Monday, 22 February 2010

Two days in the blue city

I arrived in Jodhpur with a mild case of Delhi Belly and wrote my first day off. Instead, I sat in the beautiful atrium of my guesthouse, reading, moping and generally feeling sorry for myself.

The following morning I was feeling much perkier and was ready to face Jodhpur city. The city is centred around the clock tower: the tower is not that spectacular but it’s a great place to start a city visit. Heading out in all directions from the clock tower are market stalls piled high with fruit and veg, bazaars, stalls selling lassis and chai, and a network of small streets in which you can get hideously lost.

Behind the clock tower and perched atop a cliff face is the Meherangarh Fort. Getting there is much harder than the characteristically vague LP map would lead you to believe. You meander through tiny little streets lined with the blue houses* for which Jodhpur is famed, then backtrack as you find yourself at a dead end with a woman firing rapid Hindi at you whilst smiling and waving at you to about turn. Eventually you find yourself at the steep litter-lined path that leads up to the fort.

The path offers commanding views of the city with its blue houses colouring the grey morning mist that hangs low over the city. In the distance is Umaid Bhawan Palace – now part hotel and part residence for the current Maharajah and his family. To the left is is the milky white marble memorial of Jaswant Thada.

The fort itself is fantastic with its overbearing sandstone outer walls and beautiful internal palace and courtyards. After independence the fort was closed up and left to crumble, and it was only thanks to the current Maharajah that it was restored, transformed into the fantastic museum it is today and given back to the people. Of all the forts I visited, this was by far my favourite.

After an enlightening couple of hours – which included having my palm read a second time – I decided to walk back down to the clock tower. Given the myriad of little lanes, it was inevitable that I would get utterly lost. I found myself winding my way around cows and street dogs and along the quiet residential streets that were free of motorbikes and rickshaws. Goras (whit people/tourists) were a novelty here. Street children gathered round all wanting to shake my hands, women stopped mid conversation and stared, every passerby asked me where I was going and I even noticed one man sneakily trying to take a photo of me with his camera phone.

I wandered about the intricate lattice of streets taking in the crumbling but well-loved blue houses beautifully painted with potted plants lining their entrances, the small streams clogged up with all manner of filth and rubbish running inches from people’s front doorsteps and the glint of a golden Hindu God draped in marigolds and tucked away in a discreet corner.

Eventually, I found my way to a main road where rickshaws abounded and I was returned to the more touristy area of the clock tower. At a small street-side stall, I stopped off for a makhania lassi – a yoghut drink made with sugar and butter. I watched the world go by for a while then decided it was time to head back to my guesthouse for some much needed rest in preparation for my early morning journey to Pushkar.

*a blue house used to be the sign that a Brahmin family lived there. Brahmins were the highest of the Indian caste system and were the British equivalent of the clergy. Now anyone is allowed to paint their house blue.

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