Around Jodhpur

The temples of Osian are remarkable as much for their location in the middle of the desert as their architecture, while Nagaur is one of Rajasthan's busiest but most unaffected cities. The area south of Jodhpur is refreshingly green and fertile compared to the desert landscapes of most of Western Rajasthan (although it can be very dry from March until the monsoon). Leaving the city, the landscape soon becomes agricultural, punctuated by small, friendly villages, some housing stunning heritage hotels.

Osian

Surrounded by sand dunes, this ancient town north of Jodhpur in the Thar Desert contains the largest group of eighth- to 10th-century Hindu and Jain temples in Rajasthan. The typical Pratihara Dynasty
temple complex
is set on a terrace whose walls are finely decorated with mouldings and miniatures. The sanctuary walls have central projections with carved panels' and above these rise curved towers. The doorways are usually decorated with river goddesses, serpents and scrollwork. The 23 temples are grouped in several sites north, west and south of the town. The western group contains a mixture of Hindu temples, including the
Surya Temple
(early eighth century) with beautifully carved pillars. The Jain
Mahavira Temple
(eighth to 10th centuries) the best preserved, 200 m further on a hillock, rises above the town, and boasts a fantastically gaudy interior. The 11th- to 12th-century
Sachiya Mata Temple
is a living temple of the Golden Durga. Osian is well worth visiting.

Khimsar

On the edge of the desert, 80 km northeast of Jodhpur, Khimsar was founded by the Jain saint Mahavir 2500 years ago. The isolated, battle scarred, 16th-century moated castle of which a section remains, had a
zenana
added in the mid-18th century and a regal wing added in the 1940s.

Nagaur

Nagaur, 137 km north of Jodhpur, was a centre of Chishti Sufis. It attracts interest as it preserves some fine examples of pre-Mughal and Mughal architecture. The dull stretch of desert is enlivened by Nagaur's fort palace, temples and
havelis
. The city walls are said to date from the 11th- to 12th-century Chauhan period. Akbar built the mosque here and there is a shrine of the disciple of Mu'inuddin Chishti of Ajmer .
Ahhichatragarh Fort
, which dominates the city, is absolutely vast, contains palaces of the Mughal emperors and of the Marwars, and is being restored with help from the Paul Getty Foundation. The Akbar Mahal is stunningly elegant and perfectly proportioned. The fort also has excellent wall paintings and interesting ancient systems of rainwater conservation and storage, ably explained by a very knowledgeable curator. It was awarded a UNESCO Heritage Award in 2000.

Khichan

Four kilometres from Phalodi, southwest of Bikaner just off the NH15, is a lovely, picturesque village with superb red sandstone
havelis
of the Oswal Jains. Beyond the village are sand dunes and mustard fields, and a lake which attracts ducks and other waterfowl. The once small quiet village has grown into a bustling agricultural centre and a prominent bird-feeding station. Jain villagers put out grain behind the village for winter visitors; up to 8000 demoiselle cranes and occasionally common eastern cranes can be seen in December
and January on the feeding grounds. At present you can go along and watch without charge.

Pokaran

Pokaran, between Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, stands on the edge of the great desert with dunes stretching 100 km west to the Pakistan border. It provides tourists with a mid-way stopover between Bikaner/Jodhpur and Jaisalmer as it did for royal and merchant caravans in the past. The impressive 16th-century yellow sandstone
Pokaran fort
 overlooking a confusion of streets in the town below, has a small museum with an interesting collection of medieval weapons, costumes and paintings. There are good views from the ramparts. Pokaran is also well known for its potters who make red-and-white pottery and terracotta horses/elephants.
Ramdeora
, the Hindu and Jain pilgrim centre nearby, has Bishnoi hamlets and a preserve for blackbuck antelope, Indian gazelle, bustards and sand grouse.
Ramdeora Fair
(September) is an important religious event with cattle trading.

Khetolai
, about 25 km northwest of Pokaran, is the site of India's first nuclear test explosion held underground on 18 March 1974, and of further tests in May 1998.

Balotra and around

The small textile town, 100 km southwest of Jodhpur, is known for its traditional weaving using pit looms and block prints, although many are now mechanized causing pollution of the Luni River. Nearby is the beautiful Jain temple with elephant murals at
Nakoda
.
Kanana
, near Balotra, celebrates
Holi
with stage shows and other entertainment. There is a
dharamshala
at Nakoda and guesthouses at Balotra. At
Tilwara
, 127 km from Jodhpur, the annual Mallinathji
cattle fair
is a major event, which takes place just after
Holi
on the dry Luni riverbed. Over 50,000 animals are brought (although this has declined in recent years due to the drought), including Kapila (Krishna's) cows and Kathiawari horses, making it Rajasthan's largest. Few tourists make it this far as so it is much less commercial than Pushkar. Try and go with a Rajasthani-speaking guide as the farmers and traders are very happy to allow you in on the negotiations as well as describing the key things to look for when buying a camel (the front legs should not rub against its belly, for instance). There are some interesting trade stalls including sword makers.

Salawas

Salawas, about 30 minutes' drive south from Jodhpur, is well known for its pit loom weaving. The village produces
durries
, carpets, rugs, bed covers and tents using camel hair, goat hair, wool and cotton in colourful and interesting patterns. You can visit the weavers' co-operatives such as
Roopraj
and
Salawas Durry Udhyog
(anyone on a Bishnoi village tour is normally frogmarched into one of them), where you can buy authentic village crafts, but watch out for high prices and pushy salesmen.

Luni

The tiny bustling village of Luni, 40 km from Jodhpur, sits in the shadow of the 19th- century red sandstone Fort Chanwa which has been converted to a hotel. With its complex of courtyards, water wheels, and intricately carved fa├žades, the fort and its village offer an attractive and peaceful alternative to the crowds of Jodhpur. The village of
Sanchean
, which you will pass through on the way, is worth exploring.

Rohet and Sardar Samand

Rohet, 50 km north of Jodhpur, was once a picturesque hamlet settled by the Bishnoi community. It is now a busy highway village although it has a busy bazaar and is pleasant to wander around. At the end of the village a lake attracts numerous winter migrants in addition to resident birds. Here also are the family cenotaphs. Rohetgarh, a small 'castle' beside the lake, which has been converted in to a hotel, has a collection of antique hunting weapons. The hotel will organize trips to the local Bishnoi villages. It is quite usual to see blue bull, black buck and other antelopes in the fields. Village life can be very hard in this arid environment but the Bishnoi are a dignified people who delight in explaining their customs. You can take part in the opium tea ceremony which is quite fun and somewhat akin to having a pint with the locals down at the pub.

The lake nearby is a beautiful setting for the royal 1933 art deco hunting lodge,
Sardar Samand Palace
. The lake attracts pelicans, flamingos, cranes, egrets and kingfishers and the wildlife sanctuary has blackbuck, gazelle and nilgai, but the water level drops substantially during summer; the lake has
actually dried up from April to June in recent years. Sardar Samand is 60 km southeast of Jodhpur.

Nimaj

A small feudal town 110 km east of Jodhpur on the way to the Jaipur-Udaipur highway, the real attraction is the artificial lake,
Chhatra Sagar
, 4 km away. The ex-ruling family have recreated a 1920s-style tented hunting lodge on the lake's dam, which offers amazing views over the water and a genuine family welcome.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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