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India's Blue City

Jodhpur known for distinctive riding pants, colourful architecture

Last Updated: 15th April 2009, 2:45am

JODHPUR, India -- "This is one of the best views of the fort," insists Ajit Singh as we gaze at the 550-year-old hilltop structure from the Nirvana Terrace Roof Top Restaurant. The sprawling Mehrangarh Fort, with its network ................................................................

After the evening call to prayer, and another delicious meal in the tranquil ambiance of Nirvana Restaurant, I venture into the chaotic city streets where auto rickshaws, scooters, cows and shoppers jostle for space. I pass several vegetable stalls and shops selling fabric for saris until I find the famous M. V. Spices shop, not far from the clock tower, a local landmark.

Named for Mohanlal Verhomal -- who is credited for starting the spice craze for which the city is known -- the shop is now run by his daughter Usha Verhomal, 25, the oldest of seven sisters.

"My father used to take sachets of the spices and stand outside the fort or the palace, the two places where he saw tourists," Usha explains.

When he got mentioned in a guidebook, it attracted tourists and prompted other entrepreneurs to open shops selling everything from chili to black pepper.

"This market was all vegetables and now it's spices," says Usha, who, on the night of my visit, turns her shop into an impromptu gathering place. I join some backpackers assembled on low wooden benches enjoying samples of Kashmiri tea, as the savvy young businesswoman shows us how to tell quality spices from bad.

The store stocks more than 100 spices including its signature Maharaja curry, a 15-spice blend from her mother's secret recipe.

After an enjoyable evening, I prepare to leave.

"Wait," implores Usha. "Saffron tea?" she offers, passing out yet another sample.

The intriguing brew is a fitting end to a day of interesting discoveries.


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