Next morning we set off to Jodhpur and our driver, whose name we cannot remember despite being together for four days now, is in fine form. We will reach his hometown of Udaipur in just three days and he will be reunited with his family. Although his English is poor, (although a thousand times better than our Hindi which still largely consists of “Nameste”), he tells a joke. “To be a driver in India sir”, he turns to me, “you need three things.” “Good horn, good brakes”, a short pause, “and good luck”. We laugh politely as we zoom down an excellent three-lane highway. I have been wondering about the Indian practise of driving in the right lane, pulling left only to overtake when I see a fully laden truck driving toward us in our left lane. Our driver hardly seems to notice, pulling a little further to the right, but an hour or so later, a 4WD approaches, this time in the right lane. Our lane. Although it is flashing its lights, there are three perfectly good lanes on the other side of the barrier it could be using. This time, as he moves quickly to the left to avoid a head-on, even our driver shows some discomfort. I make the universal sign for WTF? and in response he makes that little, three shake thing of the head you see in Bollywood. “But sir”, he rolls his eyes, “this is India.”
In Jodhpur we are again staying in a palace and this time, to add to the entertainment, we have an engagement party outside our bedroom door. As we leave home for dinner, there is still an hour before the official start, but many guests are arriving and we watch the parade of colourful saris and smartly dressed young men. By the time we arrive home the party is in full Bollywood mode, and we watch in amazement as the young people whirl and twirl and shake in time with the thumping music. These Indians sure know how to have a good time – and largely on Masala chai. We had dined with our new besties, a couple from Berlin who we have been seeing at various tourist sites and rest stops over the past few days. Monica and Michael are at least a decade older than us, in fact Michael is 79, but in that wonderful European way, they behave as if they are a decade younger. They have sailed in the Whitsundays and have recently toured Iran and Uzbekistan and to keep their brains active, have just started French lessons. They are fascinating conversationalists, and are both retired research bio-chemists. They escaped East Germany before the wall went up – Michael remarked that he saw it go up and then come down again – and the day it fell he climbed on top and ceremoniously chipped pieces off it for his children who were studying in the US. Their description of life in Berlin during the blockade and in the years leading up to reunification was so interesting.
Next morning, we visit Mehrangarh, the muscular fort that dominates the city of Jodhpur. It’s remarkably well preserved given construction commenced in the 1600s and the battlements bear the scars of many cannonball hits. It’s spectacular and it’s without a doubt one of the most magnificent forts in India. There is a pictogram warning that selfies from that location can be risky. A month ago a local tourist stepped back to get a better selfie and fell the 160ft to his death. From the top of Mehrangarh we gaze down into the Blue City, the high caste Brahmins are the only ones allowed to use this colour on their houses.
We walk the markets around the clock tower with our guide and marvel at the unlimited range of items available. We intervene as a Korean tourist is clearly, (to our ears), asking a policeman for a toilet. The policeman isn’t understanding, and in Hindi, asks our guide to translate for the Korean. “Toilet, bathroom, washroom”, Maggie and I intone. The policeman laughs and waves the tourist away without the slightest offer of help. We assume the tourist has what might be called “tummy trouble” as every passing male is using every wall in the market as a urinal and a faint smell of urine underpins the other market smells.
We lunch happily on excellent samosas from a street stall, paying just 40c each, and resume our exploration of the alleyways and lanes of Sardar Market. “Here”, announces our smiling guide, “Is the place I was telling you about”. He drags us, (sorry, you know that’s not right), he leads us like lambs to the slaughter into yet another handcraft shop, and the smiling shopkeeper takes us up one floor to a series of rooms stacked in fabric. “Just a demonstration of our work”, he intones, “absolutely no obligation”. (Sigh). Lights are tuned on. We are seated at the end of a long room and the show begins. He and his assistant unfold local work, fluffing it skyward before it lands in front of us. His voice is soft and soporific. The local works dispensed with he brings out commissioned works for the fashion houses of Europe. Dior, Givenchy. He shows an international fashion magazine where his company is mentioned. But even before this, our senses have been piqued. The product is extremely good. Sensational even. He demonstrates tablecloth sized pashminas, and then shows how Madam might take the tablecloth from the table and draping it artfully around himself he strikes a pose, and yes, we can just see Madam wearing her tablecloth to the ballet. We leave with only a card and a promise that we will recommend him to our friends. But if we knew the size of our bedroom windows, we’d be returning with enough fabric for some very upscale curtains.
The afternoon brings the only disappointment so far on the tour as we take a jeep into the countryside to supposedly visit typical Rajasthani families in their homes. But are instead we are shown very rudimentary pottery making, dodgy fabric printing and the only family we visit is an old opium addict and his family who extort 200Rp for the pleasure of making us two small cups of chai – no more than 20Rp at the market. As I write this, consoling myself with a large Kingfisher, I am starting to grow slightly cross with the constant demands for “Rupee”. I will do the calculation before we leave India, but I’m certain that we will have spent more on tips than on food.
But dinner beckons, and the only problem of staying in a palace is that the tuktuk drivers outside have a heightened sense of their worth. We negotiate hard for our ride; at one point they tell us that the roof top restaurant we have chosen has been demolished. Lonely Planet warns against this trick as they will then take you to a restaurant where they will receive a commission. Eventually, after threatening to walk away over 20Rp, (about 50c), we mount up and head off into the labyrinth of the old town where we find the Haveli hotel with the sign to the Jharokha restaurant. Lonely Planet rates this place as having the best vegetarian food in Jodhpur. The receptionist (and I use this term loosely) directs us upstairs, to level 2 where we find just two tables in a very shabby setting. “Rooftop?” We enquire. “Closed for renovation”, sighs the waiter. Damn, the tuktuk driver was correct. We find another rooftop nearby and enjoy a Thali and the view up to the fort. We wonder how this huge monolith can be illuminated at night when the Taj Mahal – one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is not. After dinner we walk through the now deserted market around the clock tower before finding a compliant tuktuk driver for the trip home.
Next morning, we’ve only been on the road for twenty or so minutes out of Jodhpur, heading east toward Deogarh, when our driver pulls over to side of the highway. He explains that this is the best place for kachori, which is a close relative of the samosa. We’d had the full hotel buffet not an hour before so this is a little soon but we suspect the driver hasn’t had the luxury of any breakfast at all so we dodge the traffic and are soon each munching a delicious kachori. A sacred cow is trying to get in the act and after several attempts at rebuttal, Maggie shares her kachori with the cow. Then it’s a chai, served in the single use pottery cups, and refreshed and sustained, we’re back on the road. The cost for three people, a total of 60Rp, or $1.50. I’ll come back to this shortly. Another 30 minutes down the track, and as I dose, Maggie and the driver are animatedly discussing a temple that is approaching ahead. I realise what they’re discussing and join in. We’re about to stop at the Om Baba Temple where the deity is an Enfield Bullet motorbike known as Bullet Baba. We pull off the highway into the dusty parking area, remove our shoes and socks and for a donation of 10Rp, get a splash of paint on our forehead and an intertwined red and yellow string tied around our wrists. (I’m currently wearing three of these blessings, though I do remove the paint on a daily basis). Apparently a local bloke crashed his motorbike into a tree at this spot and died in 1980 and the police removed the bike. But after it had suspiciously made its own way back to the tree twice it became a local deity and the shrine was erected. In our short stop another twenty or so locals stopped and made a prayer or small offering for their safety on the roads.
After following the highway for another sixty or seventy minutes our driver turns off. “Short cut,” he says, and for another hour we bump along a single lane road, squeezing past tractors and local traffic. We are indeed, on the road less travelled.
And as always, the pix are here: