Jodhpur: What a Joy

February 21-23, 2017

Turns out, despite the way my time here ended, Jodhpur is a love at first sight city. Beginning at the airport, where not a single soul clamors for my taxi dollar, and on the way into Old Town, where traffic is manageable and borderline polite, Jodhpur has a sense of order and civility to it that is surprising considering that it’s the 2nd biggest city in the state of Rajasthan, and that sense of civility extends even into the crowded, narrow streets of the old city itself.

During my research, I had grown somewhat enamored with Jodhpur… visually, she is a photographers dream. Logistically though, I almost gave up trying to get here as the location wasn’t synching well with my plans and timings, but somewhere deep down I had a pull to make it happen, and I’m very glad I did.

Mehrangarh Fort... the view from my window.
Mehrangarh Fort… the view from my window.
The Blue City
The Blue City

The charm here is instantaneous, due in large part to the city’s aesthetic. Known as the “blue city,” it’s predominant, cool-watercolor hue gives maximum appeal as juxtaposed onto the haphazard, timeworn construction of a city this age. Visually mesmerizing, there is so much detail to soak in, but most importantly, this city provides the personal space to enable full absorption.

The tight alleyway-like streets of the city are entirely reminiscent of Varanasi, except without any of the chaotic energy. There is a softness here that is absent in most of the other large Indian cities I’ve been to, and that dramatically alters the way one moves through the streets… particularly as a single, white, female tourist. Refreshingly, as I wander about, no one approaches me, bothers me or engages me in any way, save for the occasional “namaste!” as I walk past a shop or home, or the random smiling child, asking my name, wanting to practice their English. In the busier parts of town, tuk-tuk drivers offer out their services and vendors half-heartedly beckon me into their store, but it’s all very friendly and easy-going, enabling me to take my time, take tons of photographs and just absorb the details… and it is positively delightful.

Afternoon card game
Afternoon card game
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Color contrast
Keeping Shop
Keeping Shop
Lovely ladies on the stairs
Lovely ladies on the stairs

Mehrangarh Fort, as any guide book will tell you, is a Jodhpur must-visit, made easy since it’s situated in town. Luckily for me it’s a short walk from my guest house and an incredible way to spend a few hours learning about the rich history of the city.

The imposing Mehrangarh Fort as seen from its approach.
The imposing Mehrangarh Fort as seen from its approach.
The infamous Handprints of Sati, outside Mehrangarh Fort. Sati was the ancient custom where widowed wives (and concubines) cast themselves upon their deceased husbands funeral pyre out of love and devotion.
The infamous Handprints of Sati, outside Mehrangarh Fort. Sati was the ancient custom where widowed wives (and concubines) cast themselves upon their deceased husbands funeral pyre out of love and devotion. These are the purported prints of the queens who committed sati at this castle.
More handprints around town, although I can't seem to find the history or correlation to those at the Fort.
More handprints around town, although I can’t seem to find the history or correlation to those at the Fort.
Doorways and handprints.
Doorways and handprints.

One of the things I made a point to seek out was the local and rather large baoli, or step-well. These structures, like the ones I visited in Jaipur, are part of Rajasthan’s rich history and I find them to be mesmerizing artifacts of a bygone era. All of the step-wells in Rajasthan (there are reportedly thousands of them) and their historic importance (or lack thereof) vary greatly. Some, like the well known Chand Baori outside of Jaipur which was part of an important temple complex, have been protected by the Archeological Survey of India, a governing entity that oversees conservation of important historic structures, and as a result tourists are restricted on where they can walk and what they can see. Others, like the site outside of Amer Fort in Jaipur, are guarded, but half-heartedly so… we were able to walk down into the well and take photos for awhile before being shooed out.

This site in Jodhpur, Toorji Ka Jhalara, has no boundaries whatsoever, and as such, has become a hang out for the locals. The day I visited, a group of children frolicked and swam in the water below and teenagers hung out, taking selfies (the culture is positively obsessed!) and listening to music, while a few tourists such as myself wander around, taking photos and seeing how far down the steps we dare to go. It was an engaging way to spend a couple of hours.

Swimming
Swimming
Hanging out
Hanging out

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I don’t normally spend much time talking about accommodations, but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about my guest house, as it had a direct effect on the authenticity and entire feel of my experience here. I am staying in what’s known as a haveli. Haveli’s are old mansions that were generally occupied by large, upper caste families, and this particular haveli, constructed approximately 500 years ago at the same time as the Mehrangarh Fort, was gifted to the Singhvi family by the Maharaja Royalty as a thank you to Shri Akheraj Sa Singhvi, Maharaja’s Commander in Chief.

