the blue city of jodhpur and a short hop to udaipur

Thursday, March 17:  We wake up early to see what sights we can in Jodhpur before we leave at 1:30 this afternoon for a short flight to Udaipur.  We didn’t really come here to see the sights; we came here because there was no flight from Jaisalmer to Udaipur.  However, since we’re here, we figure we should see what we can see.

breakfast in Indique, the rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Pal Haveli

breakfast in Indique, the rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Pal Haveli

The morning casts a different light on the city.  We eat breakfast in the lovely Indique restaurant and then we get a rickshaw driver to take us first to Jaswant Thada and then on to Mehrangarh.

the courtyard of the Pal Haveli ~ a lovely oasis in the midst of Jodhpur

the courtyard of the Pal Haveli ~ a lovely oasis in the midst of Jodhpur

A shopkeeper selling Indian prints at the hotel

A shopkeeper selling Indian prints at the hotel

On the way out of the madhouse city of Jodhpur, we see the usual hordes of dirt-covered and poverty-stricken Indians trying to eke out a living.  Passing the clock tower and the Sardar Market, we are bombarded by vibrant sights and smells from the bazaars selling vegetables, spices, sweets, silver, textiles and handicrafts.  We pass one man on the street; half of his face looks to be melted, like drooping rubber.  We see the usual people suffering with what seems to be the very common skin disease of vitiligo; their faces are splotchy with browns, pinks and whites, as if they’ve been through an extreme chemical peel.  Vitiligo is a skin condition in which there is a loss of brown color (pigment) from areas of skin, resulting in irregular white patches that feel like normal skin.  It appears to occur when immune cells destroy the cells that produce brown pigment (melanocytes). This destruction is thought to be due to an autoimmune problem, but the cause is unknown.After reading White Tiger and the horrible state of health care in India, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see so much illness and deformity.  However, the pervasiveness is shocking… and horribly sad.

Jalwar Thant

Jaswant Thada

We drive up a steep and winding road where we can see the walls of Mehrangarh fort towering overhead.  First we stop at a lovely spot about halfway up.  Jaswant Thada is a white marble memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II.  It’s a lovely memorial with its plethora of exquisitely carved and whimsical domes and jalis, or carved marble lattice screens.  Its setting is lovely, with flower gardens abloom, and the view to the imposing Mehrangarh is impressive.  We wander around the grounds and through the memorial, soaking up the beautiful surroundings.

Jaswant Thanda

Jaswant Thanda

Jaswant Thanda

Jaswant Thanda

Inside Jaswant Thanda

Inside Jaswant Thanda

Our rickshaw driver takes us further up the steep hill to the Mehrangarh Fort.  This fort with its sheer soaring walls is run by the descendents of the Maharaja of Jodhpur.  It costs 300 rupees to get into the palace within the fort.  On the walk up the steep hill to the entrance, we find an area with ramparts and canons.  Looking out here over the walls of the fort, we can see the blue city of Jodhpur sprawling down below.

Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur

Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur

The terra-cotta colored latticed palace complex and courtyards are like a maze.  Around every corner is a surprise.  In the extensive museum, we see trappings of Indian royalty, including howdahs, the seats which transported royal family members on the backs of elephants.  We come across sumptuously decorated rooms with plush carpets, gold-filigreed columns, painted walls and ceilings and stained glass windows. We spend quite a long time wandering through the museum and the palace.  At one point, we sit and watch a turban-wrapping demonstration in a small courtyard.  Later we climb to the very top of the palace, where our view of Jodhpur is amazing.

