My first memory of Rajasthan is from the time when I was seven years old, and had gone to attend a wedding. It was Jodhpur , don’t remember much but , have beautiful blurred images of a big banyan tree, an old courtyard , muffled lyrics of some banna-banni songs, faint smell of the ever aromatic henna , and really spicy garlic chutney . Mom tells me, that I had fallen in love with garlic post that trip. The one thing that left a lasting impression was the ever magnificent Mehrangarh Fort.
The second time I went to Jodhpur was with my family. Again it was just for a day only , but the food memory was better. I remember my first taste of Daal Bati. Also vivid images of bright colours, juttis, and the characteristic sound of the Ravanhatta that made me fall in love with the city. We had gone to the Umaid Bhawan Palace and the regal palace wasn’t fully converted to a hotel then and the lobby was still open to public. I was in love with the city, the architecture and the food. I was fourteen then. I knew, I will be back again, but didn’t know it would be after 21 years.
A couple of years ago someone told me about the Jodhpur Riff – A folk festival hosted by the Mehrangarh Fort every year, and I knew I had to go. This was my calling. Last year (2017) we decided to pack out bags and headed out for a true regal experience of Jodhpur. My camera was with me and I knew my diet will go for a toss this trip. Most people think that Rajasthani food is all vegetarian, But Rajput non-vegetarian preparations are absolutely Mind blowing, and I knew that I was in for a fabulous treat this trip.
The place to reside was chosen and it was Krishna PrakashHeritage Haveli . The Haveli was walking distance from the old city Clocktower or the Ghanta Ghar. Most travelers these days (Indians) try to locate themselves in accommodations near the stations or located in the main city, but the beauty of waking up in Haveli where the first sight of the morning is the ever Mehrangarh fort, is absolutely unmatched. The Haveli has been refurbished, has a pool, a gym and some really beautiful room s. Run by Mr Nikhil (it is his ancestral home); the place feels like you are living in a warm house not a hotel.On the way to the hotel i had already eaten the Pyaaz Kachori that Jodhpur is famous for , Our driver stopped just before the city and we got some good ones . Mind you that didn't stop me from tasting every other kachori in my way (purely for research purposes)
Our first spot was the Osian dunes where the Marwar Festival was being held. It was a very humble village festival where people gathered on the dunes and celebrated the full moon and enjoyed their rich cultural heritage. The Manganyars sang a beautiful bhajan and we were there, on the moon lit dunes, beautiful weather. Just a tip, be a little modestly dressed, flashy attires might call for unwanted attention. This could be given a miss if you aren’t too adventurous. Not much to eat so I can’t say much.
All through the festival, the fort has folk musicians and dancers sitting in different areas and courtyards and this is open to all visitor of the palace that too is an experience in itself. While at the fort, do sample the Cafe Mehran and enjoy some lovely fare, the palace gift shop is also a good idea to buy a souvenir with the royal crest. I got myself a black t-shirt which has got me some good compliments.
The nice part about Jodhpur, is that the people love their food , and when you are living in old Jodhpur and ask locals to help you discover the secrets of the lanes , they warm up to you and share the treasures of these beautiful alleys . My first encounter was at seven in the morning with Shri Mishri lal Ji’s "Makhania Lassi". This is a dessert, but I had it for breakfast. No, it is no ordinary Lassi. This almost a shreekhand, topped with hand churned white butter. And the word that I can use to describe it is "Divine"
Another breakfast Speciality of Jodhpur is the Daal pakwaan. For those who have tasted the Dhakai Porota, I don’t need to say much, but for those who haven’t, the Daal is a light yellow chana daal, served with a chili pickle, onions and lemon. Pakwaan is a thin deep fried paapri of sorts only, 8 to 10 inches in diameter. So crush the Pakwaaan, pour the daal, mix and get transported to heaven. This is absolutely delicious. Also the Ghantaghar is home to the very famous Trip Advisor Omelette Waala . He makes some yummy eggs . Please don't expect a shop or a fancy restaurant, this is a roadside stall at the Ghanta Ghar, but the man is nothing short of a celebrity. Every tourist knows him.
This was followed by "Arora ke Shahi Samose" (I am in no way related to the owners) , these aren’t your regular samosa, and they are loaded. Mind you, don’t ask for chutney or dip, they might just get offended. These beauties are deep fired parcels of explosives. They are loaded in flavour and have this balance of spice, hint of sweetness, richness of dry fruits and tang of amchur, over all a true crowd-pleaser.
Jodhpur also loves it "mirchi wadas" and "koftas", Mirchi wada is Jodhpur classic and your must go early to find them being fried hot and you will absolutely love them. This is a true classic and I don’t want to say much more about it. But if you haven’t eaten a mirchi wada in Jodhpur, you haven’t been to Jodhpur. Kofta on the other hand, isn’t a curry. The bonda or aloo wada here is called a kofta here and is a popular street snack, they come in various fillings and again are power packed, same rule applies, don’t ask for chutney.
