On the way from Udaipur to Jodhpur, we passed through Ranakpur, known for its big Jain temple. Our driver left us at the entrance of the temple but we didn’t enter but instead took a walk around it and then just relaxed on a bench outside the temple, enjoying the silence. Ranakpur is beautifully located in the midst of green hills, unusual for Rajasthan with its otherwise mainly flat, desertlike landscapes.
The Blue City
The old part of Jodhpur is called the Blue City for its many blue painted houses. I recommend staying in this part of town and there’s no shortage of accommodation here. Most guesthouses have a rooftop terrace with a café or restaurant with views of the massive fort towering over the city.
The streets crisscrossing the old city are so narrow that no cars can pass, but motorcycles can, of course, as well as cows and dogs. Here, the lanes are so labyrinthine, that it is really easy to get lost, and I mean it. One evening, it was already dark, we tried to find the way back to our hotel through the maze of tiny streets but for some time we just couldn’t. Some streets were dark and unusually empty, and there were dogs barking and growling; I was really scared one of them would attack us. They didn’t, fortunately, and after a few more turns, we were back at the hotel – we just didn’t arrive from the direction we thought we would. (And once more I was glad we had gotten vaccinated against rabies: over a third of all rabies deaths in the world occur in India. Get vaccinated!)
Mehrangarh: Another Mighty Fort
Mehrangarh, Jodhpur’s fort, stands big and resolute on a rocky hill high over the city, a setting that couldn’t be more stunning and impressive. Instead of taking an auto rickshaw up, you can also walk to the fort from the old city. Finding the beginning of the way is a bit tricky, then it’s very simple (although a bit exhausting; even in January it’s hot during the day). At the entrance, you receive an audio-guide. The stops are well marked and the guide is very informative. It’s fun listening to all the interesting and sometimes daunting things that happened in and around the fort. Just don’t mess with the security guards, they’re not fun at all.
The blue color of the blue city can only really be appreciated from above, so the main challenge is to find the perfect viewpoint. It used to be possible to get close to the rampart of the fort and view the city through the slits. However, due to some unfortunate deaths of all too daring selfie-takers who fell down the rampart (I know it’s tragic but I just don’t think it’s worth putting your life on the line for a picture), it has been closed off. Now, you can’t get closer than a meter to the huge wall which means that you have no chance of even getting a glimpse of the city below.
To the southwest, still on the rock where the fort stands, is a small temple. It’s visible from the city but there’s no direct way there from the fort. We were convinced that that must be the viewpoint, practically the only one now from where to see the city from above. But how to get there? Go down to the old city, then locate the way going up the rock and leading to the hill and just walk in that direction, always slightly upwards. At some point you will find the way and you’ll reach the temple in no time.
The Best Views
And the views are stunning! But that’s not all: behind the temple, there’s a gate that leads to a natural platform on the rock and that, my friends, is the viewpoint. Some time before sunset, a guy will come and open the gate (at least, that’s what happened when we were there), so you can step outside and enjoy the views of both sides of the rock. It’s an amazing perspective, you can watch the monkeys jump from house to house, watch women sew and men pray or read the newspaper on the rooftop terraces and listen to the chants from the temples. We didn’t get to finish watching the sunset, though, because a couple apparently booked the place to have their pre-wedding pictures taken there and everybody else was ushered away. Eyeroll.
Shopping in Jodhpur
Jodhpur has a beautifully restored stepwell, once again filled with water instead of rubbish. Across the stepwell are some boutiques and design stores, some rather classic and expensive, others selling amazingly designed clothes at good prices. There are lots of shopping opportunities in Jodhpur, of course, and again, you’ll need to bargain hard and don’t be afraid to walk out of a shop without buying anything if you’re not really sure you want it.
The Carpet Story (Commissions & Disappointments: India’s Commission System)
That day, on the way to Jodhpur, we wanted to buy a carpet. Our living room absolutely needed a carpet, so we planned to bring one from India. We told our driver to stop at places that sold carpets. In the first few shops we didn’t find what we were looking for and the carpets seemed too expensive. Not that we weren’t ready to pay but it’s important to keep in mind that most rugs are hand made by women in rural areas and wages are extremely low; the women receive about 50 rupees a day for their work. If the carpets are sold at a high price it doesn’t mean that the workers get more money unless you buy at a place that can guarantee fair wages. But even then they will still be very low as women in India earn much less than men for the same work.
Finally, we arrived at a place where we found a rug that pleased us and the price was acceptable. We bought it and continued our journey to Jodhpur, happy to have found such a beautiful rug. That evening, however, we found a small shop selling carpets in the old town close to our hotel. The carpets, the same size, material, and quality as the one we’d bought, cost three times less. The reason? Our driver had received a sizeable commission from the seller for bringing customers (even though he didn’t know the seller and we walked in first and he just followed us). This is standard procedure in India and is not only common practice in shops but also in hotels and restaurants, for example.
Drivers take up to 50 % commission on sales when they bring customers. However, it’s not the establishment that pays the driver, it’s the tourist who, unknowingly, overpays, and the extra money is then, behind the tourist’s back, handed to the driver. Since their wages are so low, drivers rely heavily on commissions but it’s not a fair system. We had a good relationship with our driver; he was funny and kind, and even though his English was not very good, he loved to tell funny stories and talk about his family and his village. But that evening, I felt like he had cheated us and it felt terrible. How could we have been so naïve? We wanted to pay our driver fairly and give him a good tip at the end of the trip but the incident put a strain on our relationship and we didn’t want to trust him again in such situations. I’d rather the items cost a bit more, and everybody, including the workers, got paid a fair wage than being tricked. But hey, that’s the way it works, isn’t it. In so many situations, fairness is just an ideal, desirable but impracticable.
So, long story short, here’s my advice: don’t let anyone, be it your driver, the guy from the hotel, and auto rickshaw or taxi driver, or just a random guy on the streets take you anywhere to buy something.