an up close view of the Fort

an up close view of the Fort

Entrance to Mehrangarh Fort

Entrance to Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

Mehrangarh Fort

Mehrangarh Fort

elephant carrier at Mehrangarh Fort

elephant carrier at Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

at Mehrangarh Fort

me at Mehrangarh Fort

me at Mehrangarh Fort

staircase at Mehrangarh Fort

staircase at Mehrangarh Fort

Jayne at Mehrangarh Fort

Jayne at Mehrangarh Fort

me at Mehrangarh Fort

me at Mehrangarh Fort

one of many beautiful rooms at Mehrangarh Fort

one of many beautiful rooms at Mehrangarh Fort

another room at Mehrangarh Fort

another room at Mehrangarh Fort

stained glass windows at Mehrangarh Fort

stained glass windows at Mehrangarh Fort

a sumptuous room in the palace

a sumptuous room in the palace

After we’ve seen most of the palace, we try to find another rickshaw driver to take us back to our hotel.  We know what we paid to get up the hill and so expect to pay the same to go down.  All the drivers want double the amount.  I guess they figure we are trapped up here and must pay their price to get back down.  We know it is a long way down, but we say, “Never mind!  We’ll just walk down!”  And we start the long walk down.  One of the rickshaw drivers, deciding it’s better to have some business than none, comes after us and agrees to accept our offer.

the blue city of Jodhpur

the blue city of Jodhpur

Back at the hotel, we have lunch in the cool 18th Century Bar with saddle bar stools, chandeliers, dark wood furniture and leopard skins on the walls.  It transports us back in time to British colonial days, with its dark and cool interior and its huntsman’s atmosphere.

the 18th Century Bar at Hotel Pal Haveli ~ lunch before departure to Udaipur

the 18th Century Bar at Hotel Pal Haveli ~ lunch before departure to Udaipur

We leave the hotel at 1:00 to head to the airport.  When we get there, we find our 2:30 flight has been delayed until 3:30.  Luckily, once we get on board, it’s only a half-hour flight to Udaipur.  Our new driver, Sanjay, picks us up at the airport and takes us to our new and lovely hotel, Hotel Swaroop Vilas.  This is probably our second favorite hotel in India.

 The hotel is all bright white walls with tiles painted in blue leafy vines and red flowers.  With its marble floors, crisp blue and white tiles, crenellated walls, cupolas and notched arches everywhere, it is an architectural delight.  In the various courtyards are gorgeous tropical plants flowering in pinks and deep greens.   As we find everywhere in India, bowls of floating rose petals and marigolds scent the hallways. Sadly, the room they give us has a double bed, where we have requested two singles throughout our trip.  When we ask them to switch us to a room with two singles, the room is so much inferior to the first room, that we take the original room with its double bed.

After settling in and exploring the hotel, including the pool and the spa and the balcony bar overlooking a lake, we take a rickshaw into the old city and wander around looking in the shops.  We go eventually to the Raj Palace Hotel to find the Whistling Teal restaurant.  It is set back from the busy street in a garden courtyard and has a lovely atmosphere, despite the mosquitoes. There, we enjoy a Kingfisher beer, fish tikka, and the most delectable masala peanuts, which are peanuts mixed with tomato, onion, cilantro, saffron, and lime juice.  The lovely setting only enhances the delectable treats we find in this place.

the courtyard of the Whistling Teal restaurant

the courtyard of the Whistling Teal restaurant in Udaipur

Gadi Sagar, a slow day in Jaisalmer & Jodhpur’s train station from hell

Wednesday, March 16: We have a lot of time to kill today as we have to wait until 4:30 to take a train to Jodhpur.  We are drained from all of our travels and don’t feel like going back to Jaisalmer Fort.   We decide to go to a place we haven’t seen, Gadi Sagar, in the early morning before it gets too hot.

Me under the gate to Gadi Sagar

Me under the gate to Gadi Sagar

Gadi Sagar is simply a tank, south of the Jaisalmer city walls, which was once the water supply for the city.  Small temples and shrines surround it, as well as a smattering of small shops.  Over the road down to the tank is a gateway, Tilon-ki-Pol, which was built by a famous prostitute.  The story is that the prostitute offered to pay for its construction, but the maharaja denied permission because he felt that it would be beneath his dignity to walk through it when visiting the tank.  The prostitute built it anyway in the maharaja’s absence.  She put a Krishna temple on top so the king wouldn’t tear it down.

the prostitute's gate

the prostitute’s gate

Despite our early arrival, it’s steamy out, and we wander around sluggishly and half-heartedly.  There is a possibility of a boat ride in the water tank, but when we see the condition of the boats and the pond itself, we decide just to wander around, keeping to the shade as much as possible.  A group of Indian kids are standing on some steps, a kind of ghat, leading down to the water, and tossing bread into the murky depths.  When we walk up close, we see a black mass of catfish hurling themselves up toward the surface.  In their bulging and heaving madness, they look like frightening deep-sea creatures who are surfacing to devour us. Frankly, I’m disturbed by the sight of them, boiling cauldron of slimy snakes that they are.

