India is like a roller coaster ride. You start off on the ground and you slowly make your way up to the top of the coaster, and then, in an instant, you are plummeting to the earth once again. We slowly made our way to enjoying our time in Jaisalmer, despite it’s drawbacks, and then we were slapped in the face by Jodhpur. No matter how many guide books you read, they will never prepare you for what you are getting yourself into. If you are a westerner, you can not read a Lonely Planet blurb, or a comment from Fodors, and get an accurate picture of the town/city you are about to visit. For example, Lonely Planet describes Jodhpur as thus:
“The Blue City really is blue! Inside is a tangle of winding, glittering, medieval streets, which never seem to lead where you expect them to, scented by incense, roses, and sewers with shops and bazaars selling everything from trumpets and temple decorations to snuff and saris.”
Though they mentioned the sewers, and I expected such smells from my experience thus far, I was expecting nice smells as well. And, sadly, there wasn’t anything I found to be glittery about Jodhpur. And to top it off, it wasn’t really blue. If you go on reading it talks about a bustling hub of merchants selling their wares throughout the winding streets that branch out from the clock tower. It’s just not how they describe it. Though we spent a decent amount of time wandering the maze of streets and stalls, I smelled no incense, but maybe their roses really smell like poo, poo, poo, poo (think Cee Lo), because in India, that’s the overwhelming scent wherever you are. And for that matter, I’m not surprised. There’s cows wherever you turn, dogs, some places have monkeys, and even the residents urinate and defecate in the streets. Once again, I understand that this is a different culture, and a different way of living, but when everything is covered in shit (literally) it makes simple things very difficult. And here’s the thing, I end up looking like an ass sometimes. The Indian people, as a whole, are genuinely nice people. Because of our celebrity status (as white people), people want to say hello to us, take photos of us, and shake our hands. So, I have two choices, don’t shake their hand and I’m an ass, or shake their hand and deem that hand dead and unusable until I get back to the hotel where I can wash my hands with soap. I’m a bad person? I don’t think so. First of all, for the most part, this is how I live in the states as well. But here, they don’t use toilet paper (so guess what they use) and even if they did wash their hands, the likelihood is that they used the tap water to wash them, which if I ingest accidentally, I can land myself in an Indian hospital bed. So, if we’re heading back to the hotel, I’ll usually shake a hand or two and put mine out of commission. Otherwise, I’ll be the bitch.
So, obviously, we weren’t big fans of Jodhpur. It was congested, loud, and really smelly. Though we went to a sweet shop and bought some almond paste like sweets that were covered with silver leaf. To be honest, I think it was aluminum foil. But they were kinda tasty, aside from the metallic aftertaste. And to be fair, we did enjoy our audio tour of the Mehrangarh Fort. It was quite informative, and the fort had some interesting artifacts and architectural points. I will say this about India, they know how to get people through a fort. So far, there is a single path through every fort we’ve visited. This way you know you don’t miss anything and you really can’t get lost. It’s nice.
We left Jodhpur and made our way through thick sheets of rain down bumpy rural roads, making our way to the small town of Ghanerao. This place was not in our guidebook, the tour company didn’t give us any info on it, and our driver doesn’t speak English, so we didn’t know what to expect. But, it turned out that it didn’t matter. It was pouring buckets of rain until the sun went down. Luckily we were staying in a castle, and we were the only patrons for the evening. So Seth and I listened to our audiobook (The Stand, by Stephen King) and watched the rain. While the day idled by, they offered us lunch and then dinner in the dining hall. Silly us, we assumed that they were offering because it was included, but we ended up paying generously for our meals (in more ways than one. Forget Delhi Belly, we had the Rajasthan Runs). Anyhow, we were able to explore the property as we liked and found some interesting abandoned rooms, and a rooftop with a nice view. When it stopped raining briefly before sundown, we went up to check it out. We were disappointed, because it looked like Ghanerao would have been a nice little town to walk around and there was a lot of green space close by. Oh well, blame it on the rain (ya, I know).
On the way to Udaipur the next morning we were going to stop in Ranakpur to see one of India’s biggest and most important Jain Temple complexes. But, we were a bit early, so we were let out of the car a wiles away to walk a bit and take in the scenery. It was nice to walk, and the area was beautifully lush and green with overflowing streams cutting through the grasses. Mountains in the near distance were covered in greenery with the occasional rock face jutting out for good measure. Eventually we came across some children, who followed us for a while down the road until they got bored and two other children took their place. Eventually we ran into some monkeys and we hurriedly got back in the car. They were big. Real big. There were, also, some large elaborately plumed peacocks, but we weren’t scared of those. And, of course, there were cows. (Just assume that no matter where we are or what we are doing, if we’re in India, there are cows. Lots of cows.)
