Jodhpur is the only place outside Romania that we visited not once, not even twice, but three times. Each time we were there, we felt like home, so it was easy to let its magic work on us and want to go back again and again. I used to think that there is too much to be seen in this world to afford to go to the same place more than once. I guess I was too young and not aware of the importance of genuinely discovering a place. And you cannot do this in a short visit. Jodhpur taught me this. And taking a Jodhpur tour can mean the first step to falling in love with this city.
Jodhpur is also known as India’s Blue City or Sun City. Once you get in the old part, it’s easy to understand why. The houses have tints of blue. You can find it even in details such as doors or window frames. There are many versions as to why there are so many shades of blue around. Some say that blue is the color of Brahmins, the priestly-caste of India, so it indicated their homes. But nowadays one can also find non-Brahmin houses painted blue.
Another theory is that blue keeps away the heat. Something that is useful given the scorching heat of Jodhpur during summer months. At the same time, it makes an effective insect repellent. People say that there are no chemicals on the walls. And that the blue is a result of using indigo, as there are a lot of indigo plantations around Jodhpur.
But let’s come back to our Jodhpur Tour on a bicycle. And I have to admit that when we first heard about taking a bicycle tour in India, we found the idea preposterous. Anyone having a vague knowledge of Indian traffic will entirely relate to this. Being a foreigner not used to the chaotic traffic in the subcontinent and jumping on a bicycle can be the ingredients of a nice and clean suicide. But we did some research and found one Jodhpur Tour that seemed pretty safe.
Do you remember when I was telling you about Kings Retreat? The hotel in Jodhpur that stole our hearts? That’s where we also did the Jodhpur Tour on a bicycle. They organize morning tours, of about 2 hours, around the old city. And they start them early enough to make sure that you don’t catch the hectic traffic.
But what makes this Jodhpur Tour so unique?
Well, I’m a sucker for stories. I just love to hang around with locals for hours on end and hearing their stories, all sorts of legends and tales, be them real or merely fantasy. And during our Jodhpur Tour by bicycle, we got spoiled with tons of stories. That’s because it wasn’t only about sightseeing. It’s a mix of discovering Jodhpur’s both known and lesser known places, as well as exploring the city’s history.
The guides will also take you to places which for sure you won’t be able to find in any guidebook. They don’t say that locals know better for no reason. Sometimes you just have to leave aside the touristic guides, the itineraries found on the Internet, and just follow a local. We had planned to take a Jodhpur tour based on some articles found on the internet, but the bicycle tour indulged us more than enough in the city’s magic.
Some basic facts you need to know
You don’t have to be an expert in bicycles to be able to join the Jodhpur tour. The guys have pretty good bikes, and they assured us that they regularly check them for any defects. The first thing I checked was the brakes, and they worked just fine. However, it’s not the brakes that you will use the most. It’s the horn. Yep, the holy horn! You will quickly blend in with the Indian way of continually using your horn to let people know of your whereabouts.
Another thing that you don’t have to worry about is the traffic. We left the hotel just before 7 am and the streets were still asleep. The shops were closed, and the tuk-tuks were still hiding. Only towards the end, I can say that we started to experience some light traffic. But it cannot be compared to the chaos of the day. Furthermore, the guides were always watching us and made sure that we don’t bump into any vehicle, cows included.
If you are like us and hate hoards of tourists, then you will surely love this Jodhpur tour. That’s because they don’t do it with big groups. We did the tour twice, and we were never more than four people. I guess they keep it like this for safety reasons. Because it’s difficult to take care of a larger group wandering around narrow streets on bicycles.
Getting enchanted by Jodhpur’s history
The history of Jodhpur is not a dull one at all. It’s made of tales sprinkled with silk, opium, turbans, Mughals, wars, love and intrigues. And in the Jodhpur tour, we started to get more familiar with the historical dates of the Blue City. Jodhpur was founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, whose name it carries. He was a Rajput, a caste in India associated with warriors, and the chief of the Rathore fraternity (a clan of the Rajputs). Afterward, the city became a significant trade point, linking Delhi with Gujarat.
The major point of attraction is the Mehrangarh Fort, which of course you will get to see from a different perspective during the tour. The tour does not include the entrance to the Fort, but the guides took us to the Ranisar Lake, behind the Fort and bordering its walls. This is a lake built by the Queen Jasmade Hadi (wife of Rao Jodha) in 1459, and today it still leaves the impression of a royal scene. There is also another lake right next to Ranisar Lake, respectively the Padmasar Lake. Queen Padmavati built the latter in 1520.
Each and every stop in the bicycle tour will spoil you with some historical curiosities. And even though some of them you can definitely find in guidebooks, some are only local legends that are best heard from the guides.
