Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jodhpur (My favorite city)

When I arrived in Jodhpur, an hour late as usual, my hotel was supposed to have sent someone to pick me up at the bus station (kindly arranged by my friends in Udaipur). A man came up and greeted me by name, and I followed him to...his motorcycle. Hmm. I hesitatingly hopped on with my luggage and held on for dear life as we weaved in and out of traffic on narrow, steep streets (see post 1 about Indian roads). Always a new adventure in India.

He also tried to reconfirm what time I had left Udaipur, and whether in fact I had arrived an hour late. I found this surprising, as after only being in India for 5 days, I knew I would be an hour late, yet this Indian guy seemed confused by the process. I thought he would have had some friend in the bus company or at the bus station to call and give him an update. Actually, now that I think about it, every time I traveled, all the Indian people's cell phones would start ringing about 10 minutes after the scheduled arrival, I assume asking where they were. Slow learners I guess.

My budget hotel was also really cool, and decorated with the same themes as Jodhpur and its Fort/City Palace. It had a rooftop restaurant shaded with patchwork quilts (a local specialty, not your typical patchwork), with cushions on the floor around low tables and a chair-swing overlooking the blue city and the fort; I met some other travelers when I went up for a late-night snack.

I woke up early the next day and found my way to the Meherangarh fort entrance, just a few blocks from the hotel. As suggested by the guidebook and several people, I took advantage of the (included) audio tour, which was packed with information delivered in a great Indian-British accent that I could actually understand (unlike the majority of the tour guides I had met who claim to be English-speaking). Even from the entrance gate I had climbed high enough to get a stunning view of the “blue city.” The majority of the houses that spread out below me were painted in shades of periwinkle-blue. Apparently the history is that the old city is where the priests lived, and the custom was to coat the walls of a priest’s house with indigo.

The fort itself is absolutely unreal. It’s massive, and has a series of linked and incredibly impressive courtyards. All of the stone on the buildings is hand-carved into complicated and delicate patterns. Some of the rooms are luxuriously opulent, with the floors, walls, and ceilings all decorated with brightly colored tiles. Even the random rooms where they’re just displaying interesting museum objects have high, arched ceilings with carved pillars. The guards wear traditional white outfits with turbans, and they’re friendly and helpful. Everything is clean and well-kept. As I reached the end and passed through a gift shop selling “meherangarh Fort”-emblazoned purses and fancy scarves and teas, it hit me: what made this place so pleasant to visit is that the current local Maharaja (whose idea it was to preserve and share his history and culture through the fort) actually understood how to do this correctly, and he set the place up like a nice Western museum.

The city of Jodhpur itself is charming. There is one main street actually wide enough for one car to pass, and lined with shops. The rest of the streets take off from here with no rhyme or reason into steep alleyways narrow enough for me to touch both sides if I reach out. These frequently lead to dead ends, and some become so steep the street turns into a staircase. Random gates open into secret courtyards. The colors and architecture of every house are unique and beautiful. Regular homes have intricately-carved facades in the style of the Maharaja’s fort-palace, and they’re painted various shades of blue, complemented by contrasting greens and reds.

As I wander around exploring the city, I am literally overwhelmed by the number of children who run up to say “hello.” So many people are offering smiles and genuine hellos with no hidden motives, it is exhausting and near impossible to smile back at all of them. No shop owners chase me thrusting their goods or demand that I enter their shops. It’s so refreshing.

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