The mansion-turned-guest house is still owned and operated by the Singhvi family today, and the antiquated charm of the property, from the fountained courtyard to the rooftop deck overlooking both city and fort, to the delightfully (and authentically) decorated rooms, is undeniable. The building keeps much of its original construction detail… heavy wooden doors at all the entryways, steep and narrow staircases, ornate archways and the tale-tell lattice-work type architecture that the Mughal Era influence of construction is famous for… all adding to the charm and making this beautifully quirky and historic place an absolute asset and integral part of my time here. As icing on the cake, the family that runs the place was incredibly kind and hospitable, making me feel as if I were an honored guest.

Singhvi's Haveli
Singhvi’s Haveli
Singhvi's Haveli
Singhvi’s Haveli

Evenings here were some of my favorite times. From my central locale, with the imposing fort situated just above me to the East, and the gentle slope of the city rising out in front of me to the West, I feel as if I’m in a lovely oasis amidst the heart of the city. At dusk, an echo of conch horns erupts all around, amplified by distant loudspeakers, commencing the beginning of evening prayers, and a short while later loud bells and chants ricochet off the surrounding hills and fill the city’s airspace with evening worship, giving an even more enchanted feel to the already beautiful dusk. As I sit on the rooftop deck, watching the sun set over this charming city, listening to a ritual that probably hasn’t altered much in the last thousand years, I feel as if I have been transported back to another time. Again, absolutely delightful.

Dusk, overlooking the city.
Dusk, overlooking the city.

This city was without question one of India’s highlights for me, so it’s a little bit ironic that it was here, on the morning of my departure, that I had the most unfortunate occurrence I’ve had to date in all of my travels! (You can read about the event here.) Regardless, this blue city gave me a couple of absolutely delightful days and for that I thank you, Jodhpur… you were a real joy!

Art decorating the walls wherever you look
Art decorating the walls wherever you look
Airing out
Airing out
Bangles for sale. Lot's of them.
Bangles for sale. Lot’s of them.
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Art everywhere
Two elephants at a little make-shift temple on a deserted path.
Discarded toys? Holy symbolism? Art? Hard to tell, at this little makeshift, roadside alter.

Two Days in Delhi

October 22-24, 2015

My very first impression of this Capitol city is – it’s so clean! And green! And there are road signs! Yes, there are still a ton of people and the traffic is still insane by US standards, but it’s notably less chaotic than Mumbai… and thank god for that.

Quick peek at the Lotus Temple from afar.
Quick peek at the Lotus Temple from afar.
Proud mothers and beautiful babies are universal.
Proud mothers and beautiful babies are universal.

I arrived in the afternoon but drove straight away to stay overnight in  Agra for my visit to the Taj Mahal first thing in the morning. Getting back up to Delhi took much longer than normal due to the traffic-stopping, street celebrations of the festival Dussehra so my evening consisted of strolling around the beautiful neighborhood where I stayed, Niazamuddin East, and stumbling across some crumbling ruins.

Dussehra festivities in front of The Agra Fort.
Dussehra festivities in front of The Agra Fort.
Crumbling Khan-I-Khanan's Tomb. I don't think anyone comes here.
Crumbling Khan-I-Khanan’s Tomb. I don’t think anyone comes here.

I hired a driver for my entire time in Delhi, which was a wise investment and considerably decreased a lot of difficult logistics… but getting around on foot is still a tricky and fairly inhibiting affair. Alas, that is, as I’m learning, just India.

My time in Delhi consisted mostly of sight seeing with just a bit of local culture. First stop, Qutub Minar.

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Closer up of the astounding detail on this tower.
Closer up. Astounding detail on this tower.

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Built in the late 1100’s (these timelines never cease to amaze me) and decorated with verses from the Qur’an, the detail here is unbelievably beautiful.

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Strangely (and I had read about this before arriving) everyone, particularly at tourist places like this, wants to take a photo of themselves with you. I declined the countless requests from groups of boys and men, but obliged a couple of families. A husband asked me to pose with his wife, so I figured when in Rome (or Delhi, as it were…) and handed him my phone for a photo of my own. 🙂

Me, and a complete stranger.
Me, and a complete stranger.

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Bored. One day he'll appreciate it.
Bored. One day he’ll appreciate it.
Exquisite detail underneath one of the domes.
Exquisite detail underneath one of the domes.

Next stop, Hauz Khas village… a quaint and trendy sort of neighborhood built around the Hauz Khas ruins. The ruins are engaging enough, but the interesting thing here is that they are more of a hang out spot for young people and not much of a tourist attraction.

