Calendar pages turned to show December. Being few weeks away from the year end and having unused leave quota evoked travel thoughts. Shynil joined keeping his biennale plans for another time. He was quick in making an air-rail-road itinerary to Rajathan, precisely Udaipur, Jodhpur & Jaipur.
Most International Airlines fly to Jaipur International Airport. If you are a foreigner, check India’s visa policy before you fly.
Seeing the sweater wrapped, monkey capped and shawl clad human figures outside the airport, fear rushed up our nerves, having only a jacket and nothing much to beat the cold.
Prepaid taxis are normally safe and cheap in India. Booking one from the airport counter, we too expected the same. However our experience proved that Ola/Uber Cabs are the cheaper and better option available across the towns(not available for airport pickups in many cities). If you have an internet connection on your phone, you get a reliable and clean cab in no time wherever you are.
The cold started biting on us as we moved out of the cab. The only option was to find refugee on the ramshackle chaiwala (tea-vendor) before the railway station; on the continuously boiling, heavily milked ginger-tea served in shot glass sized paper cups. We easily sipped in two cups of that lovely brew.
Our train to Udaipur was timed 04.50 hours. Though in the wee hours of the day, Jodhpur Railway Station was jam packed with travellers in every inch. Our seats were pre-booked in second sitting. The train cruised. Freezing winds passed shivers from the foot. We were literally quivering. I pulled an extra socks and Shynil got lucky in finding a jacket from an ignored corner of his backpack. The countdown for the morning sun started there.
When the sun rays glistened over the yellow-flowered mustard fields, it marked a warm welcome to the colour palette of India, Rajasthan.The train passed Ajmer where many singers joined us. Bearded old men in almost shabby kurtas, shawls of green silk and caps playing their dholaks and harmoniums in praise of the Khwaja Garib Nawaz. The spirit of sufi music flew across the corridors of the moving train.
The drumbeats of hunger got stronger with time. Many stations were deserted. We had to be content with some pakodas and guavas until we reached Udaipur.
On your train journeys through Rajasthan, make it a point to stuff snacks & water with you.
We reached Udaipur past noon. After a quick shower, we moved out of Zostel. The long queue for entrance tickets at Udaipur City Palace was a turn-off. We were in no mood to find space in between. The thought that the palace may be big enough to nullify the crowd forced us to dare. The palace was enormous, but the barricades put by Police & Palace Authorities worsened the scene. Moving out quick was much required to breathe some fresh air.
It worries you when you have to pay to take camera inside the palace, but struggle to keep it safe in the crowd. Almost all forts & palaces in Rajasthan charge you to carry the camera inside.
The streets of Udaipur was getting busier as it got darker. The chants from Jagadeesh temple were heard mild. We climbed the stairs to the courtyard. The sculpture rich stone walls glistened in moonlight. I walked in the serenity of the space, staring at the intricacies of sculpturing, diving into the memories of an old dream my dancer friend shared with me, the sculptures gaining life dancing with her to the tunes from infinity. I stayed in the rhythm of the dream until the temple bells woke me up. The stone paved path was freezing cold.
The breeze drove us to the warmth of a tiny teashop by the street. A graceful old man frying kachoris. He the owner, chef and waiter – running a perfect one man show. Kachoris served with fried green chillis. They tasted the best we could have in the time we spent in Rajasthan.
The best of the day was yet to be, at the Haveli along the shores of lake picchola, a night of traditional Rajasthani dance forms. After we paid for the entry, I was slipping back to the fantasy of Persian-Rajputan Mahals (dance halls). The scene inside the Haveli wasn’t different. Seated on floor under the banyan tree, away from all technical gimmicks of a modern day performance stage, this was something I yearned for long. The medley of graceful moments that followed recreated the multi-hued folk history of Rajputan India- Chari Dance, Bor Bandh, Ghoomar, Puppet Dance, Tera Tali & Bhawai.
The day next started with an energising walk around the Lake Picchola. When the Udaipur city rushes through its busy routines, there persisted an unbelievable tranquillity along the calm waters of the lake.
Lake Picchola is an artificial fresh water lake, created in the year 1362 AD, named after the nearby Picholi village. The lakes around Udaipur were primarily created by building dams to meet the drinking water and irrigation needs of the city and its neighborhood. Two islands, Jag Niwas and Jag Mandir are located within Pichola Lake, and have been developed with several palaces to provide views of the lake
We were in search of an eatery internet boasted about. Nothing could we find in the guided location, but we stepped in another random taste-spot on the wayside. Steamy Aloo Paratha(flat wheat bread with a lovely stuffing of potato mash, shallots, green chillies and a mix of herbs) with cold yoghurt and pickles – the most satisfying breakfast on a winter morning.
