To paths less trodden...

When I started this blog a few years ago in 2010, I was wrapping up my life in Australia, putting a painful few years where they belonged - behind me - and preparing for some crazy travel adventures and a new life in London. Now I'm older, slightly wiser. There's been more laughter than tears, incredible friendships revived and forged, successes, loss and grief, and a shedload of travel. I should have kept this blog up, but like many good intentions it fell by the wayside as life took over. Well, no time like the present! I hope you enjoy, be inspired, roll your eyes a little. And like I said when I kicked this blog off: "You know it's not going to be boring."





Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jodphur, the blue city, and Pushkar, the temple town

Jodhpur is nicknamed the Blue City as many of the houses are painted a beautiful indigo blue which acts as an insect repellent and keeps the house cool at the same time. The jumble of buildings and havelli’s is breathtaking, nestled under the red Mehrangarh fort which dominates the skyline 122m above the city.

We stayed in the old city, a maze of streets that are really too narrow for the cows, tuk-tuks and motorbikes which go head to head, leaving no space to walk.  Tuk-tuk drivers inch past each other yelling in Hindi, trying to avoid knocking over parked motorbikes and escaping by a hairs-breadth.  These people should be paid danger money!  Sitting in an open air tuk-tuk, or rickshaw as they are sometimes called (or Delhi helicopter as we’ve heard in Delhi!), is similar to a white-knuckle ride in an amusement park. 
I have to say that I didn’t get the best feeling in Jodphur.  The old city is charming and the fort is an impressive monument, albeit dirtier and more dilapidated than those we’ve encountered previously, mainly due to the millions of pigeons that call it home.  The audio tour is fantastic.  Legend has it that Rao Jodha, a ruler in the 1400’s, decided to move from his fort at Mandore in Jaipur as it did not provide adequate security, and selected the summit of Bhaurcheeria as the location for his new fort, also known as the Mountain of Birds.  In order to lay the foundations, he had to displace a Saint that had made his home on the hill.  Upset at being forced to move the Saint cursed Rao Jodha with "Jodha! May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water!".   Subsequently the area was plagued by drought, prompting Rao Jodha to beg the Saint to lift the curse.  The Saint told him it was possible only by the sacrifice of a human soul.  Jodha appealed to villages in the area, and 2 Meghwal men came forward, volunteering themselves to be buried alive in the walls on promise that their families would be well rewarded. To this day their descendants still live in an estate bequeathed them by Jodha.

The fort boasts a large and interesting collection of litters, or palanquins as they are known in India, chairs with 4 poles that are carried on the shoulders of 4 human bearers; and a collection of howdahs: carriages borne on the back of elephants.  Some of these are absolutely beautiful and most of them have an enchanting story to go with them.  

On the wall entering the fort there is a small collection of handprints, set in vermillon, made by the queens who had committed the honourable and virtuous act of “sati”.  In solemn procession, these noble women quietly immolated themselves on the pyres of their husbands who had been killed in battle.  The tradition of sati was abolished in 1829 but continued in secret until time of Gandhi.


We also visited Mandore, temples and rock gardens set in a lovely park, and home to hundreds of langurs.  People feed the langurs as they believe they are the reincarnated spirits of people who have been bad, and by feeding the apes they are committing a good act so the same thing won't happen to their own souls.  The monkeys enjoyed several courses including chappatis, potatoes, fresh pea sprouts, samosas, nuts, carrots... whilst hungry, thin street dogs salivated nearby, springing in eagerly during windows of opportunity often only to be driven away by the spoilt and petulant apes who didn't want to share.  Any leftovers that weren't devoured by dogs were hoovered up by cows and chipmunks.

Monkeys sitting on top of ancient temples always make for good photo opportunities, and their antics amused us for a good hour.  It’s quite charming to see the interaction between man and monkey, with the line between our species being so fine.  These amazing creatures have such human traits, in the way they sit and interact with their surroundings.  It’s a great place to visit and we wished we’d had longer to explore.

We also did some of the outlying villages as we were told these were a must-see.  Can’t say I was impressed.  The roads are bloody atrocious and the temples are nothing to write home about. If you’ve done the Jaisalmer to Jodphur road there will be nothing new here as you’ll already have seen camel-drivers aplenty. 

Jodphur is the town where Delhi Belly finally caught up to me.  After spending half an hour in a squat loo at one of the temples in a nearby village retching my guts up, I thought I'd recovered so Caro and I decided to go to the clock tower markets, a busy area full of stalls and an absolute melee of life, colour, people and cows.  We figured that it would be about a 10-15 minute walk back to our hotel, which was actually a lovely haveli very close to the fort in the old city.
Whilst I was walking, it hit again, this time wanting a different exit.  Cue an absolute sprint through the densely packed streets of the old city, like playing a first person view Playstation game except I didn’t have a gun to blast pedestrian, animal and motor traffic out of my way.  Unfortunately the walk was a LOT longer than we anticipated and by the time we got to our hotel I was desperately trying to extract the key from my wallet, open my belt and get my zip undone before my arse erupted.
Some decent antibiotics seemed to put paid to it and I was feeling better the next day.  Good job too as we had a long drive ahead to Jaipur, going via Pushkar on some very bouncy roads.  Pushkar is one of the oldest cities in India, chock full of temples and seen as a great spiritual centre.  Built round a sacred lake, which according to Hindu religion is where the god Brahma spent 60,000 years trying to see Vishnu (the essence of all things/Supreme God). The lake is enveloped by 52 ghats, and supposed to have healing qualities, prompting thousands of pilgrims to come and bathe themselves in its waters every year.  Gandhi’s ashes were scattered here.  There is also one of the few Brahma temples in the world.  The god Brahma needed to perform a fire ritual in Pushkar, an essential part of which required his wife Savitri to be present.  Savitria was unavailable so Brahma wed a pure milkmaid instead in order to finalise the ritual.  Savitri turned up, and not best pleased that her godly hubby was shacking up with another bird, cursed him that he would never be worshipped anywhere but Pushkar.  Royally peed off, Savitri also cursed many of the other gods who she believed to be co-conspirators in her usurpment, and there’s plenty on wiki if you want to read more about this hard-core she-god (she’s rather fun).

Due to the procession of pilgrims drawn to the temples and sacred waters, the town has attracted its fair share of crackpots from all over the world. Spirituality for many foreign travellers means being off your head, so as the hippies flowed in the drug industry flourished.  Pushkar now has a booming tourist trade co-existing with a thriving population of drug dealers, scammers, fake priests and touts.  As usual in these places, merely walking the street is like running the gauntlet as you dodge/ignore the fake priests trying to push flowers into your hand and bless you (for a small sum of course), as well as the tuk-tuk drivers and stall hawkers who pester consistently and don’t comprehend the meaning of the word ‘no’.  We proceeded as quickly as we could to a lovely restaurant overlooking the lake, and watched people bathing on the ghats.  It’s such a shame that the people of India have had one of their most spiritual meccas tainted by blatant commercialism because the lake, temples and surrounding hills are quite breath-taking.  After lunch and a 20 minute photo session down on the ghats our time in Pushkar was over and we headed to Jaipur, one of our last stops in Rajasthan.

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