#8 The Blue City of Jodhpur

Sent: Monday, October 01, 2001 10:18 AM

Today is not a good day. After a very hot night we awoke in Jodphur to temperatures comparable to those we experienced when we first arrived. Later in the day we find out it has been 41 degrees! Since getting up we have been sat in the shade on the first floor terrace of the Raman Guest House literally incapacitated by the heat. Sausage is leaking water like a sieve and I am doing the same with the added pleasure of what a Victorian melodrama might call 'a general malaise.' I can't tell you what is wrong, I just feel hot, lack-lustre and pissed off. So we retreat to our room which is marginally cooler than outside and I spend the afternoon doing an unintentionally good impression of Harry Enfield's Kevin the Teenager.

In a risky move Sausage lures me out of the room in late afternoon and we amble up the broad quiet street on which our guest house stands. A short stroll takes us over the railway lines and within 2 minutes we find ourselves on the Southern edge of the town centre, a boundary marked by the usual thick ribbons of smoke-belching traffic.

We make our way to the train station where we find that train #253 the Udaipur Passenger is the first victim of the passage of time since our Rough Guide was published in 1999. The staff at the Enquiry Desk look at us as if we are speaking in tongues but eventually concede that we are making sense, it's just that our question is stupid, there is no longer a train to Udaipur. Through a language of grunts, shrugs and facial contortions I agree to Sausage's suggestion to go and buy a bus ticket instead.

We are starting to think that, while we are not allergic to India in general we may be allergic to Indian cities where the clamour of humanity is overpowering and where, within 5 minutes of hitting a street busy with traffic, we know that our throats will start to tighten, a headache will gestate and we will face the unpleasant task of excavating gunk as black as coal from our nostrils when we get back to the Guest House.

The guy who runs the Guest House offers us two berths on his Village Safari. Every Hotel, Guest House and Travel Agency offers a similar thing which involves a trip by jeep around 5 villages each specialising in a different craft. The Rough Guide even goes so far as to warn us not to visit the villages under our own steam as the locals may be hostile when deprived of what they perceive as their rightful commission. I find it all a bit unsettling to be honest. It feels like we would be spectating at an ossified version of a former way of life which had been converted to cabaret. So we decline the offer, give up on what has been a distinctly off-colour, over-heated day and crawl under the mozzie net and wait to drift off to sleep.

Our sleep patterns are very different out here. For a start we have been going to bed quite early. The absence of any kind of bar culture in the tiny bit of India we visited so far means that after we have grabbed and chatted to anyone who comes near at meal times we have tended to seek the limited solace provided by our ceiling fan and drift off after a bit of reading at anything between 9.30pm and 11pm.

In these temperatures finding a position in which you can fall asleep can be tricky. No limb can lie on top of another. If, like me, you normally like to roll on your side and put one leg on top of another then you have a problem because within 90 seconds the top leg will start to slide off the lower like a ship being launched down a slipway greased with sweat all of which feels a bit like a warning of the dangers of incontinence.

When we do drift off we both know that throughout the night we will each wake maybe six to eight times. Having got used to this new routine we are both feeling quite rested because the sleep between the wakenings is deep but it is noticeable that we are bears of very little brain for the first hour after we wake.

On our second and penultimate day in Jodhpur we visit the Meherangarh Fort. Its' massive, towering presence dominates the city from wherever you are. The city sits on a number of low rolling hills, which surround a large golden sandstone outcrop which rises steeply out of the twisting narrow streets. The old town is labyrinthine and virtually every square foot of exposed plaster on the higgledy-piggledy houses is painted a vivid sky-blue giving the city its tagline. The colour scheme is alleged to originate in the importance of the colour to Brahmin families but it is more likely the by-product of adding copper-sulphate to whitewash to combat termites. Whatever its' origins the vivid blue patchwork of the houses provides a dramatic backdrop from the midst of which the Fort rears vertically skywards.

The Meherangarh Fort looks a little like a larger version of Edinburgh castle sat powerfully on top of the outcrop though its' stone is much paler being a diluted shadow of the strong clay red of the sandstone at Fatehpur Sikri.

After the usual protracted negotiations we climb aboard an auto-rickshaw and set off on a wide parabola around the castle before picking up a winding road which climbs the more gently sloping Northern haunches of the outcrop. Any gentleness in the terrain comes to an abrupt end at the entrance to the fort where we pass through the first of seven gates which protect the only route in. Inside the gate it starts to become apparent why the fort has proved to be virtually impregnable. As we climb upwards passing through more gates and overlook ever steeper ramparts the environment and the atmosphere are very different to the other forts we have visited. This place feels similar to some English castles I have seen in its' solidity and bulk, its' appearance being wholly concerned with defence with few outward concessions to aesthetics. It makes Agra Fort feel, in comparison, like a country club protected by a high fence. A lot of this is to do with the site which is relatively small and feels like it has been stretched upwards for safety, and to make space.

The interiors are an absolute revelation. The Fort is a monument to the Mewar Maharanas who withstood the Mughals on all but one occasion and their successful defence of their heritage means that the palaces are very different in style to those we have seen elsewhere. A succession of palace halls are dazzling in their opulence. Lit by inch thick stained glass windows which infuse the rooms with striking blues, reds, greens and yellows whilst at the same time stripping out the piercing white light of the noonday sun the rooms are decorated with huge expanses of finely detailed work in gold leaf and black enamel intermingled with mirrors and stylised paintings showing Maharanas, who clearly ate very well, flouncing around in dresses whilst allegedly carrying out a whole range of activities from hunting through to drug use all while sporting immaculately pruned and coiffured whiskers.

In an echo of the stained glass a number of the ceilings are covered in blue, green, red and silver shiny baubles which, to judge by their size, came off absolutely huge Christmas trees.

But this strange combination of stained glass, gold, black, mirrors and baubles combine to create a series of sumptuous rooms it which it is easy to imagine the Maharana and his court languidly enjoying their immense wealth and power.

As though the abundance of the décor is not sufficient there are further displays of artifacts, elaborate elephant howdahs with richly detailed silverwork, similarly lavish palanquins (those elaborate chair-attached-to-pole contraptions which I more readily associate with Venice or Peking. It just goes to show that rich people everywhere don't like to walk) and an entrancing collection of cradles which demonstrate that the children of the Maharanas got off to a five star start in life.

As the heat starts to fade, though far too slowly for our liking, we walk along the crenellated ramparts and look out over the rippling waves of blue houses 120 metres below.

Meherangarh Fort is certainly the most impressive defensive structure we have seen and the opulence of its' rooms is both staggering and captivating. It has the best interiors we have seen so far but we both have a preference for the space and design of Agra Fort in terms of architecture.

We descend the steep path from the castle into the old town and reward ourselves for our miraculous navigation of the labyrinth with large ice-creams at Softy-n-Softy before walking back to our Guest House, basting ourselves with mosquito repellant and laying down for another night in the slow cooker.


Lots of Love
The Travelling Sausages