Jodhpur, the famous blue city of Rajasthan, was my home in India for a few months in 2017. The majestic Thar desert town stole my heart with friendly locals, incredible textiles, delicious foods, fantastic architecture, and rich history. Jodhpur is easy to reach as it has a train station that is well connected to other Indian cities. There is even a luxury train in India, could there be a more glamorous and environmentally friendly way to travel? Jodhpur was a fantastic location to be a digital nomad, 3GB of phone data is US$15, transportation around the city via a rickshaw is usually less than US$1 and meals are usually less than US$7. While in Jodhpur I was given my Hindi nickname, Lalita, which means beautiful bride. Apparently, Lola sounds like a dirty word! Read on to see my favorite sites, best cafes, top places to shop, and more of my ultimate Jodhpur travel guide, all from my Instagram account, @MissFilatelista.
Travel insurance is a must when traveling in India, you never know what could happen! World Nomads provides policies for both short vacations and long-term travels. As the best budget travel insurance provider, World Nomads offers comprehensive coverage, competitive pricing, and the ease of making claims online. Be sure to read the fine print when selecting a plan as they may not cover some things such as the fee for any tourist visas in a stolen passport.
The crowning glory of Jodhpur is the old city, the iconic area that is bathed in blue. While other parts of the city do have a few blue facades the majority of the blue city is actually tucked in the neighborhood behind the Mehrangarh Fort. The old city is a maze and it is best to hire a local guide to take you around the blue buildings who can explain the history of the area to you and take you to the best terraces for incredible views of the blue rooftops with the Mehrangarh Fort looming in the background. One popular theory is that Jodhpur was painted blue to keep the homes cool in the extremely dry desert heat. In the summer it can be up to 105°F degrees! Others say that the city is painted blue as the color can keep termites from destroying buildings. These theories are also typically used to explain why Morocco’s Chefchaouen is painted blue. However, in Chefchaouen some believe that the blue paint started back when the area was populated by devout Jews. In India, of course, there is a Hindu story used to explain the blue coloring. The tale goes that in ancient times Brahmin people, who are of the highest caste, were allowed to paint their homes blue. Others followed suit in the centuries to come as a status symbol. No one really knows the true reasoning behind why blue is the chosen color of Jodhpur.
The architectural beauty goes beyond the old city, and through a whole spectrum of colors beyond azure. Pastel hues dominate the ancient alleyways and haveli mansions that have long since seen their glory days. Any lover of architecture is sure to be inspired by strolling through Jodhpur and admiring the incredible architecture. Even the buildings that are slowly eroding have an irresistible aura of a more regal era. If you #haveathingwithdoors you could easily curate an Instagram feed dedicated just to the glorious doors of Jodhpur, their pine shapes, and beautiful hardware.
The central point of Jodhpur is the sky-high Ghantaghar clock tower. The area is surrounded the Sadar market where various sorts of local commerce and street vendors selling farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, nicknacks, and Jodhpur’s renowned lacquer bracelets. Adjacent to the clock tower market is the second-hand sari market. Did you know saris are 6 1/2 meters of fabric? Here local Rajasthani women resell lightly worn saris for a fraction of the price. The upper-class of Rajasthan typically don’t re-wear twice to important events so some really spectacular fabrics, patterns, and embellished pieces can be purchased here. Skirts, saris, and tops usually can be bargained down to the local price of 100 Rs, or US$1.50. Right behind the vintage sari market is one of my favorite cafes in Jodhpur, Café Royale, it is also one of the only places in town to get a soy milk chai tea, and they even do an iced rendition!
If you’ve been dreaming of Indian textiles you’ve come to the right place. Jodhpur is famous for a wide variety of local fashions including lacquered accessories, handmade tie-dye prints, mojari shoes, and so much more. Every day I was tempted to purchase more and more Indian frocks, luckily most pieces cost less than US$10. Everything is bursting with color, my personal style took a drastic twist from all-black ensembles to wearing vibrant kurtas paired with matching leggings, brightly embellished blouses, and intricately embroidered handbags. I only picked up saris at the second-hand market but a typical rate to custom make one is less than US$20. My favorite place to shop is Shree Ji Art & Craft which is managed by my lovely friend Aasif, tell him Lola sent you! Other favorites are of course the Sambhali Trust Boutique which sells handicrafts made the charity’s female beneficiaries and sold for fair trade prices that directly benefit the nonprofit. Read this article for further tips on responsible travel in India.
I was in Jodhpur volunteering with a UN recognized women’s empowerment NGO, Sambhali Trust. I worked pro bono as a communications officer to help the nonprofit strengthen their marketing, public relations, social media, and partnership practices. I did this with the goal in mind of helping them reach new advocates and donors. Sambhali Trust has aided 10,000 women and children over the last decade as is making a lasting impact through sustainable skills training model.
