Sunday, July 14, 2013

India Notebook: Rāās Jodhpur

Have you seen this month’s WSJ Magazine yet? There is a wonderful article about  Maharaja Gaj Singh II and his preservationist efforts of the majestic Jodhpur landmarks Mehrangarth Fort,  Umaid Bhawan Palace and most recently Fort Ahichattragarh in nearby Nagaur. Last January, we spent three weeks traveling throughout northwestern India and the article has inspired me to finally start writing about our trip there. 

One of the highlights of our trip was the medieval city of Jodhpur and Maharaja Singh's work there is truly inspiring. Jodhpur is located at the edge of the Thar desert, in the state of Rajasthan,  the region that forms the foundation of the Indus Valley, considered to be one of the oldest human civilizations on the planet. Known as the Blue City, it was founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, a Rajput chief.  The different stories of why the houses are painted blue range from religious reasons to combating mosquitos and keeping cool.

hillside path from the hotel to the fort

freshening up the mystical blue

We stayed at the hotel Raas and fell in love with it so much that we extended our stay there.  It is a laid-back oasis in the middle of the old city's walls, built around a beautifully restored haveli. It is perched at the foot of the Mehrangarh Fort and just a quick walk to the Clock Tower and local markets. It has a very casual atmosphere with an incredibly gracious and welcoming staff. The oldest part of the Raas was built at the end of the 18th century, the delicate modern carved rose sandstone screens used throughout the hotel reference classic Rajput architectural elements.

entrance to the Raas
Jaali corridor
our room
 balcony in late afternoon
poolside cabanas
 blue tuk-tuk, the best way to tour the narrow streets

Our room looked out over the pool and up to the Mehrangarh Fort. We were completely entertained just watching the colors of the red rock of the fort change through out the day. The screened balcony was a wonderful spot for late afternoon reading

view from our room
 the local mosque and  Mehrangarh in the distance

While at first, the early morning call to prayers (from the mosque behind the hotel) gave us quite a start, but we quickly fell into the rhythm of their day as marked by the frequent prayer calls and chants. We found it to be quite a peaceful way to start and end one’s day.

The restaurants within the hotel’s walls are magnificent and the food is delicious, they make it very hard to ever want to leave. At breakfast, one is welcomed into the cozy all-white poolside terrace to the mesmerizing sound of Indian chanting in the background. You have a choice of different lassi’s, fresh fruit, breads and omelets cooked to order on the grill. We toured the sights during the day and returned to eat at the hotel: lunch in the courtyard, cocktails on the roof terrace watching the sunset against the fort or dinner on a second roof terrace made it all sublime. 

Baradari Restaurant
sublime breakfast

dusk in the courtyard
rooftop cocktails
dinner in the shadows of the fort
A relaxing treatment at the spa was the perfect way to end the day after an afternoon spent exploring. 

Ayurveda treatments @ The Serena Spa


Best time to visit: 
October - March. January was perfect weather with daytime highs of 80F and cool evenings in the 45- 50's F . Shawls or simple down vests were all we needed at night 

 Tunwar ji ka Jhalara, Makrana Mohalla, 
 Jodhpur 342001, Rajasthan, India
 Telephone: +91 291 2636455
 Fax: +91 291 2636445

There are two restaurants inside the hotel, Darikhana for dinner inside and out looking up at the fort, and the Baradari Cafe for breakfast or lunch by the pool. There is also a great spot for cocktails and nibbles on the roof above Baradari. Via Jodhpur, is a fabulous shop curated by Cathy Nieddu inside the garden courtyard. 

Getting there:
It is quite easy to get to Jodhpur and the Raas. The hotel is 20 minutes from the airport and with easy connections from Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur and Udaipur. It is 10 minutes from the train station with many connections from Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Agra, and Jaisalmer.

My favorite Indian airline for local flight is Jet Airways for it's incredible service and convenience. 

Getting around inside the old city:

It is easy to walk there. Duck out the back door of the hotel and climb the hill to the front gate. Incredible views, and a good workout after a leisurely breakfast. Leave early in the morning and plan to spend the better part of the day there. They have many lovely spots for lunch and tea inside the fort. Be sure to get the audio tour, well produced and incredibly informative and entertaining.

Sadur Market & the Clock Tower: 
This is another easy 10 minute walk right outside the front gate. It is fun to get lost amongst the myriad of scents and sounds of the spice and vegetable markets. Ask the hotel staff for the best stalls. Saffron is incredibly inexpensive here and travels well; we're still wishing we had bought more.

Blue tuk-tuk tour:
You must take the hotel staff guided tour of the old city. It was some of the most fun we had on the whole trip, careening through the narrow little streets, dodging cows and vendors alike. Straight out of vintage James Bond scenes. Plan on a couple hours and take your wallet. Fabulous stops at various shops (if you want) and local temples. 

Easy afternoon trip: 

The Maharaja's royal palace built between 1928 and 1943, at the time the largest private residence in the world with 374 rooms on 26 acres of beautiful gardens. The Maharaja still lives in a section of the palace, near the museum and the rest is now a Taj hotel. It is beautiful and a great spot for lunch looking over the great lawn. The gift shop is run by his daughter and is quite chic, a great spot to pick up an actual pair of jodhpurs! About a 30 minute drive from the Raas.

Travel arrangements:
We traveled to Delhi, Jaipur, Agra and Jodhpur with everything arranged by the ever so knowledgeable and brilliant Amelia Osborne @Indagare. The trip went off without a hitch, every detail in each city well planned in partnership with the The Oberoi travel group( for the other cities). Indagare is more than a boutique travel agency; they have inspiring and robust online editorial content and great insider tips as well as special rates and amenities at hundreds of properties worldwide. 

Indispensable guides to all the different regions of India written by Fiona Caufield. Jodhpur is covered in the Love Jaipur, Rajastan edition.

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