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.

Interrupting Our Regularly Scheduled Program…

Moving out of chronological order for a moment, I had to write about my unfortunate experience leaving Jodhpur (a place I absolutely loved and will post about soon enough.)

I had a late morning flight to Delhi and with an extra couple hours to fill before departure, I decided to take a final walk around my picturesque neighborhood. The dogs in Jodhpur (more so than other places, it seems) create quite a ruckus every night, where from my hotel I could hear what sounded like territorial attacks upon one another… long episodes of loud, angry barks followed by the inevitable heart-wrenching yelps, whimpers and cries of defeat. Caution is always warranted with animals in this (or any foreign) country, and as much as the sweet ones tugged at my heart-strings to give affection, I have always steered very clear, even of them.

This morning, however, the unexpected happened and unprovoked, I got bit by an aggressive dog. I turned the corner onto a vacant lot-type of area, where a couple of dogs immediately perked up and started growling. This was clearly their territory and I was clearly intruding. I’ve actually been growled at before and, heeding their warning, have avoided any conflict… but today that was not the case. I immediately turned around and started walking away when I heard one of the dogs approach behind me and before I knew what happened, he bit me on the back of the calf/ankle area.

I turned and yelled at them and they briefly backed off, allowing me to quickly walk away, and it wasn’t until I got far enough away that I could stop and assess the damage. With adrenaline running high masking any pain, I wasn’t sure he had really injured me, until I looked down and saw all the blood… at which point I knew I was in trouble.

I doused the wound then and there with the hand sanitizer I had in my bag and then high-tailed it back to my hotel, where I promptly rinsed and cleaned it as best I could. The lovely people at he hotel offered to take me to the hospital but I had very little time before my flight and figured I had better deal with this in Delhi, which was my last stop and where I was flying home from.

The next 36 hours were a bit of a physical, emotional and logistical nightmare. I have to admit that after a month in India, I was a little worn out and dealing with a serious dog bite at this juncture has been scary, stressful and exhausting. The biggest concern is of course rabies, and it’s a safe assumption that the dog who bit me has it. The street dogs here are all sick looking, uncared for, eating and living in filth, and they carry all sorts of diseases, rabies included.

Upon landing in Delhi, I have a taxi take me and all my bags to the nearest private hospital, where I am able to get both a rabies and tetanus booster shot, and while the care there was adequate, as is the case no matter where you are or what you are doing in India, information is not forthcoming, even when you are specifically asking for it. Being alone, in a lot of pain and very rattled at the idea of contracting rabies, I do my best to get questions answered, but I end up back at my hotel realizing there were a few factors not addressed.

The biggest issue at hand was whether or not I’d had a rabies shot in the past, as that alters the course of treatment. With all the traveling I do, I assumed I had one before my travels last year, but I was able to get my immunization records emailed to me and there was no record of having it done. So… while I was able to get booster shots appropriate for having been previously immunized, I understood now that what I really needed was a shot of rabies-immunoglobulin, which is a targeted antibody for unvaccinated persons that will help the immune system fight the deadly virus while waiting for the booster shots to take effect.

The private hospital I went to yesterday did mention the possibility of needing this, but at the time it wasn’t deemed imperative since I thought I’d had the full immunizations prior. Regardless, they didn’t have that shot available because it’s very expensive, and since thousands of people die every year from dog bites, they only stock the antibody at the Government Hospital, which is where they referred me if I wanted it. And of course it’s hit or miss as to whether that hospital will actually have the antibody in stock because of all the bites they treat.

Despite the 12 hour time difference I was able to consult with my brother (who happens to be an infectious disease doctor) via online messenger, and we discern that because I don’t seem to have been previously immunized, it’s absolutely imperative I get the immunoglobulin shot… so at 6am, despite my reservations about public healthcare in India, I make my way to the Government Hospital.

I last about 15 minutes inside… making my way through tiny, filthy rooms filled with literally hundreds of bleeding, sick and injured people laying on the floor, on dirty stretchers etc, being ignored by virtually everyone despite my repeated attempts at trying to figure out the system. I even find and enter a room with a hand-scribbled sign on the door that says “dog bites” but despite my plea for help, they shoo me out and point to another room… a place, I assume, to somehow get in line (there is no “line” in a room packed to the gills,) but at this juncture I decide I have better chances of staying healthy with rabies than getting treatment here. The reality of this place was nothing short of tragic and frankly, pretty frightening.

Discouraged, I leave and decide to attempt another private hospital nearby, since I really need this shot… but unfortunately I get the same story as yesterday… they don’t keep immunoglobulin in stock, and they tell me to go to the place I just came from.

I have become a very strong woman and can roll with a lot of poor circumstance, but at this point, exhausted and in pain, knowing I wasn’t going to get the shot I needed, I pretty much lost all composure. Luckily, I was able to reach my brother via phone and he reassured me that as long as I seek medical attention the moment I get home, the treatment should be effective and I should be fine.

Meanwhile, no one at the initial hospital had mentioned antibiotics for the wound itself, which at this point wasn’t looking so good and had been lightly but steadily bleeding for the last 24 hours. My brother advised me to try and get some antibiotics right away, and at least that part was easy… pharmacies are everywhere, no prescription is needed and I was able to get a course of doxycycline for about $2, making me extremely grateful for small wins.

Travel in general, but my trip to an Indian public hospital in particular, makes me see with great clarity the abundant privilege I have now and have had for my entire life. While I have (understandably) complained about the sad state of our public healthcare system at home, this experience and subsequent shift in perspective suddenly fills me with extreme gratitude. Yes, I am upset and a little worried for my own health, but my heart aches deeply for the sick and infirm in countries like this. I will eventually get the treatment I need, but it’s safe to say that most of these people cannot say the same… and that fills me with deep sadness.

I had a busy 36 hours of things to see in Delhi as my final leg of the trip, but unfortunately I had to abandon all plans in lieu of seeking medical care and resting my painful leg. This has been a tragic end to an incredible month-long journey, but despite my exhaustion and the decline in my morale, I know this will in no way quell my overall adventurous spirit.

I leave for home very early tomorrow morning, and all I really want right now is to just get there safely and get the medical care I need. I am doing my best to remain positive though, and I am extremely grateful for all the people who have given me moral support across the wires. I know one day the pain and emotion will dissipate, and this will make a really great story.

Meanwhile, I do still have one final post on Jodhpur coming up, which despite how my time there ended, makes me very happy, as I loved that city very much. Stay tuned..