A Travellerspoint blog

Rajastan's Three J's by Road

Surviving our Roadtrip to Jaipur, Jodphur and Jaisalmer

sunny 28 °C

Our transportation options from Agra towards Rajastan were really train or car. I actually really enjoy trains, but most of the long distance trips tend to be overnight, and in the yellow-windowed, air-conditioned carriages it’s actually quite hard to see anything of the countryside flying by, so we decided to continue our journey with a hired car and driver. We found a company called Rajastan Four Wheel Drive online, and trialed them with the relatively short trek from Agra to Jaipur. Despite the fact that we hadn’t requested AC in the car, it was quickly found to be broken when we set out, and – although frankly we would have been more than happy to continue the journey sans AC – the car company insisted on sending another car out from Jaipur to meet us along the way. Talk about customer service!!!

The restoration progress made since my last visit just three years ago is staggering. For a little baksheesh, we were able to get past this door to see some conservation work in progress.

After just one day in Jaipur, we were a little antsy to get moving, and we decided to use the same car company for our onward journey through Rajastan and ultimately to Delhi.

On our way to Jaisalmer, and really more to give the driver a break than anything else, we stopped overnight at Jodhpur. We were very glad we did! Mahrangarh Fort turned out to be a must-see of our Indian leg, and in terms of scale and beauty has to be one of the more memorable Indian forts. Taking advantage of a natural bluff that sits more than 100 metres above the surrounding area, the Fort was started by ruler Rao Jodha in 1489, and – in addition to the palaces and courtyards that we viewed - comprises an extremely impressive wall that is more than 20 metres wide and 30 metres tall in places!


Even though we were among the Fort’s first visitors of the day, our stroll up to the red sandstone palaces was accompanied by live local musicians including a young man with an excellent singing voice playing a stringed instrument of sorts. The path into the heart of the fort was laid out in an ‘S’ shape, apparently this was so that charging elephants wouldn’t be able to build momentum when they attacked the fort.

Easily the most impressive fort of our visit. It would have been a tragedy to have driven right by it....

What is notable about this fort versus a number of other sites we have had the good fortune to experience here in India was the quality of the visitor experience. For the first time, we had a high quality, informative and well-produced audio tour, and the fort itself had been very well prepared for visitors and – indeed – was being very well maintained. There were even attractive looking cafes and a high quality museum gift shop! Did we wake up back in the US today? We wondered if improving the Mehrangarh Fort tourist experience had been someone’s MBA project at some point?

Images from our memorable morning at Mehrangarh Fort.

In case the photos don't do the trick, we’d highly recommend a visit to Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort. That said, we don’t think we missed too much by heading straight out of town immediately after our visit, anxious to get to Jaisalmer by mid afternoon. The drive took us through Rajastan’s centres for stone carving and cement before finally we turned off the Tata-intensive road and found a far more peaceful route, ever-more sandy and desolate. The constant need to slow for animals reminded us of our time in Africa, although here we’re dodging camels, herds of sheep and goats and the omni-present cows. Herds of sheep and goats make their way comfortably along the road before our Toyota Innova splits the herd. As we pass, we see red or yellow-turbaned shepherds rush to re-group the herd. There’s no time for a friendly wave at the passing tourists here.


Jaisalmer appears on the horizon and does not disappoint. Similar to Jodhpur, the Fort is situated on a natural bluff, with an impressive wall of 99 bastions surrounding it entirely. However, Jaisalmer is a living Fort which means that about 300 families still make their homes within the Fort walls. We’re excited to have found a hotel within the walls, and – since no ‘outside’ vehicles are permitted – we’re whisked up the Fort’s bumpy roads in a Tuk-Tuk and delivered to the Garh Jaisal hotel. It’s a beautiful setting, undeniably, and our hotel room includes a really cute window seat overlooking the walls and the city. The large roof terrace also offers great views. The room is basic but clean. And yet we will leave the hotel conflicted for reasons we’ll discuss a little later.


So – Jaisalmer! Even older than Jodhpur, having been established in 1156 by Maharaja Jaisal (hence the name!). Establishing his namesake town here, Jaisal fulfilled a prophecy by Lord Krishna that descendents would rule from the flat-topped, slightly inclining rock of Tricuta (which is the rock on which Jaisalmer is built). Just like the founder of Jodphur, Jaisal sought the advice of a mystic for the fort’s location and was not put off by the warning that a fort on Tricuta would be sacked more than once. In fact, the fort’s defences held against several prolonged and vicious attacks, but nonetheless the prophecy became true when – on at least two occasions – the Bhatti clan proclaimed ‘johar’. Johar involved the suicide of all women and children in the fort, usually by fire, before all the men rode out to meet certain death. At least the men were hopped up on opium – the women had to jump into the flames with nothing more than determination! Who says women are the weaker sex? This was considered a more honourable end than defeat.


Happily, Lloyd and I were not besieged here for seven years, but I would say that ‘johar’ might have been an attractive option if we’d had to stay too much longer than three nights – the food here is awful: I dream of fresh oranges and a roast dinner, while Lloyd lusts after chocolate chip cookies and an ice-cold glass of milk. But we’re probably a few months away from those things, still, and we console ourselves with Frommer’s promise of a really good meal in Hanoi on Saturday night.


Food aside, the Fort is unquestionably impressive. We had terrific fun wandering through the labyrinth of Jaisalmer’s streets, dodging alleyway-wide cows, cow pats, traders who try and guilt you into their shops, and dogs practically comatose from the heat. With its quaint narrow streets, cobbles and beautiful stone carvings, Jaisalmer should offer the promise of being a really cute old town to walk around, like York in England, Corfu in Greece, or even Venice sans canals.

But the reality is sadly very far from that. For one thing it stinks like, well, poo. Human, cow, dog or otherwise. Streets and buildings are in various states of disrepair. Even if some buildings have been renovated, the wall of the Fort itself looks in need of investment. Most concerning of all, the Fort – built in the arid desert hundreds and hundreds of years ago – was simply not designed to manage waste water in any quantity. This is an area where a child can grow to be seven years of age without experiencing rainfall, so for most of its life the Fort has been extraordinarily dry. Now, it’s ancient foundations are being required to absorb the quantities of water associated with western style tourism: hot running showers, flush toilets and what have you. The impact on the Fort is visible: the moisture in the walls can be seen rising several feet. And this isn’t hard granite we’re talking about, it’s basically sandstone that will be dissolved away over time. Some areas of wall have already been marked as ‘dangerous’ due to fear of collapse, and the most dramatic estimates suggest that unless something changes the entire Fort could collapse in as little as a couple of decades.


According to our Rajastani driver, the local Government will – at some point – step in and simply move all the families out of the Fort. In the meantime, it seems like companies like Lonely Planet are doing what they can by advising travelers to take hotel rooms and meals outside the Fort (we haven’t checked this, but assume that’s the reason for this sign we found within the Fort walls). Frankly, knowing what we know now, we’d support this boycott wholeheartedly and regret our ill-informed stay within the Fort walls. While we always try to do what we can to minimize the impact of our travels on the environment, it was notable that the hotel made no attempt to advise us on the need to conserve water. With the dramatic growth in tourism in Jaisalmer, the community needs to learn – fast – about sustainable tourism, or there could literally be no Fort to visit here.

Posted by jacquiedro 22:24 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.