Saturday, July 20, 2013


We needed to return to Ajmer—a town approximately 20 minutes away—to catch an onward bus to Jodhpur. A trip that should have been fairly easy and unremarkable, but was very much not. Firstly,we were taunted by a small child for missing said bus, which took off when we were only 100 yards from it. Next, we were told a bus would leave in 30 minutes. In actuality, it left in 20 minutes, which again we missed because we were embroiled in a 'discussion' with a restaurant owner over whether we should pay for a bottle of Sprite that: had a suspect seal, did not fizz when opened, and thus was not consumed. (The contents of said bottle actually turned out to be water, which—to be fair—I don't think the restaurant owner realized.)

Third bus lucky, we finally made it to Ajmer, where we finally boarded a bus for Jodhpur. The ride was not unbearably long, only four hours or so, yet it was remarkable in the fact it was able to produce such discomfort. Discomfort that was justified as soon as the city came into view. Blue and white buildings lurked in the shadows of the giant Mehrangarh fortress, which seemed to rise organically from a rocky plateau.

After a rickshaw ride from a scrupulous driver, who navigated the tangle of streets with relative ease, we arrived at our guesthouse. We quickly headed up to the restaurant, located on the terrace of our new guesthouse, for a sunset view over the city and sustenance (which was phenomenal and dire, respectively. It was without question—the worst thali ever—but with the sunset, who could be too upset? Besides, Jon bought me a pack of cookies from a nearby store, which were incredible.) It was one of those moments where we had to pinch ourselves, because where in the world could we dine in the shadows of a 450+ year old fort? (One that apparently features in the film The Dark Knight Rises. Haven't seen that film, so can't really comment on its appearance.)

The next morning we arose with the intention of visiting the fort and partaking of the zip-line/flying fox course that was situated on the surrounding hillside and went over the old fortress walls and moat. Does that sentence sound sufficiently awesome? Because it should. But words don't always suffice, so check out the video below.

So, you can understand our excitement, no? Now, in most parts of the world I'm familiar with, these sorts of shenanigans would be frowned upon. Well, that might be a bit unfair, because we have no ancient fortresses in the US of A to allow for direct comparison. But I'm sure if we did, there would not be a zipwire course on site. So reason number 1035 to love India: the encouragement of shenanigans.

Jon and I thoroughly enjoyed the course, which consisted of 8 wires, some jaw-dropping views, and good old fashioned fun. Right before the last—and longest zipwire—I might have whined slightly, saying that “The problem with the zipwire is that it goes so quickly, you're not able to fully appreciate the views!” Naturally, I got stuck in the middle of said wire, several hundred feet up, dangling over the moat. This gave me plenty of time to appreciate the views, as well as the precariousness of my situation. Now at this point it is worth mentioning there is a small but select group of individuals who—if they are reading this—will be thinking, “Will she ever learn?” Because I once fell 30+' off a zip line and broke both my wrists, because sometimes I like to make stupid life choices.

So, after becoming stranded approximately 50 yards from the end of the wire, I had to hand-over-hand the remaining bit until my progress became so imperceptible that a relief party was sent out to rescue me. *A fact I find rather embarrassing to admit in this public forum.* Aside from that little wobble, it was an absolutely fantastic time. (And no, Jon did not get stuck. And yes, I was happy about that, even though it made me look bad. Let's just say ziplining is never going to be one of my special talents, and I'm okay with that. Mostly. I think.) 

So after the zipwiring and two liters of water, we headed off to explore the fort itself, which was as amazing inside as it was outside. There were no disappointments here, even the audio guide was phenomenal. Good stories about the current Raj's memories of the coronation ceremony, which happened when he was four or so, after his father died in a plane crash. In addition, we learned it was one of the only fortresses in India that was never taken by force, although it did bear the (cannonball) marks of an unsuccessful attempt. I thought the sharp right angle of the fortress door was particularly clever, which mean that “war elephants” (a phrase that makes me feel very sad inside) could not gain sufficient speed to batter down the door. When construction for the fort began, a shaman-type cursed the its water supply, which sounds silly but was taken very seriously. So seriously it was decided a human sacrifice was the only means of removing the curse. For this reason, a man was voluntarily buried alive in the foundations of the fort to ensure an abundant supply of water, and in exchange, his relatives would always hold a position of prestige. 
Inside the Fort

As horrific as that is, there are sadder stories as well. The picture below is of a relief made from Sati hand-prints. Sati is the practice of burning one's wife/wives alive on her/their husband's funeral pyre. In the mid 1800s, fifteen women dipped their hands in red pigment, pressed their hands against the wall to leave their final mark, and—holding the sacred Hindu text of Gita—'voluntarily' joined the deceased Raj on his journey into the afterlife. I just want to pause to make it abundantly clear this practice is illegal and has been for quite some time, but that does not make it any less tragic.

