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"I wanna tell you a story"

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Chotila ('The Bullet Temple') and Jodhpur - 17 to 19 February 2013

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There was once a young man called Om Singh Rathore (known as Om Banna), who enjoyed nothing better than riding his Royal Enfield ‘Bullet’ motorbike.

Alas, one day in 1991, near the village of Chotila some 50 kms from Jodhpur, he drove into a tree and was killed. The motorbike was taken to the local police station but, that night, it disappeared – and was found next morning back at the site of the accident. It was returned to the police station and chained up. Next morning, it was back again, beside the tree where Om Banna had met his end. The police tried several more times to prevent the bike from leaving their custody, but to no avail - next morning, it was always back where the accident happened.

News of this miracle quickly spread and a memorial temple was built near the tree where the fatal accident occurred. It’s become known as the Bullet Temple and is visited by hundreds every day. The motorbike is lavishly decorated with floral offerings and the tree itself is bedecked with coloured rope and bangles.

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You can choose whether to believe this story or not. I can only say that thousands of people here in India will attest to its truth.

*****

An hour or so after our stop at the Bullet Temple, we reached our destination for the day: Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan. You’ll know from my previous blog that it was founded by Rao Jodha; he was a Rajput chief of the Rathore clan and his truly impressive fort dates back to 1459.

The city is known as the ‘Sun City’ because of the sunny weather it enjoys year-round. Don’t come here in July or August though as you can expect around five inches of rain in each month’s monsoon, as well as blistering temperatures.

I prefer to know Jodhpur by its other name, the ‘Blue City’ - a reference to the old-town houses at the foot of the towering hilltop Mehrangarh Fort, which are uniquely painted in a bright pale blue. (The name ‘Mehrangarh’ stems from the Sanskrit word for the Sun deity ‘Mihir’ and, as you know from the lesson in a previous blog, ‘garh’ is a fort – so Sun Fort).

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*****

Our arrival in the city started with something of a disappointment - the homestay which we'd booked many moons ago and reconfirmed only last week, was unable to accommodate us (the family previously occupying our two rooms had fallen ill and needed to stay for a few more days; the proprietors, Chandrashekar Singh and his wife Bhavna, found themselves in an awkward position and were clearly embarrassed by it - particularly as Chandrashekar was a longtime school chum of my very good friend Khuman!). We were, however, provided with excellent alternative accommodation at the Polo Heritage Hotel and the homestay owners kindly paid the difference in cost, so all was well. We still returned to the homestay one evening for an interesting cookery lesson from Bhavna and dinner with them both.

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*****

Legend has it that, to build the Mehrangarh Fort, a hermit – the only human living on the rocky hill - had to be moved from his cave and, in protest, he put a curse on Rao Jodha. To appease the hermit and to make sure the site remained propitious, Rao Jodha buried a man alive in the foundations; in return, he promised that the man’s family would always be cared for and his descendents still live today on the estate bequeathed to them.

Inside the massive walls of the fort, there are scars of bombardment by cannonballs and the handprints of the wives of Maharaja Man Singh who, in 1843, threw themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre – called ‘sati’, a tradition banned by the then British rulers in 1829!

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There are sellers of typical Rajasthani puppets and several beautiful palaces within the fort too, and the ramparts offer far-reaching views of the city from beside numerous well-preserved cannons.

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Mehrangarh Fort, seen from the Jaswant Thada

We also spent a while at the Jaswant Thada, a white marble memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, built at the end of the 19th century. It’s a traditional cremation ground of Jodhpur rulers and it encompasses gardens and a small lake.

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Our next visit was to the newest of the Maharaja's palaces that we've seen so far: the Umaid Bhawan Palace. It's part luxury hotel, part museum, part home to Maharaja Gaj Singh II (who I met at the marriage of Khuman's eldest son Vinku in 2007 - It's a long way to go for a wedding!) and is one of the world's largest private residences. It’s named after Gaj Singh’s grandfather, Maharaja Umaid Singh, who philanthropically built it between 1929 and 1943 to provide employment to thousands of people during a time of famine. It has 347 rooms. Unlike when Pat and I visited the palace for a sundowner some 16 years ago, non-residents can now only see the exterior and the museum, but even this is quite an experience.

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Our final port of call was the Clock Tower area of the city, with its wonderful Sardar Market surrounding the tower that was built by, you've guessed it: Maharaja Sardar Singh (1880-1911). It's a vivid example of 19th century town planning that failed to take into account the region's ceaseless increase in population!

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We just love markets – they’re so full of colour, people, sights, sounds and unfamiliar scents – and this one was certainly no exception. We've tended to spend perhaps a little too much time lingering in them. We couldn't help it - they’re fascinating and there’s a new photograph on every corner. Talking of which, I think we’ll need to spend quite a while reducing the sheer quantity of pictures that we’ve taken!

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Accommodation:
We had planned to stay at the Indrashan Homestay, a small and friendly guest house located a few miles from the old town centre.

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In the event, we stayed at the Polo Heritage Hotel, a comfortable 24-room hotel set in large, well-maintained gardens, also away from the town centre but within easy reach of the main sights by car or tuk-tuk. Rooms are simply furnished, spacious, clean and quiet (apart from occasional barking dogs at night - a problem in most Indian cities). It has a swimming pool, Wi-Fi is available in some rooms and on the terraces and lawns near reception. Food and service were generally very good. As its name suggests, there are polo photographs and trophies scattered around the hotel's public areas.

At the suggestion of Khuman's youngest son Shibu, who kindly telephoned ahead and booked us a table, we ate one evening on the roof-top terrace of Pal Haveli .There we enjoyed a tasty and reasonably-priced dinner with a glorious view of the illuminated Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Umaid Bhawan Palace, and the nearby Clock Tower. I tried to stay there on a future trip, but it was full unfortunately.

*****

"I wanna tell you a story" was the catchphrase of a well-known British entertainer, the late Max Bygraves . He was a comedian and musician - you may have heard him singing, among other tunes, 'You Need Hands', 'You're a Pink Toothbrush' and 'Tulips from Amsterdam'.

Posted by Keep Smiling 07:12 Archived in India Tagged india jodhpur rajasthan

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