From fancy wheels to chillies to polo to palaces - Jodhpur never fails to enthrall a traveller
Take a royal ride
Indian maharajas loved fancy wheels, didnít they? Get a glimpse of that passion at Umaid Bhawan Palace Museum and Ajit Bhawan, which has ten vintage cars, including the oldest Buicks and Fords dating to 1928. The jewel in the crown of the fleet owned by Gaj Singh, modern-day Maharaja of Jodhpur, is a meticulously maintained 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Drophead that has been in the family since it was purchased by his grandfather (its decidedly exclusive registration number reads Jodhpur 1). Book a classic or vintage car ride for a royal sightseeing tour and people will stare for obvious reasons (ajitbhawan.com).
Pay your respects to the Bullet Baba
At Bandai, almost an hour from Jodhpur, Om Singh Rathore died when he crashed his Bullet into a tree while riding drunk in 1988. The police claimed the bike and took it to the station. The next day, the vehicle was found back at the spot of the accident. The police brought it back to the station, emptied the fuel tank, and chained it for good measure. Still it found its way back miraculously. So the motorcycle was moved permanently to its preferred location and a shrine to Om Banna came up promptly. Hundreds of devotees turn up every day to pray to the Bullet Baba for a safe journey, and those who pass by bow their heads and leave offerings, often small bottles of alcohol.
Treat yourself to Tayeb Khan’s handcrafted saris
Forget about the done-to-death lac bangles and puny curios. Jodhpur's best-kept secret is tie-and-dye saris from a comely gentleman called Mohammed Tayeb Khan. The Padma Shri awardee does not sell from a store, by choice. You have to know someone who knows him (which is practically the whole city). He is happy to serve you tea and local yummies as you look up his collection of saris, safas and dupattas in wide-eyed wonder. The dana of the bandhej is no larger than the head of a pin. The shaded lehriya, a technique he developed, will leave you spellbound. He also cleverly designs pearly pastels, making them as glamorous as they are rooted. The best bit – he is more than affordable.
Get a whiff of the chillies of Mathania
The legendary Mathania mirch is known for its rich, dark red colour – and a flavour that sets tongues on fire. You can visit this town, an hour's drive (about 35km) from Jodhpur, to catch a brightly colourful look at the cultivation, drying and grinding of the 'lal badshah' – your nostrils will begin tingling from about a mile away!
Marwari and Rajput cooking widely uses the Mathania chilli as a dry spice and locals rue supply shortages because a lot of it gets exported or sold in bulk to upmarket hotels.
Watch a game of polo at the Jodhpur Polo and Equestrian Institute
Polo embodies valour, equestrian skill and sportsmanship and its Indian home is in Jodhpur. Watching the game of the royals at the Jodhpur Polo and Equestrian Institute is a novel experience. If you want to play, sign up for a game or a coaching session. The home team's victory was even sweeter for me when they defeated the British Army team at these very grounds in a British Polo Day match (jodhpurpolo.com).
Get enthralled by the Marwar Festival
Jodhpur truly comes alive over the Marwar Festival, thematically intended to praise Rajasthan's martyrs from the medieval era, in a tradition called Maand. Not only do puppeteers, singing minstrels and bards outdo each other in narrative folklore with their powerful singing on mythic stories from a heroic past, there are captivating displays of all sorts of performing arts – including acrobats, fire-eaters, and dancers who carry pots on their heads or balance on the blades of swords and daggers! Camel polo is played too. Some events spill over to venues at Umaid Bhawan Palace and Mandore but, chiefly and breathtakingly, it's the Mehrangarh Fort that transforms itself into a huge stage for music and dance, and the artistry is especially ethereal for it occurs over two full moon nights on Sharad Poornima (usually in October).
Go hiking at the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park
This is a splendid 200-acre park with a walking trail, developed in 2006 to restore the natural ecology of a large, rocky wasteland, neglected foryears and overrun by invasive thorny shrub, right next to the fort. The intention was to get rid of the baavlia and create a sanctuary-cum-nursery for native, rock-loving plants from the Thar desert (called lithophytes), so over 80 indigenous species of flora were planted. The foliage changes with the seasons and it's interesting to explore at different times of the year – if rohido or desert teak sets the landscape on fire with its neon orange blossoms in February, there's a gorgeous profusion of fragrant milkweed in August (raojodhapark.com).
Eat mawa kachori
The mawa kachori is Jodhpur's gift to the culinary world. This bomb-sized epicurean delight is stuffed with a heady mixture of khoya, nuts and,sometimes, rose petals. Forget calories! Locals easily gulp down about four or five at a time, but baharwale often have to be encouraged to go beyond the two or max three they can manage, by the affable owners of two of the best places to try some – Jodhpur Sweet House (jodhpursweets.com) and Janta Sweet Home (jantasweethome.com). The besan chakki, balu shahi and thaur are also yummy, and the fiery mirchi vada is just the thing to have after the sugar overload.
Saunter through history at the Mehrangarh Fort
Mehrangarh is one of the most magnificent forts in India, rising perpendicular from a rocky hill that itself stands like a guardian above Jodhpur's skyline, and the fort's building materials were chiselled from the rock on which it stands, so the structure merges with its base. Still run by the Jodhpur royal family, Mehrangarh is chock-full of history and legend. A local told me of this macabre tale: to secure a propitious future for the fort, its founder Rao Jodha had a man named Rajiya Bambi buried alive in its foundations; in exchange, the Rathores have looked after Rajiya's family ever since. But there's nothing sinister about the museum in the fort, one of the best in Rajasthan, and the gallery displays the personal swords of many emperors, including Akbar. The ramparts are lined with antique artillery and offer a panoramic view of the Blue City (mehrangarh.org).
Spend an evening at Umaid Bhawan Palace
Walk (or drive) through the majestic gates of the Umaid Bhawan Palace to instantly feel like a royal. Just as if Buckingham Palace took a select number of paying guests, the Umaid Bhawan Palace manages to be both the home of the royal family of Jodhpur and a Taj super-luxury hotel, unfortunately off-limits to anyone whoís not staying here. Even if you can't afford $600+ per night for a room, you can still get a glimpse inside the palace by having (an expensive!) dinner at one of its restaurants, or visiting the museum. Better still, make sure you get invited to an evening gala at least once in your lifetime, whether a rich distant cousin's destination wedding, a concert, or a fashion show, such as those organised during the British Polo Day weekend (tajhotels.com).