Monday, January 18, 2016

Jodhpur and Jaisalmer

Jodhpur and Jaisalmer 

Out and about on our own in India.   How very different from the quiet catered experience we had been having up till now. Also,  Gujarat, while it has some tourists, didn’t have many westerners and didn’t cater to that group quite the same way and for that reason was a lot more laid-back for us. 

Jodhpur and Jaisalmer are tourist destinations and as such you get a lot of people selling you things, talking to you, and following you on the streets.   After awhile, you get used to just walking by people and ignoring them completely. This is the best way to handle the situation.  Unless you actually want to talk to someone,  do not turn your head to engage them.  If you do, you are inviting a discourse of whatever it is they have to sell you.  I got a bit better at this practice than Jamie did so I found it a bit easier to walk around. 

Regardless of these issues, both cities were really great fun.  Jodhpur had an amazing fort with an excellent audio tour.  We spent 4 hours there just wandering around looking at things.   The next day we went over to the Jaswat Thada, A memorial one of the kings built for his wife. It was a very beautiful and peaceful marble structure, and we found that it and the grounds were wonderfully maintained. There we met two Australians and we all took the auto ride over to the one World Heritage site in the city, the Umaid Bhawan Palace.  It was built over a period of 14 years in an effort to provide work to people during a famine (oh capitalism).   Unfortunately you can’t go into it unless you pay 3000 rupees (around 45 dollars) or make a reservation at the bar which will cost at least 1000 rupees (15 dollars) and then you can’t see anything else.  Staying there can cost 2000 USD!   So we trekked up there,  looked at the antique car museum, gazed at the outside of the building and wandered back.  As we only had two days in Jodhpur we got back in time to grab some dinner and head to the train to take us to Jaisalmer. 

At the train station we met a charming Spanish couple (Alesh and Lisa) that ended up sitting with us and then staying at our hotel in Jaisalmer, the Tokyo Palace.  We spent the time traveling around with them and one of the adventures we partook was to go on a Camel Safari together (the word safari is used very loosely).  

Jaisalmer is in one of the driest areas of Rajasthan, and popping right out of the middle of the desert is an almost magical golden sandstone fort.  Built up over the last 500 years or so this walled domain is still inhabited by 3000 people or so and filled with shops, restaurants, and guesthouses.  The sellers hawking stuff was a little less than Jodhpur (probably because their are less people in the city) but still enough to encourage a brisk pace up the ancient stone ramp into the small city.  Once inside we found two attractions, a self guided audio tour of the palace (nice but didn’t hold a candle to the tour of the Jodhpur fort/palace), and a collection of Jain temples.  The Jain temples were absolutely stunning.  It was one of those places that just desensitizes you to the level of complexity that went into its construction.  The entire thing was covered in ornately covered stone, I think the only smooth surfaces were the floors that we walked on.

As mentioned before, we also did a desert tour by camel with our new friends from Spain.  This apparently is the thing to do in Jaisalmer, and it seems every hotel is offering some variation of this.  We thought why not and we booked through our hotel.  We all jumped into a car and drove off out of the city for a half hour or so before we stopped off at a local musician village - another one of Jaisalmer’s claims to fame is music.  We said hello to the villagers and then quickly made our destination, a small gathering of camels by the side of the road.  We each were paired with a camel - getting on a camel is pretty easy, as they start of kneeling on the ground.  Getting up for the first time is a bit of a surprise as they do so in two stages - first their back legs and then their front.  And camels are tall!  It was a smoother ride than we expected and our saddles worked out fine for the four of us.  We rode for perhaps an hour until we arrived at a small camp in the sand dunes.  We hung out for a bit while our guide put together a fire and made us some dinner.  It was quite nice and peaceful, and we enjoyed seeing the stars with very little light pollution for the first time in a while - the only draw back was that another camel tour had included with it music and dancing and it clearly had some amplification equipment as we could hear it the whole time.  We were not perturbed, we still had a wonderful dinner in the desert starlight. At some point, Shannon started asking if camels run and our guide said, yes, indeed they do. So he took her out for a wild, dark mildly terrifying run on a camel.  After all that excitement,  We made our way back in the dark (camels have great night vision apparently!) and drove back the hotel for around 10pm. 

Next stop: Delhi.  We are currently (hopefully) nearing the end of an epic train journey from Jaisalmer to Delhi, one that was supposed to leave at 12:45 in the morning and arrive at 10:00PM, but left at 2:30 in the morning and we are afraid to even guess when we will arrive.  Adventure!  Luckily we are in an “AC2” Sleeper, which is pretty spacious and comfortable enough.  More to come.

This is the view from our hotel of the fort in Johdpur.

This is looking down at Jodhpur from the fort.  The blue houses are everywhere.  I've heard a few things on this point.  One was that the Brahmans painted their houses blue. Another was that anyone would paint their house (or door) blue for luck and to ward off bad spirits. Whatever it was and for whatever reason it is now-I like it. 

While I was listening closely to the audiofile, I can't quite remember what this room in the fort was used for. Entertaining of some sort I'm sure. Don't you just love it? I really enjoy the stained glass windows. 

Jamie. Just relaxing after all that learning.

This is that palace, Umiad Bhawan, that I mentioned above. Built to feed people during a famine.  Viewed from the fort. 

This is kind of an hilarious story.   We accidentally locked our key in our room. The hotel doesn't have extras, nor does it have a master key.  When we told the front desk their faces dropped.  Then they asked if we had an open window, to which Jamie replies that we do, but that no one could fit through the bathroom window.   Oh how wrong we were.  

To get into our bathroom window, the guy had to climb out of this room which was, thankfully empty.  Notice the tiny tiny ledge he shimmied across.   Unbelievable. 

Desert Watermelons! 

These are our camels. I'm riding ATM and Jamie is on Hot Shot.  

Our camels stopped to eat what our guide described as "camel chocolate". 

I really like these shadow shots. 

Alesh, Lisa, Jamie and Myself at dinner. 

These figures were on every wall in many of the rooms of the Jain Temples.  I really liked the sign.  

These two men are cleaning the temple from top to bottom.  He's holding, essentially, a flat head screw driver and chiseling off the dirt on the walls. You can see the difference from above and below his tool. 

The picture, above, is of the far right hand corner. You can see him reaching into that corner now. They started at the top and still have another 6 feet below them. 

This is the view of the Jaisalmer fort from our hotel. This fort, unlike others I have visited, is still inhabited and still intact.   You walk through the gates of the fort and BAM, it's liek a mini city.  It's pretty incredible.  There's temples, cafes, restaurants. It is chock-a-block full of people and things. 

Interestingly, when I say it is still intact, that's a questionable statement as there are some serious issues of disrepair, mainly from water seepage.   Everything in the fort is now modernized, including water pipes-something that didn't exist when the fort was build in the middle of  desert back in 1156.  The water seepage has created some serious issues with the footholds of the fort and consequently there has been some collapse.   This, of course, is exacerbated by the thousands of people like me who come to visit the fort yearly.