During my time at the charity, I was inspired by the Women’s March movement and created a workshop that I took around to each of empowerment centers. During the workshop, we spoke in intimate groups about the importance of girls’ education, gender equality, and ending gender violence. We discussed sexual assault and harassment, access to health care, the gender wage gap and unfair employment opportunities. We engaged in candid conversations about what made women feel suppressed and ideated strategies to change the mentality of women being second-class citizens in India.
After our dialogue, we created empowerment signs with mantras to display around Sambhali Trust to serve as a daily reminder of the strength of each and every woman. The Indian women at Sambhali Trust believe that all women are capable of anything men can do. They want to see women in leadership roles, as engineers, politicians, judges, doctors, and lawyers. You can learn more about the workshop in the case study I published on the Sambhali Trust blog: Lessons from the Women’s March at Sambhali Trust.
In Jodhpur I lived at Durang Niwas Guesthouse for two months and although sales don’t benefit the charity as it is a private business there are empowerment centers on-site and a satellite boutique selling the artisan goods. Perhaps you can use your expertise to create a workshop? Or simply purchase souvenirs from the shop to support the NGO.
From the old town, it is a beautiful up-hill walk or quick rickshaw ride to the spectacular Jaswant Thada mausoleum. The white marble funerary monument was erected in the late 1800s to honor Maharaja Jaswant Singh II and was used as the cremation grounds for the royal Marwar family. Intricately carved inlays, known as jalis, are what make the structure so spectacular. The walls are so thin that they glow when illuminated by the sun. Jaswant Thada, nicknamed the Taj Mahal of Marwar, is surrounded by various courtyards that are sprinkled with greenery. The view from here of the clock tower market area is spectacular and the mountains in the distance.
Just a stretch from Jaswant Thada is the stunning Mehrangarh Fort which towers 400 feet over the blue city. If it looks familiar it may be because Dark Knight Rises was filmed here! Speaking of films at the fort I actually had the chance to attend a screening of Deepa Mehta’s Anatomy of Violence here one evening and met the extraordinary producer and activist which was a moment I’ll never forget! Back to the fort, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful in India and after seeing dozens of fortresses, I have to agree. It was built in the mid-1400s so it is widely impressive how well preserved the structure and artifacts within are. With your 600 Rs (just under US$10) entrance ticket you’ll be provided an audioguide and headset but it’s kind of a snooze. Most exhibits have plaques with historical information in English. Each room has spectacular decor details. If you’re feeling tired of architecture the fort is still worth a visit for the birds-eye-views of Jodhpur. There are also locals who play traditional flute music around the fort. The friendly guards sporadically will do a turban tying demonstration which is not to be missed. Rajasthani turbans require even more meters of fabric than saris do!
Witnessing a desert sunset while in Jodhpur is an experience that is not to be missed! From any of the higher structures, such as the Jaswant Thada or Mehrangarh Fort you’ll have a stunning view. However, the most magnificent view is from the Tekri Mata Mandir Hindu temple. From here you can see the sun dip below the mountains and watch the golden colors reflect off of the stone Mehrangarh Fort and the Jaswant Thada glow in the evening light. This location is off-the-beaten-path so you’ll likely be able to enjoy the sunset in utter peace, a rarity in overcrowded India.
Although Jodhpur is a desert town there are still plenty of natural wonders to explore, such as the Mandore Garden. It is worth spending an entire afternoon here to explore the former capital of Marwar. Within the garden’s grounds, you’ll find the Mandore Fortress, cenotaphs, and numerous temples including the Jeevan Mata Mandir. The are has been a center for art and architecture since the 6th century. There are endless gardens, statues, caves, temples, ruins, and monuments to discover. Watch out for the playful cows and grey langur monkeys that overpopulate the scenic park. Don’t miss the hall of heroes and pinities that were carved out of the native natural rock including a few larger-than-life colorful visions. If you dare visit the Chhatri of Maharaja Dhiraj Ajit Singh. This monument is an architectural rarity with Buddhists and Jain design concepts complete with carvings of elephants, and lions. Try not to be spooked when you learn that 64 queens and mistresses committed sati here when Ajit Singh died in 1724. Sati is the Hindu Goddess of marital felicity and longevity, the act of sati is a funeral custom where widows commit suicide after their husband’s death.
There are also many waterworks in Jodhpur including the artificial Gulab Sagar Ka Baccha water reservoir. The lake was built in the 1700’s as a water source for villagers and today is surrounded by many beautiful Haveli’s and temples. A bridge crosses the middle where you can easily cut across the city and get a wonderful view of the Rajasthani architecture reflecting in the waters.
The most well-known waterwork in Jodhpur is the Toorji ka Jhalra step well. Hard to locate on a map (but all of the locations mentioned in this post are linked to the Google Maps location, you’re welcome!). The traditional step well is where locals would once retrieve water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing. There are seven steps that go down from both the left and right on each platform. They criss-cross as they descended and make an X-like shape.
