THINK JODHPUR and quite rightly the image of Mehrangarh Fort pops in to your mind. It is undoubtedly magnificent, in my opinion, the most impressive of all the forts in Rajasthan (on the main circuit) and one monument that I encourage a visit to. It is excellently curated and well maintained, the jewel in the crown of Rajasthan’s forts. But what else is there to do in Jodhpur after a visit to the fort? You can walk through the old town which is charming, and a world away from modern city living; there is the clock tower market which has all manner of fruit, vegetable and spice stalls, clothes, sparkly tank tops (!) and radios, all the accoutrements required for the local residents. Oh and a few puppets and trinkets for tourists too but then what? Well, quite a lot as it happens.
I have always sold Jodhpur as a three night destination, most travel companies send you there for one. But then, I like to get out and stretch my legs a bit more than that, my sense of adventure kicks in, curiosity gets the better of me and once I have discovered beyond the norms, I have to share. So here we have it, the things that most people don’t know about or if they do, don’t bother to tell you about but let me tell you, Jodhpur has a lot.
My preference for the last eighteen years has been to accommodate people out of the main city. Particularly on an itinerary of cities, it is nice to get away from the chaos and mayhem and noise and dust and see where the true heart of India lies, which as I have always maintained, is in its villages.
There are some wonderful unique properties, all of which are within a one hour drive of the blue city, in a wide range of budgets and all of which offer a variety of activities.
On the more budget side of things and just a 45 minute drive from Jodhpur is Chandelao Garh, the fortified home of the local gentry who have opened their doors to the public. But what makes this different is that most of the money generated by the hotel is pumped (in some cases quite literally) back into the local village. The owner, Praduman Singh, initiates and then works together with the villagers on many local projects which include, supporting education of girls, building water harvesting structures, a community centre and setting up Sunderrang which creates employment for the women of Chandelao and also to helps preserve the traditional handmade crafts of the region. They have also installed toilets into many of the rural village houses and their latest project is in training women from local villages to be solar engineers and setting up a computer training centre.
Nearby are the Bazaars of Pipar which, rarely visited by tourists, provide an opportunity to buy genuine local crafts, directly from source, the village also has block printers who use hand- carved wooden printing blocks to produce beautiful, colourful designs. After a day out exploring, it is great to head back to Chandelaogarh and sit on the rock outcrops close by, sipping a chilled beer whilst watching the magical hues of a typical Rajasthani sunset. Then head back to the hotel for a roof- top meal with the sounds of the village for company! My favourite rooms are in the old stable block, request one of these if you head that way.
Alternatively, take an hour’s drive to the north of Jodhpur to the Camel Camp at Osiya — a tented camp situated on the first sand dune of the Thar Desert. This is owned by the exuberant Reggie Singh, distant cousin of the Maharajah an excellent host of this oasis in the desert.
Enter the camp, having arrived by camel cart, to discover the unexpected. Tents line each side, fountains gurgle and bougainvillea adds a dash of bright colour amidst the soft hues of the desert landscape. As one wanders through the camp, many levels appear, one with the tents, then up to the restaurant area (choose the Maharajah style tented venue), and then another level up and one discovers a swimming pool, built in a sand dune, nothing fazes Reggie Singh! The pool has a shady bar on one side and well-spaced out double sun loungers for those wanting to soak up the desert sun. For those wanting to go an extra luxurious mile, Reggie will arrange for an exclusive tented desert camp.
It is easy to laze by the pool here but make the effort to climb onto one of the camp’s camels and take off into the desert to explore the landscape and local villages. Forget the scores of camels on the dunes at Jaisalmer, this is a unique experience with miles of desert spreading out in front of you. The villagers here are charming and you get to spend time with the local families.
Return to the camp for chilled beer, a swim and a glorious desert sunset awaits. Local performers then entertain you and this place is home to the only Jazz Bar in Rajasthan (to the best of my knowledge). Reggie plays DJ, entertains and plies you with his home doctored rum! Be warned, too many could leave you with a heavy head as you leave the next day, along with your heavy heart.
Three more places definitely worth mention all belong to the and come in a range of budget and styles. Rohetgarh, the original family home and one of the first places in Rajasthan to convert into a heritage hotel; Wilderness Camp, up one notch in price category is their tented camp with just seven tents, it is in a beautiful, quiet, countryside location yet still just an hour from Jodhpur.
For those with deeper pockets and an eye for luxury, detail and (another) unique experience is the award winning Mihirgarh, an all suite, private pool property which is quite simply, exquisite. All three properties offer jeep safaris to see the Bishnoi Tribes as well as cookery demonstrations to learn how to cook up some traditional, Rajasthani cuisine. However what makes these three hotels really special for me, is the owner Siddharth’s stable of Marwari horses, some of the finest in the country, and for any horse people out there, Marwaris, an indigenous Indian breed are an absolute joy to ride. Couple this with the Rajasthan countryside and you have the makings of the perfect day. Durations of ride are possible from 2 hours to full day (with a Royal Picnic lunch) to multi-day safaris.
One of my favourite new (ish) experiences is to head off into the desert dune bashing. Overlander Jeep safaris, having perfected their art in Dubai, but having their hearts in Rajasthan, have brought the true overlanding, dune bashing concept to the outskirts of Jodhpur. For the adventurous, self-drive is available as you follow them up and down ravines, dry river beds and some water filled ones too, season depending. For those who prefer to operate with a little more decorum and want to explore desert culture they will also drive you deep into the countryside, to places where the main stream, same old same old jeep safaris operators fear to tread. Thank goodness!
Overlander will take you on a journey to meet the world’s premier ecologists — the Bishnois, who have protected the Black Buck Antelope for over 500 years and are responsible for its survival. It is also possible to meet the Raikas or shepherds who maintain an ancient way of life. Meet the different tribes, see how they survive in the desert, see the ancient ways of providing a/c and how they cope in a land with very little water. Also try a traditional home-cooked village lunch. This is a unique insight into an ancient culture and is made possible due to the unique relationship that the guys has with the local villagers and tribes.
For something completely different, why not take to the air? Try your hand at zipwiring with Flying Fox for a birds eye view over the fort and a bit of adrenalin pumping to boot.
Never let it be said that Jodhpur is a one night destination, for me, three even four nights are possible here. Get out, explore, discover, enjoy and have your own stories to tell your friends, family and colleagues.