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When the chanting from the temple next door woke me at six, it was like waking up in a church. Not that I know. The pigeons on the window sill and the fighting monkeys tried to keep me awake but I didn't oblige. A couple of hours later, sunlight was coming in through the stained glass windows and it was time to get up. I ran up the outside stairs to explore the rest of the hidden doors on the second floor of our room, and then went up to the roof and made Mikey come and have a look at the Blue City - an amazing view. All the house were cubes painted blue (either symbolising Brahmin caste residences, the colour of Rahjasthani hospitality or a result of copper sulphate added to the whitewash as an early anti-fungal agent) and connected at various levels. We had breakfast on the terrace outside our room and chatted to the guesthouse owner and a German psychoanalyst from Karlsruhe about the tours to the desert from here. It turns out that we can do a camel safari from here that will take in some of the little villages and we can get the bus to Jaisalmer too, missing out two overnight trains and still getting a day in the Golden City as planned, which is nice! The downside is that it involves a night spent in the desert, camping by the sound of things, something that Mikey and I swore we'd avoid for the rest of eternity after the Inca Trail. Oh well, with seventeen days to go and the alternative being several nights on trains, I think we can go back on that one. Just this once!
Volker, the German man, joined us on a tour of the city today. We started by going up to the fort, Meherangarh, which looms above the gorgeous blue city on a big sandstone mountain. The three pound entry fee included one of the best audioguides we've ever had and we spent three hours learning about the Maharaja (who, on the tape had a wonderfully English public school accent) and life in the fort from the 1500s until the Maharaja moved out in 1944. It was another breathtaking study in red sandstone and limewashed, perforated screens, intricate filigree stonework towering over coutyards at a number of levels, passages and walkways connecting them all and the whole thing looked over the prettiest city we've seen yet. The audiguide took us on a comprehensive and very enjoyable tour and we didn't feel that anything was left out. The sky was a brilliant blue, the stone was gorgeous, the eagles were floating overhead and I took another countless hundred photos. As always in Rajasthan, clouds of pigeons swooped together restlessly, casting dappled shadows and brushing us with a breeze from their wings.
Our next stop was a marble memorial called Jaswant Thanda, another wonderful, translucent white wedding cake-like edifice, all tiny green wooden shutters, gold spires and pale stone domes. It was only small, so we had a quick look round and then went out to a place called Mandore. We started out with a corridor in a garden that was called the Hall of Heroes and was a bunch of carvings of gods and local fighters, all life sized and some painted typically garish colours. The area was totally full of langur monkeys, with wise black faces and very long tails. They looked much more docile than the evil macaques we've seen so far. Mandore was once the capital of the area (between the ninth and fourteenth centuries) and is now really a mass of sandstone ruins, the decoration of which was destroyed by the Mughals. Lots of goats wandered round the steps and blended in with the scenery. Just below that was a series of towers, memorials to Jodhpur's rulers, that wouldn't have looked out of place at Angkor in Cambodia. They were all huge, dark red sandstone buildings with arches and those lotus flower-shaped towers that surrounded Angkor Wat. The monkeys were restless, knowing it was almost time to be fed, and they lounged around a lot and picked one another's fleas.
We then went on to the new Maharaja's Palace (completed in 1944) which was really just a modern, opulent monument to power. Volker said it reminded him a lot of Nazi architechture, all looming domes and big, butch walls and battlements. From a distance it looked rather impressive, but up close it was too new, the main problem being that the stone had no character and it looked rather like a purpose-built convention centre. The Maharaja only lives in a third of the place, the rest is a hotel ($200-$800 a night) and a museum. There are some great pictures of the royal apartments, especially the house-sized bathrooms (although the black marble's a bit too much) and some of the photos taken during construction, as well as a collection of clocks and jars and stuffed animals. The main hotel lobby is a five-storey dome which is rather impressive, but we weren't really allowed to go there.
Then onto the ancient market in town. This part got a bit pushy: Bublu, our driver, may have got commission from a few places and seemed to want us to spend a lot of money but only in certain shops. We had a demonstration of spices which was quite interesting (apparently most black pepper in England is mixed with papaya seeds to save money) and we tasted a rather nice tea made only of cinamon, saffron and cardamaom. There were two totally ethnic types there, both with dreadlocks and tie-dyed robes, and they had a small child who, despite shoulder-length golden curls in a topknot, flowery green robes and loads of jewellery, was actually a boy.
I wanted to buy a cheap cotton sarong but ended up with another pashmina cos no-one will sell me cotton when expensive silk is available (like the Galaxy advert, I suppose), and I finally ended up with three metres of very thin cotton. Not quite what I wanted, but fine for a week on a beach. Next week!
We came back to the hotel by auto and hit a motorbike on a street so narrow I could touch both sides at once. Ther were no real problems, though, just a few choice words, shaking of hands and the bike driver picked himself and his passenger off the road, they extricated the bike from the fenders of the auto and we all went on our ways. At our hotel we had a very tasty supper. It was called a thali, a type of tray, which is a set meal all on one plate: two curries; dal; chapatis; rice; popadums and a sweet cardamom cake that was actually juicy, which was odd. And then we went out to find an internet. The one Bantu, the guesthouse owner, suggested was either not there or closed, so we wandered the tiny dark streets of Jodhpur for a bit. Everyone called hello, most men tried to get close enough to touch me but I've learned to sidestep (I haven't yet needed to thump anyone and scream in outrage, which is supposed to help), and because there were virtually no other women out, and all shopkeepers are men too, it was a little bit intimidating. We finally found a guesthouse offering internet but it looked dark and locked when I tried the door. But a fluffy little dog yapped a lot and a lady wearing what might have been a nightie came down the stairs. She seemed cheerful enough, though, and her son turned on the computer in their living room for us. The guesthouse was another of those wonderful ancient Rajasthani mansions called havelis, which are about two hundred years old, have a maze of corridors and levels, and a big central atrium (with a grate over each floor so that you can still shout to one another) that let light in from six storeys up. We sat in their wood panelled dining room and waited for a very slow dial-up connection, and once we'd finished the lady came to chat to us. I loved the house and she explained how she started up the guesthouse after her husband died, as it used to be his family's. She now lives there with just her two sons, and has 26 rooms. She said that she pays no commission to rickshaw drivers and because of that, none of them deliver guests and she doesn't get many. The biggest problem facing all guesthouses in the whole of Rajasthan is the touts who demand up to 100% of the room rate for the first night as commission, and around 50% for subsequent nights. If you don't pay, potential customers are told that the hotel is closed, flooded, burned down or doesn't exist. This lady heard that people were told her son had died so she was closing the hotel for three days. Her rooms are all suits of three to five rooms, some with balconies and sitting rooms. A lot have flashing fairy lights too, and almost all have a panel of eighteen or so light switches on the wall, like we do in our room. She showed us her entire house, all six levels and more than one hundred doors. We went up to the roof terrace too, and I asked the lady how she keeps the whole place clean. She just waved her hand in the direction of the courtyard below and said that she has servants. And that she gives them accommodation too. It was a very surreal end to the evening, but lovely to talk to her.
We ended up at the back of a wedding procession because it's the wedding season at the moment. The noise of the drums could be heard for miles, and ladies in gorgeous gold jewellery and bright saris joined up with young men swaggering around, and children buying sweets. It was very festive, and I really, really like Jodhpur.
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