Craig and Ross in India.

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February 4th 2019
Published: February 5th 2019
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Blog # 2 (February 5, 2019)

The Jodhpur blues - and cranes galore.

Last year, a few people commented that they would like to have read more blogs from our Europe trip (e.g, you, Mark Waters! ) People wanted more stories! So, I’ll try to be more frequent this time!

To get from Udaipur to Jodhpur, we used a comfy cab. (In India, for about $50, you can just get a cab between major cities, even though they might be some 5 hours apart.) We decided to break the five hour drive by staying overnight about half way. After leaving Udaipur, we firstly dropped in to see a magnificent Jain temple in Ranakpur. Jain = a rather obscure Indian religion. We believe it is actually pronounced “Jan” so we had a little chuckle for you, Bryan Monk, when the audio-guide said that hundreds of Jan Monks were involved in first laying the foundations of the temple. (One was incarcerated for doing embroidery without a licence….OK, just kidding, but hope your mum (and Dad) are doing OK). Anyway, the massive Jain temple at Ranakpur was jaw dropping. It features incredibly intricate carved marble ­columns (all 144 of them!) And an equally intricate ceilings and statues. Truly incredible and we have never ever seen anything like it before (check out my pics). Then we stayed overnight nearby at a wonderful heritage hotel – a former hunting lodge – called Rwala Narlai. It was a splurge of $$$ and a wonderful place. From there, it was a 2.5 hour drive on to Jodhpur, famed for its jumble of blue houses encircling the centrepi­­ece of the city, massive Mehranghar Fort - the largest in India. Perhaps you are familiar with the word “Jodhpur” because the city gave its name to those special riding breeches, known the world over as ‘jodhpurs’. They were designed here, taken to the world when the Maharaja of Jodhpur's son and his polo team wore them when visiting the Queen of England in 1897.

For about $1, we caught a tuk tuk up to the fort from our hotel. (We stayed in another heritage haveli in Jodhpur. And why not? They are glorious old places and only about AUD$100 per night). The tuk tuk driver indicated that he was born in Jodhpur, raised in Jodhpur and would die in Jodhpur. The way he drove, we figured he’d soon realise his final aim.

The 15th century fort was fantastic, a former Rajput stronghold that rises as a massive structure atop its vast granite plinth. It is no longer occupied, but it is very well preserved and functions as a vast museum, open to tourists. It is the number one attraction that people visit here in Jodhpur. The exterior is a wonderland of ramparts, cupolas, turrets, and lattice windows- all made of sandstone. It has a palace, expansive ornate courtyards, and various halls and chambers. Inside, we marveled at the well-preserved opulent rooms. One, called the Poom Hamal (I think), was magnificent in its detail, with amazing carvings and a fully gold-embossed roof with lots of mirrors. It was apparently the orgy room of the Royal family in the day. Explains the mirrors, I guess. Elsewhere in the fort are rooms housing all sorts of wonderful artefacts from 16th to 18th century Rajput rulers, warriors, day-to-day life, etc. Even the shields used in battle were ornate things, coated in rhino skin, gilded and encrusted with rubies! From various vantage points along the fort ramparts, we could see the vast jumble of blue houses for which the city is famous. (Why blue? It denotes a high Brahman Hindu caste, but also keeps houses cool and apparently wards off mozzies). Later that day, I spent an absorbing few hours wandering among those blue houses, a photographer’s delight. As night fell, we dived into the chaos that is Jodhpur night markets, a whirlwind of sights, sounds and smells - people, vendors, stalls, cows, horse drawn carts, you name it, did I mention cows? We bought a small packet of biddies and sat toking a few with some old turban clad blokes and hip young guys, people watching for a while. Amazing experience. The 24/7 energy of life here is just extraordinary. It’s all good though, as when it gets too much, we simply retreat to the calm oasis of our hotel.

