Three coloured cities - from blue to gold to pink.
04.01.2008 - 22.01.2008 8 °C
After celebrating the New Year in Arambol, we returned to Maina on the 3rd of January. We spent some time here, with Philo and Preema, and just relaxed. We drank tea on the front porch, walked the dogs and watched the monkeys playing in the trees around the house.
On Janury 14th, Alan's 32nd birthday, we arrived in Jodhpur, after a 30 hr train ride from Margao. It was after dark, and it was exceedingly cold - no tropical heat here, just chilly desert nights! The narrow streets were chaotic, packed with throngs of people. rickshaws, bicycles, cows, camels. It was an unmistakably Indian chaos, and I was exited by the feeling of entering the "real" India, after our undeniably soft start in Goa.
In the dark, you mostly notice the narrow streets and the masses of people and traffic.
But in the daylight, Jodhpur is dominated by its fort - Meherangarh. It looms high above the city, perched on the edge of a 125 m high cliff.
The fort, as well as the city itself, was founded by Jodha, a Rajput clan chief, in 1459. Exploring the fort, you come across many interesting details and sights. The walls and gates are impressive for their sheer size, but the living quarters inside are notable for their beauty and delicate decorations. The fort is divided into several courtyards, connected by staircases and walkways. The windows are covered by latticed stone screens, which allowed the women of the court to look out, without being seen. One of the fort's gates still has scars from canonball fire, a remnant of one of numerous battles waged at the fort. It is a tribute to its construction that the fort never once fell into enemy hands.
Another amazing feature of the fort are the fantastic views over the city from the ramparts. You can see the whole of the old city, centered around the clock tower and the busy market areas. Noticeable from here are the many blue-coloured houses - it becomes apparant how Jodhpur got its nickname of The Blue City. The colour blue was traditionally associated with the Brahmin caste, but today anyone can paint their house blue. It's believed to keep the house cooled in the desert sun, and to help keep moscitoes out. Whatever the reason, it makes for a beautiful view.
Having thouroughly enjoyed Jodhpur, we made our way to Jaisalmer, in the far west of Rajasthan. Sitting isolated in the Thar desert, Jaisalmer is a city built of golden sandstone. Is is centered around a huge, crumbling sandcastle of a fort, constructed entirely from this glowing, amber-coloured material. Inside the fort there is a warren of narrow, rambling alleys, thronged with goats, cows, rickshaws, motorbikes, souvenir shops, restaurants and people. Despite the busy-ness of the place, and the grandeur of the fort and its central palace, Jaisalmer feels more like a village than a city. The people seem to know one another well, and in the evening men light fires in the alleys and convene around them to talk. And the pace is laid back and relaxed. It's surprisingly cold here though. In the daytime, the sun is hot, but at night it becomes very cold indeed, and you need a woollen scarf or sweater (which, having just come from Goa, we had to buy here).
Walking around the fort feels like being inside some sort of Lawrence of Arabia fantasy. Because the houses inside the fort are still inhabited, the whole fort is still alive, and you feel like you are inside a living museum. The sandstone from which the whole place is built, practically glows from within, earning Jaisalmer its name of The Golden City, yet another of Rajasthan's colourful gems.
From Jaisalmer we went on a so called camel 'safari' - a camel ride trough the shrubby Thar desert. We opted to do three days-two nights. We rode camels through the desert, ate simple meals by campfire and slept on sanddunes under the stars (well wrapped up for the cold cold desert nights). Given Alan's open dislike of horses, I was surprised to discover that he was more or less a natural camel jockey He seemed totally at ease with this awkward, gangly animal. Of course, camels are much more calm than horses, having none of the jumpy nervousness that makes horses so volatile and wonderful. Camels do have their own quiet charm though, and as you become used to their bumpy walking rythm, you relax and just watch the scenery glide by slowly (you could walk faster yourself, but then where would the fun be in that?). We rode across golden cand dunes the same colour as Jaisalmer itself, and visited little villages of mudhuts. All in all a good few days of fun.
By early morning January 20th, we arrived in Jaipur, capital city of Rajasthan. We were cold and tired, and at first glance the city seemed dirty and unwelcoming. Later on, we found that while Jaipur lacks the immediate charm of Jodhur and Jaisalmer, it does have some redeeming features. The entire old section of the city, including the impressive city wall, is painted a dusty salmon-colour, giving rise to the city's denomination as The Pink City. This adds some coherence and charm to the otherwise unattractive bazaars of the old city centre.
Then, there is the Hawa Mahal - Palace of the Winds. This is probably the most famous landmark of Jaipur. A whimsical construction, barely more than a facade, built to allow the maharanis, and other women of the court, to observe the life of the city without being seen. It is splendid in its simplicity, like a delicate ornament, and painted in that same salmon tone that gave the city its nickname.
Next, there is the city palace, which is certainly impressive as such things go, with marble arches, ornamental gates and sunny courtyards. In one such courtyards sits two enormous silver jars - repartedly the largest silver objects in the world. They are supposed to have been used by a maharajah to transport water from the holy Ganges to England (or so the story goes).
Most impressive in Jaipur though, is Amber fort, located some way outside the city. Like Meherangarh in Jodhpur, it is a huge fortified castle, high up on a hilltop. It too contains a maze of rooms, hallways and courtyards. Most of it appears to have once been painted in colourful designs, although the majority of these have long since faded away. In a central courtyard, there sits a roofed marble pavillon, built from white marble. It is caved with designs of flowers and insects, and inlaid with gemstones and mirrors. It is easy to imagine maharajahs and maharanis reclining here on soft silk cushions, shaded by light, waving silk curtains.