Well I've just arrived in Udaipur, which is apparently India's most romantic city, but we spent the last 2 nights in Rajasthan's second largest city Jodhpur (population 1.6 million). The last few days have seen me get my first taste of Indian public bus transport, with the bus journey from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur taking 5 hours, and this morning's bus taking a grueling 7 hours. Both busses we got were similar in design, with us being seated on pretty standard coach chairs beneath a row of overhanging compartments in which people slept. There were also a lot of people stood up at all times. There was no air conditioning but on our first bus this wasn't a problem. On the empty desert roads our driver was speeding along and there was a veritable gale blowing through the bus. This morning however we were on lorry packed twisty roads, and rarely did we get above 40mph. The heat was pretty exhausting and we only made one brief service stop for the toilet. Indian public transport is always noisy, with Indians seemingly only able to speak at maximum volume, and many of them blasting out Indian pop music through their mobile phones. Our first bus also had a musical car horn, which our driver was all too keen to show off. As we passed through other towns the bus drivers were seemingly having a competition of who had the best horn, and our bus alone had about 5 different tunes in its armory! It was funny at first but soon became annoying. At least the horns weren't used with anything like the same frequency as on Cambodian busses.
Often we get stared at as well by some of the male passengers on board - me just as much as the girls believe it or not! Unlike in the west if you stare back at them they won't even flinch and will continue staring. It's pretty freaky but something you just have to get used to. Things that we consider rude at home are just normal here - people stare, people spit, nobody has any consideration for your personal space, people are inconsiderately loud all the time, they use car horns at ungodly hours, they litter, they push in queues….the list is endless!
Our hotel in Jodhpur was in a very inconvenient location someway out of the city centre. The rooms were also pretty basic (none of our hotels here have TVs annoying so I have to go another weekend without football!), but it turned out the manager's son worked for Intrepid so that explained the poor choice. On arrival the family cooked us a meal, but in keeping with much of the Indian food I've tried so far it was pretty bland and tasteless. Some of the dishes here have more in common with the terrible food of Peru and Bolivia than they do with a UK based Indian takeaway. It's been quite a let down.
Jodhpur's main attraction is the Mehrangarh Fort, which was where we headed on autorickshaws yesterday morning. It's a towering structure built on the only hill for miles, and the views across Jodhpur city and the surrounding desert plains were exceptional. It was constructed by a past Maharajah and his palace was situated within the fort's walls. To guide us around, the jolliest man I've ever met provided us with audio guides, which gave us a lot of information about the old Rajput Warrior clans that existed in the region (considered some of the most fearsome warriors in world history). They were such a formidable force that a succession of invaders all failed to conquer Mehrangarh, allowing the original Maharajah's dynasty to continue to this day. The audio guide also spoke about past Hindu traditions and I learned a bit from that. I never before realized that Hindu women would traditionally place themselves on their husband's funeral pyre as a self sacrifice, which is a pretty horrible thought. The hand prints of one of the past Maharajah's wives, given immediately before her death, were on display as a moving memorial. It seems the Hindu religion is not all that favourable to women, which perhaps explains why so many of them (especially the older generation) look so miserable, when many of the men look so happy. The Hindu religion also promotes the caste system, which is still somewhat evident in India today. As you looked out across the city of Jodhpur for instance there were a lot of indigo roofed buildings. This was traditionally the colour that the top tribal caste would paint their house, and only in the past few decades were the restrictions lifted, allowing lower castes to copy that style. The audio tour proved to be very informative and I enjoyed my morning visit to Mehrangarh, not least because of the amazing views.
Sadly the rest of Jodhpur did not live up to the fort that towers above it. Our guide Jitu walked us down the hill and into the central bazaar, which was a typically chaotic and filthy market place. Once again there were cows everywhere in the streets, but unlike in Jaisalmer there was also a lot of traffic and pollution. There was also a lot of hassle. Our tour pretty much concluded at a lassi shop that is said to provide the tastiest lassi's in India. A lassi is a kind of milkshake/yoghurt drink, and you can get them in various fruit flavours. The ones we were recommended though were the plain cream ones, but these didn't disappoint and were very sweet and tasty, unlike our previous night's meal.
The rest of the afternoon was free for us to explore the rest of Jodhpur. I didn't fancy hanging around the chaotic centre for too long, so after lunch me and Adria took a rickshaw out to the current Maharaja's home, which is a recently built palace on the city's outskirts. Today's Maharaja's have no political power, but judging by the size of the place, they still have a lot of money! From the fort's audio guide I learned that the palace was commissioned back in the 1930s as a drought relief measure that gave employment to 3,000 Indians for a period of 15 years. Nowadays the present Maharaja has converted part of it into a museum and part into a hotel, and he does he best in his spare time to promote Jodhpur as an international tourist destination. We weren't allowed in the hotel, but we were permitted entry into the museum - once Adria had showed her passport! We were lucky one of us had one otherwise we wouldn't have been allowed in - apparently India has gone security crazy since it turned out a white American was involved in plotting the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008. The museum was pretty disappointing, containing only some of the many relics the Maharajah's had collected on their world travels. Back under British rule the Maharajah's were permitted to keep their status and privelages so long as they allowed the British to trade and exploit resources from their Kingdoms. The British duly paid for many of them to travel the world, and they lived lavish lives. It wasn't until Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in the 1970s that they lost all their perks. The museum also contained many of the trophies won by the globetrotting Jodhpur polo team (it is this city that invented and lent its name to those jockey trousers!).
We took another rickshaw back to our hotel, but even after we'd showed the driver the hotel card he didn't know the location! We must have stopped and asked about 15 other drivers, and none of them had a clue - and who could blame them as we were way out of centre down a very obscure street! Eventually we found our way though. Yesterday evening Jitu took us out to a nice bar and restaurant which offered us a rare glimpse into the western world. They actually did nice food for a change, and the place was very well decorated, and played western music (something you simply don't hear in India). There was a reminder as to our location though when we were affected by a power cut, but fortunately they had a reserve generator! It made a nice change.
We now have 3 nights in Udaipur, so I shouldn't have a very rushed schedule here. One notable thing about the place is that it was the location for the Octop**** James Bond film, and we'll be visiting one of the palaces where it was shot. That's two Bond locations for me in the last month! Tonight I'm off to a local culture show, and tomorrow we are visiting the main city palace and lake. I should hopefully update on Sunday.