Jodhpur


Yes, Jodhpur gave its name to those ridiculous riding trousers, though luckily, no one was wearing them during our stay there. The legend goes that one of the maharanas lost a boat full of his luggage, and a British tailor did his best to follow instructions when they arrived in London. Ever since, Jodhpur has taken the blame for a crime it didn't commit.

Jodhpur has some real claims to fame. It was founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, chief of the Rathore clan of Rajputs. The clan had been driven from their original territory by Afghan invaders. They first established themselves at Mandore and then here, in a more defensible area. Jodhpur, seat of the kingdom or Marwar, is appetizingly known as the "Land of the Dead" – the huge and forbidding Meherangarh Fort is testimony to a history of war and intrigue. Jodhpur was once a much larger state that reached the Thar Desert. It fought with the Mughals, as well as with the other Rajput kingdoms. In addition to conquest, Jodhpur was a strategic part of the Delhi-Gujarat trade route. Jodhpur is still devoted to trade, though at present, it specializes in handicrafts. Traveling through the city I saw a large number of export firms, and apparently, many wealthy businessmen, nicknamed marwaris, come from the area.

Compared to our stay in other cities, the one in Jodhpur was fairly short. The highlight of Jodhpur for me, anyway, was lunch in a South Indian restaurant, even though we skipped some local specialties to go there. After a steady diet of North Indian food, which is pretty heavy and full of ghee (butter), it was nice to have something a little lighter. Like China, India has a north-south divide, with wheat in the north and rice in the south. Where there are meat dishes in northern cuisine, South Indian food is pretty strictly vegetarian. My first South Indian meal was in Queens, New York with a Bengali friend, who said that "This is foreign food for me as well." I had iddlys with sambar (rice flour buns with hot sauce) and an uttapam, which is a rice flour pancake with vegetables cooked into the dough.

We took a visit to Meherangarh Fort, which, in the tradition of the Rajputs, was a huge, fortified affair on the top of a big hill, and one of the most menacing forts I'd seen in Rajasthan. It was also the only fort I've been to with an elevator. Everything about the building projected a sense of height, and around each courtyard was a minimum of three or four stories. Beside the ornate and mirrored royal bedroom, there was an exhibit of sedan chairs, which is the equivalent of the royal carriage collections in Europe. Because Europeans can't sit cross-legged, they had a special sedan with chairs to carry British dignitaries. On the way into the carriage collection, in a little alcove, they had an exhibit of a Rajput warrior with a live actor. There he sat, smoking a hookah. Nice work if you can get it.

The afternoon sun put the fort itself in the shadows, but there was an amazing view of the surrounding area. What was strategically important in earlier times is now scenically important for the tourist, and I snapped photo after photo from between the battlements. I realized at that point that my camera was starting to play up. The tour guide had very cleverly landed us in the "Art Museum" (gift shop) with the exhortation to "make our eyes happy", but I managed to slip away to look for an overpriced camera battery in the most unlikely of places.

I opened the camera for 3 different people, and one finally said he might be able to do something for 1200 rupees. Out of the question, I said, thanked him, and got out of there as fast as I could. Half an hour later, though, as we were just about to leave, the same guy came running after me with a battery, asking what I thought would be fair. I told him what I though it might cost at home, he accepted the offer, and the both of us were back in business. In India, it's never over till it's over!

The battery actually worked, and that was very fortunate. Jodhpur is called the "Blue City", since the houses in the old section are painted a vibrant, powder blue. From that vantage point it was great to look, and nicer still to record. As the sun went down the blue got more and more vibrant.

Jodhpur has good food and good shopping, but I decided that an evening in couldn't hurt. I was full to bursting, and because this was Rajasthan, shopping might prove a bit too controversial. I hung around our little hotel instead. The staff was the most unusual I'd seen during the entire trip. The manager had an unusually hairy set of ears (though the record for hairy ears came at the later in the trip), and the younger staff wore military uniforms and berets, accompanied by bare feet. Though decidedly non-sartorial, their hospitality was fine.

We were sitting out in the garden when we met a group of Gujarati families who were also touring Rajasthan. They were doing a real family tour wives, plump children and all, to the point that they had brought their own food. They chose hotels with kitchens they could use, and women cooked every evening (some holiday!). They offered us some snacks that they had brought from home, and it we sat and had a good chat. One of the men had a business venture and had just opened up operations in Chicago, and another was getting ready to emigrate. 

The conversation was very interesting, until, that is, one of our group members thought to pose some interesting and highbrow questions. The first was to one of the women in the group, who had a bit of a belly. "When's it due?" she asked. After thinking for a bit, her husband explained that it was actually lack of exercise after the last one, and I thought he handled it pretty well. He was then asked how many wives he had. "One's enough to manage," he quipped, as I started to sink into my chair. Sensing that she had a safety net, she went on.

"How do Indians deal with problems of rebellious youth and broken families? You know, children in the West are mercenary and they'll only do things for money ..." At this point I had to argue, since kids in the West are nothing like that, but she told me to please let her finish because she was making a point. At this moment I was looking to hide under the chair, but to my utter surprise, this man remained thoroughly charming. He said he wanted us to have the best impression of India, and he invited us to have dinner with the family. 

India: a thousand, West: nil. There are decided advantages when you travel with a group, but from time to time you do have to make certain allowances.