If we were superstars in Jodhpur, in Udaipur we were absolutely nobody. People must be so used to have foreigners walking in their streets, at least in the city centre, that they don’t care about them anymore. The city looked different too. What we saw from the rickshaw on the way to the hotel was a relatively clean town.
The town itself, with its predominant white buildings, gravitates around the Pichola Lake, and the two main points of access to the lake, one in front of the other, are Lal ghat and Hanuman ghat.
Around Lal ghat everything is aimed at tourists and travellers. You see many Indian cooking classes advertised as well as yoga courses. Even the choice of restaurants is more international than usual, with Israeli eateries and German bakeries catering to un-imaginative and un-adventurous travellers.
In the morning you see people washing themselves and their clothes in the lake. Someone also takes a swim before the start of the day. As you approach the sunset the lake begins to look like a mirror and at night it becomes picturesque and makes a gorgeous view to enjoy from one of the many rooftops around the ghats. That’s one of the reasons why Udaipur gained fame as a romantic city. It also looks like in the last years it has become a popular wedding destination, mainly for foreigners.
Walk in town and you will soon realize that many hotels and guesthouses have a cinema room showing “Octopussy” each and every night, some at 7 some at 8. Wonder why? The lake palace hotel on Jagniwas (one of the main islands on the lake), was one of the locations of this Bond movie and locals are quite proud of it.
Udaipur is surrounded by a bunch of hills from where it is possible to enjoy views of the city and take good pictures as well. The two main spots to head to are the Monsoon Palace and the Sunset point. The latter is definitely cheaper and easier to reach. Monsoon Palace can cost you several hundred rupees including rickshaw and entry fees, so we decided to give it a miss this time.
Other two important landmarks you shouldn’t miss are the Jagdish temple and the city palace. The city palace is the biggest in Rajasthan and it’s really worth a visit.
We had a nice time in Udaipur. Even if nothing relevant happened from a social point of view, we were still able to enjoy the romantic side of the city and we took a very interesting Indian cooking class. We will share some recipes soon.
In the meanwhile here are some pictures of the white city.
Jodhpur was the second city we visited. After three days in Delhi, Jodhpur looked like heaven. We had a great time there, and great contact with the locals, as well as with fellow travellers. See our other posts on Jodhpur:
Here is a list of things we loved and we think you should try and do if you’re visiting the Blue City.
1. See the Mehrangarh fort – this is a magnificent structure that dominates the city from the top of a hill. The mahraja of Jodhpur still lives in this fort, even though mahrajas haven’t got any power left nowadays. Taking the audio tour or hiring a guide is highly recommended to make the most of this experience. Also you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city and you’ll understand why Jodhpur is called the blue city.
2. Visit the markets in the old city. The Sadar market, near the clock tower, with its mixes of spices, clothes and various crafts is a good place for a stroll. Enjoy the colours and the mixed smells. One thing has to be said, though. This market is mainly aimed at tourists so you may find higher prices and a higher number of touts than everywhere else, so you may want to explore the other adjacent other markets as well.
3. Try the omelette man near the clocktower. This guy makes delicious omelettes, and because it’s been recommended by Lonely Planet and many other international publications (including a Portuguese newspaper), it’s no surprise that many travellers end up giving the omelette man a go.
4. Try the pure vegetarian Brahmin cuisine at cosy guesthouse, in its wonderful rooftop scenery, while you chat with other friendly travellers visiting India.
5. Enjoy people’s curiosity and friendliness. Jodhpur is not a scam city – while it is advisable that you keep your eyes open within reasonable limits, being paranoid here is not good and if you do become paranoid you’ll miss out on connecting with the locals. Just have a walk with a camera on your shoulders and be everybody’s best friend. Allow curious children to hijack you into Hindu temples and markets. Take pictures of people and let people take pictures of you.
6. Take the Bishnoi village jeep safari. This safari can be arranged through your guesthouse or hotel, or through some tourist centres in town. Depending on the provider you choose this tour will set you back 500-600 rupees. The tour is very interesting and will give you plenty of photographic opportunities.
Has anyone been to Jodhpur? Any other things you want to recommend and add to the list? If so please leave us a comment.
