip we had missed. I truly feel bad for the turn of events and perhaps if I could have pushed on through I would have enjoyed the remainder of the tour, we shall never know.
After the tour
We organised a driver through the same tour operator for the next morning. Tara (our driver) arrived as arranged and off we went on the 4 hour drive, over the mountains to Udaipur, our next destination in our India adventure.
The Mehrengarh Fort in Jodhpur was fascinating. Our education in elephant warfare was nothing short of mind blowing! but I am really disappointed with myself for my reaction to the Blue City. It was beautiful and presented as a tourist attraction but clearly I have become too used to my modern comforts and do not want a return to what might be considered simpler ways of living. Let me know what you think.
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.