Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Blue City of Jodhpur

October 21st, From Varanasi to Delhi to Jodhpur

The flight back to Delhi from Varanasi was out of a small airport outside of the city. Our bus trundled to a halt about twenty minutes away – we were told that there was a traffic accident ahead.

When accidents happen in India, the driver is blamed. We were told that an angry mob attacked the driver and beat him. As we passed the scene, Marci and I saw men carrying a covered body on a stretcher. We weren’t sure if it was the driver or the victim of the accident.

The Varanasi airport was chaos. Indians would tell Beth directions for where we were supposed to stand, what documents we were supposed to have, what forms we had to fill out – and then they would tell her the opposite of what they had just said. We were ordered to stand in several different places without any apparent reason. They were confused, we were confused, and that’s India for you.

Everyone gets frisked before boarding, and the woman frisking us was completely baffled by under-wires. Beth thinks of me as a very calm, agreeable person, which just goes to show how well I can hide anxiety and rage – both of which were triggered in the airport. I had a fantasy of ripping off my bra and shoving it in the security woman’s face, saying “See, you idiot woman – this is a bra!” But, as always, I kept quiet. My face flushed, blood rushed to my head making it feel tingly, and I felt dizzy, sick, out of control, and really pissed off. I tried to take deep breaths and stop my eyes from tearing up because that would only add embarrassment to the situation. I wanted to be the fearless traveler, and Indiana Jones doesn’t have panic attacks.

Sitting on the plane, I thought of the stories I had heard of Indians sacrificing goats before takeoffs, and my Indian friend’s warnings of air-travel. I prayed for a safe flight, as I always do, and the plane rattled into the sky. Rickety airplanes don’t hold near the terror for me that airports do – I never said I was logical.

We spent the night at the Park hotel in Delhi again. Two of the ladies and I ran out to find an ATM and buy extra luggage to carry our increasing purchases. Luggage is sold on every other street corner in all sizes and styles. Sarah, my shopping fairy-godmother (previously mentioned here), helped me negotiate on a duffel bag big enough to hide a side of beef. She smiled at the seller, talking fast in her high feminine bubbly voice, her blond hair bobbing up and down as she nodded in agreement with herself that the seller really should lower his price, and gave him a list of reasons why. By the time Sarah was done working her magic, she had the price down to 800 rupees ($17.84)*. The luggage seller didn’t know what hit him.
*Yes, Setal, I know that $17.84 is a crap price for a dusty duffel with broken zippers, but for white female tourists it’s pretty good!

The morning of October 21st we were off to the airport again for a domestic flight to Jodhpur. Delhi’s airport is much better than the microcosm of Hell that is the Varanasi airport. The domestic terminal even had free internet kiosks, so I was able to email my mom and boyfriend and tell them that I wasn’t in the train wreck near Agra that happened earlier that morning. They hadn’t even heard of the train wreck, but it was in all of the papers in Delhi.

In Jodhpur we were met by our guide and tour bus outside of the airport. They greeted us with marigold and rose petal leis – and more importantly, bottled water. Jodhpur is a desert on the border of Pakistan, so the air is dry, dusty, and very hot.

We took a large air-conditioned tour bus to Mehrangarh Fort, a fortress on a hill that overlooks the entire “Blue City” of Jodhpur. Half of Jodhpur’s homes are painted bright sky blue. The trend began when the Brahmin cast painted their houses blue, just to let everyone know who lived there. Now, the trend has trickled down to anyone with enough money to buy paint. The other half of the houses are the ginger color of sandstone. Sandstone quarries are just outside the city, so they build everything out of rock; the fort is no exception. Even the lace-like screens covering the women’s floors from view are made of carved sandstone.

Forts were vital, especially in this region bordering Pakistan. Jodhpur was on the camel trade route and was a particularly important piece of real estate. Many forts were built to keep the Rajahs safe. We climbed to the top through gilded rooms of marble, hand painted floors, tapestries and carvings. We saw bejeweled elephant saddles and elaborate cradles for baby rajahs. We saw paintings done during the height of the rajahs rule, showing them hunting on horseback with hawks. In fact he English Jodhpur riding pants came into fashion because one of these Rajahs was an accomplished horseman. He invented the pants and liked them so much that he wore them on his travels.

While the Mehrangarh Fort is the main tourist attraction of Jodhpur, we got the feeling that we were the main attraction. Few westerners come to this part of India, and we got a lot of stares and requests to have our pictures taken with people’s children. They seemed to think that we were really cool – just us being there was exciting to them – and the feeling was completely mutual. With their beautiful saris and gorgeous children, we thought they were really cool too.

From the ruddy stone towers, I could see the whole city and into the dry hills surrounding it. As sunset approached, the Jodhpur practically glowed blue. 

1 comment:

Pocketmouse said...

lmao Lauren. At least you guys haggled. i'd just stand there and come home without a bag. KUDOS. Tourists are their livelihood, I'm not judging!!! I've only read until the ** back to rest of the post.