A 1400km road trip through the heart of Rajasthan to the most royal of places - the place of kings and queens. The city that calls itself home to the breathtaking Mehrangarh fort, the gorgeous Umaid Bhawan Palace, and many more jaw dropping sites. All in a car, that was meant for Grand Touring, albeit in a very different sort of way.

The 3 Series GT can be mocked for carrying that GT moniker, you know. Conventionally the word GT would bring images of a front engined, 2 seat sports car with ample boot space in the back – the Aston Martin DBS, the Ferrari FF, the Bentley Continental – Cars that can munch miles and travel across continents while enveloping you in comfort. GT’s are as much about outright speed, and handling as they are about safety and comfort. In a lot of ways, they’re the most perfect type of car for a long road trip. Get there quick, and get there well. The 3GT is not a conventional GT car then, or is it?

You see, it’s important to understand the context of the GT moniker. When I think of Grand Touring, I think of driving from London, across the channel tunnel, through France, down to the French Riviera, or the Spanish coast. It’s what one did in the summer back in the time. Those were the good ol days.

But India isn’t Europe. Not only are our roads not as good, our driving sensibilities means driving across in either of those cars across the country would be a very risky affair. Which is why the 3GT makes a tonne of sense.

 

It’s like a 3 series, only bigger, with a hatch as a boot, and a diesel engine under the boot to cover over 800km on a single tank of fuel. Performance from the diesel engine is adequate. The 2.0L motor develops about 190bhp and 400Nm of torque. It has a strong mid range, and is supremely drive-able. Performance enthusiasts can get a higher spec petrol too, producing 250 odd bhp.

But If I were planning to drive across states in a 3GT, I’d most likely get the diesel. Which is exactly what I did. My run started on a cold, foggy afternoon in Delhi and it was almost 90km before I spotted the sun. Nine hours later, I was in Jodhpur, the blue city, the city with the massive, imposing fort, the city of royals.

For the next 4 days, I’d be living at the Radisson Jodhpur, a truly fantastic hotel, located outside the old city of Jodhpur, in a cleaner and more accessible area. The Radisson makes a lot of sense for business travellers and families alike. In my experience of the old city, it was pretty crowded, and fairly dirty in places. The Radisson on the other hand, is a modern take on what a Jodhpuri palace should be. Made with individually cut red stone which is a trademark of the area, the hotel has a palace like appearance with all the amenities of a modern hotel. There are 96 rooms in all, with 6 room types to choose from. The Superior room we stayed in was very spacious and well laid out, and accommodated 3 adults in comfort.

I was also taken by surprise by the taste and quality of food at the 2 restaurants at the property, Ekatra and Abhiras, with the latter being a roof top affair with views of the Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhawan palace from a distance. There’s also local Rajasthani delicacies on the menu, and their Dal Baati is something I would definitely recommend.

On our first day, we reached the hotel, and got comfortable in our rooms. After a quick nap, we decided to go explore the old city. In search of the famed blue houses, we must’ve walked at least 8km, but found it impossible to spot a street with entirely blue houses. There are two reasons for this – one is ignorance, with the locals not understanding that the blue houses are a tourist attraction. The second is the type of paint used to colour the houses – you see, conventionally, the blue used to be white powder (know locally as ‘choona’) mixed with the blue tint of fabric whitener – Robin. Nowadays, people use distemper paints which, unlike choona, don’t rub off on one’s clothes. It’s difficult to find that shade of blue in distemper paints. Also, it’s just cheaper to get the houses painted white. The fact that there is no legislation making it compulsory to pain houses blue also contributes to this occurrence. Nonetheless, we did stumble upon the odd blue house, and it was quite a colourful and blissful sight.

In search of the famed blue houses, we must’ve walked at least 8km, but found it impossible to spot a street with entirely blue houses.

On the following day, we kept time aside for the Mehrangarh Fort. This fort is surreal. It juts out of the ground abruptly, making for a jaw dropping sight. You can see the fort from pretty much any place in the old city. It’s ever present, a reminder of Jodhpur’s royal roots. Built in 1459 by Rao Jodha, the fort is situated 410 feet (125 m) above the city and is one of the largest forts in the country. A winding road leads to and from the city located at its footsteps. It is a truly imposing structure, towering above everything else in the city. There’s an entry ticket to the fort, and I would recommend you reach as early as possible. The fort opens its doors to the public at 9am, and that’s a good time to enter if you want to avoid the crowds that will follow later.