The weather here continues to be ideal. Chilly at night and early morning (a jacket is required) but warm and sunny every day (about 23°C). On our second day in Jodhpur, we went out of town to look for animals…....C'mon, there had to be animals at some point, right? Sanjay from WildEyes Tours picked us up in his jeep on a very brisk early morning and off we went. We had a great morning out in the Rajasthani scrubland. When I was a boy, I recall being at Taronga Zoo and marvellng at some handsome black and white antelope called “Indian blackbuck”. They were from a part of India I couldn’t pronounce. How cool it would be to see them in the wild one day, I thought. That place I couldn’t pronounce was Rajasthan and we saw numerous magnificent blackbuck, only about one hour out of Jodhpur. The males have lovely long spiralled horns. I was very, very happy to see them. We also saw other antelope species and numerous birds, including two little plump spotted owls, perched like buddhas in an old tree. We also saw sari-clad women herding water buffalo down to drink in a lake populated with flamingos, geese and cranes. That vista in particular - and indeed the whole morning - was excellent.

From Jodhpur, it was on to a small village called Khichan, about two hours north Why? Well, at this time of year, it hosts a gathering of thousands of demoiselle cranes, which spend the dry winter here. They are revered and fed daily by the locals. We stayed in an eco-lodge called Kuja Resort. The cabbie that got us from Jodhpur to Khichan was a small weasel-like fellow with Gandhi-style glasses and a rampant moustache. Inevitably, he asked if I was married. This time I decided to use a gag from Mrs. Doubtfire:

“Yes, I was once married” I said “but my wife died several years ago. It was the drink that killed her.”

“Oh I’m sorry,’ said cabbie. ‘She was an alcoholic?”

“No, hit by a Guinness truck.”

Ross rolled his eyes. He keeps telling me to stop it.

Anyway, we saw vast numbers of cranes at Khichan. I’m talking thousands! Beautiful, graceful grey birds with black and white heads. A sight to behold as huge flocks descended to feed at sunrise Wow!! It was a once-in a-lifetime bird event for me and I was enthralled. Even Ross was awestruck. At times, they would take flight, and almost blacken the sky above us, honking and flapping. Check out my photos below. (They all nick off back to Mongolia and Siberia around March).

We then got a cab from Khichan to the desert city of Jaisalmer. It took two hours and we used a different cab company - just to mix it up a bit. As we piledo ur gear onboard and took off, we realised the car was not as nice as those we had previously. And there were no functional seat belts. We felt quite vulnerable, sailing along with the driver dodging tuk tuks, over-loaded trucks, motorbikes and cows and goats. Happily, most of it was on open freeways with surprisingly little traffic out of town. Our driver spent most of the tow hours trip picking his nose. Never realised that could be so much fun. Anyway, we made it to Jaisalmer - much to our relief - and are now in a gorgeous stone haveli within the actualy fort itself. More next time.

Food footnote #2: The Indian tucker continues to delight us. The vegetarian dishes are so good here that even Ross has been choosing them as main meals! He who runs down our hallway screaming when he finds out I’m cooking broccoli for dinner. In Jodhpur, we both loved the Aloo Gobi (potatoes, cauliflower and spices such as turmeric, cardamom, etc). One night, I ordered Chicken tikka jalfrezi, as I often order it at our local back home in Melbourne. Well, here it was 1000x better. Divine. The best I’ve ever eaten. I licked the bowl and chased the chef home for more, waving my spoon and fork at him. We tried the famous salted lassi (yoghurty drink). But Jesus - way too salty. Much nicer was the makhaniya lassi, yellow in colour with saffron, cardamon, nuts. It nicely off-sets any spicy food you may be eating. Lastly, if you are ever in Jodhpur, two excellent places to eat are Indique and Jankhor. The former has wonderful rooftop views of the fort at night.


Craig (and Ross).

(P.S. All of the photos in this blog are from Ranakpur Jain temple, Rawls Narlia heritage hotel, Jodhpur or the cranes of Khichan).

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