Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jodhpur, the Blue City

We arrived in Jodhpur around 8:30 pm, too dark to see much, and had a frustrating time getting to the guesthouse without the rickshaw driver following us in to claim his commission. The Lonely Planet suggested to ask the driver to drop you off at the Ghanta Ghar clock tower, then walk up the hill to the guesthouses to avoid the extra cost of their commission. I'm pretty sure our driver wasn't deaf since he communicated with us very well, which leaves the assumption that it was a classic case of just being ignored. "Your book says Hotel Haveli is very good. You go there, yes? I will bring you there."

It was a really nice hotel, one of the nicest I'd seen, but also a lot out of our range. So, in the end, we discovered another way to take the driver out of the equation; we walked out down the street to another place, recommended on the budget list.

In the morning, we headed back to the Haveli for the rooftop restaurant. I was sick to my stomach just after arriving last night, so I just nibbled on some chapati and slowly sipped a lassi. Aside from great food, which I couldn't enjoy, the restaurant is known for its amazing view of the Mehrangerh Fort, where Carlos and I were headed after breakfast.

The fort is a massive structure, sitting atop a steep 122 meter hill that bisects the city. The huge foundation was laid in 1459, by the ruler, Roa Jodha, but most of the current structure was built between 1638–78. An interesting story is that there was a single resident living on the hill, a hermit called Cheeria Nathji, the lord of birds. Upset at being forced to move Cheeria Nathji cursed Rao Jodha saying, "Jodha! May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water!" Jodha managed to appease the hermit by building a house and a temple in the fort very near the cave the hermit had used for meditation, though only to the extent that even today the area is plagued by a drought every 3 to 4 years. Jodha then took an extreme measure to ensure that the new site proved propitious; he buried a man alive in the foundations. He was promised that in return his family would be looked after by the Rathores. To this day his descendants still live in Raj Bagh, Rajiya's Garden, an estate given to them by Jodha.

We came through the towering gates and headed into the miniature city encased by the fort. One of the first things we saw were the sati handprints, where fifteen small handprints left by the wives of the maharaja before they immolated themselves on his funeral pyre. The practice of sati was banned by the British when they were horrified by seeing it for the first time in 1829, but the practice continued into the modern era. The  hands didn't appear to be the actual hand prints, but it was still an interesting bit of history! We entered the palace courtyard that rivaled the architecture of Venice with its beautiful, intricate detailed three story buildings, each small section difference than the next.

In the museum, we saw all sorts of swords and other weapons, with beautifully cast or carved handles. I was impressed by two handles in particular, an ivory horse head and a steel horse that made the handle of a sword. The swords were shaped exactly how you would imagine them, with curved, wavy edges, that made me shiver just looking at. Rajasthan, the state Jodhpur is located in, means King's County and you can be sure the kings throughout the last 600 years of history were never satisfied in their attempts to "more" king than they already were. The fort was the site of almost perpetual violence until British colonization lead to a period of peace. 

After exploring the gorgeous, slightly-psychedelic, courtrooms, I had to find a toilet so asked a plumb security guard, dressed period clothing, sitting contently on a chair in the shade, which way I could find one. He gave me accurate instructions, always appreciated, so on the way back, I thanked him. He asked how long I'd been in India and where I'd been so far, then where I was headed next. I said the next day, my friend and I were doing to Jaisalmer to go camel trekking. "Oh," he said, "if you go camel trekking, you should get some of this!" producing a rolled up clear plastic bag from the pocket of his traditional costume. "Ganja?" I asked, but he said, "No, opium. You chew on it. Very nice for camel trekking." Apparently, opium around here isn't much different than a glass of wine at home. Once again, I thanked him for his advice and went to find Carlos, amused by the conversation I'd just had with the security guard. 

The fort continued across the hill, where cannons were positioned along the edge. The view of the Blue City was fantastic from this side. The little, rectangular, pale-blue houses seemed to reflect the sky, like solidified water. Finally, we made it down to the small Chamunda Mataji Temple, then followed the back trail of the fort back to the entrance. 

We walked down a trail into the blue. Rajasthan has a very distinct desert atmosphere. It was interesting to be in the middle of one of its most distinctive cities.  We saw a camel, a few goats and dogs, met some locals, passed some of Jodhpurs famous patchwork blankets hanging over a balcony, but the best part was passing through the blue-washed walls. They made the hot sun feel just a little cooler and added an air peacefulness.

Once through the Blue City, we headed to the commercial district by the clock tower. It was a dusty and busy, relatively modernized area, compared to the heritage neighborhood wed just come through anyway, with stores and other businesses lining the main road out of town. We found a travel agent and booked an over-night bus to Jaisalmer then, as the sun went away, headed back to the crowded market by the clock tower, where Carlos bought a beautiful orange and red patchwork blanket. I really wanted a blue one and for $25 they really weren't very expensive but the money I'd saved for the trip had already disappeared and at this pace, my visa isn't holding up very well either. Traveling in India could cost about $50 a week if you're careful but I've been spending about three times that. Mostly on food and guest houses but also my inability to get a fair price for anything. They should teach courses in haggling at school for people planning to go anywhere in their lifetime. We might be one of the only cultures in the world that doesn't...

We went back to the Haveli rooftop for dinner and saw the amazing nighttime view of the fort. 'Im sure lighting it was causing blackouts somewhere else in the country but maybe it was worth it.

What ever was in my stomach before had set up shop in my intestine, making knowledge of the nearest toilet essential information but I was just happy to have my appetite back. I asked the waiter what a local Rajasthan specialty is and he recommended Dal Makhani, a thick, heavy black lentil and red bean curry. It was amazing! The last time I ate meat was outside the Taj Mahal, and I was starting to feel it, but this really filled a whole in my stomach.The third attraction of this restaurant was the nightly gypsy music and dance performance. The musicians were fantastic but it was really the young girl dancer who stole the show. It was a perfect ending to an all-too-short visit to Jodhpur. I hope I can make it back someday!

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