Spending another hour with our strides through the still ancient streets of Udaipur, we took a cab to Kumbalgarh Fort. If the only expected bonus of the trip was to visit the mustard fields, we ended up experiencing the warmth and ruggedness of village life of Rajasthan. Acres of dry land ploughed by oxen and irrigated by water wheels, its mustard and maize fields. Women draped in variety hued fabrics and adorned in heavy ornaments. Men with refined body and firm steps. Faded lives and colourful shades...
Kumbalgarh Fort has the second largest wall after the Great Wall of China and would be an interesting place to visit for the seekers of History.
We took the bus to Jodhpur that night. Till we felt asleep, we shared stories on how time has changed the perspective of our travels. When we woke up, it was the first of January. A New Year break spent on travels, I always loved that thought.
Jodhpur was freezing. Another quick nap and breakfast at Zostel, we were ready to move. (Breakfast at Zostel Jodhpur is not a good idea. You get plenty better options outside.)
It felt thrilling to ride a tuk-tuk(or an auto-rikshaw) on the steep hairpins uphill to Umaid Bhawan Palace. The driver of tuk-tuk was all joy in the new year, his cart decorated with flowers and balloons.
The Palace is among the last great ones built in India, a portion of which is still lived in by the Royal Family. The rest of it is divided between the Taj Hotel & a Museum.
The museum would be to anyone’s amazement of the skills and interests of Maharaja Umaid Singh as seen in the photographs and other assets displayed there. On the courtyard of the Palace is the Maharaja’s Garage, now a museum again-mighty vintages, ranging among Plymouth, Morris, and Rolls Royce most of which still takes its owner for a round across the town, of course with the Royal Tag.
Sipping a machine-brewed spicy-hot tomato soup, we walked downhill, in hunt for antique shops; Jodhpur is well known for them. When we found them, there were a few in a row; thousands of sq. ft. area with old and seemingly old goods. One need to be proficient enough to distinguish the ‘new antiques’ from the real ones. After an extensive search, I found this brilliant little Christmas card written with love, during a time when boundaries were less prominent.
After a scrumptious Punjabi Lunch, we marched back for a quick freshening up. Chotta Ram came to pick us sharp at 2 ‘o clock; we were to visit the Village of Bishnoi that afternoon. Bishnois are committed to conserve the biodiversity of the area and to ensure healthy eco-friendly social life. The story is said to have started back in 1730, when 363 Bishnoi men, women and children died protecting trees from cutting by the king's men. This incident happened in Khejarli which is a village in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan, India 26 km south-east of the city of Jodhpur. The Bishnois sacrificed their lives while protecting trees by hugging them. The real Tree-Huggers.
The jeep rumbled on to the narrow village roads. On both sides was dry and dusty scrub-forest with intermittent trees. Not far from the main roads were shepherds guiding their flocks. Black bucks & Peacocks reigning without fear in their natural habitat. As we went further in, the land got greener or rather yellowish with the mustard fields spread over acres of land.
Chotta Ram’s all wheel drive took us to a cluster of straw roofed huts. In the huts lived a man who prepared Opium water for Bishnoi Ceremonies.
Among Bishnoi community, opium water is distributed among the guests during a child birth, wedding or death.
He demonstrated for us how the opium is crushed, dissolved and filtered to prepare the ceremonial drink. We moved on. At the pottery village, Shynil tried his hands taming the clay. I bought a small earthen nest for the sparrows that woke me on my mornings at my home in India.
The off-roading ended at Chotta Ram’s house. His parents earn their bread weaving carpets the traditional way. Chotta Ram has constructed a few more huts next to his home where one can stay to have more of the village life. We were served with Bajra ka Sogra(Millet Bread), Mot ki kadi(Yoghurt Curry) & Lessan ki chutney(garlic chutney) for dinner.
On travels, the days started well early. The best way to resist the cold was to bath in a fairly cold water. Our Ola cab was waiting and we were ready to greet the sun at Mehrangarh Fort. Atop the hill, on the fort-gate, awaiting the opening. The old town downhill stayed blanketed in the morning fog when the Fort stood tall as a guardian. The Gate opened at 9:00 hours and we had to rush to Chokelao Garden to do our Zip Tour with Flying Fox. Six separate zip lines that provided unique perspectives of the Blue Town, Ranisar Lake and the Mehrangarh fort. After we had the gears set, there was a demo glide which felt rather silly, but I could feel the adrenaline rush once on top of the tower to make first zip-tour. The slight fear within washed off quickly and my mind screamed ‘wohooo’ for the rest of it. I regretted not having a ‘Go-Pro’ to record the adventurous ride.
