3rd – 9th February 2014
Goodbye Desert Dreaming
I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
This morning Graham explored the Allure or wall walk on the ramparts of the Sonar Quila or the Golden Fort of Jaisalmer (“Golden” due to the honey coloured stones used to build this impressive, dream-like structure). This narrow lane allowed quick defence of every part of the walls without having to pass through the town. The fort stands nearly thirty metres over the city and houses an entire living area within huge ramparts. It is India’s last “living fort”. Graham walked one last time through the narrow lanes of the old town. And left via one of it’s four massive gates – Ganesh Pol, Suraj Pol, Bhoot Pol and Hawa Pol. Within it we had visited many beautiful havelis and a group of Jain temples dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries. We had seen it early in the morning, at night romantically lit up and in subtle moonlight. We would miss it protectively looming above us. A true historical beauty in the Thar Desert.
We took our host Karim out for a grand lunch and presented him with a small gift for his generous hospitality. We are sure our paths will cross again both here and back in Australia one day.
That evening whilst dining in mid-town, where we had been many times to indulge in sweet rasmalai, we witnessed our first wedding jam. It is wedding season here in India due to Hinduism’s auspicious dates. Our meal was pleasantly punctuated by booming fireworks, loud music and revelry. We looked down from the restaurant balcony and witnessed processions for not one but three weddings, all mingling and fighting to be bigger and brighter than the other. Now three grooms on horses!
Then a sad goodbye to magical Jaisalmer, somehow it had quickly gained a place in our hearts, as we hopped on our 3AC sleeper for Jodhpur.
Saffron Butter Lassi? Yes, Please!
Our early dark arrival in Jodhpur, the fabled Blue city, started with the frustrating absence of our promised CS host. So we took things into our own hands and headed to the Hari Krishna guesthouse. The first thing that struck me on entering this tranquil haven was the pleasant scents due to a large arrangement of floating flowers in the lobby. Only one room was available, so we took it despite the higher than usual price. We were tired and this was a calming, central place to lay our heads.
Now rested, we set off to explore this historic town. Our accommodation was in the heart of the old town near the famous clock tower and Sadar markets. We purchased carrots and munched on them as we perused the market wares. A group of performing begger children approached us, the small boys with drawn on moustaches. We gave them carrots and they happily sauntered away.
Inside a gate wall we stumble on a hidden gem of India: a 100 year old Indian sweet shop selling makhania, the famous saffron butter lassi, amongst other delicious delights. I personally can only consume a half cup of this sweet, blissful concoction but better shared, we would be back here soon. (Tip: You cannot get my favourite rasmalai here but need to travel further to Janta Sweet home).
When the boys are tired, we have taken to hiring an auto and giving him free reign for an hour. This gives the boys a rest and allows us just to drive around and see a bit of the town.
Our casual wonderings led us to an expensive butter chicken at Gopal Restaurant, which appealed to our current meat craving. This time served with Korean “Kim Chi”?! Another of Jodhpur’s rooftop restaurants with a brilliant fort view – this one specialising in Korean fare and of course butter chicken. And yes, there were Korean tourists with us on the roof. Graham enjoys another razor shave and we top off our indulgent food day with Pizza. Why not?
This morning we paid entry and explored the Fort.
Rao Jodha (1438–1488), one of Ranmal’s 24 sons became the fifteenth Rathore ruler. One year after his accession to the throne, Jodha decided to move his capital to the safer location of Jodhpur, as the one thousand years old Mandore fort was no longer considered to provide sufficient security.
With the trusted aid of Rao Nara (son of Rao Samra), the Mewar forces were subdued at Mandore. With that, Rao Jodha gave Rao Nara the title of Diwan. With the help of Rao Nara, the foundation of the fort was laid on May 12, 1459 by Jodha on a rocky hill 9 kilometres to the south of Mandore. This hill was known as Bhaurcheeria, the mountain of birds. According to legend to build the fort he had to displace the hill’s sole human occupant, a hermit called Cheeria Nathji, the lord of birds. Upset at being forced to move Cheeria Nathji cursed Rao Jodha with “Jodha! May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water!”. Rao Jodha managed to appease the hermit by building a house and a temple in the fort very near the cave the hermit had used for meditation, though only to the extent that even today the area is plagued by a drought every 3 to 4 years. Jodha then took an extreme measure to ensure that the new site proved propitious; he buried a man called “Raja Ram Meghwal” alive in the foundations. “Raja Ram Meghwal” was promised that in return his family would be looked after by the Rathores. To this day his descendants still live in Raj Bagh, “Raja Ram Meghwal’s” Garden, an estate bequeathed them by Jodha. Wikipedia
This fort is one of the largest and most famous Forts in India. It sits 122m above the city and is enclosed by imposing thick walls. Inside its boundaries there are several palaces known for their intricate carvings and expansive courtyards. A winding road leads to and from the city below. Our entry includes a free audio tour and the boys enjoy hearing the many true stories, as well as pressing the buttons, of course. Gadgets and boys… They look at the cannonball marks on the second gate and imagine the sheer luxury and decadence of past lives.
