Saturday, December 15, 2018

Chandelao and Jodhpur, weddings and animals

See the whole Photo gallery here.
I have reluctantly given up on the idea of bus transport, so it is another car to Chandelao - the smallest village yet - where another old fort, Chandelao Garh, is refurbished for accommodation. There is no AC in the van, and what looks like a 1.5 hr drive is actually 3 hours, an experience that’s becoming familiar. Again the driver doesn’t trust Google maps, but prefers to rely on directions from locals - usually (but not always) a safer bet. Bumpy road, minimal signage - just as we think we are lost, we are there. The ‘deluxe’ and ‘super-deluxe’ rooms turn out to be actually a bit crusty, and ours is a bit lacking in furnishing - no desk, sofa, bedside table, clothes hangers or towels. But it is spacious with hand-painted decoration and woodblock prints, and is tolerably close to the wifi spot. We ask for some of those extra items, and all is good.

We haven’t planned to go out, but there is some VERY loud music emanating from the nearby village, so Chris is out hunting for dancers to star in his movies. Jackpot: the nearby house that is broadcasting the music is populated by dancing girls who beckon us inside - it seems that they are are practising for an upcoming wedding. They are very happy to be videoed by Chris, and urge me to join them, but after the Bagar experience I am happy to play demure today, as befits my mature status.

Dinner, which was planned to be under the stars on the terrace is moved to the subterranean dining room - apparently there are too many guests. It’s a nice room, but I’m a bit sad not to be eating outside - it’s a beautiful evening. In spite of the buffet style, the food is very good - fresh, homestyle curries - if a little lacking in chilli. The English couple next to us say - Yes, it’s quite nice, glad it’s not any spicier - so that is what they have to cater for!

Sunder Rang craft ladies
Chandelao girl - she chased me to be in my photo!
Chandelao parrots by the pool

The plan is to chill out here, so we have no outings planned, although we have heard that there may be more wedding dancing tonight. We walk in the village, I catch up on journal and photos, we read and nap and have a swim in the pool, where there is a bare tree full of green parrots - gorgeous. I also wander over to Sunder Rang, a women’s art collective next door, which is affiliated with Chandelao Garh - I settle on a khurta with a quirky bird print and a colourful string of red stuffed birds for a xmas decoration.

I’m beginning to like the ramshackle nature of this quirky place, and love the feeling that we are contributing to the maintenance of a heritage building that may otherwise crumble, as so many others have. And we are able to see a village community that without tourist facilities would otherwise be inaccessible to us. Tonight we take drinks to the (ramshackle) terrace, which has (quirky) glass-topped tables with tree root bases. Dinner again underground, as another large group (cyclists!) has arrived. It’s good to see that this place is thriving, at least in the cooler months.

After dinner we follow the sound of music to the wedding house, which is behind the one we visited earlier. The music is loud, but it’s a small and intimate family party, and while they are happy to see us, we feel that we are intruding and don’t stay long. No dancing tonight.

Our room, opening on to the lower terrace
Ramshackle upper terrace - with Kingfisher beer
Chandelao Garh main building
Chandelao village, sunset


A car is ordered, the bill is paid, and we make the short one-hour hop to Jodhpur, the Blue City. We have to take a tuktuk to our guest house in Navkichoya, deep in the old city, but just a five minute walk to the Fateh Pol gate of Mehrangarh Fort. This afternoon we rest again, Chris still feeling unwell, and just take a short local walk at dusk. Lovely crumbling, or restored and painted, old houses. The blue everywhere (and green, mauve, orange). And everywhere the rubbish - sadly, it stinks. Dinner is at the rooftop restaurant of our guest house - lovely outlook (above the street smell), food just ok.

We arrange an early morning Blue City walk with Avi, our guest house host (deputy manager?). It is cool and lovely and at least some of the rubbish is being cleared. Avi has close connections to the neighbourhood and is involved in a small private charity to assist the community. So it is not surprising that his tour has a social justice tinge. He speaks disgustedly of local public servants and politicians who are happy to take a salary and do nothing, and he shows us the crumbling ruin of the local public school where, he claims, teachers are paid to teach, but no teaching happens and no-one ever checks. ‘You should be in politics’, I say. 'Then I would have to become a politician!’, says Avi. He shows us and talks of the heritage and history and community of the neighbourhood, and we don’t go near any markets or shops or the commercial centre of the city. This would not please everyone, but I like it.

Jodhpur rubbish
Mehrangarh Fort at dawn, from our room 
Blue blue city
Siesta during the warm afternoon, then a twilight shopping trip. The market area is the usual mad maze, so I pinpoint a couple of shops and rely on Google Maps - surprisingly accurate in this labyrinth. Sambhali is a charity craft collective for textile-based goods, but it turns out to be tiny with a modest collection of wares, I buy only a rather overpriced printed cotton scarf. The next, Maharani Art Exporters, a large fabric and craft emporium is the opposite extreme - floor after floor of goods stuffed to the ceiling, a dozen enthusiastic salesmen and few customers. I am overwhelmed and don’t hang around, especially as I don’t really have a clear idea what I’m looking for. Blingy Rajasthani embroidery with velvet, beads, mirrors and sequins, made up into patchwork pieces is prevalent and popular, but I find it a bit kitsch. My taste runs more to humble wood block prints. 