The only damper on our educational journey and sightseeing extravaganza was the staring and the photos. Several men stuck their stupid camera phones in my face and started snapping away. When Jon took a few photos of me, a couple of guys rushed over to take the same picture over his shoulder. It got so bad that at one point, I actually covered my entire head with my shawl. But then I felt stupid because I couldn't see anything, and who the hell did I think I was anyway? Michael Jackson's offspring? When one is so hot and sweaty and generally gross-feeling/looking, you can't help but to think this attention is some kind of perverse mockery. In actuality, many of the men we encountered were simply very uneducated and believed that all Caucasian women behaved like those they have seen on certain corners of the internets that are available to those 18 years and older.

After finishing our tour, we found a quiet corner of a square to watch some traditional dancing and music. Unfortunately, our peace was quickly broken because some idiot decided to park himself two foot in front of me to leer. When Jon stepped between us to tell the man to “stop staring at [his] wife,” the man actually walked around him to continue to ogle me. And then shiz started to kick off, and for a nanosecond I thought there might be a fight, but the man's relative intervened on his behalf, and tempers were cooled slightly, but it was all very apparent it was time for us to exit stage left. Which we did, with a stop on the blissfully quiet ramparts and temple on the way out.

The next morning we woke up suitably refreshed, in part thanks to a relaxing rooftop dinner and some well deserved beer. Our plans were to check out the market area, an ATM, and the Umaid Bhawan Palace on the outskirts of town that was built in the 1920s as part of a job creation project. Which I found particularly amusing, “Yo! You don't have a job? No money to put food on the table? Come build me a palace!” 

The market was nice, but similar to those we had frequented, so we didn't linger long. The ATM was splendid due to the AC that is present in most of the vestibules. Jon and I like to pretend our banking takes longer than it really does so we can prolong our visits to those frigid little booths. “Wanna check our bank balance again?” (wink, wink)
Umaid Bhawan Palace
Markets (near clock-tower) and palace
Our trip through the palace was enjoyable, but not nearly as enjoyable as watching the tourists inside of the palace, who seemed to enjoy taking photos of themselves next to random crap like a glass case full of oil lamps, a large painting of a horse, or maybe a cutlery set. And who wouldn't want their photo next to a display case of old coins? (I was in absolute stitches watching the bizarre photo-taking extravaganzas.)

One of the real highlights of the palace was a collection of very old and decidedly yummy cars, which included several Rolls Royce Phantoms from the 1920s and 30s. The exhibit also included a tragic beige Beamer from the 80s that had definitely seen better days.

So our time in Jodhpur was coming to a close. We had one last evening meal on a terrace, trying to soak up the view as much as possible, hoping it would imprint itself on our memory. It is definitely one of the most spectacular views we have come across in our current trip to date.  

Now, this post is mostly a wrap, but there is one final issue I'd like to address: the moo cows. Now it should be mentioned at this point that navigation through the winding streets was assisted by using a herd a cattle as a proxy for where to turn. This herd lolled about on the cobblestones about a hundred yards from our guest house, and contained one particularly ornery cow that aggressively headbutted us on our way home one evening. Both the aggression and the cow poo meant I did not particularly enjoy running Moo Cow Gauntlet. For this reason I insisted on walking a slightly longer route around to avoid the herd. As we were walking home one night, I was contemplating Moo Cow Gauntlet, and I thought it might be nice if the cows could congregate somewhere that was more out of the way, maybe have a dwelling in a place that was not so heavily trafficked.  Then I thought, “But where would the cows go? Where would they live if not in the intersection?” And that is when I realized I have been in India too long; when I can no longer recall that cows live on farms.

Another interesting cow story before I wrap this one up. When we were leaving town, on the way to the station, our rickshaw driver was clearly eyeing up the cattle as we passed them. It was if he was waiting for something. He was. He stopped the rickshaw as a white cow approached us on the street. As it neared us, he reached into his change box, pulled out a stale poppadom (i.e. cracker), fed it to the cow, patted its nose, and drove onward to the bus station. 

Because they didn't fit nicely in the narrative I have constructed above, I'm going to shove in these photos that Jon took below, which is somewhat awkward, but whatever.  The kids in Jodhpur really enjoyed mugging for the camera, and it was kind of interesting to see how inventive they are--making a playground from an urban space.  You'll get to hear from Jon shortly, and he'll tell you all about Udaipur. 


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