Ain't got the blues in the Blue City

Trip Start Jun 13, 2005
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25
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Trip End Dec 05, 2005


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Flag of India  ,
Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I've been in Jodhpur three days and am enjoying it much more than Jaisalmer. Given its size and secure place on the tourist map, it's remarkably laid-back and tout-free: the main budget-hotel area within the old city walls has barely a handful of tourist shops; instead you can walk the streets and alleys immersing yourself in everyday Indian life.

I have a rooftop room in a friendly guesthouse; its position is perfect for catching a cool breeze mornings and evenings and the terrace has a view straight up the steep, rocky hill to the fort on top, which is beautifully spotlit at night.

It struck me a few days ago that, although sightseeing on a daily basis now seems normal, I've moved at a hectic pace since arriving here: going out to see new things every day for four months is not normal and, even in a place with lots to discover, it's not a criminal waste of time to spend an afternoon in bed with a good book. Thus enlightened, I've spent many hours over the past days finishing "City of Djinns", which has lain half-read at the bottom of my bag almost since arrival in India. That finished, I found a second-hand bookstore and made a start on Kushwant Singh's "Delhi". I now feel relaxed and sane again, and find the hours I do spend walking around more enjoyable and interesting.

This morning I was up early enough to walk up the hill to the fort before the day's heat set in. I followed the narrow, winding street between blue houses from which Jodhpur, the "Blue City", gets its nickname; it got progressively steeper as it left the houses behind and continued up the rocky hillside. I reached the top far too early for opening time, but stood enjoying the view and the breeze. The longer route down - the main road instead of the footpath - had plenty to see as the city awoke and people started their morning routines. A temple on a small hill near the fort blared out a recording of an old mantra to the few early birds out for a stroll. The mantra was briefly drowned out by a newsreader as a man passed with a wireless radio in his chest pocket. I rounded a bend; the mantra faded, replaced by the noise of traffic from the city below. I passed another temple - a beautiful, white marble structure amidst the acacias - outside of which was a raised stone platform where three middle-class Hindu men sat meditating.

It was only 8am but already the sun was high and indicating how hot the later hours would be. I passed several dogs asleep on the roadside wall before arriving back in the residential area. Women were carrying bedding back indoors from their rooftops, or were outside their front doors with crude straw brooms, performing the daily ritual of dust-redistribution.

A sadhu sat outside a small temple and waved as I passed. I shouted back a greeting, upon which a scruffily-clad woman darted from a nearby makeshift hut to bid me "namaste". I returned her greeting too, whereupon she asked for ten rupees. Disillusioned by her mercenary motives for greeting me, I shouted down, "Why can't anyone say hello without asking for money?!", knowing she wouldn't understand me. She held her arm out again: "Ten rupees". I waved my hand in dismissal; she threw back her head, revealing her yellow and brown teeth, and let out a coarse cackle, amused at my frustration.

I walked further and watched as a man stopped his bicycle to feed last night's chapattis to a cow. Behind him, on a dry playing field, dhobi-wallahs lay bright saris on the dusty ground to dry. Children, packed eight to an autorickshaw made for three at a squeeze, were on their way to school, their bags hanging off the backs of the vehicles.

I stopped at a chai stall and sat on a wooden bench on the roadside. Next to me, a middle-aged man in a bright orange lungi smoked a cigarette; his grey hair was coloured with henna and matched his lungi perfectly, and on all eight fingers he wore flashy gold rings encrusted with fake rubies and diamonds. To my other side a younger man sat on a paint-can, poured his chai from the glass into a saucer to cool it, and slurped loudly from the saucer.

I drained my glass and continued towards my side of town. I stopped by the dahi-wallah's for some curd, picked up a papaya from the fruit-sellers under the clock tower, and headed home for breakfast.

The rest of the day and evening were spent with two Americans I met at the guesthouse, one of whom tells a surreal story about being washed away by the Tsunami in Thailand. They followed my suggestion and went up the hill early this morning, leaving me to pack my bags and check out before heading back to Pushkar for a few days.
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