Blue City Blues

Jodhpur and Mehrangarh Fort


Another morning, another day, but by now the Amigos were growing weary of the never-ending stream of Palaces, Forts and Wonders put before us. Even the normally effervescent Ravi was too jaded to ask for an extra bowl of porridge at breakfast.

On the schedule for today was a city tour of Jodhpur, including visits to the world-famous Mehrangarh Fort and the Jaswant Thada Cenotaph. Over coffee, we discussed our options.

“Well, I don’t know about you two,” Mick began. “But I am getting a bit bored with this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been great, but I could do with a day or two of just sitting by a nice cool pool.”

“I have to agree,” I assented, “It gets worse tomorrow, though. According to the itinerary, we rest on the train this afternoon and then travel through the night to Sawai Madhopur. Once there, we get on a coach at 5:30 for a tiger safari in jeeps. Phew! What about you Rav?

“I am happy to do whatever you guys want to,” replied Ravi, as always, willing to put his friends before himself. “But what about breakfast tomorrow morning.”

I looked at the itinerary. “No breakfast, just sandwiches on the coach late morning, a buffet lunch at 13:00 and then nothing until we get to Chittorgarh where we tour another fort.”

All three Amigos looked glum at the prospect of spending so much time in each other’s company, especially Ravi, who was contemplating the horrific thought of going 12 hours or more without eating.

“Any chance of calling Aziz and seeing if he can get us back to Dehli this evening?” I asked Ravi.

Ravi’s eyes lit up at the possibility of spending an extra night in his hometown. Maybe he could call home on his mobile?

“I can try. There’s usually a telephone in stations like these. But what about our rooms on the train. Won’t the management be upset if we cut our trip short?”

“No problem, I’ve already paid the full fare, so they won’t care. The staff may be a bit upset, but we can leave big tips to help them get over it.”

Our plan of action agreed, Mick and I returned to our rooms while Ravi went off to find a phone.

When Ravi boarded the coach 20 minutes later, Mick and I had already taken our seats.

“How did it go,” I asked.”

“Aziz is going to try and arrange something. ‘Can be done, Sir,’ he said. I have to call him when we get back.”

Jodhpur

Like most of modern-day Rajasthan, Jodhpur lies in the expansive Thar desert. That means that it is hot. ‘Too dammed hot’ as Mick would say. Day-time temperatures in the summer often reach the high 40s and occasionally the low 50’s. During winter nights, they can fall below freezing point. That makes it both one of the hottest and the coldest cities in the world.

Jaswant Thada

I never did find out why they call it ‘The Blue City.’ Although the walls and roofs in the old part of town are indeed painted blue, the rest of the buildings are the normal sandy brown. Ravi suggested that Blue was the colour of the Brahmins, whilst Mick guessed that it was to reflect the heat.

I am sure that the city tour was fascinating, and if we had not been so tired, we would have taken more interest in the substantial number of temples, parks, and palaces. Even the impressive Jaswant Thadaj Cenotaph,(Cenotaph means empty tomb), built by Maharaja Sarda Singh in 1899 in memory of his father, failed to ignite our interest.

“Singh means Lion or warrior,” Ravi started to tell us, “and all Sikhs are Singhs, but not all Singhs are Sikhs. It also means ‘King’ and.…Oh, who cares,” he trailed off with a sigh.

Mehrangarh Fort

Despite our lethargy, we did manage to rouse ourselves as the coach pulled up at the base of the tall hill on which the collosal fort stands.

As we stepped down from the air-conditioned comfort of the cabin, the super-heated air hit us like the proverbial wall. Within seconds I was dripping with sweat and desperate to get back in the sanctuary of the coach. Pride, however, forced me to follow the guide and my friends as they trudged slowly up the steep hill to gates of the massive fort, high above. Where was Babar when you needed him?

In the welcome shade of the Jayapol, Victory Gate, our guide paused to give us the history of the fort. It was built in 1459 by Rao Jodha, a chief of the Rathore clan when he founded Jodhpur as the new capital of Marwar in the same year.

The Jayapol, under which we currently stood was built by Maharaja Man Singh, hadn’t we heard that name before, in 1806, to celebrate his victories over the Jaipur and Bikaner armies. The guide instructed us that we should not confuse the Jayapol with the Fattepol, which also means “Victory Gate”. Maharaja Ajit Singhji constructed that in 1707 to commemorate his victory over the Mughals. At the mention of the Mughals, Mick’s ears twitched.

The massive stone walls of the fort have been assailed many times over the centuries, and you can still see the impact marks of cannonballs on the battlements. Nowadays the fort is the site of temples, museums, and has a thriving tourism industry.

The lecture continued for another twenty minutes or so, after which he released us to explore on our own, but with strict instructions to meet back here in two hours.

Two hours! That was forever in this heat! With an unspoken unanimity of purpose, the Amigos set off to obey the guides injunction, but in our case, that meant finding a cool bar or at least a cold beer.

Sometime later, when we were suitably refreshed, and Ravi had had something to eat, we did take a wander around the town that nestles inside the walls. It is a maze of narrow alleyways between high stone walls in which it is easy to lose your way. Fortunately, Mick found a tiny bookshop where he purchased a map and a guidebook. Thus equipped, Mick took charge as he led us through the streets, something to which Ravi and I willing acquiesced. Normally I am the ‘Designated Walker’ as I usually have the best sense of direction, especially when we are drunk. I even have a T-Shirt so designated, which Mick presented to me in recognition of this dubious talent.

As we walked, we were impressed by the many colourful restaurants, bars and small shops set out in alcoves in the walls, selling the standard tourist fare. Ravi bought a hat as a souvenir; Mick bought an illustrated history book, and I bought an ice-cream.

Worlds Longest Moustache

Around every corner, is a musician playing traditional music or a performer of one type or another. We saw magicians, snake charmers, turban tying demonstrations and a guy from Jaipur who claimed to have the longest moustache in India. He even unrolled it to prove it, with the help of two assistants who stretched it out to its full 18.5-foot extent. I tipped him 100 rupees. Well, it was more impressive than a ‘Designated Walker’ T-Shirt!

Eventually Mick led us back to the meeting point where he delightedly pointed out the dark handprints on the walls which, according to his book were made by the blackened handprints of Maharanis as they committed Suttee, ritual suicide by burning, rather than surrender to a besieging army following the death of their husband.

After stumbling down the hill back our coach, we were driven to the Ummaid Bhawan Palace for Lunch. To be honest, I was so tired that I can’t remember much about it. I am confident that probably Mick and definitely Ravi had a big meal though.

We arrived back at the POW around 14:00, and while Mick and I made our way to the Bar, Ravi traipsed off to call Aziz. Before we had finished our drinks, Ravi returned to report that Aziz had booked us a flight back to Dehli at 17:00, and confirmed that the Taj Palace was still holding our rooms. He had even arranged a taxi to take us to Jodhpur airport.

It was a bit of a rush, but we managed to pack our bags, say goodbye to the Aussies and staff, which included presenting the latter with envelopes containing generous tips, and make it to the airport in time to board our plane.

Back in Dehli, Ravi Driver Wallah was waiting at arrivals to convey to the beautiful air-conditioned glory that is the Taj Palace Hotel.

It was nice to be back to what now felt like home.

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