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Inside one of the domes.
Inside one of the domes.

The village itself encroaches right up to the borders of the old complex and walking through the neighborhood was not only cute, but very easy to navigate (that is the first time I’ve uttered those words here in India!).

The streets are narrow so virtually no cars come through, only scooters, adding to the easy appeal.

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I sought out a relaxing lunch spot overlooking the ruins and Deer Lake… as finding these pockets of calm have become an imperative necessity for me on this trip.

Afternoon food and relaxation at Mia Bella, overlooking the lake and adjoining ruins.
Afternoon food and relaxation at Mia Bella, overlooking the lake and adjoining ruins.

I also got to enjoy some company for a couple of hours, when Raman, my friend Lochan’s cousin, took some time to meet up with me.

We hung out at the Baoli step-well, which is a very cool, antiquated structure (in case you haven’t picked up on this yet, you don’t have travel very far before stumbling upon some building or ruin that is several centuries old) that originally served as a water storage well.

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I had wanted to come to this place anyway, so it was ironic that it was here I also got to see some of Raman’s artwork along the surrounding street walls… he is a commissioned graffiti artist who has worked all over the world.

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The day ended with evening drinks at a bar in central Connaught Place, overlooking the city.

A little view of the city from above.
A little view of the city from above.

Day 2
Really, this was only a half day, but I crammed in a fair amount, starting with breakfast and some chai from a local street vendor. Brave, I know.

Making chai.
Making chai.
The food cart. I opted for the potato (I think) filled flakey-crust thing.
The food cart. I opted for the potato (I think) filled flakey-crust thing.

Then off to Jantar Mantar, a group of vast astronomy structures built in the 1700’s by scientist Jai Singh.

The grounds at Jantar Mantar.
The grounds at Jantar Mantar. This big structure is the observatory.
These two pillars... casting no shadow whatsoever at summer solstice, and perfect alignment of long shadows at winter solstice. Cool.
These two pillars… casting no shadow whatsoever at summer solstice, and perfect alignment of long shadows at winter solstice. Cool.

The structures are apparently very precise and although I didn’t understand a lot of what I saw, for a few rupees a self-appointed ‘guide’ gave me some helpful tidbits of information.

When the shadow falls across one of these lines it depicts the hour of the day.
When the shadow falls across one of these lines it depicts the hour of the day… up to the minute.
28 windows on one side across the top row and something to do with the cycle of the moon.
28 windows on one side across the top row and something to do with the cycle of the moon.

From here I went to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the stunning Sikh Temple, where I spent quite a bit of time.

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Outside the front of the temple.
Washing the feet before entering.
Washing the feet before entering.
Inside this majestic place of worship.
Inside this majestic place of worship.
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The main ‘alter’ is open on all four sides where people sit and listen to the music/chanting/prayers.
The large pool area, behind the temple.
The large pool area, behind the temple.

Coincidently and luckily for me, my driver is Sikh and wanted to join me, so I was able gain a little more insight from him than if I had just wandered in here on my own.

Karma, my faithful driver.
Karma, my faithful driver.

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Listening to the beautiful music/chanting/prayers.
Listening to the beautiful music/chanting/prayers.

After this I went to a gorgeous Hindu temple where understandably but much to my chagrin, I had to check my camera… my least favorite sign hanging above the entrance: No Photography Allowed.

From the outside.
From the outside.

Inside, the ornate, brightly adorned statues of Hindu gods were everywhere, each with its own alter where offerings have been placed… piles of marigolds and other brightly colored flower petals, intermingled with rice and money.

The walls are adorned in carved out drawings and accompanying scripture… written in both Hindi and English, much of it from the Gita texts which I am familiar with from my yoga studies. I wandered from room to room for some time just trying to take it all in, loving the ornamentation and inherent festive feeling that is the aesthetic of the Hindu worship.

Just to give you an idea, these are the kinds of statues that are prevelent in the Hindu religion. This photo was taken elsewhere, outside of the temple.
Just to give you an idea, these are the kinds of statues that are prevelent in the Hindu religion. This photo was taken elsewhere, outside of the temple.

Waiting for my driver to come pick me up, I decided to courageously try one more street snack before heading to the airport, and it was particularly good! It is several hours later as I’m writing this on my way to my next destination, and so far my tummy seems just fine… so a big thank you, to the powers that be (and also, to the Chinese herbs I brought with me, specifically to help prevent any unwanted belly bugs.)

The ingredients...
The ingredients…
Mixin it up...
Mixin it up…
Voila! Deliciousness!
Voila! Deliciousness!

 

Delhi, India
Delhi, India