On our last day in Jodhpur we hired a driver through our guesthouse owner and went exploring the villages in the outskirts of Jodhpur city. Some of these villages are kind of difficult to reach if you’re travelling independently because of the condition of the roads, so a tour (in our case a jeep safari) with an experienced driver is the safest way to go.
Our driver, Shiva, took us to many places including a Bishnoi village. The Bishnoi are followers of an environmentalist religious movement which considers trees and animals to be sacred.
Our first stop was the memorial of the khejarli massacre. In 1730, 363 Bishnois were killed because they opposed the men sent by mahraja Abhay Singh, whose mission was to cut down some khejri trees that the mahraja intended to use to build his new palace. The sad event become famous as the khejarli massacre (khejarli, from khejri, the name of the tree).
The closest village is called Khejarli, probably after the massacre, and that’s where we stopped next. Shiva took us into a Bishnoi house where we were greeted by a man in white turban, Vakram. “Ramram” he said, instead of Namaste – then he explained that ramram is an alternative way of saying hello, which is used in the countryside.
We then met Rajuram and Dapu, Vakram’s son and daughter. While Dapu went back to her cooking duties, Romana and I were invited to sit on a carpet on the floor in the patio. Rajuram and Vakram offered us some opium tea (yes you heard it right) as welcome drink. He put a small piece of opium in the water and then filtered it and pour some drops of it on our hands – no cups this time. If you are wondering whether it had any particular effects, well… the answer is no.
We were then showed their house. Bishnoi’s houses are made by natural materials, including mud.
We took some pictures, asked some questions about their community and then moved on to Sangasani, a village of potters. Here we met Ushenkan and his two children, Prem and Pamar. Prem and Pamar were so excited posing for pictures that we ended up taking more pictures of them, including one where Prem played “air cricket”, than of their father working on his pottery. Before we left I also took a picture of Akim, father of Ushenkan, whose long muslim style beard and facial expression made him an interesting subject for my camera.
On our way to the next stop, Sotagura, a lot of children saluted our jeep and screamed “hello” to us. Sotagura came across as a peaceful place. Here we got to chat with Rauzi. I loved his yellow turban and the depth of eyes and I had to take a couple of portraits of him.
Finally we visited other places, and got to see a number of typical local activities including block printing and dhurrie making. On our last stop we had a nice lunch made of green beans, cucumber and chapati, rigorously eaten without cutlery and cooked by some dhurrie makers from the village of Salawas.
All in all a very interesting experience that I would recommend to everyone visiting the Jodhpur area. Similar tours can be organized through most guesthouses and agencies in Jodhpur and shouldn’t cost more than 500 or 600 rupees or so per person (the eqiuvalent of 8 euros).
Here’s a gallery of pictures taken during the day. I hope you enjoy them!
As I said in another post, I love ethnic portraits, and now that I’m in India I have a lot of beautiful exotic people at hand to photograph. Taking street portraits on the go is not a problem anymore now that the ice is broken, but I had another wish (some people I spoke with before I left know this already) – to actually get to know a local family, connect with them and photograph them inside the most natural context: their home.
A few afternoons ago Romana and I were exploring the old town in Jodhpur, while yet another young girl asked if we could take a picture of her. I prepared my camera and took two or three shots, but the shooting conditions weren’t ideal. The sunlight was too strong and it was difficult to isolate the subject from the background with the ultra-wide angle lens I had on my camera. We took the shots, as I said, then smiled at the girl and started walking away ready to erase her picture, when unexpectedly she invited us into her family’s home. We didn’t let her repeat twice and with another big smile we followed her. My wish was coming true.
As we got in, I was struck by the emptiness and the simplicity of the home. The rooms were small and relatively naked but with a sort of elegance to them. We were invited to sit on a carpet on the floor and served some chai.
It wasn’t long before we came across some of the other members of the family. Two kids, Tanyia and Punit, a baby girl, Nohita, and the mum, Kiran. The girl’s name, we found out, is Hemlta and she is 12 years old.
After the chai I took more pictures. I kept the ultra-wide lens on my camera because I didn’t have much space and I raised the ISO to obtain a higher shutter speed, given that the light indoor wasn’t that intense. I started shooting the children, which were overexcited and were smiling and playing with each other like crazy.
