Old town in Jodhpur is a charming place to visit. It was fun to experience the major attractions, meet people, and attend events, and it was worth a week on our Indian slow travel adventure.
We took the six hour bus ride from Udaipur because it was a shorter journey from there than the train.
Jodhpur is on the edge of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. It’s formerly the Marwar kingdom, which joined India in the post-British formation of what is today’s largest democracy. The royal family still lives in a palace outside the main metro area. We actually saw the king and queen at a famous international music festival held in Jodhpur.
Old town in Jodhpur
For the first time since COVID, the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) was held in Jodhpur. Each year it’s held at the Mehrangarh Fort and the nearby Jaswant Thana gardens (cremation and memorial site for the royal family).
Day passes for the event cost around $70, but sometimes single events have available tickets for much less money. That’s what we did: we bought tickets to a moonrise concert for about $2.50. It was a challenge to get these tickets, however, and I suspect lower-than-usual attendance allowed for us to be able to buy single tickets.
We loved the concert! It was our first live performance of Indian classical music and it was by celebrated musicians in India. We had great seats to see the musicians and the moonrise, and the royal couple.
Maharaja (King) Gaj Singh is the major sponsor of the RIFF event. Another sponsor: Mick Jagger, though we didn’t see Mick.
The official Jodhpur RIFF website has more information.
The moonrise concert we saw was just outside the entrance to the Jaswant Thana gardens. This site looks like a white palace, but it’s really a memorial and cremation site for the royal family.
The marble on the structures is elaborately carved and glimmers in the sunshine. Jaswant Thana is visible from many areas around old town, and also from the nearby fort. You can walk from the fort to here. Entry to the memorial site is only 50 rupees (60 cents).
The Mehrangarh Fort is visible from just about every part of old town. It stands high on an earthy chunk of rock on an otherwise relatively flat landscape.
There are several ways to reach the fort from old town, including a steep stone road that ends at the entrance. There’s also a steep staircase on the eastern part of old town that puts you on the paved road between the fort and Jaswant Thana. Or, you could splurge and be lazy and just take a rickshaw or e-taxi. (We always walked, it’s not hard, just steep and hot.)
The well-kept grounds might the cleanest I’ve seen within an Indian city yet! There are cannons and benches and overlooks. Railings block people from getting anywhere near the edge, but the overlooks still are great.
In fact, there is a sad history on the grounds on the back side of the fort near the Hindu temple. On yet another way up to the fort, there is a steep path leading to the temple. In 2008, a stampede killed 216 people, mostly men. Entrances to some Hindu temples are divided into two separate ‘lanes’ – one for men and one for women.
To this day, there are angry relatives of those killed who say they have not gotten a full account for who or what was responsible for the stampede and its carnage.
The fort’s history is showcased in a museum, which cost 600 rupees per ticket ($7.30). There were no audio tours offered to us, which normally comes with the price of admission. COVID stopped the headsets from being used, and so it’s a good idea to read about the fort before you go, and take your time and read all the info cards, and maybe even ask a question of the guards.
Many palanquins are on display — beds or seats with poles carried by men. The one pictured with Theo below is for the royal ladies. That’s what I need!
There are also halls dedicated to swords and other weapons, and the miniature art (small brushes, strokes) known as part of Rajasthan’s heritage.
There are many beautiful rooms on several levels of the palace complex. Colored glass, gold filigree, and mirrors around carved marble. The opulence is evident centuries after the palace’s prime.
There are rooms with stone-screen windows to shield the public from seeing royal ladies. But the coverings make it too difficult to see out, and it must’ve sucked to have such mobility limitations.
Walking tour in old town Jodhpur
Jodhpur’s old town is a complex of narrow alleys and tightly packed homes, many of which are painted blue. The blue hue gives it a feel similar to Chefchauen, Morocco, but here, Muslims are in the minority.
This means you might see a cow in an alley, because the Hindu majority lets cows do as they please, since they are sacred beings.
The homes are painted blue to keep them cool and the blue paint is made of lyme and indigo dye – the cheapest components here to make paint. Homes also have a reception area for visitors, and the family actually lives in upper levels.