the boiling cauldron of catfish at Gadi Sagar

the boiling cauldron of catfish at Gadi Sagar

the boats at Gadi Sagar

the boats at Gadi Sagar

We wander around a little more, dipping into the coolness of another Jain temple decked out with strands of rainbow-colored tinsel and guarded by a large ceramic cat.  A silent barefoot monk in a saffron robe watches us as we pad through in our bare feet.

a monk in the jain temple at Gadi Sagar

a monk in the jain temple at Gadi Sagar

the entrance to the jain temple at Gadi Sagar

the entrance to the jain temple at Gadi Sagar

looking out from the Jain Temple to the lake

looking out from the Jain Temple to the lake

a pavilion outside the Jain Temple

a pavilion outside the Jain Temple

Back on the road again, we encounter a camel decked out in colorful blankets and fabric braids pulling a painted carriage.  We look briefly into the small shops.  Bored, we decide we’ll return to the hotel and relax for the rest of the afternoon.  Back at Himmatgarh Palace, I eat Vegetable Pulao and Jayne eats Kashmiri Pulao, both accompanied by stuffed naan with cheese and two lime sodas.  Then we pack up most of our stuff and lounge around in the cool room reading and trying unsuccessfully to nap.

a decked out camel and carriage

a decked out camel and carriage

Actually, I’m not able to relax knowing that the dreaded train lies before us this evening.  I read pages and pages of White Tiger by Aravind Adiga this afternoon, which makes me more uptight.  His bleak and dark descriptions of India only exacerbate the feeling of unease I have regarding the remainder of our trip and this train.  I hated so much the 12-hour trip from Jaipur; this will be another 6 hours of torture to Jodhpur.  Plus, because this is not an overnight train, I don’t know what kind of compartment or seating to expect.  I frankly am experiencing a great deal of anxiety on this day, between reading this book and fearing our journey tonight.

back at the hotel before the dreaded train ride to jodhpur

back at the hotel before the dreaded train ride to jodhpur

the pool at our hotel ~ Himmatgarh Palace

the pool at our hotel ~ Himmatgarh Palace

Finally, after what seems like an interminable afternoon (why can’t I relax??), our driver takes us to the train station.  We sit on a bench on the platform, awaiting our train, beneath multitudes of pigeons in the rafters.  Suddenly, one of the pigeons shits on my hand.  A lady from Calgary sharing the bench with us says, in unison with Jayne, “That’s good luck!”  I find a tissue and wipe off the wet droppings as the pigeons flap and wheel overhead.

Indians are sleeping on the platform, whole filthy families camped out on every inch of concrete.  The grimy train pulls up, and people are crammed into the luggage cars or bursting through open, iron-barred windows in second class.  We haul our luggage onto our A-1 car (first class) and find the same type of compartment, with the 4 bunks, that we had on our overnight trip to Jaisalmer.  I guess that’s a relief since it means we can recline and be somewhat comfortable.

As the train moves, I settle in to finish my book. An Indian guy comes into our compartment and plops down beside me on my mattress.  “Let me tell you about my nation,” he says.  We ignore him but he keeps on talking.  I say, “No one invited you to sit on my seat! Please move!”  He says, “You could be my mother.”  This irritates me so much that, when the train conductor walks by, I insist that he make the guy move.  He leaves, obviously angry that I refused to listen to his diatribe.

On the rest of this train ride, I finish reading White Tiger, which I happily abandon on the train when I disembark.  The book is a brutal depiction of India’s class struggles. The main character Balram Halwai, a racist, homicidal chauffeur, is from the Darkness, born where India’s downtrodden and unlucky are destined to rot. Balram escapes his village and moves to Delhi after being hired as a driver for a rich landlord.  Author Adiga’s crude and brutally honest prose animates the battle between India’s wealthy and poor as Balram suffers degrading treatment at the hands of his masters.  Later, Balram manages to become a wealthy entrepreneur only after he murders his employer and steals a huge amount of money from him.  This is seemingly the only way to get ahead under India’s rigid hierarchical society.  The book has been such a good companion on this trip only because it only served to underline the poverty and degradation I could see all around me.  I want so badly to see some good in India, and this is why I am happy to finish with the book and leave it behind.