The fort has seven gates, which include Jayapol (meaning ‘victory’), built by Maharaja Man Singh to commemorate his victories over Jaipur and Bikaner armies. Fattehpol (also meaning ‘victory’) gate was built by Maharaja Ajit Singh to mark the defeat of the Mughals. The symbolic palm imprints upon these are those of Maharaja widows who became “sati” – leaving their home to eventually throw themselves alive on a burning funeral pyre.
The museum in the Mehrangarh fort is one of the most well-stocked museums in Rajasthan. In one section of the fort museum there is a selection of old royal palanquins, including the elaborate domed gilt Mahadol palanquin which was won in a battle from the Governor of Gujarat in 1730. The museum exhibits the heritage of the Rathores in arms, costumes, paintings and decorated period rooms. Not to forget the stunning views.
After lunch, we met up with another local CS friend Vikram – a friendly engineer. We caught an auto-rickshaw to one of his local eateries and spent some time on his apartment roof. The children played in the sunshine, I had a long talk about volunteer work and charities with Vikram’s NGO friend and Graham took off pillion, in search of a new portable hard-drive. Eventually success resulted in the ownership of a Sony 1TB compact HD. At last a solution to our photo back-up issues.
Back through the markets to the Krishna Book Depot. Graham and the two older boys got down and dusty with the treasure trove of books. Many titles roughly organised in order by authors first name with stacks in front of other stacks, under other stacks… Felix and I stayed downstairs in the gift shop and talked to the matriarch owner and her young sales girl. They entertained Felix with trinkets and fed him peanuts. (Later we returned to do a deal with our own secondhand children’s books. We discovered that this owner though generous in nature is brutal in business and we reluctantly left having bought many books but having received next to nothing for the books she purchased from us. Still at least now someone can discover them there).
We had such a pleasent dinner at the Clocktower Haveli that we returned the next morning for breakfast. The owner is very friendly and a good cook.
Rao Jodha Desert Park
Looking for something child friendly to do, we came across this Desert Park on tripadvisor and really enjoyed our time there. It was created in 2006 to rehabilitate 70 acres of wasteland near the fort, which had been invaded by weeds and litter. We really enjoyed the tranquility there and learning about the plants of the region. Prunella was lucky enough to spot a green lizard, (reptiles being an interest of hers) although not quick enough to snap a pic. Entry is a RS30 ticket and we had an excellent free guided tour, eventually leaving via an ancient gate towards another part of the city – Navchokiya. Here we went through a series of tiny alleys and found ourselves at the pleasant Castle View Homestay Restaurant. We stayed there lazily watching the sun go down on a different view of the majestic fort, the sounds of modern dance music wafting up from the streets below.
At Bikaner station, our train one hour late, we were graciously met by our friendly CS host Toffi. Although luggage, women and children took an auto to his guesthouse, it was close enough for Graham and him to walk. (We later discovered that this meant it was close enough to hear every train horn too).
After settling in to the place, we set off across the tracks for dinner at the locals eatery Chhota Mota Joshi. We were impressed by their fresh, simple Indian fare at great value prices. Then once the kids were in bed an evening with Toffi and other guests drinking Chai and regaling travel tales.
The next morning we headed to the Jain temple on traveller’s advice. There we climbed the three levels to look over the surrounding area. We stopped and played at a small local park, then walked back thorough the old town.
That afternoon Toffi was kind enough to show us the quiet non-tourist parts of the markets and the privilege to share a chai with his local friends. It was a wonderful few hours. We are grateful for the genuine help, friendship and generosity he showed us and wish him every success in his bright future.
Three Sisters Meet Three Brothers
Some days come together and this one was one of them: after sleep in, we headed to the Garden Cafe. There we met the friendly owner who later introduced us to his three daughters and their cousins. Games and fun naturally ensued: relay races doing funny actions, cricket, chess. The owner invited our boys to eat with his children and we bought them all ice-creams. The girls told us stories and one even attempted “Mendhi” on Prunella’s hand. It was a perfect sunny day, playing in a quiet garden.
That evening we were generously invited by CS Toffi to a friends naming celebration of a newborn son. (Sadly less festivity is present for the birth of a girl and this baby had two older sisters). We enjoyed meeting the gracious hosts, including the food served to the 600 strong guests and meeting the small boy.
A wonderful end to another great week of the Sabretoothed Chicken’s Tour.