Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India: Almost Blue
At the Rajasthan state line, there are changes that must simply come with the state’s identity: camels appear as if on cue. Here you’re just as likely to hear as greeting an “as salaamu aleikum” as you are a “namaste,” i.e. Urdu not Hindi. Here you’ll likely see a woman or two in a burkha if you look hard enough. There are lots of women in Rajasthan’s favorite color red, many of them driving motorbikes.
Best of all, though, is the blue sky, and the sunshine, and the reduction of fog/smog/smoke/dust clouding the skies elsewhere. It’s not true desert yet, but it’s getting there, more Sahel than Sahara, more Texas than Arizona. Clothes dry overnight. I like Jodhpur (pronounced ‘Joad-pur’, aka ‘the blue city’), probably the first city in India I’ve truly liked. Unlike Jaipur’s mock-up ‘pink city’, here the accommodations are right in the heart of the city and the thick of the action—the clock-tower market area. I think I’ll stay a few days.
It’s congested, to be sure, and filth is still assured with so many cows, which were pretty scarce in Jaipur, but here the architecture makes the difference, based on stone, and featuring a centrality to the planning lacking elsewhere. On the main avenue there are true covered sidewalks not unlike the portales to be found anywhere in Mexico, or many other Latino cities. It’s not totally different from the rest of India, mind you, but different enough to make a difference.
It probably reminds me of Morocco more than any other single place. That’s no accident, either, since by entering the desert we’ve entered a single geographic continuity that stretches from Marrakesh and Tomboctou in far western Africa to Mongolia—and here—in Asia, and most of it is Muslim. This is central Asia, a region that includes and is defined most easily as that of the ‘stans, including Rajasthan.
But once off the main streets all order breaks down. Whether the words ‘souk‘ and ‘chowk‘, Arabic and Urdu/Hindi respectively, are etymylogically related, the feel is much the same: a meandering labyrinth of shops selling essentials and essences, supplies and supplications, a district where commerce and religion worship the same gods, and offer much the same rewards: the one today, the other tomorrow. It is simply too vast to be covered and cordoned; the city is the market and the streets are the aisles.
Motorbikes and tuk-tuks compete for precious space with pedestrians. The drivers are absolute maniacs, of course, operating on a world-view that must fall somewhere between chaos theory and a death wish, squeezing through gaps with only inches to spare, with the uncanny ability to measure those gaps from a distance. Still scrapes do occur, and I’ve been side-swiped a couple times myself (just don’t let me be front-swiped, Lord).
The main annoyance is the noise, though, with literally a hand on the horn at all times. With the other hand on a cell-phone, I’m not sure how they drive. I only wish I could find a supermarket, but I have yet to even see one, in five cities, not anything even similar (though I’ve heard of one in Mumbai). India is strictly retail, dahling, goods sold from tiny holes-in-the-wall. You can hardly find Nescafe, much less Arabica. I should’ve stocked up in Thailand. I’ll price the tourist tea, but I’m skeptical.
At least I’m becoming more comfortable snapping pics of the locals, simply because they’re snapping me, too! I guess I’m quite the sight wearing my German-red Guatemalan tzute as poncho, with my Palestinian scarf, mixing my travel metaphors and eating local food at stalls. I’m wearing everything I have. It’s cold, but tolerable. But my ‘Delhi belly’ is better at least, and the streets are fine for food, once you get a system down. It’s cheap; a buck or two per day will suffice, though it’s mostly without rice. Just no greasy fried bried, please!
Different foods occur at different times on different blocks, and they tend to have the right amount of spice for me, short of the geosynchronous orbit that much Thai food will propel you to, approximately 23,200 miles above your lifeless body below. There are even restaurants intended for middle-class Indians here, too, something I haven’t seen much of before, another difference of note in a country mostly comprised of filthy rich and dirt poor. I like it. Hygiene is largely lacking, true, but that’s India. They like to put their hands in the food, yuk.
There are a couple of prime tourist sites that make excellent day trips, such as the massive Mehrangarh Fort and the Jaswant Thada wedding-cake-like hilltop retreat. Both make nice little walks from town, though you should be prepared for stares from the locals who can’t imagine why a person of obvious means would walk when he could ride. The rich locals might join a club to work out, or even buy a fancy little suit and go jogging. But walk as a means to go from point to point? Declasse’, mon ami…
Actually I’m pleasantly impressed with the Indian mentality, the last thing I expected, really, after abrupt treatment in a hundred cheap Indian-owned motels in the US. Beyond the touts and the tuk-tuk drivers I sense a real heart and soul and sense of fairness. More than once I’ve had money returned to me when I accidentally overpaid.
The pressure for baksheesh seems less here in the west, too, except from poor people. The poor will always be with you. There aren’t any ashrams, though. They even have crafts here, including leather. That tells you something. And there are lots of textiles… and chow mein. The city is not so blue, though, not really. Muslim festivities today dampened traffic around the clock-tower area today, nice. I’m good. Next stop is Bikaner.