Published: August 2nd 2009June 16th 2009
From the Golden City to the Blue City...six hours on a bus takes us back east, to Jodhpur. It is much bigger than Jaisalmer; the urban sprawl housing around one million people. Jodhpur is the Blue City because many of the buildings are painted with whitewash tinted with indigo. Originally used to mark out the houses of high caste Brahmins, the colour wash caught on and has spread throughout the walled old city. We check into the Sing-vi Haveli, a beautiful old merchants house in the neighbourhood of Navchokiya, right in the shadows of the imposing Meherangarh Fort, which looms 400ft above the city. Narrow streets wind uphill to the fort, bustling with shoppers and traders...sweet shops, tinkers and tailors, spice shops and puppet makers do business in these medieval lanes, and it's easy to imagine life here 500 years ago.
A visit to the Meherangarh Fort is another surefire way to transport back in time. Like temples in South East Asia, it'd be easy to OD on forts in Rajastan, but this one is magnificent. There is an unmissable audio tour (we don't normally bother, but had heard this one is excellent...and it really is) which brings the place
to life. From the minute the rich voiced narrator points out canon holes, and spikes in the walls to hinder the progress of charging elephants, I'm hooked. The fort was never successfully invaded, though it saw many battles...in one the maharaja was killed below on the battlefield. His wives made still visible handprints on a wall as they left the palace for the final time, on their way to commit sati, as was tradition until surprisingly recently. [Sati is the suicide of widows, who would throw themselves onto their husband's funeral pyre.]
Once past the seven defensive gates, and the fantastic views over the city from the canon lined upper ramparts, you come to the fort's living quarters. There's an embarassment of riches on display in the elaborate royal apartments, where stained glass windows and multi-faceted mirrors sparkle on every surface, including the ceiling of the maharaja's 'pleasure palace'! The way the Rajput royals lived was incredible and their riches beyond comprehension.
On the way back down the steep hill, we bump into Andrew and Helen and make plans for dinner at a place out of town called On the Rocks...one of the few licensed places in Jodhpur.
We catch a rickshaw early as we need to make a couple of stops en route. We're just finished at the ATM and walking back to the rickshaw when it begins to get strangely dark, despite sunset being almost two hours away. By the time I've taken off my shades the sky has turned reddish-black and it looks like the end of the world. The wind picks up, bringing with it dust and sand...loads of it. I'd never been in a sandstorm before, but can now report that it is a crazy experience. Our rickshaw driver shrugs it off and continues our journey virtually blind, as branches fall from trees and sand stings our skin. It is dark as night and really quite scary; I have never seen anything like it in my life.
He surprisingly gets us to On the Rocks unscathed, just as the rain starts. All the dust and sand in the air makes the rain (and us) filthy...really glad I dressed up for the occassion! We're early, and quickly realise that Andrew and Helen probably aren't coming...if we hadn't left early then we would've stayed put ourselves. It's a shame as On the Rocks is
excellent...a huge restaurant (and currently unusable outside terrace!) and bar carved out of rock, it's really cool...the food's good too: we eat our first meat in India with a mixed tandoori grill...mmm meat :) Happily we meet up with them back in town after dinner, and head back to their hotel armed with Smirnoff and juice to continue the night there, as everywhere is closing by 10pm.
It's pretty late when we get back to our haveli, but we stay up awhile and when I finally turn off our light, we can see the silhouette of a man staring through the glass panels of our door. The door was screened with fine sari silk, but it's not til that moment that we realise it offers us no privacy with lights on after dark. God knows how long he'd been watching us...he didn't stick around to chat, running off as a naked Ritchy gives chase! He dissapears too quickly to have left the locked courtyard gates and we're convinced it's one of the staff. Outraged, we try to wake the family to complain, but just get a sleepy grandma, so decide to wait til morning.
I wake up just
as angry, so despite sore heads, we quickly pack and head down for the showdown. When we explain what happened, the owner is shocked (we know it wasn't him...his hair is too short) and begs us to stay, but I'm resolute that we're leaving. That is until he offers us a free upgrade to their Maharaja Suite. It is absolutely gorgeous, decorated like one of the royal palaces in the fort, and is way out of our usual backpackers league. So, we sell out, and our last day in Jodhpur is spent nursing hangovers in a suite fit for a king whilst ordering room service and trying to work out who is the Peeping Tom!