Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Travel Tales: India, Days 8 and 9 in Jodhpur

We are off to a rather slow start this morning. We pop in to see the Jagdish Temple just before we leave. The road to Ranakpur, our first port of call, is not good at all. Its full of potholes. Maitu and I feel mildly car sick with being shaken so much. We reach Ranakpur by 11:30 or so.

Ranakpur is a sprawling temple complex built in the 15th century. The central Chaumukha temple is open to only worshippers in the morning and to the tourists from noon. We look at some outlying structures while we wait. There are many sexually explicit carvings. The kids and I embark on a discussion as to why sexuality is not profane to the Hindus or to the Jains. The guard who listens in to the conversation is startled at my discussion. Sexuality, though once so acceptable to Indians, is now treated as a 'dirty' subject, definitely not suitable between mothers and children. He sniggers and I glare at him.

Poor Maitu is not allowed into the main temple because she is wearing something black. I urge her to get changed but she refuses and stands outside in a huff. The temple is simply exquisite inside, there is no other word for it. It has 24 pillared halls and 80 domes standing on almost 400 pillars. Each pillar is exquisitely carved, so are the domes which are stunning. They are all different. Another marble structure, but so very different from the Taj!! I could have spent much more time examining the temple, the half-hour we allocate is simply not enough.

Our drive to Jodhpur is long and boring. We arrive at our hotel, Ajit Bhawan, at 4pm. The service at the desk is poor; we are kept waiting for too long and no one turns up to carry our suitcases for us. We are a bit upset as we are all tired and out of sorts. However, our deluxe rooms are the best rooms we have had so far. Cottage style, it has a small sitting area outside. Beautifully carved doors lead to a huge bedroom, beautifully and authentically decorated, and a nice bathroom.

We are met by the local contact as usual. The guide for the city tour is to come next morning. He offers us an optional trip to a Bishnoi village for an additional Rs. 2400 which includes rental of an all-wheel drive. We say that our car is in fact an all-wheel drive so we will go in it and pay only for the guide. He refuses.

We go for a walk in the city, but it is very dirty, with sad mistreated animals, and depressed looking people. Perhaps our impressions are coloured by our own moods. We had noticed that the hotel offers an extensive buffet, but it is very expensive. Not if we convert, but we have been in India long enough. We see the Indian price and Maitu says 'I feel guilty to spend on one meal what people will earn in a whole day' and we all echo her opinion. We have dinner at a restaurant chosen at random and it is good enough.

Our guide the next morning is excellent. We go straight to the Mehrangarh fort, which is the best we have seen. It is built of sandstone, cut from the stony outcrop on which it stands. It merges seamlessly into the hill it stands on and looms menacingly over the flat landscape. Very impressive. The walk up to the fort leads us through multiple gates, large enough for elephants to pass through. On one side we see the place where the architect is buried alive(!) so that he could not give away the secrets of the fort!! The insides are beautifully maintained, with well marked directions. I love the famous jali windows, through which the women used to look down in privacy, being able to see the world while remaining hidden. Each jali has its own unique style, made by a different craftsman. It is exquisite.

It takes a full two hours to explore the fort. The sight of the blue roofs below the ramparts is memorable. We then go to see a memorial to Jaswant Singh which is also a crematorium for various kings. The guide wants to take us to the market but we refuse, we didn't like what we saw of it yesterday. We take a recommendation of a local restaurant and have a simple lunch.

We want to go to the Bishnoi villages in the afternoon. The hotel's travel desk offers us a guide for Rs. 300. We have told our driver to be at the door at 2 pm. When we get into the car, he refuses to drive off. He says that it was not in our tour plan. We say that the agency had said that the car was for our use as we pleased. He seems angry and is very rude to us. Our poor guide stands around looking embarrassed. My man and I are both angry and upset. We do not think it is for the driver to decide where we can go and where we cannot as our deal is with the agency.

We go back inside and call the General Manager of the agency in Delhi. He is excellent, supporting my understanding of our arrangements as to use of the car. He calls the driver and instructs him likewise, calls us back and tells us that we can contact him immediately if we have any further trouble. We have lost 45 minutes, and we have also lost respect for the driver. We later realise that the local agents, who want to push the Rs 2400 trip on us, were pressuring him. But we have been friendly with him, and he owes us politeness, if nothing else.

The guide first takes us to a potter's home where we see a demonstration of his skills. We are expected to give him a small tip, which we do. We then go to a Bishnoi home. Built in mud, it has a courtyard and a small wood fire to cook on, and two rooms. Their minimal possessions are neatly arranged and the courtyard is very tidy. The man of the family is dressed in spotless whites. His wife cooks over the fire making chapattis, while the daughter rushes to offer us water. He demonstrates the making of Opium tea and offers some to all of us. Very bitter. I spit mine out discreetly :) Then the guide takes us to the home of a Dhurrie maker whose work is wonderful. He is in fact famous and has been featured in national magazines. But Dhurries are both expensive and heavy, and we do not want to buy anything. I always feel embarrassed to say no after people are so hospitable!!

Dinner is at another local restaurant recommended by the guide. We have seen a lot of interesting things today. We should have felt good. Instead we are all still a bit upset by the driver's behaviour this afternoon and so mope our way through dinner. When we return, we see that our hotel is beautifully lit for the night. There is also a puppet show on the grounds which we watch with interest. Finally relaxed, we head for our beds.

Next: Days 10, 11 & 12 Jaisalmer

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