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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Desert blues

It’s probably the best view in Jodhpur. I sat in my hotel room, sipping Earl Grey and gazing up at the sprawling, impregnable-looking Mehrangarh Fort that guards the city. Looking up from that vantage point, it didn’t need a huge leap of imagination to conjure up Mughal soldiers eyeing the scene despairingly and wondering how to storm the fort.

We had navigated the chaotic, narrow lanes of Jodhpur’s old walled city to reach our hotel, Raas, an architecturally innovative addition to the colourful area. Our Innova swung through an ancient wooden gate that gave way to suddenly reveal a highly modern construction in rose red sandstone with intricate lattice work — an oasis of calm.

Setting up base in the heart of the old city is a great way to tackle the hustle and bustle of Jodhpur. The next morning we set out in the hotel’s auto-rickshaw — painted Jodhpur’s signature hue — a cooling, distinctive light blue — to explore the jumble of lanes around us. Our guide for the morning was a history student who knew the old city like the back of his hand, though he confessed his family had long moved out to a less cramped part of the city.

The famous Clock Tower Market, is the old city’s most famous landmark and every foreign tourist’s vision of eternal India. Four roads lead off from the clock tower and each is crammed with a mix of shops, ramshackle stalls or just handcarts.

Motorcycles and auto-rickshaws — including us — weaved through the crowds and — this being Rajasthan — a ruminating camel was contemplating the crowds grumpily. On offer, as you walked around, was just about everything from vegetables to saris and glass bangles in every possible shade. “India is an assault on the senses,” said one foreign tourist, grinning at the cliché.

Jodhpur is Rajasthan’s second city but it has fast turned into a global partying destination.

A month ago, supermodel Naomi Campbell descended on the city with a few hundred of her closest friends to celebrate her Russian millionaire boyfriend’s 50th birthday. And shortly before that, about half of Bollywood and scores of private jets descended on the city for the marriage of the daughter of Kishore Lulla, owner of movie company Eros International and TV channel B4U. And locals still talk about the splashy party held to celebrate the short-lived union of Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar.

It isn’t entirely accidental that Jodhpur has turned into a global party hotspot. One of the city’s biggest assets is probably the sprawling art-deco style Umaid Bhawan Palace which stands majestic on one of the highest hills in the city and provides a great base for any fun-minded individuals. It’s a luxurious hotel on an unapologetically regal scale with portraits of bewhiskered Rajput royals and tiger skins abounding.

And, of course, there’s the Mehrangarh Fort with its renovated museum and its commanding view of the city from the ramparts. The beauty of Raas is that you can slip out of the hotel’s back entrance for a 15-minute breathtaking — literally for those who are not in shape — steep walk up the hill to the fort.

Back in our hotel, we settled down in the restaurant to a mix of thin-crust pizzas and Indian food by chef Vishal Gautam who worked for some years at a resort in the Maldives. The chef’s extremely proud of his organic garden where he grows a mix of lettuce, seasonal vegetables and tomatoes that turn up fresh on your plate.

In fact, Raas is a world away from the rush of the old city right outside its gates. The lattice work, on one hand, gives the building a Rajasthani touch but also lends it a different, secluded feel. On the ground floor, each room has a walled garden — the Mehrangarh Fort looms high above the walls. Says proprietor Nikhilendra Singh: “I did not want to imitate anyone. I wanted to create a building that would stand out.”

And stand out it does, though the boutique establishment was a challenge to construct. All the building materials had to be lugged on bullock carts through the old city’s lanes. One of the toughest propositions for Ambrish Arora of Lotus Design Studio was to fit it all in a tight space and also to make the main building blend with the older carefully restored centuries-old buildings behind where the restaurant and Ayurveda-inspired spa are situated.

What gives the so-called Blue City its special laidback feel? Despite the crowds in some parts, the city has a more relaxed feel than the capital Jaipur — though we did see the Rajasthan chief minister whiz through Jodhpur’s avenues in a never-ending convoy of 22 cars and police jeeps — and seems to move at just the right pace.

TRAVEL LOG

Getting there: Jodhpur is connected by regular flights to and from Delhi and Mumbai.

Where to stay: Room rates at the Raas range between Rs 16,000 and Rs 31,150. For details log on to http://raasjodhpur.com/" http://raasjodhpur.com/