The best view of Jhalara is from the Step Well Cafe which is operated by the same company that owns the luxurious RAAS hotel. The menu here is limited and the food honestly wasn’t that great. However the ambiance is incredible, each floor is a bit different with a restaurant area at the first level, a more lounge-like space on the second, and a rooftop terrace complete with throw pillows and whimsical curtains that dance in the wind. The Step Well Cafe is also one of the few establishments to sell cocktails so it’s a great place to come for a boozy drink or a coffee.
Not to worry there are plenty of darling cafes in Jodhpur that are cooking up authentic Rajasthani curries. For digital nomads and remote workers looking for cafes with strong WiFi, and stronger data check out these digital nomad friendly cafes. When selecting a place for dinner you must have at least one meal on a rooftop terrace that boasts unobstructed views of the Mehrangarh Fort. My personal favorite is Namaste Caffe as seen above. The environment here is so dreamy with floor cushions, handpainted murals, and dishes served in beautiful copper bowls. I frequented this cafe more than any others during my time in Jodhpur.
Another beautiful rooftop spot for dinner is the Blue City Cafe which is where you’ll find my favorite Palak Paneer in India! It’s also a hookah bar, if that’s your thing. They serve wood oven pizza and nachos if you’re craving some international flavors. From here you’ll have fantastic views of the Mehrangarh Fort as the sunsets behind the palace. Be sure to stay until dark to see the fort lit-up at night in all its glory! Another popular spot that makes a delicious veggie korma and has a great view is The Currys which is on the rooftop of the Blue Turban Hostel.
My favorite chana masala is at the Stops Hostel Cafe. Non-guests are welcome to dine at the beautiful cafe which has both indoor and outdoor seating in an idyllic setting. The hostel also organizes walking tours and cooking classes! I spent a few other staycations at budget-friendly hostels in Jodhpur, my favorite was Bedpool which is owned by the nicest millennial guys in all of Rajasthan! HostelLaVie is centrally located near the clock tower market and is really gorgeous but I found the management to be a bit rude.
There are plenty of local dining establishments in Jodhpur which are nothing short of drool-worthy. For a variety of Rajasthani specialties head to the pictured Hotel Priya restaurant or grab a delicious dosa across the street at Janta Sweet Home which also has pine treats such as my weakness, gulab juman. For the best samosa in all of India swing by Shahi Samosa to pick up one or more of the fried goodness that is freshly made all day. Don’t miss out on having breakfast at the world famous Omelette Shop just north of the clock tower. No trip to Jodhpur would be complete without indulging in ghee-covered delicacies at Shandar Sweet Home.
If you only take my advice for one meal in Jodhpur let it be to devour a thali at the upstairs dining hall at Gypsy. Please send me a picture when you go so I can cry somber tears of longing as this is easily one of my favorite meals in the world. Thali is the best way to sample a variety of Indian foods and flavors! I actually think it should be everyone’s first meal when they arrive in India. It was the first thing Julio tried when he visited me in New Delhi! The very best thali I have ever had is at Gypsy in Jodhpur where the refills are neverending and dishes include savory paneer, chickpeas, cauliflower, and millet chapati.
If you get lucky enough to be invited to a Hindu Indian wedding you are in for a treat! Luckily I was invited to attend a wedding for the niece of the founder of Sambhali Trust, which was coincidentally held for 2 out of 3 days at the guesthouse where I lived. During the sangeet, or music night, each of the ladies of the family choreographs a special dance for the bride while others trace money around her as a blessing for the bride. The dance is a spectacle of colorful saris swooshing. All of the women in the family were such incredible dancers, it’s astonishing! The final day of the wedding is the saat phere, which is shown above. I found it to be the most beautiful part of the colorful ceremony. The newlywed couple walks in a circle seven times around a sacred fire to link them together for life as friends and partners. The mantra that is chanted during the process is extremely romantic with lines declaring to promise prosperity, care, protection, and growth. It’s the equivalent of wedding vows in western weddings. This final ceremony happened in the early hours of the morning and most of the guests had already left. As you can see, the bride is expected to look modest and keep her eyes downcast. Weddings always make me so emotional and while arranged marriages aren’t something I necessarily understand or agree with the love and excitement in the air was palpable and made me choke up. It was such a unique and fascinating experience to witness an Indian marriage ceremony. The festivities went on 24/7 for three full days, if you think Catholic weddings are long you have no idea! We didn’t stop dancing to go to bed until the sun rose each morning.
In India henna, known as mehndi, is traditionally reserved for weddings. I sported dozens of designs over the six months I spent in India and even colored my hair auburn twice with the natural dye. Beyond beauty, mehndi is meant to protect the wearer by warding off evil and bringing prosperity. The mehndi night during a wedding takes place a day before the marriage ceremony where the bride celebrates with her female friends and family by painting intricate designs on their skin. The bride will often wear mehndi from her toes to her calves and fingertips to wrists. The groom’s name will be incorporated into the design and the longer the henna last is meant to symbolize how much the groom loves his bride.
After you’ve finished exploring Jodhpur hop on a bus to go to my favorite city in Rajasthan, and perhaps even all of India, Udaipur.
This post contains affiliate links. All opinions and photos are my own. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.