Well Penny and I finally arrived in the mighty desertland of the Rajasthan after an epic 29 hourtrain ride from the Ganges city of Benaras. The train was 5.5 hrs delayed from Lucknow. Penny and I awoke at 2am to find ourselves completely surrounded in our bunker by Indianmen, and thus hid up on our top bunks in our "prison cell" for a good part of the morning until most men got off. We did meet a lovely gentleman who let me use his laptop, got us some food at a deserted station, andinvitedus to come round to his home for dinner. I also made friends with a lovely indian family who gifted bothPenny and I with beautiful clay bangles, and I got my hand hennaed. We also had nonstop entertainment from a very naughty but utterly adorable little boy who worked everyone over in the carriage. Quite entertaining and refreshing indeed. We arrived in the mighty blue city of Jodhpur at 10 pm and foundour way flawlesslyto our guesthouse- Yogi's. The guesthouse was levels painted in Krishna blue and had a gorgeously decorated interior with loads of Rajasthani antiques, paintings, andrelics. The staff were mostly friendly. but a bit too much so! The rooftop restaurant had an exquisite closeup view of the Meherangharh fort that towers over the city in silent domination. Reallyincredible. We went out shoppingin the main market thenext day and did some serious retail damage. I ended up also buying a second hand sari for $6 and we suffered a massive attack from the bangle selling women who were hawking their finest wares on us. We definitely got a bit ripped off, but at $2 for 10 bangles..is that really being ripped off?? It is really hot here in the day time, so we decided to have a lassi and people watch. The Rajasthani people are so incredible to observe. The men have a royal presence and sport huge handlebar moustaches with multicoloured turbans. The women though are simply beautiful. Tiny but strong, loving but fierce, cultivated but still wild. They wear ankle length veils that hide their flashing eyes and sport bangles in silver, white, and red up to their shoulders. The women are decorated with jewelled headpieces that sit ontop of their foreheads, and wear huge nosepieces that link chains to their ears. Their feets are richly coloured with remnants of henna, and thier footsteps sing with the tinkle of bells. Absolutely gorgeous..Penny and I felt quite drab and plain next to these wild roses.
On Tuesday we headed up the slopinghill to the mighty palace and lost ourselves in the sands of time. The passage up into the fort had traditional desert musicians tucked into nooks and crannies. The haunting melodies greeted us as we proceeded closer, and we felt the urge to dance to the winding nay and thumping drum. We passed into the fortress through massive doors that held sharp spikes (for elephants) and paid hommage to the satvi markings on the wall. The fort was one of the most elaborate places I have ever been...it rivals Topkapi Palace in Istanbul! The courtyards are cool expanses with white marble floors and cutout doors, the inner rooms (Palace of the Flowers, The Pearl Palace, The Hallway of Mirrors) were perfect examples of Indian excess but done tastefully...lit up by delicate cutglass and elaborate murals painted in gold. My mouth dropped when I hit the Flower room, and stood transfixed as I pictured meetings held there long ago, entertained with dancing girls and musicians. Incredible. The view from the top gave a 360 degree view of the blue city and the city palace gave a Taj Mahal impression through the haze.
Penny and I awoke this morning and decided to head off to Jaisalmer as we are running out of time here and have so much to see. We got on a bus and had a very relaxing albeit a bit cramped ride. We sailed through villages and fought goats and camels on the road, the driver using his singing horn to tell everyone in the next 35 km that we were on our way!! We were the only white people on the bus so it was quite a nice feeling. We ordered fresh pakoras through our window whenever the bus stopped, and drank deliciously spiced chai. Upon arrival though in Jaisalmer we were absolutely accosted by a sting of young men who were all fighting for us to go to their hotel. Some of the village women came out to observe the noise and even a long haired goat came trotting down the lane to have a look! Penny and I got very angry with the heavy hassling and ended up going with a quiet man who was hanging around the back. The hassling was the worst I have ever experienced, and I know that it is only because the people here are very desperate for money. But it was too much to deal with especially after a peaceful journey, and I couldn't help but lose my temper. The Indians here in the north have an fast, aggressive, and persuasive way of speaking ...perhaps to distract you from thinking for yourself and losing the ability mull over your different choices. It has tested my patience in the few days I have been here...and Iknow that they act like this out of sheer desperation. This the major difference thatI have seen between the south and northof India...in the south things are very shanti and thepeople are extremely relaxed. Here in the north everything is done at a frenzied pace, whether it be greeting someone, buying some food, or trying to find something. Exhausting. Jaisalmer is the last city before the Pakistani border so there is a huge military presence here whichI find completely unnerving. The town itself is a rugged desert town, and Peny and I feellike we are actually somewhere else...perhaps in Pakistan or even out in a Middle Eastern town. The houses are square structures builtout of brick, and everything is squat and barren. We went on a chocolate mission and ended up feeling that we were actually in a Clint Eastwood movie! Hopefully the fort and the temples here will gain our respect for this town.
Wehave organized a 2 day camel ride into the Thar desert leaving tomorrow. I am excited to sleep under the stars, meet some gypsy dancers, and have the space to think. I have to say that I feel finally feel completely at home here in the Rajasthan, and the North of India is truly where it is at for me. From the gentle limp of camels in the fields, to the dreadlocked children playing in sand piles, the multicolouredflashes of sari clad women carrying bricks on their heads, burned eggplant roasting over a cowpatty fire and the hairy smiles of Rajasthani men this is India. Truly. Forever. Enveloped. In. Magic. And. Mystery.
Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.