Jodhpur ( जोधपुर) is known as the Blue City. It is in northern Rajasthan on the edge of the Thar desert. We arrived late afternoon. We left our van in the modern section and boarded moto-rickshaws for a raucous ride through narrow old city streets to the Singhvi haveli hotel. The family owned hotel was like an Escher drawing with a courtyard and staircases leading to staircases going up and down and nowhere at all. I liked the pillow filled lounge with a swing and purdah latticed windows. We tried to take rickshaws to the market but got stuck in a traffic jam of pedestrians, rickshaws, motorcycles and a camel drawn wagon. After a smash up derby with the rickshaw on the other side of the alley we decided to head out on foot. April 15, was Ram Navani (Lord Rama’s birthday) and the town was packed. They were giving out free Panakam (sweet drink) and the market was full of families. No one is ever alone in India. Suraj took us to a famous snuff shop where Christine bought some because she liked the box. I bought cashews and dried fruit from a nearby vendor. There were cloth vendors sitting on pillows in the middle of their shops watching people go by. It looked a bit like a middle eastern market except for statutes of the Hanuman (monkey deity) and Ganesh ( elephant deity). We saw a cat with a bindi painted between his eyes and thought oh how nice, but that feeling evaporated when we passed a dead puppy- That’s India, kindness and indifference within meters. That night after a nap and dinner we headed out at midnight for the procession. Suraj was nervous so we wrapped up Christine in a scarf and head into the crowd of revellers. The parade was on a narrow street, with music blaring from speakers powered by diesel generators mounted on trailers behind the floats. Boys walking arm and arm waved and smiled at us. The main street was a jam of truck beds carrying dieties, men in colourful turbans. The women watched from the balconies and roofs of the buildings on both sides of the route while the men danced and shouted. We were pointed at and stared at in a friendly way, people walked up to touch eliot’s red pony tail and ran away giggling. It was hot, claustrophobic yet electric. You could see how 100’s of people die from fires and accidents at festivals. Suraj shepherded us around nervously while I ran ahead to see people and revelled in the attention I was getting. One float had dancing girls that turned out to be Hijras (transexuals).
The next day we went to the Mehrangarh Fort a large walled fort/palace on a hill overlooking the city. Before entering the first gate we stopped to listen to a busker singing and playing a string instrument with a long neck decorated with hanging objects (ravanathatha ). The music was eastern and sad and when he sang, his voice resonated against the stone walls. Thomas sat down and tried to play but he could not make it sing like the busker. Scottish shyness meets Rajasthan. We spent the whole morning in the palace wandering through opulent sitting rooms decorated in over the top eastern style decadence with mirrors, glass and red velvet pillows. After lunch in the market we piled into an open jeep for a dusty 2 hour drive to the camel rendez-vous in the Thar desert. We rode tall dromedaries in the late afternoon heat. The guide told us we were 100km south of Pakistan and I thought of the camels I rode with the Negev Bedouin and how these odd long legged animals were the semi-trailers of the past. After arriving at the hamlet we dismounted and left the camels in the care of the host and his young kids. We had home made chapatis and dahl with the host family. Suraj ignited his kite lantern and sent it aloft from the roof. It took off in the wind and the kids chased it until it rose out of sight towards the Pakistan border.
The next day we headed to “clean station Jodhpur” to catch an early morning train to Jaipur (जयपुर) the capital and largest city in Rajasthan. The station platform was packed with people identifiable by their clothing. Hindu pilgrims in saffron robes, muslim women with their faces covered, soldiers, gurus with beards, and a few dazed tourists. Chai wallahs were saying “chaichaichaichaichai” like a mantra. We boarded a first class train and headed out to Jodphur.