The Ranakpur temples were very nice, but I think we’re getting Jain Temple’d out. The big one was really nice though. There were elaborate carvings in the ceilings, and a tree that grew inside. It was an impressively large temple and the setting was beautiful, in deep greenery. Oh, I almost forgot to mention. The temple complex was covered in monkeys. Cool, right? No, scary. Maybe if they were tiny little monkeys the size of guinea pigs it might be cute, but these suckers were, at full size, pushing 50 pounds, and many of them were full size, and they have big fangs that they like to show you. They were quite menacing. And they filled the trees and we had to walk under them. Ooh, bad news. But, we made it out unscathed. Safe, for now…
Udaipur turned out to be the peak of our up. See how we slowly made our way back up to the top of the coaster after our low in Jodhpur? In Udaipur we stayed in a home stay. The woman of the house, Hemant, was full of stories and good recommendations around the city. Our favorite area turned out to be the Jagdish Temple area. The temple sits high above the shops on streets that spiral outward towards and away from Lake Pichola. At night the temple is lit up with lights of different hues, making it quite a sight, magical even. Though there were cows, they weren’t as plentiful as in other places, probably because of the plethora of motorcycles and auto rickshaws that plow through the streets unheedingly. The streets had less ‘surprises’ for us to step in and the smells weren’t as strong. We ended up making some good purchases, such as some Damascus knives that Seth had custom made. And though we visited the City Palace, it was not as amazing of a spectacle as people had made it out to be. It seemed to have been stripped of many of it’s artifacts and there were paintings and photographs in their place. Something I found quite comical were the almost life-size picture cut outs of past maharajas ‘sitting’ in their thrones. We ate dinner at Ambrai, because we were told that the view was unbeatable, which it was, but the food was mediocre. The food the night before, at Lal Bagh near our home stay, was way better and had live music. Here is an mp3. But the view was quite pretty. It was set on the lake and you could see the Lake palace, Jagniwas Island, and the City Palace all lit up on the still water.
We made our way to Chittorgarh to see the fort and some more Jain Temples. We ended up getting ‘chased’ out of the fort (where there wasn’t much to see anyhow) by some of those monkeys I was talking about. It’s not good when they lean forward from higher ground and bare their teeth. We made for the hills, or the temples. They were pretty neat, one was a large tower structure, but we were tired of walking barefoot around muddy temples that were all starting to look the same. So, we hopped back in the car (with our recently very moody and disagreeable driver BTW) and set off for Bundi.
Bundi was a small town with a lot of monkeys, mosquitoes, and bats (and, of course, cows, dogs, and pigs. But, these are a given). The monkeys are bandits, scaring away groups of small children and stealing peoples’ vegetables before knocking the baskets over to roll on the ground, some finding their fate in the ‘ditch’. We were intimidated off our hotel’s rooftop by them, and decided to eat dinner (our first flavorless dinner) indoors because of them (and the mosquitoes). The bats, apparently, live in the fort that is perched on the mountain just above the town. At about 6:40pm they fly out from the windows by the thousands creating dark moving clouds that stretch into the dusk.
This morning we left Bundi for Pushkar. Pushkar is a holy city that surrounds Pushkar Lake, which is said to have purifying effects. Pilgrims make their way to this holy lake constantly, and devout Hindus are supposed to make their way to this lake at least once in their lifetime. So the road to Pushkar is lined with throngs of people, some rolling on their bellies, making their way to the ghats (bathing temples) which appear to simply be steps that lead down to the water. Though an interesting and enticing ritual, especially in the intense humid heat, there’s no way I could or would partake. (I needn’t explain why) We walked through the Sadar Bazaar, which is simply the streets surrounding part of the lake, packed with shops. We’re told that loose gems are good to buy here, but we don’t know enough to decide whether we’re buying the real deal. And, we’d check for tips on the internet, but we haven’t had access for days. We’re thinking that our hotels advertise that they have wifi to add to the draw (and the price), but they don’t actually have it. I’m really hoping that’s not really the case. After dodging motorcycles, bicycles, rickshaws, cows, and their doo doo, we made our way back to our hotel. Tomorrow we’re off to Jaipur, the pink city.