When we arrive in Jodhpur at around 10:30 pm, it’s a nightmare.  First, there is no one from our hotel to pick us up.  In most other countries, this would be no problem.  We would just take a taxi to the hotel.  But in India, we have been warned that we should never take a rickshaw to a new hotel upon our arrival in town.  A rickshaw driver, it is said, will always have a story that the hotel where you are headed is out of business or full.  And then he will take you to a hotel where he gets a kickback.  He will leave you stranded at the new hotel, which often charges exorbitant prices.

This would be a problem for us.  Our whole time in India is arranged.  We have prepaid for the entire trip and we have in fact a reservation tonight at the Hotel Pal Haveli.  This hotel, set around a courtyard and built by the thakur (nobleman) of Pal in 1847, is considered the most attractive original haveli in the old city.   Even though we are only due to stay this one night in Jodhpur, this is one of the nicer hotels, a “heritage” property, Umer booked for us on our itinerary.  We definitely don’t want some rickshaw driver to take us somewhere else, where 1) we have to pay extra and 2) we don’t get to stay in a top-rate hotel.

We stand outside in front of the station in the dark, where people are sleeping all over the concrete, like fallen dominoes.  One lady has her head on another lady’s stomach; a man has his feet on someone else’s chest.  Some have their heads propped on their baggage.  A fat orange-haired lady in a sari sleeps directly on the concrete while huge rats sniff around her face.  Fluorescent lights cast an eerie glow over the whole scene. All these people are sleeping directly on the concrete, no sheets or blankets to shield them from the hordes of rats scurrying about.  Auto-rickshaws are lined up on the street, bathed in the sickly light.  Young men keep coming up and asking us where we are going.  They say, “Pal Haveli? Pal Haveli?”  We say, who are you here for?  We don’t tell our names but insist that they tell us who they are here to pick up.  Finally, after many phone calls, they tell us a name that is not Jayne’s.  We say, no, you are not here for us.

on the train to jodhpur's nightmare train station

on the train to jodhpur’s nightmare train station

We don’t have phones with us here.  I have only my U.S. BlackBerry which has our travel agent Umer’s number.  However, my BlackBerry is on a different network and has only worked a couple of times in India.  I try to phone Umer, but get no answer at all.

Finally, I watch the luggage while Jayne asks one of the attendants at the station to call the hotel for us.  We don’t know the number of the hotel and neither does the attendant.   After a long time, and many phone calls, the attendant tells us the Pal Haveli is not waiting for any guests tonight.  Apparently, we find out later, the attendant has called his cousin to find out this information.

our room at the Pal Haveli ~ FINALLY!!

our room at the Pal Haveli ~ FINALLY!!

We have the attendant call Umer, who is conveniently not available.  This seems to happen whenever we run across a problem in our travels and tonight, we find this infuriating.  We feel lost and abandoned. Umer has really let us down.

Finally, after what seems like a highly uncomfortable eternity, we are able to get someone to speak to the Pal Haveli, which sends a car for us.  They are able to tell us Jayne’s name, so we finally know we have the right driver.

I love this room ~ too bad we have such a short enjoyment time slot...

I love this room ~ too bad we have such a short enjoyment time slot…

Close to midnight, we finally get to the hotel, almost 1 ½ hours after our arrival in Jodhpur.  The hotel staff tells us they have our reservation, but our travel agent didn’t specify that we needed a train station pickup.  No arrangements had been made and they are unabashedly unapologetic.  We had really looked forward to dinner at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, Indique, which is the top restaurant pick in Lonely Planet for Jodhpur: it “is the perfect place for a romantic dinner…the views to the fort, clock tower, and Umaid Bhawan are superb.  The food is traditional tandoori and North Indian curries and you won’t be disappointed by the old favorites – butter chicken and rogan josh.”

Our room is actually lovely, with its heritage trimmings, and the kitchen is able to provide room service.  They bring us the most delicious chicken tikka and cheese naan, a soothing antidote to our nightmare of a night.