Still owned by the royal family of Jodhpur, the Mehrangarh Fort is managed by the royal family’s trust. The trust employs 600 people ( a major source of employment in the region), and manages both the fort and the Umaid Bhawan palace. I have to say, the fort and the palace have both been maintained to the highest of standards. I’ve been to many other forts in the country, but Mehrangarh was the cleanest and best laid out. The museum at the fort is accessible by buying a ticket, which comes at a nominal cost. Remember that the ticket prices pay for the salaries of the staff and maintenance of the fort itself, and the price seems like a steel.

Still owned by the royal family of Jodhpur, the Mehrangarh Fort is managed by the royal family’s trust. The trust employs 600 people ( a major source of employment in the region), and manages both the fort and the Umaid Bhawan palace. I have to say, the fort and the palace have both been maintained to the highest of standards. I’ve been to many other forts in the country, but Mehrangarh was the cleanest and best laid out. The museum at the fort is accessible by buying a ticket, which comes at a nominal cost. Remember that the ticket prices pay for the salaries of the staff and maintenance of the fort itself, and the price seems like a steel.

You feel even better once you’ve had a tour inside the fort. Whether it’s the sheesh mahal, the Diwaan-e-Khaas, the Daulat Khana or the Rang Mahal, this fort impresses. I was left in awe at the end of the tour. You can also skip the museum altogether (would not recommend missing it though), and instead walk through the fort’s lawns towards the temple located on the other side. The walk affords some beautiful views of the city below. It’ll also reaffirm that the city isn’t as blue as it used to be at one time.

After we were done seeing the fort, we returned to the hotel, and grabbed lunch at the restaurant. Their Kaali Dal and Paneer Tikka Masala is a delight for the tastebuds and tummy. Post lunch, we lounged at the pool for a while, before heading out for a drive to the other end of the city to see the Bal Samand Lake Palace.

The twisty bits we encountered on this drive reminded me that the 3GT is still a 3 Series. Agreed, it’s not as agile and small as the sedan, but it’s still a joy to drive. The leather wrapped steering is nicely weighed, and does become heavier as you go faster. It inspires a lot of confidence. The engine is adequately powerful, and the gearbox teams up quite well with it. It’s not the fastest motor around, but it’s extremely predictable. Overtaking is easy, because you know exactly how the car and engine will respond to you putting your foot down on the throttle.

The interiors were typical BMW, which means cleanly laid out, with wood and aluminium inserts, and a large central i-drive screen. I also really enjoyed using Apple Car Play, which the car now comes fitted with. While the implementation of Apple Car Play within i-drive could’ve been better, I felt it was extremely easy to use Car Play on the big touch screen. Google Maps is finally available on CarPlay, and this made navigating greatly easy.

Th Bal Samand Lake Palace is located at the edge of the Bal Samand Lake. The property used to be a hunting lodge for the royalty at one point. It’s been maintained wonderfully, and we had a great time grabbing tea and some snacks at the property. It’s a peaceful place, and I think it’s worth your time if you visit Jodhpur.

We spent some time going through the museum, and later settled on the lawns right outside, to soak in some winter sun on a windy afternoon. The setting was just perfect.

Our last experience in Jodhpur was probably our best. That evening, we drove to the restaurant located within Mehrangarh Fort. The restaurant, called Chokhelav, is open to the public between 7 & 10pm every night. It’s situated inside the fort, on the other side of the city. The fort is specially lit up for the restaurant guests, and looks majestic with the moon in the background. The restaurant staff is courteous, and the food is top notch too. As an experience, this was right up there with seeing the fort and palace. 

I’d also recommend giving the Jeep ride to and from the restaurant a miss, and instead walking through the fort after your meal. Walking through an empty fort at night is spooky, but also showcases the fort in an all new light. It’s wonderful!

The 4 nights we spent in Jodhpur went by like a breeze. Followed by a disappointing first day where we went looking for blue houses, the city really wrapped its charm around us over the next 2 days. The Radisson proved to be the perfect place to stay at, the BMW proved to be a great GT car, albeit in a different sort of way, and the fort and place really took our breath away. Rajasthan, you never fail to impress!