Well, mornings in Jodhpur can be quite a sensation, but if you are at Jodhpur and you haven’t had the Rajasthani Thali, I think it is a bit unfair. Most restaurants serve a Rajasthani thali and boast of being authentic, but the true thali place where locals frequent and a there usually is a queue, is Gypsy. They have an a la carte restaurant, but on the first floor is a dining hall that serves the unlimited thali. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, but the churma and the sangri blew me away. The service was quick, efficient and warm. Although the thali will serve you dessert, in the same building there is Jodhpur Sweets, which boasts of the famous rabri ka laddoo. A rabri laddoo is basically, boondi cooked in rabri till it evaporated completely leaving behind a beautiful caramelized mixture that isn’t overtly sweet but very rich and had a unique taste of its own. Another thing I tried there was the rose laddoo and the bournivita burfee, absolutely loved it. Do not forget to carry so kair sangri pickle from here too. Tell them that you want to travel and they will vacuum seal the bottle for you.
I have another major problem, if my lunch has been vegetarian; the dinner has to have non vegetarian fare. Being in the land of the laal Maas, why think twice. The Kalinga Restaurant too came with a lot of recommendation from friends and locals. They did have a stellar laal maas but I’ve had better. What I really liked was the govind gatta that we were served. It had a beautiful dry fruit pithi stuffed in it and was in chunky brown gravy.
The food at Krishna Prakash Haveli was pretty good too. I discovered this beautiful local specialty called Rabori. First I thought it was thinly sliced papaya or papad, but then Nikhil Jib explained to me that rabri is made out of maize flour and butter milk. It is dried in the sun in thin sheets and then cooked in gravy. I picked up some for the house from the market. Also managed to get lovely mangodi (mung dumpling) which was delicious. If you are buying some local groceries, do not forget to pick up garlic chutney and some local digestives too.
Another new thing that I learnt in Jodhpur was about savoury gulab jamuns. The legendary Chhaturbhuj in Jodhpur makes sweet and savoury gulab jamuns. They aren’t as brown as I have eaten elsewhere, basically, not over fried. The jamuns are much heavier yet they melt in the mouth, the savoury ones are smaller and people buy them by the kilo to make sabzi out of it. I had a packet of garlic chutney and kept popping these beauties dry.
Another thing that the people in Jodhpur love is their namkeens. Solanki Farsan shop in old jodhpur had so much to offer that you will be spoilt for choice .they even have the option of custom making your namkeens as per your choice from their huge assortment . Do try the lemon pickle from this shop too, it is absolutely amazing.
Well, I think I have already loaded this story of with way too much cholesterol, let me just top it ups with one more ounces. When in Jodhpur, you must have the Motu ki Jalebi. These are thin "jalidaar jalebis" and they have to be eaten hot, Motu Ji as he is popularly known flaunts his belly and much as his craft. He calls it his prosperity. I had a great chat with him and he even posed very gracefully for me.
Enough of food, now let’s talk about some shopping. If you are staying in old Jodhpur, you will be spoilt for choice, Camel leather juttis are stunning here. Don’t go for the bright shiny ones, they aren’t leather. Specifically ask the shopkeeper to twist and show, the guy will know that you know your stuff. The Ghanta Ghar market is also really good to buy bangles if you are prepared to carry them all the way back, the old houses some great antique shops, please bargain. And go early in the mooring, bargains are better. One can also buy lovely doorknobs, gift boxes, curios. The silver jewellery is stunning. Please indulge only if you understand silver, or you might end up buying machine made sterling mass produce. One gets really cheap leheriya dupattas also. If you bargain, they can come down to as low as sixty rupees
I am a chef , and I always end up buying local ingredients to cook with, so what came back with me was Hing , Sangri, Rabori, Mangodi, Lassun Chutney , Ajwain , Methi , Phophalia, Kariya and tonnes of memories. Also not to forget four days and four kilos heaver (that isn’t my extra baggage). Everyone you know will want some "athana mirch" (a local preciality plickle) do carry some back.
The Palace and the Fort shops have some beautiful goodies with the royal seal and the royal perfume is amazing too. Don’t worry; they all accept cards even at the ticket counters. So you have nothing to worry. If you happen to go during the Riff, please make sure you do attend one full day, from dawn to midnight. The shades of the day will change the moods of the music and the Mehrangarh at midnight is one of the most romantic places I think I have ever been to.
The RIFF by itself was absolutely enough reason for going, but the city can make you fall in love with it, while his highness was addressing the crowd at the riff, I could her murmurs of the people addressing him as Baap ji. The people of the city still have a lot of respect of the king. Of all the cites in Rajasthan that I have been to, Jodhpur remains the cleanest, most warm and absolutely gorgeous. I will be back again soon. This time much sooner.
Ghani Khamma ...