The Blue Armpit and A Desert Dreamland
Trip Start May 15, 2004
60Trip End Jun 2007
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It is plus 40 Celsius and we took a 6.5 hour non-ac bus to this armpit? Jodhpur, the Blue City as it is known, didn't give us the best of first impressions. It was hot, dirty and we were tired after being on a less than desirable bus all day. Our hotel was merely a bed within a room and provided little solace. We hadn't planned on staying long and our first impressions cemented our resolve to leave. We went straight to the train station to buy tickets for the next morning. It ended in a fight.
Short Rendition: Rea put her foot down. Indian man gets very mad. Tim rescues her.
Longer Version: We Canadians are much too nice and when we come to a country that does not queue, we get bulldozed. With much practice in the rest of Asia at pushing old ladies out of our seats and blocking men from scooping our spots in line, we have attempted all the same moves here in India. At times it works, at times we get a little ticked off.
We were standing in the "Ladies, Foreigners and Elderly(IE. any man who has even one grey hair will qualify)" wicket and were madly defending our positions. It was futile. Finally, after 15 minutes, I put my foot down...actually my arms out... and in a truly second-grade fashion defended our spot as a man had just jumped 10 women, including me(currently 2nd in line) all the way to the front window. The would-be line jumping ladies looked at me pissed but knowingly assumed their proper places behind us, glowering at our backs. The man however decided to enlighten me as to how queuing works in a series of yelps, yells and emphatic eye rolls. It says "Ladies, Foreigners, and Elders" which means you are attended to in that order no matter when you arrive: one lady, then one Foreigner, and then one Indian man, then back to lady... According to his amazingly logical theory, I was not a foreigner but a lady and therefor had to wait until after his turn because there was another lady in line in front of me and since he was the only man in the line up, he was next. I blew my top. We argued until we were blue over whether or not I was considered a foreigner and thereby remaining in my logical place in line... Finally Tim solved the argument: since Tim and I were in line together AND since I was a lady and not a foreigner, that HE, another foreigner would take my place and buy our tickets. The man said, "Finally, now you get it!" So, we kept our place in line, inquired over the tickets and the man waited patiently behind us with all the other potential line-cutters. Annoyingly, there were no tickets available and we faced another day long bus ride through a land of lovely toilets and dust.
As you can see, Jodhpur didn't start out so well... but we were softened by a gentle auto-rickshaw driver and a humble hotel manager. We spent the rest of the day with our driver touring the sights and taking photos. Our driver took great pleasure in finding out of the way places for photos of a city that is painted blue. We began to have second thoughts about leaving so soon...
After leaving the very-blue-but-not-so-armpitish-after-all town of Jodhpur, we were on our way to Jaisalmer. What better place to go when it is in the 40s than a desert? Were we crazy? Perhaps.
You can't trust anyone in India. Or at least that is how foreigners feel most of the time. We walk around badgered by touts and drivers always feeling like we are being robbed blind at every purchase. You hear of the scams and stories other travelers retell and you learn put on an invisible mask and virtual ear plugs to make your way down the street. Even a smile cracked or a sideways glance means you've given them hope of holding your attention. It is a soulless way to walk the day away but it is also a survival technique.
So it was with this mentality that we met Amid on our bus to Jaisalmer. Could we trust him or not? He was so friendly, his English was virtually accent free and he seemed harmless. He had so many pieces of advice for our travels. It turned out he was one of the most reputable tour guides in the country on his way home to visit his family for a day before going away to foreign language school during the off season. (His clients have included: Sting, Liz Hurley and Helena Christiansen). He ended up inviting us home to hang out with his family. Could we trust him?--It was a horrible torment because we always want to hope for the best...His hospitality was unbelievable. Not only did he prepare a feast but he picked us up in a borrowed car, bought us sealed drinks (a luxury for most of India) and spent the evening entertaining us. He drove us all the way out to their famous sunset point and toured around town before taking us to his home. How can someone who lives in a simple mud hut, without running water and electricity be so generous?
We think it was one of those "aha" moments... you know the type, like when someone you know has a close brush with death: the "perspective changer" where all of a sudden you appreciate all those things you take for-granted and just breathing makes you happy. He gave us more than a meal or a ride... He helped to form us into that better person that we are all supposed to be.
Having started out in a new town with such a special introduction, Jaisalmer, easily became our desert dreamland. Everything went well after that...booking tickets, using taxis, buying souvenirs without feeling ripped off....and our amazing hotel, Fifu Guesthouse, which deserves special mention. The owner and staff catered to our every need in their mini-sandcastle of a hotel. It was Rea's favorite hotel of the trip and the perfect place to unwind for a few days. We basked on the regal and shaded rooftop enjoying the panoramic view of the giant hill fort and surrounding desert.
The only hindrance to our stay was the heat.You know the feeling of when you open the oven and you check on whatever is cooking? The wind in Jaisalmer felt like that and blasted all day long. So while we spent most of the days there in a sloth like manner, we did manage to do a few interesting things. There was a great palace-fort and being that this is the desert, there was even a camel safari for us! (Where we were surprised by the loudness of goat farts!)
The people of Jaisalmer were so friendly and the kids loved having their photo taken. They loved holding Rea's hand and showing her around their neighborhood. We had to drink too many chai teas or bottles of pop that were so graciously offered by the locals. Our three days in Jaisalmer were much too short.
The uneventful train ride back to Delhi was somewhat anti-climactic, especially since we knew we were going back to the craziness of Cow Plop Alley...
The loop into Rajasthan is complete and now we head East. Taj Mahal, here we come!
Rea and Tim
1. Money Troubles: It seems as though there is always a problem with money. It seems as though there is a chronic shortage of change. Hotel owners, restaurant employees and shopkeepers stare at you like you are crazy when you try to pay a bill of 70 rupees with a 100 rupee note. They say, "nothing smaller?" in the most shocked tone they can muster. Same story over and over and we have bled every single hoarded coin and 5 or 10 rupee note at the first purchase of the day... So after their theatrics and our insistence that we really have nothing else, they then nod, open a giant drawer brimming with all sorts of change and hand over correct change. How annoying. Similarly they will not accept a bill that has a tiny little rip in it. One minor perforation means it is useless. So the stupid tourists we are have accumulated a few of these bills from people pawning them off to us---if only we'd known to check.
2. Loin Cloth Jesus and Mary, his Mistress: We have been very surprised at the type of traveler in India. Perhaps it was our naive brainwave to think it would be the same young professionals we'd seen in Tibet and China but we've been surprised at the diversity of travelers. There are some young professionals like us, others just out of high school, some really old travelers (nearing/in their 80s), tons of dread-locked holiday hippies and tons of very young children. Then there are also the travelers that make you embarrassed for foreign world: ill clad women, unbathed and filthy travelers on some weird mission to survive on 1 dollar a day and the lost: those that will never return to their country of birth because of their permanently brain diminished, drug induced state. The Indians look with contempt at these people who are able to pay for a bath and use their education to properly cloth and support themselves but don't. Strangely, so do we... We will not forget a guy from Europe who paraded into our restaurant in nothing more than a simple white flappy loincloth, wild haired and unshaven with dirt in too many places demanding regular service. His equally disheveled mistress, dressed as Mary, joined him 2 minutes later. This is not acceptable for any restaurant at home, so why is it acceptable here? Perhaps it is because the Indians are just too polite to say anything? Once again, we apologize to India's people for OUR ignorant tourists.