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Published: February 13th 2010
On leaving Pushkar we were headed to Jodphur - the Blue City - so called because many of the houses are painted indigo blue - originally this was to signify the home of a Brahmin (high caste Hindu) but now everyone joins in - apparently the colour is thought to repel insects.
We went by train and shared a carriage with a load of guys from the Indian Army who didn't say a word to us for the whole trip (about 4 hours) and a lady who was enormously tall and had massive hands and feet - she could easily have passed for a man but I think she was a woman. She kept talking to me (presumably in Hindi) and offered to share her vegetable pakora - bless her. She eventually gave up when she got no sense out of either me or Susie, but it was nice that she was willing to try to have a conversation.
Our accommodation in Jodphur was the best I've stayed in. It was in a 'haveli' - which is a merchants house and this one was over 500 years old and had been in the same family all that time. Haveli's
are made up of a number of courtyards and as successive families add rooms to accommodate their growing broods, they're often a hotchpotch of styles with rooms both big and small, terraces and courtyards. All the rooms were beautifully decorated with traditional Rajasthani furniture and fabrics and artwork and each was slightly different. The best room (and most expensive at around 20 pounds a night) - which we peeped in rather than stayed in - was absolutely stunning with rich silks draped over antique wooden furniture and windows in all sorts of beautiful colours.
We met an English girl at the guesthouse who told us a horror story about wandering around the narrow lanes in Jodphur's old city and finding herself surrounded by a pack of dogs all barking and growling at her. She actually had to be rescued by a local chap who chased them off with sticks and had to take her to his home to calm her down. So we were on high alert and sure enough that night you could hear lots of different packs of dogs barking across different parts of the city - as soon as one pack went quiet, another started and
it went on through most of the night.
We had only one full day in Jodphur so headed straight to Meherangarh Fort which was only about 5 minutes walk from our guesthouse - you could actually see it from the window of our room. The fort was enormous and we spent a few hours in there - though most of that time was spent avoiding either the big groups of Indian tourists who kept wanting to take our photograph, or the big group of French tourists who just talked so much it was incredibly annoying - nice to know they behave the same abroad as at home! On one of the walls of the fort they have the handprints of some 20-odd wives of one of the Maharaja's (called Maharini's) all of whom had followed the tradition of throwing themselves on his funeral pyre in 1843.
Once we'd seen all that the fort had to offer we headed through the old city (keeping a keen eye out for dogs - though they were clearly all exhausted from barking all night and were sleeping it off in various bits of shade). The streets are incredibly narrow (wide enough only
for bikes in some places) but all the houses were painted in beautiful colours - a lot of them blue, but others in yellow or green or with hand-painted flowers around the window shades. It was lovely though narrow streets means less room to avoid the ever-present cow pats. I reckon I'm averaging standing in cow poo at least 3 or 4 times a week.
We wandered down through town and found ourselves in the market and incredibly there's a spice shop which seems to have been host to a range of celebs according to their 'visitor book' including Owen Wilson, Prince William and Liz Hurley!
From Jodphur we headed south to Udaipur by bus. Our 6 hour bus journey was pretty hairy - at one point the road surface was pretty good it just wasn't wide enough for two vehicles to pass as it seemed to have worn away unevenly on both edges leaving just a narrow strip and the bus driver was playing chicken with everything - buses tend to the rule the road here with pedestrians right at the bottom of the pecking order - actually sorry, cows rule the road, but buses come a
definite second and move over for nothing except wandering cows.
Udaipur was beautiful - it's quite big, but the tourist area is centred around a lake (sadly dry) and in the middle is a beautiful white island hotel that was the main set for the James Bond film Octopussy. This is obviously Udaiper's main claim to fame and practically every restaurant shows the film every night - we spoke to one waiter who said he's seen the film every night for 13 years! It's a Roger Moore film and while I'm sure it was cutting edge at the time, the scene where he creeps onto the island disguised in a mechanical crocodile is groan-worthy!
