In February 2009 we travelled to India and saw so much that the account for this holiday is split into several parts.
This is the fourth and final part devoted to the blue city of Jodhpur, the magnificent Jain Temples at Ranakpur and Udaipur with ultimate luxury at the Udai Vilas Hotel.
Jodhpur was founded in 1459 by the Rathore leader Rao Jodha. The city is dominated by the massive Mehrangarh Fort, built on a steep ridge its immense walls rise high above the beautiful blue buildings on the plain below. Though blue traditionally signifies the home of a Brahmin, in Jodhpur the habit has spread widely. We were also told that the blue colour helps keep the mosquitoes at bay.
Jodhpur's advantageous position on the rich trade route between Delhi and Gujarat allowed it to become prosperous from the profits of trade in opium, dates, sandalwood and copper.
An alliance in the seventeenth century with Shah Jahan against Awangzeb resulted in the city's defeat in 1678. Eventually recaptured, the eighteenth century nevertheless saw many battles with Jaipur and Udaipur. In 1818 a friendship treaty was signed with the British East India Company.
Sardar, or Clock Tower, Market is a wonderfully vibrant place, very noisy and dusty but great fun.
On city streets there are always lots of food-sellers: dried fruit, nuts, sweets, breads, fried chicken, dr inks - always plenty of chai!
We loved the masala chai so bought packets of it here to take home - vastly cheaper than elsewhere! The trader seemed to sell only this and had his shop in the wall of the entrance gate to the market.
We only saw jodhpurs once, obviously it's not an everyday item of clothing, and these were on a waiter in a restaurant!
Built in 1899, this beautiful white marble memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II is set on a height above a small lake. It is also the site of the royal crematorium and cenotaphs of members of the royal family are also here.
The marble is delicately carved, the Mughal influences strong in the cupolas on the roofline.
Lovely carved green wooden doors contrast with the fine, almost translucent, marble.
It is a peaceful spot with superb views of Mehrangarh Fort.
The 125m ridge on which the fort was built is strategically an excellent location, affording wide views over the surrounding plains. The walls of the fort are from 6m to 36m in height and seem to grow directly out of the bedrock, having been made from the quarried-out material on which the fort stands. It has seven pols (gates) progressing from the exterior wall into the citadel, which is no longer a living fort in the sense of Jaisalmer. The massive entrance gate, Jayapol, was built by Maharaja Man Singh in 1866 to commemorate his victory over Jaipur and Bikaner.
Through this gate, and after the ticket outlet, there is a lift to whisk you to the top of the fort - very welcome in the heat! Here, at the top of the fort on the outer wall, is a wheel used to lift water from the ground far below.
Through Surajpol, the seventh gate, is Singhar Chowk, where a marble throne has been used for centuries in royal coronation ceremonies.
The palaces within the fort now house a museum and there are some fascinating collections here. One hall contains beautiful elephant howdahs, elsewhere are palanquins including the covered variety used by women in purdah (seclusion) and a number of royal cradles are displayed in the Jhanki Mahal. The Jhanki Mahal is also known as the Palace of Glimpses for it is here that the ladies of the Zenana would look out through stone lattice screens without themselves being seen.
There is also a very fine collection of miniature paintings.
Beautifully decorated rooms in the various palaces each have their own traditional function.
Thakhat Vilas, the private room of Maharaja Thakhat Singh is beautifully painted but rather distractingly the ceiling is festooned with Christmas baubles!
Dancing took place in the Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), the royal ladies met in the Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) in the Zenana, the women's apartments.
Some of the rooms are fabulously decorated with much gilding. Coloured glass in windows adds to the dazzle!
There is one room where a scribe sat at a little desk, below the minister, and wrote down all his pronouncements in great wedges of papers.
One or two of the facades are under renovation and covered with scaffolding, held together by huge quantities of rope.
From the walls of the fort, where cannon are placed, there are fantastic views over the city.
Descending we passed through Lohapol (Iron Gate) with its iron spikes intended to deter elephants. Here can also be seen the marks where cannon balls pounded the walls.
The fort is worth visiting for its sheer immensity alone, but that would do an injustice to fascinating items in the museum collections.
The road to Ranakpur was one of the poorest main roads we travelled on. It is single carriageway and exceedingly busy, being the main Delhi-Mumbai highway.
Lying in a remote wooded valley, this complex of Jain Temples is the largest in India.
Jainism was founded in 500BC as a reaction against the dominance of priests in Hindu society. It rejects the caste system, avoids ritual and believes in reincarnation. Jains are strict vegetarians and revere all forms of life.
We arrived 40 minutes before the main temple opened at mid-day so we spent the time exploring some of the many little shrines on the surrounding hillsides and the exterior of the main temple. It was searingly hot!
The shrines look like miniature buildings, with flights of steps and doorways and pillared porticos.
The main temple built in 1439, Chaumukha Mandir (Four-faced Temple) is dedicated to the first tirthankara, Adinath. An inner sanctuary holds a four-faced image of Adinath. The interior composed of 29 connected halls is supported by a forest of 1444 pillars, no two alike in their carved decoration.
The temple is absolutely stunning and very hard to do justice to in photographs. The carving throughout, both exterior and interior, is magnificent.
And so to the final, and most southerly, point of our journey. Leaving the Jain Temples we encountered the worst roads yet, extremely poor in places, especially on a stretch where work was under way and we seemed to be driving on a quarry floor!
We ate at a roadside café not far out of Ranakpur, still in the parched landscape. The café was completely open and the food served hot from pots ranged on a heating bar reminiscent of the kind to be seen in Roman towns such as Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Mid-afternoon we arrived at our hotel. We'd decided to end with a flourish and were spending three nights at the Udai Vilas. It was absolutely magnificent from the moment we arrived to the moment we left.