You will get to discover Jodhpur’s stepwells
Before going on this Jodhpur tour, I had no idea that the city hides so many stepwells. Stepwells are famous in India, mainly found in the western areas. You will find them in a lot of states, including, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Delhi, Maharashtra. Indians can even brag with UNESCO heritage site stepwell, the Ran ki Vav, or one steeped in legend, the Aadalaj Stepwell, both found in Gujarat.
The stepwells are actually man-made ponds. And to reach the water, one must descend a series of carved steps. The purpose for which they were built was actually a utilitarian one, people using them for storage and irrigation. The stepwells were also used as a place of gathering for the locals, escaping from the scorching heat.
What amazed us was the architecture of these stepwells. The Jodhpur tour took us to three such stepwells, and each one of them illustrated great craftsmanship. And it’s the details that will steal your gaze. The guides also told us that it’s usually the women who would go to the stepwells and carry the water. Looking down at the water, I instantly thought how relieved they must have been during the rainy season when the water’s level would increase and therefore reduce their effort in reaching it.
The secret stepwell
Although the most famous stepwell in Jodhpur, the Toor ji ka Jhalra, is a sight not to be missed, my personal favorite was a hidden one. We rode the bicycles through narrow streets, passed people selling fruits, sweets, chai, cows dangling their tales carefree, among tuk-tuks with deafening horns and motorcycle drivers insisting on squeezing themselves between the blue walls.
And then we reached something that looked like a fence. I immediately noticed that it had a lock on it and thought that we had arrived on a wrong day. But no, the guys had the key and so we managed to enter an incredible stepwell. It was like walking into a different realm, one of Ancient India. What was even more surprising was the fact that in the stepwell, it was silent. You would break free from the frenzy and chaos from the streets. So this was an actual highlight of the Jodhpur tour.
Getting the spiritual vibes
How could you possibly do a Jodhpur tour without going to one of the temples in the city? In the Old City there are a bunch from which you can choose, but for the bicycle tour, we stopped at Shri Gangshyam Maharaj Mandir. This is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, one of the trinity Gods in the Hindu pantheon, together with Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva.
We have visited many Hindu temples, given my interest in religion. But I am always fascinated by all the details, by the people presenting their offerings, the priests doing the poojas (the rituals). And of course, having a local with you will provide you with all the insight that you would otherwise miss or just overlook. And because it’s not in the touristic path, there was not a single foreigner inside the temple. There were only locals coming to pray in peace and quiet.
Not far from the Gangshyam Mandir, you will find another temple. This time a small one, and dedicated to another type of god, the God of Sex. Because why not? As long as you have a God for the Sun, for Earth, for Prosperity, for Good luck and so on, why shouldn’t you have one for sex? Especially given that in the Indian mythology and tradition, sex is not seen as something hedonistic, but as spiritual.
Just a spoonful (or more) of sugar
We all know that food connects people. Enjoying a good bite with others and laughing over a cup of tea can bring you closer. Well, the Jodhpur tour gave us both a taste of something sweet and a good cup of Indian chai. First came the chai, in the Juni Mandi market, a chowk where people gather. Considering the early hour and the cool breeze, it was a refreshing stop. And we were not the only ones enjoying our chai. There were a bunch of local men chitchatting and planning their day. Chai, connecting people.
If you have ever been to India, you most likely know the number one rule in all guidebooks – Do Not Dare to Eat Street Food! Well, we tried to respect this holy rule in our first trip to India. But starting with the second one, we decided to go with the flow. To ignore all the rules and just follow the locals. So yes, one of the stops in the Jodhpur tour was a sweet one, enjoying some mouthwatering jalebis. Jalebi is the sweetest dessert ever; it’s made by deep-frying maida flour batter in circular shapes and then soaking them in sugar syrup. Trust me; Mary Poppins would probably not let you have more than a bite!
To do or not to do the Jodhpur tour on a bicycle
I always weigh the pros and cons before doing an activity or before trying something new when we are traveling. In this case, it was difficult to find the cons. However, the central element that won me over was the stories. I left the tour with so many stories that I only wanted to get in the room and start scribbling in my diary. And as I have already pointed out, books cannot reveal all the tales. You also need the help of locals, their input, and sometimes their different version of the same story.
Jodhpur’s touristic part is not big. You can easily spend one day walking around the alleys and thus get used to the city. And most tourists spend no more than two days. It’s just another stop either before or after Jaipur or Jaisalmer. But if you can allow more days, I would recommend you to do so. You will get to understand the Blue City better, to discover its secrets and its magic. And irrespective of how much time you spend in the city, adding the bicycle tour in your list of activities will guarantee you a memorable adventure.
Note for grumblers: This article is just to suggest our readers an activity in Jodhpur that will help them feel the vibe of the city better. We have not been financially rewarded for writing it, nor will we get any benefits if our readers choose to take the tour.