After the zip tours, it was time to take a dip into the richness of Jodha’s Palace aka the Mehrangarh Fort.
Tickets are available at the counter. One has to pay separately for the Audio Tour and the camera you take in. Students can avail discounts producing a valid id.
History never felt this interesting in high school textbooks. That night after I returned from the fort, I read the history of Rajputs and Mughals in one go, with utmost interest.
The fort, if seen in peace, requires more than a day. Such is the detail of every corner. Limestone carvings, coloured glass, paintings, carpets, nothing can be termed less than brilliant. Each room exquisitely designed for a purpose. The Royal Palanquins, Howdahs(a two compartment wooden seat to be fixed over an elephant), armoury , fine arts and even Turbans were neatly preserved in a museum. Mehrangarh fort had heavy walls that resisted any canon attack of those times and stood high as a guardian over the villages downhill.
We moved out of the fort when the sun was slowly moving west, taking the backyard exit to the ‘blue town’. It has been a wish so intense, to walk through this place.
The narrow lanes that created a maze out of the city were occupied by both parked and skilfully rode bikes, decades-old bajaj chetak scooters, grazing cows, stray dogs and less often by humans. It gets into chaos at many junctions, but India maintains her soul in such beautiful chaos or rather called dynamic Indian life. The Jharokas or bay windows that extended out to the lanes were beautifully architectured with its arches and curved cantilever supports. The window doors in faded green generally remained closed; sometimes a person or two were seen at the windows watching the streets silently and peacefully, as if listening to the legendary stories of past.
Many myths and stories are spread about the blue paint of the city, from climate control to religious reasons. Despite all, the city holds a strong identity with history hidden in every brick of it.
The lanes lead to the Ghantaghar Clock and surrounding market place, the busiest one in the locality.
We climbed up the clock tower to meet the man who kept the time on the tower for decades. (missed the notes where I jotted down his name- it been an year). It’s a mechanical clock that requires winding to run in pace with time. The clock and tower is more than a century old.
The weather got colder when the dusk added colours to the sky. From atop the tower, the market appeared to revolve round the clock, getting busier and faster with time. Clothes, bangles, cosmetics, fruits, spices and what not. Away stood tall the Mehrangarh.
Stepping down the tower, hunger struck, we searched the co-ordinates for the famous omelette shop of Jodhpur. A bit ahead of the tower, around the gate was a crowd beside the towered rack of eggs. A slightly worn out Chimney up there painted with words ‘Omlette Shop’ and ‘Garib Hotel (means restaurant for the poor; Hotel in rural India mostly refers to a restaurant). In the center of crowd will you find ‘the omelette man, busy preparing his famous cheese and masala omelettes and sandwiches.
A few steps away is Mishrilal’s Hotel where you get Elaichi flavoured lassi served with a froth of makhani(butter) on top. It got dark as we stepped out. Exhausting, but another satisfying day that passed by.
The next morning was the train to Jaipur. The story of hunger continued with very brief intermissions along the train journey.
We were there hardly for half a day. So, we din’t have a strict plan, but to sense the pulse of the streets. Walking on, watching people, window shopping and posting a few cards. The vibrantly hued shawls caught eyeballs at the textile shops, street artists worked magic with mehendi on the hands that were patiently spread before them. The pink city felt different from the imagination set fire by the ‘social science’ textbooks in school. The whole city was painted in saffron, from Palaces to small shops. All pointing to the grandeur of hospitality India holds on.
Kulcha and Chana Masala, Pakodas and Mint chutney, lovely feast from the street vendors was a necessary recharge before visiting the Hawa Mahal.
Hawa Mahal is the Five Storey Palace built in 1799 for the Royal Women to witness the Street Festivals veiling their beauty from the crowd. Hawa Mahal looked like the pyramidal honeycomb made of balconies with miniature windows and bays.
It’s huge and well architecture, but I wished the government could preserve it in a better way than how it is done.
On the way to the home-stay where we could rest that night before we catch our flight to Dubai, we saw kites stuck on every tree on the road side, it’s colour-paper faded due to the sun and rain, tails still fluttering with the wind, referring to some kite festival in past. Almost every trip towards its end makes me feel like those kites, retracing the memories of its colourful flights and dreaming about a new one.