Hemlta went to brush her hair and came back to us ready to be photographed. She really looked like she was playing a game. She started posing for us like a real model and Romana and I were amused by Hemlta’s attitude in front of the camera – after a while she also changed dresses and put some necklaces.
While I was shooting Hemlta I had to dodge Punit who was always trying to either come into the frame one millisecond before I pressed the shutter, or touching the lens with his fingers. On the other hand Tanyia kept saying “hello, un photo please” and pulling my t-shirt. They were so sweet!
At some stage I detached my ultra-wide lens and put my zoom lens on, because I wanted to do some close ups and change approach – this zoom lens is a 24-105mm and gives me a degree of flexibility, plus on the 105mm end I can have some control on the depth of field and isolate my subjects.
Kiran, Hemlta’s mum, wanted to be photographed too so I took a couple of shots of her, and then some family group shots including a few with Romana in them. Here is a selection of the shots:
We had to leave because it was getting late, but we promised to come back the day after, with some pictures printed. Once back at the guesthouse I started working on a selection of the pictures taken in the afternoon and the morning after I was ready to take the full resolution files to our host’s cousin’s photo studio in the old town. The studio wasn’t able to print the pictures by that afternoon, so we ended up going to Hemlta’s house with our hands kind of empty. We just stopped on the way to buy some sweets for the children and once in Hemlta’s place we were invited to drink some chai. We also met Hemant, another of Hemlta’s little brothers, who, probably disappointed for having known that he had missed out on the shooting session the day before, almost immediately after the introductions ran away in tears. Hemlta’s father, Amolak, was there also and we were introduced to him too. Amolak is a cook and has a street food stall right downstairs from the house. When he heard that we mentioned that we love indian food he suddenly disappeared, only to reappear a few minutes later, with two delicious Kachori for us. When the kachori was finished we left almost immediately.
Communicating was not easy as neither Hemlta nor any member of her family can speak proper English. One of the few things we managed to understand is that Hemlta loves Romana and called her “my best friend”.
The day after, we went back to Hemlta’s home with the pictures finally printed, as promised. Hemlta was very excited and when she saw us she ran downstairs to welcome us into her home again. Because we had been to some villages near Jodhpur in the morning and shot our ‘daily quota’ of pictures already, I left my camera in at the guesthouse. After all our third visit was supposed to be brief, and we were supposed to drop the prints and then leave. But we were invited in again.
Kiran, Hemlta’s mother, made some good chai. When the chai was finished she and Hemlta dragged Romana toward the cloakroom. After a while the three women reappeared wearing beautiful sarees, bangles and necklaces. Romana was so happy: she always loved sarees and wanted to try a real one. Kiran also dressed Punit and Hemant, the two little children and it didn’t take long before the Bollywood scene in front of my eyes made me understand that I’d made a big mistake leaving my camera locked in the room.
What did I do then? I used my iPhone’s camera. Perhaps not the same as a digital reflex, but still enough to capture some nice memories. I finally could make it up to Hemant, and to compensate I took a lot of pictures of him and let him play with my iPhone too. You should have seen how happy he was.
Finally my iPhone battery died and I couldn’t take any other picture. Amolak had just returned from work and he look tired, so we finally said goodbye and left. We exchanged contacts with Hemlta and her family and promised them to write to them some time.
Now, there may not be much to see in Jodhpur apart the magnificent fort and the markets in the old city. If you probably talked to a travel agency they’d tell you one day in Jodhpur is enough. But that’s definitely not the point. Stories like this make me understand that some of the most meaningful experiences you can do when you’re on a long term travel have little to do with the tourist sights (which are also important, by the way), but about the people you meet along the way and connect with. There is no one place where one day is enough if you’re not a tourist. And in this travel we’re not being tourists, so that’s one more reason why I’m happy Romana and I decided not to buy a tour of Rajasthan back in Delhi (see our Delhi, first stop high impact – part I post) – exploring Rajasthan on our own is proving way more rewarding. If we had been on a tour with a driver, probably we would not have had a chance to have a similar experience.
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