There's also a city palace and a few temples in Udaipur and great shopping - Susie is doing very well on the shopping front while I'm being a bit more restrained (due to lack of room in the backpack rather than a loss of shopping habit).
It's wedding season again (this occurs when astrologers decide the planets are aligned favourably for weddings rather than being tied to the calendar) so we're seeing lots of processions and fireworks - it's so colourful.
spent a day out of Udaipur visiting Kumbalgharh Fort and then an amazing Jain Temple at Ranakpur which has 1444 carved white pillars - every one of them different - it was stunning. The driver also stopped off at a number of villages and we were lucky enough to be invited into a couple of homes to see how people live in these very rural areas. We helped grind some sugar cane for making into sugar using oxen, though I'm not sure they'll be rushing to offer us a permanent position - we were a both bit sheepish about using the stick to thwack their bottoms and get them moving!
So Susie has now headed south to join a tour group in Kerala and I'm heading further north. I arrived in Bikaner after a 13 hour overnight bus journey which saw me cooped up in a coffin type compartment only slightly larger than the luggage rack on a National Express coach!
My main reason for visiting Bikaner - which to be honest is in the arse end of nowhere - is to see the Karni Mata Temple - known as the Temple of the Rats because the temple
is home to hundreds of rats which are considered holy. Apparently it's good luck if some of them scamper over your feet (didn't come near mine) and even better luck if you eat some of the holy food offerings covered in holy rat saliva - I'll take their word on that one! Luckiest of all is if you spot a white rat - this I didn't see although at one of the huge dishes of milk that are left out for the rats there was a bit of a ratty tussle and one of them fell in, I'm not sure though whether this counts.
To be honest Rajasthan has been lovely but I'm completely over looking at forts - every town and city claims to have the biggest / best / oldest but after a while they do start to blur into one.
So, having travelled 13 hours to get to Bikaner and having seen what I came to see I headed out the following day on another epic trip - 12 hours by train then straight on a bus for 6 hours to head out of Rajasthan and into Northern India.
Part of this trip took
me through a city called Chandigarh which is unlike the rest of India in that it is a completely planned city - it is considered India's greenest, cleanest and most prosperous city and has more ATMs than cows. Most Indian villages, towns and parts of most cities actually resemble bomb-sites - literally everywhere you look there are piles of rubble, half demolished or collapsed buildings and piles of rubbish alongside the open sewers, but Chandigarh is laid out on a grid system with roundabouts, traffic lights and modern buildings - it's actually more like Milton Keynes than India - you can imagine my horror.
I'm now coming towards the end of my trip and my last few weeks will be a bit of a panic as I realise how much I haven't covered and what I still want to see! I'm starting in Rishikesh - apparently the Yoga Capital of the World and famous for being home to the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi where the Beatles stayed in 1968 and wrote loads of songs. I'm not actually here for the yoga, the Beatles or the views of the Himalayan foothills but because it's just an hour away from
Haridwar which is one of India's seven holy cities and host to the Kumbh Mela - one of India's most important holy festivals that takes place only once every 3 years.
It's the largest religious congregation on earth, attracting tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims, including masses of holy men, especially Nagas - the naked sadhus (obviously a key attraction for me).
The festival takes place over a period of about 4 months starting in January and the focus for the pilgrims is to take a holy dip in the Ganges at a predetermined auspicious time identified by astrologers. The next scheduled date for this mass pilgrimage is later this week and I hope to to go along and see this spectacle for myself. I have heard some horror stories about pilgrims getting crushed or losing their elderly family members in the waters because there are so many people trying to take part in the festival, so I'll be giving the dipping in the river bit a wide berth and hopefully finding a safe spot to watch from.
I'll update on the next blog - hopefully with no tales of woe about being shoved into the Ganges!
PS: just to forewarn you that I've taken a cookery course whilst here and am ready to whip up an Indian at the drop of a hat - start thinking up viable excuses to say no now!!!
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