These are a few of the facts we learned about old town Jodhpur on our walking tour. We also visited numerous temples — including one temple two stories underground where the priest allowed us to stay for a daily prayer session. There is a tunnel that connects this temple to the fort that the queen used to use, again, because the royal ladies were not usually meant to be seen by the public. The tunnel is closed today, however.
Our guide, Gunjan, also took us to a mava factory, brought us to a bangle bracelet maker, showed us stacks of ledger books with the goddess of wealth Laxmi, answered many of our questions about Hinduism and life in Jodhpur.
Gunjan even told us where to find the less popular stepwells so we could explore them on our own. He has tons of information that casual tourists miss, and so we highly recommend Gunjan.
Reminder: this is an independent travel website. We get nothing in return for good reviews.
We booked Gunjan’s walking tour through Airbnb ‘Experiences.’ Our three-hour tour (which ran longer than three hours) cost $10.50 each.
Search “BlueCity Breakfast Walk” in Jodhpur on Airbnb Experiences to find Gunjan.
Incidentally, we also recommend our guesthouse, which is on Airbnb. It’s owned by a lovely Indian family, is ideally located, and has beautiful rooftop views of the fort and surroundings.
Search “Pushp” on Airbnb to find their guesthouse. (I also see Pushp Guesthouse is also on booking, TripAdvisor and more.)
Stepwells in old town Jodhpur
I have never seen a stepwell in real life until Jodhpur. These are like ancient water wells that made life easier for women. Instead of traveling to a water source in the desert climate, a large, deep well was dug to fill a wide open pool accessible by steps, thus the name.
In modern times, stepwells are no longer water sources. They are often polluted – including the ones in Jodhpur. Still, we saw kids swimming in the biggest stepwell, and even diving into the water from the nearby rooftops. Clearly, the wells still are quite deep.
Today, Jodhpur uses treated water brought into the city from outside water sources that are filtered and treated. I personally wouldn’t put a toe in the stepwell water in Jodhpur, but it was an interesting thing to see.
Jodhpur’s old town features many rooftop dining options. A few we tried and liked: Dylan’s, Hill-View, Open House (before the Stepwell cafe in an alley).
My opinion: best view was Open House. Stepwell and moonrise on one side, fort on the other, with other old town blue buildings all around you.
Open House was also the best tasting — but our entrees were delivered 30 minutes apart. We let the hostess know there was room for improvement on the kitchen’s food delivery timing. Kadai paneer and chickpea batter chicken were delicious. The wait staff were excellent (they can’t control the kitchen!)
No matter where you go in Jodhpur to eat, look for restaurants with recent reviews. Some places have closed down during COVID, or they don’t have full menus because they’ve scaled back — like Dylan’s. While it was a good dinner with a good view, desert was brought in because they didn’t have it (and didn’t tell us they didn’t have it – and it wasn’t good).
One last place to mention is the Hill-View Restaurant. It’s practically underneath the fort on the back stone road I mentioned earlier that leads to the fort entrance.
Theo found it, and it has a beautiful view of the blue city and the current king’s palace in the distance. The food is good, but it’s the view that ranks it higher, and the friendly family that runs it that ranks it even higher.
Clock tower and outside the gates of Jodhpur’s old town
Old town in Jodhpur has a famous clock tower, around which vendors and shops sell everything you might imagine. Just outside the tower’s nearby gate is a relatively modern boulevard with even more shops and vendors. It is in this area — outside old town proper — where Theo found the beer store for takeaway sales.
Jodhpur is a city with 2.3 million people, and its city limits today sprawl well beyond old town. But the main attractions are mostly within the old town area.
Cow dung and dog shit in Jodhpur
Animal excrement is a fact of life in Indian cities. We’ve seen it all over in every city we’ve been to so far. What’s wild to us Americans: it’s not usually cleaned up off the streets. It’s just left to dry out. And then the dried fecal matter blends in with all of the other dust kicked up by cars, people, and animals.
This is why shoes are removed before entering homes and temples.
One other point about old town, in particular: there are small gulleys on the sides of the alleys where sewerage runs downhill. I have no idea where it goes. Stepwells? I never followed the brown water and its putrid urine smell to the end point. But I sure did painstakingly avoid any single drip from the rushing waste water in the few hours over a week that I saw this happen.
For me, this makes old town in Jodhpur a place to visit, but not a place I’d want to stay longer than the week we stayed.