Walking home, away from the tourist area I see a small kitchenware shop with odd looking implements of wood and stone and terracotta. I could hang around here for a while! But have promised Chris I will be back for cocktail hour so quickly grab a small grinding stone - 70rp ($1.40!) - now that’s my kind of souvenir. Hurrying on, my way is blocked by a wedding parade, so I stop and climb up for a better view. The groom on a white horse is weighed down with garlands and looks weary as his celebrants cavort around him, handing out sweets. The horse doesn't look too thrilled either. And this is just the beginning of the ceremonies! 

Kitchenware shop
Twilight in the old city
Street food wallahs, Jodhpur
We have been told that today is the beginning of ‘auspicious wedding season’, as advised by astrologers, and we may see a few more weddings. So when I get home, after a couple of sunset cocktails, we are out wedding-hunting. Heading back towards the old city centre, we see plenty of people hurtling about in their finery, but fail to spot an epicentre of celebration. Until - jackpot - another procession: brass band, drummers, dancing family, friends and well-wishers and finally, the patient groom, laden with marigold wreaths, on his patient white horse. We follow for a while, but finally get too hungry and head back to dinner at Jeemrana veg restaurant, close to our guest house. The rooftop terrace is gorgeous, we order two curries which somehow both turn out to be creamy veg dishes (always difficult to get enough variety when just two of us) and some beer. Then bingo! another wedding procession passes by and we have a bird’s eye view this time.

Roll home, stuffed again, and lying in bed hear drumming getting louder and louder - we dress again and go back down just in time to see yet another groom and procession passing the door of the guesthouse, squeezing along the tiniest laneway! Yes, it’s been a big wedding night.

Wedding parade 1
Wedding parade 2
Wedding parade 3
Our last stop in Jodhpur, that we have been gazing upon from our room for the last two days, is Mehrangarh Fort. We get there early after checking out, and already tour groups are pouring in, but it’s a nice time to be here in the cool morning. It’s one of the most impressive forts in Rajasthan, a combination of atmospheric architecture and informative, historical museum and gallery. While I usually forgo the option of an audio tour, in this case it is included in the ticket, and is a very worthwhile guide to the place and its history. We have allowed 2 and a half hours, and it is barely long enough. The only disappointment is the number of the lovely miniature paintings currently out on loan to a travelling exhibition in the US - they are replaced by prints, some of which are good quality, but others rather poor. 

Finally we head back to the guest house for our drive to Ghanerao, another heritage stay in a village for which we have great expectations (recommended by our friends Martin and Deborah). It's another one of those drives that looks as if it should take less than two hours, but takes well over three, as the main inter-town routes change to potholed village throughways. It’s a nice idea that with a private driver we could ask him to take detours for a more scenic route, but … it’s impossible to tell the state of the roads from the map, and really we don’t want to spend even more time driving! We stop for lunch on the way at a basic ‘dhaba’ - open-air truck-stop. Luckily our driver is happy to order for us, as they seem quite nonplussed by our presence. We get some dal, a veg curry, and roti, and it’s so delicious - the spiciest food we have had so far. We share between the three of us, and the cost is less than $5, which I’m sure includes the ‘tourist’ surcharge.

Beautiful jaali at Mehrangarh Fort
Glam tourists at Mehrangarh


Dog and pup in rubbish, Jodhpur

Cows, dogs, monkeys, squirrels - all of these roam wild, and are communally cared for (yes, we even saw squirrels being fed!). An iconic and wonderfully metaphoric image that I brought home from my first visit to India is that of a sacred cow lying in a rubbish heap: they are still there. Today in Jodhpur I found a dog and her pup sleeping in rubbish.

Asking one of our drivers, it was good to hear how the cows are communally fed and milked and the proceeds used to support them. But it’s hard to see the point of the other animals who are messy, and a pest, and may be diseased, yet are fed and encouraged to breed.

Hinduism in it’s purest form is vegetarian and deplores the killing or mistreatment of animals - after all they are reincarnated souls - so animals are treated as sacred and cared for*. However, sacred cows may be abandoned when past their productive life and certainly we see many in poor condition, and dogs that appear to be malnourished and neglected. While it seems so perverse, is it any more crazy than western culture’s conflicted treatment of animals for consumption vs animals as pets?

*Nazim, our Delhi driver, tells us he is vegetarian because he loves vegetarian food. And so is his family. And also, by the way, the Bhagavad Gita says you will go to hell if you eat meat, so you should stop now! 

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