Day five of our whirlwind tour of Rajasthan in a car saw us in Jodhpur and the ‘Blue City’ has turned out to be one of our favourites. We stayed at K.P. Haveli Hotel for two nights, recommended by our Lonely Planet guide book no less. An interesting mish-mash of rooms beautifully decorated with hand painted walls, photos of Maharajas and chunky carved furniture. We had a double room with an extra bed chucked in, so us grownups shared with Sam (can’t share with Evan, he’s way too mobile when he’s asleep). The bonus for the boys was a small and extremely cold swimming pool, although they could only stay in for twenty minutes before hypothermia set in. The hotel has an excellent view of the massive Mehrangarh Fort which towers over the city. I image most hotels do. You can’t really miss it . It is built into the 120m high rock mountain that the city surrounds. The city looks disappointingly non-blue, until you look down from the walls of the fort. The view of the city from here is just lovely. We could have sat there for hours watching people on top of the blue houses, while the boys were being papped by random Indians. Blue house fact for you, because I know you love a good fact… The blue copper-based paint keeps the houses cool in summer and warm in winter and acts as a termite repellent. Only the Brahmin caste was allowed to paint their houses blue in the past but now anyone can. Every day’s a school day. We got fully audio-guided up again at the Fort and spent a happy few hours being educated about maharajas, palanquins, rhino hide shields and hermit sacrifice. Nice. One of the highlights of Jodhpur for me was the mental night markets. We avoided the tourist market and found the local one. Narrow streets full of random shops and people and rickshaws and motorbikes and shouting and cows and dogs and horns and noise. Amazing. The boys are celebrities here. Everyone wants to talk to them. Groups of kids playing in the street want their photo taken with them. Grownups want to pinch their cheeks (Evan hates this) and tell us about their own kids. We haven’t seen any other western children in India so far. Can’t imagine why.
Next stop Udaipur, via the Jain temple at Ranakpur. Another long eight hour day in the car. This is beginning to get on my nerves. Two nights here though. Moved from the booked hotel to another one on Lake Pichola. Had an argument with the manager and threatened to leave. I think we are all a bit tired. This hotel is behind the lovely hotel that Dez and I stayed in thirteen years ago this Christmas. We kept gazing at it longingly. Udaipur was disappointing. I think this is mostly because we had high expectations from our last visit here and it is so much busier than last time. The touts and hawkers and cars and motorbikes and rickshaws fill the main street. We were constantly hassled on the street. I know it’s their job and I know this is India, but it gets you down after a while. So we avoided the main streets and went to where the local people live to get a haircut. It was lovely there. Nobody hassled us. We could wander around, look in shops and buy bananas. The boys haircuts were 75 Rupees each (75p) and Dez got a slightly violent head massage into the bargain, which always amuses the boys and I. We found a quiet temple by the lake where families and young, funky people congregate to play guitars, smoke and chat with their friends. We ate at a fab restaurant on the quiet side of town overlooking lake Pichola and watched huge fruit bats fly in and of the trees above us. Lovely. We would have liked a few more days here really. We could have hired mopeds and headed out of the city. That’s not what we signed up for though.
Next stop Pushkar. Another five hour journey turned into six after we refused to stop at the first two horrible, dirty hotels that we were taken to. We ended up in a clean but rubbish hotel miles from the city. 2000 year old Pushkar is a very holy place. Pushkar lake has 53 ghats (stone steps) where people go to pray and wash in the holy water. Ghandi’s ashes were sprinkled here. We arrived during the run up to both Diwali and the famous Pushkar Fair and the city was full of bus loads of pilgrims coming see the only temple dedicated to Brahma and place a flower on the holy lake. Next to the huge stadium on the outskirts of the city, fairgrounds with big wheels and massive ‘pirate ship’ swings were being erected. It must be very exciting to be here during the Camel Fair. Over five hundred thousand people arrive in the city for the two weeks the fair. The main market street in the city was full of both tourist and local stalls. Many stalls were aimed at Indian tourists, selling flowers and rice to use as puja in the lake and the four hundred temples. This, and the fact that cars and rickshaws are banned from the main street, made for a much more pleasant experience that Udaipur. Less hassle and less traffic make for a happier time. We found a lovely local restaurant away from the main city, next to the Sikh temple, called Shubam Restaurant. It’s not a restaurant as we know it in the UK. More like a few plastic tables and chairs on the roadside and a blackened outdoor kitchen, with bowls of fresh vegetables on the counter. Perfect. This is what we like. Good local vegetable-based food, cooked as we wait, while we chat with the owner about his family. And all for the Indian price instead of the tourist price. One of the highlights of our day in Pushkar was a trip out of the city to the temple of Savatiri, the first wife of Brahma, who has her own temple as she was a bit upset that Brahma took a second wife when she was a bit late for a ceremony. She is the reason that there is only one temple dedicated to Brahma in the whole of India. And it sounds like he’s lucky he got that one. Her temple is located on a hill over looking the city and with over 600 steps to climb. There were few tourists making the climb but lots of Indian people, some very elderly. One lady, dressed in a off-white sari with bare feet, was literally crawling up the steps. It took us an hour to get up and down. It must have taken her many hours. This is dedication. The boys ran up the steps, shooting each other with pretend guns and talking on pretend talkie-talkies, but even they were struggling by the time they got to the top. We went for a quick walk around the top of the hill to see the view and found the best toilet so far. A concrete cube with a hole in the bottom perched on the cliffside. Nice. We love an interesting toilet!
Our next stop is the town of Ranthambhore and a tiger safari… or not…