Our Haveli in the old city was literally at the base of a huge mountain topped by the massive Mehrangarh Fort, the largest in Rajasthan, overlooking the city below. Founded in 1459 AD by Rao Joah, the city was built as the new capital of Marwar. It is also know as the “Blue City”, an apt name since most of the houses in the old city are painted various shades of blue. The Brahmin caste of the Hindu society have historically painted their houses blue but the use has now spread to, well anyone wanting to paint their home blue. This is particularly prevalent in the north part of the town called Brahmphuri, for the many Brahmins living there.
Day 1, was spent living & breathing Rajasthani history. Moving through the old living quarters vivid images of the past & present came alive as our imaginations swirled wandering the Fort & numerous palatial rooms –
…huge doors with spikes stop enemies elephants crashing into the enclosed palaces, cannonball imprints on the thick walls leave lasting reminders of long past battles, opium fuelled soldiers heading to battle, women in purdah see the world through the carved stone lattice windows, widow’s freshly hennaed hands leave the last imprint before courageously walking through the Fort gates one last time to self-immolate on their husband’s funeral pyre, sitting bravely & quietly committing sati (suicide), mirrors & mirrored walls reflect light, richly woven tapestry canopies, the delicious aroma of jasmine soaked silk blinds move gently in the breeze, colourful stained glass adorn rooms used for bedrooms & dancing for the maharajah & his harem, men with brightly coloured turbans, curled moustaches & pointy curled shoes standing guard, dazzling bangles on brown arms, beautiful silk saris, gold jewelled maharanis, veils of yellow, orange, red, pink covering the women’s faces…
Day 2, navigating deeper into Brahmphuri we discovered alleys off the typical tourist beaten path & found ourselves at the back of the palace, alone. The locals directed us by pointing the way, so hospitable & friendly, yet curious we would venture the area without a guide. Bobby, a brave young woman in her early 30’s, invited us into her humble shop showing us tapestries & other crafts sewn by tribal women & widows. Getting ‘permission’ from her husband to run a business, she assists these women by selling their crafts, providing an income to support themselves. It was here that I finally succumbed to getting a henna arm design while listening to her stories of disenfranchised Indian women, including herself, forced arranged marriages & the quality of life these women lead. Despite her lot in life she is very upbeat & was most interested in discussing Western women’s lifestyle, work & education. When it was time for a picture she grabbed my sunglasses pretending to be a Bollywood star, we all had a good laugh.
Wandering further Bob had yet another superb hair cut, followed by Indian head & neck massage, masala tea for us both, for the huge cost of 110 rupees ($2.25).
You can find your heart’s desire around the bustling Sardar Market, located by the clocktower in the centre town. We enjoyed more masala tea as shopkeepers tantalized our senses with various spices & teas. Rajasthani people are so hospitable & eager to please.
Another train ride found us heading further west, to the final frontier, Jaisilmer, aka “The Golden City”, a mere 120K from the Pakistan border. Everything here is made of sandstone – intricately carved buildings, Havelis, temples & of course the Jasilmer Fort all casting their golden glow regardless of the time of day. The Jasilmer Fort, a massive sandcastle rising above the desert, is a “living Fort” with a palace, many shops, restaurants, hotels, temples, twisting lanes & home to about 3,000 inhabitants.
The long awaited “camel safari” was going to be the high point here. Who hasn’t dreamed of being a camel jockey for a day, okay not everyone, we get it! 🐪 Arriving the night prior, we had a chance to get a quick glimpse of the town. We headed into the desert the next day for our 24-hour sojourn.
“Midnight at the oasis, send your camel to bed”… this song by Maria Muldaur has always been a favourite of mine. Introduced to this songstress back in the day as a young nursing student in Ottawa, who would know then that I would be doing likewise with a small group of young 20-somethings (my age at the time) in the Thar Desert with the stars shining brightly above – Karma perhaps? We had a blast riding our respective camels, such funny, arrogant looking creatures & didn’t suffer any major after affects from straddling the saddle for a few hours. Camels are tall creatures & while getting on was pretty easy, getting off was another story! Camels have to kneel, one leg at a time & then lay on their legs; a bit a bit scary the first time & could catch you off guard (no instructions provided). Pitching forward Bobbalo, my camel, quickly collapsed all his legs sinking to the ground, thus sparing me the embarrassment of rappelling forward & doing a face plant in the sand, bonus!
We rode the camels for a few hours, headed back to the main camp where we were entertained by desert gypsies, danced, enjoyed dinner & then headed back into the desert for the night. Sleeping in the desert was a great experience with the moon & star shining brightly above, amazing.
A couple of interesting things have happened while in India. I have had my palm read twice & surprisingly the info conveyed was very consistent, no spoiler alert here though!
The other was while walking through the Jasilmer Fort a young Indian women asked if I had my henna done in Jodhpur by Bobby. She looked vaguely familiar & as it turned out it she is the sister of Bobby who we had met a couple of days before in Jodhper! We took her picture with my sunglasses on & will share it with both sisters….karma at work again?
Unfortunately Bob came down with Dehli Belly & was out for the count for a couple of days. While he was recuperating I headed out on my own to browse the bazaars, do a little retail therapy & visit some Havelis. I wandered for hours along the narrow cobbled alleyways in where little has changed over the centuries. Traders sit cross-legged on the floor at the entrances to Lilliputian shops. Chewing betel nut, a popular stimulant in southern Asia, they spit streams of brick red saliva on walls long stained with splashes of crimson. Their merchandise ranges from shawls & silk carpets to hand-painted miniatures & camel bone opium canisters.
Once again, being in the right place at the right time made possible the opportunity to watch & participate in the first night of Holi. Holi or the “Festival of Colours” is an ancient Hindu religious festival that celebrates spring. Renowned for its fun & rowdiness, everyone gets into the action throwing brightly coloured powder & water at each other. Heading for dinner on the last evening I found myself smack-dab in the middle of the merry-makers. Managing to avoid too much powder, (good thing I was wearing pink), I was taken under the wing of ‘Lalo’, a very kind man, who first thought I needed a little colour then escorted me safely to my destination. On this particular night all the men were heading to the maharajah’s home to “play Holi”. This festival continues for the next several days so Bob will no doubt get a chance to join in at our next stop, Rishikesh.