Capital of the former Kingdom of Marwar, Jodhpur owes its prominence to the trade route that once passed its gates, connecting the ports of Gujarat with the cities of the northern plains. The resulting wealth enabled the Marwari rulers to construct one of India’s most fabulous forts – Meherangarh– on top of a near-vertical escarpment. The cuboid houses of the warrenous old town below are painted a hundred shades of blue – a practise said to denote the homes of local Brahmins, but which actually derives from attempts to discourage termites by adding copper sulphate to limewash.
Whatever its roots, the custom has created a unique spectacle – best appreciated from the ramparts and royal apartments of Meherangarh, whose jarokha balconies and finely scalloped windows frame wonderful views of the cobalt chequerboard below. On your way up to the fort, look out for the carved handprints of the thirteen wives and concubines of Maharaja Man Singh who committed sati, – ritual suicide by self-immolation on the funeral pyre of their husband – in 1843.
Also visible from the battlements, on the southern outskirts of the city, is the enormous bulk of Umaid Bhavan, a palace built in 1929 by the local Maharaja. It is said to have taken an army of 3,000 labourers sixteen years to construct and holds 347 lavishly decorated rooms, some of them in high Art-Deco style. The palace is now run as a hotel. If you’re lucky enough to be staying there, sign up for a “champagne walk” through the palace museum, followed by a frame or two of billiards and late-night dip in the massive outdoor pool.
Other recommended excursions include trips by camel into the surrounding desert, where Bishnoi, Bhil, potters’ and weavers’ villages nestle amid the khejri trees and acacia scrub. The famous 8th and 9th-century temples at Osian are also nearby.