We have stayed in some wonderful hotels on this trip but for sheer luxury and excellence of service this was the tops. Throughout India the service has been excellent, but here service achieved new heights - the staff really couldn't do enough for our comfort, always with a smile, nothing too much trouble. We settled in immediately for three days of pampering.
Our room, 128, was lakeside and the bedroom looked out over Lake Pichola - beautiful, especially early morning. We also had private access to an infinity pool directly from our terrace - fabulous! It was extremely comfortable and spacious, with beautiful decorative touches. The bathroom was luxurious - from both shower and bath were views out over the courtyard and pool to the wild life reserve and Lake Pichola.
The wildlife reserve has many varieties of birds, including kites and peacocks, and also Indian deer. It was lovely to lie in the pool and just watch what was going on.
The hotel is fabulous in every way. The corridors are open and cool with pools and plants. The reception rooms are large and light and airy. We were welcomed in the cool bar with a very refreshing drink of rose-water ice tea. After the formalities and we'd settled into our room we ordered room service and soon were relaxing outside on our terrace. We didn't really move for the rest of that day, only showering and changing for dinner later.
We ate all meals outside in the lovely restaurant, the first evening at one of the canopied tables. The food was superb. Excellent curries are served with a variety of breads, chapattis and rice. The main courses are preceded by spicy dips, perhaps water melon and cottage cheese, a small cup of home made soup. Each evening at the restaurant there are musicians and dancers, the wide view over Lake Pichola an atmospheric backdrop.
Breakfasts were wonderful: freshly squeezed fruit juices - pineapple, orange; eggs any way you want them - I'm rather partial to eggs benedict. A stack of pancakes comes with maple syrup, rhubarb compote (particularly good!), whipped cream and blackcurrants.
Several times the chef came to ask if everything was to our liking - both at breakfast and dinner.
The hotel has a boat dock and the views from here and also from the lawns below the restaurant across Lake Pichola to the Lake Palace Hotel and the City Palace are superb. The lake was low - most bodies of water in Rajasthan seemed to be suffering from several poor monsoon years.
The animals in the wildlife reserve are fed in late afternoon so this is a good time to see them. We only really saw Indian deer and lots of different varieties of birds.
Udaipur was founded in 1568 by Maharaja Udai Singh II as the new capital of Mewar after the Mughal Empreror Akbar had sacked Chittorgarh. On his death in 1572 he was succeeded by his son Pratap who became a legendary hero, defending Udaipur valiantly from Mughal attack.
Udaipur remained fiercely independent, fighting off not only the Mughals but later the Marathas from central India. The battles finally came to an end in the early nineteenth century when a treaty was signed with the British who pledged to protect Udaipur. The treaty endured to independence in 1947.
The old city of Udaipur on the banks of Lake Pichola is a romantic setting. Almost marooned in the lake is the Lake Palace Hotel, a former eighteenth century royal summer palace which was extended and converted to an hotel in the 1960s.
This wonderfully carved Hindu Temple was built in 1651 and is dedicated to Lord Jagannath, an aspect of Vishnu.
When we entered there was a service in progress. Prayers began and our guide said we should stay and watch as it's not possible to predict when prayers will be said so it was lucky we were there at this time and we would find it interesting.
One man in front of the sacred statue waved a flame in the air while a succession of men flicked what looked like large fly whisks and a very loud bell tolled. It was fascinating, and drew in people from outside until the temple was packed.
This is a very beautifully carved temple with endlessly fascinating figures, many figures unashamedly naked, some mildly erotic. There are lots of musicians and dancers, elephants and horses.
The palace begun by Maharaja Udai Singh II in 1559 was extended over the following 300 years by later maharajas so that it now comprises 11 royal palaces.
It sits on the eastern shore at the north end of Lake Pichola, a massive marble and pale garnite edifice visible from afar. It has influences from all over the known world in its design: Mughal-style canopies to its turrets and Chinese and Dutch tiles on its walls.
Through the Tripolia Gate, where legend has it that maharajas were weighed in gold and silver which was then distributed to the citizens, is a large courtyard where elephant fights took place, though our guide told us they were more like a tug-of-war. The last of these was in 1955.
Some of the palace rooms are opulently decorated, mirrors used extensively and here, also, tiling is favoured.
Krishna Vilas is dedicated to a 16 year old princess who committed suicide by poison to avoid choosing between the sons of Jodhpur and Jaipur and thus avoiding war. It is a beautiful room, covered with incredible miniature paintings.
Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) is particularly impressive with more ornate mirrorwork and intricately inlaid panels.
Mor Chowk (Peacock Court) has fabulously colourful peacock mosaics - the peacock is a favourite Rajasthani bird, a bringer of good luck; we saw many wild peacocks on our travels.
We left through Laxmi Chowk, with its tiger cage and impressive pillared stables and through the massive elephant-spiked gate.
These tranquil gardens were built by Sangram Singh II in 1710 for 48 female attendants who came to Udaipur as part of a princess's dowry.
The gardens are surprisingly lush, planted with well-kept specimens of indigenous species.
There are many beautiful fountains here but unfortunately they are no longer permanently in operation. For a small payment we got an attendant to switch them on.
And so we came to the end of what we have come to agree is our best-ever holiday so far. It had everything: fascinating history, unbelievable forts and palaces, art and architecture, interiors, paintings and sculpture; great food, fabulous hotels and wonderful, welcoming people. We're not sure how we can beat this one but we left planning a return to India...