The Blue City

(Em) When we left Bikaner (somewhat regretfully – did I mention how clean our room was…), our intention was to stop in at the Karni Mata Temple in Deshnok, just 30km south. The temple commemorates a Hindu story in which Karni Mata, a reincarnation of some god of other, asked Yama, the god of death, to restore life to his dead son, a story teller by trade. Yama refused (well, you can’t go bringing people back to life willy-nilly, can you) so as revenge, Karni Mata reincarnated all dead storytellers as rats to deprive Yama of their human souls. Seems logical. Anyway, the nature of the ‘legend’ means that this particular temple has some rather unique living deities scurrying about – that’s right, shed loads of rats!! We’d read about it ages ago and thought, ‘this, we have to see’. However, on arrival at the temple (down a dusty dirt road absolutely thronging with people – there was some sort of festival going on and Kani Mata is an important pilgrimage site) we both felt uncomfortable about leaving the loaded bikes, and our boots, unattended to enter the temple when there were so many opportunists about – no sooner had we pulled in to the litter-strewn ‘car park’ than several people came up all shouting for us to come and park by their stall or cart or whatever. This concern, coupled with the fact that a traveller we’d met in Bikaner described the experience as ‘disturbing’ due not so much to the rats themselves but all the diseased or dead ones lying about (ew!), led us to opt out and get back on the road. And after all, we wouldn’t go purposefully down into a sewer to have rats scuttle all over our feet, so why here (even if they are holy)?!

The road from Bikaner to Jodhpur – about 250km to the south and also in Rajasthan – was blissfully empty and we made good progress. There was still the occasional near death moment, of course, as although there wasn’t much traffic, what did come along was just as insane as usual. James was nearly taken out by a 4×4 that swung out from the oncoming lane to do an overtake; I do not know how he managed to swerve to avoid it without ending up careering off into the desert. (James:  Nor do I!) It was also incredibly hot (low- to mid-40s) but it was dry desert heat so not too bad. The worst thing was coming to level crossings (we got caught out at four in a row, the same train each time!) as, despite India’s apparent disregard for health and safety protocols, the barriers seem to come down far too long before the train approaches and there’s nothing for it but to sit sweltering in the heat. There is some entertainment on offer, though, to take your mind off the fact you’re roasting alive: watching every single cyclist, moped rider and motorcyclist completely ignore the barriers and manoeuvre themselves and their vehicles (often with considerable difficulty) under and through to the other side. And all this while the level crossing operator looks on with disinterest, naturally. Although we wouldn’t dream of it back in the UK, I think we would have done the same had our bikes been low enough to fit through but no, we had to wait for what seemed like forever and then try and force a path through once the barrier was lifted; inevitably drivers on each side had filled up both lanes in their desperation to get to the front resulting in two walls of traffic heading straight for each other as soon as the way was open. Such intelligent driving…

We reached Jodhpur mid-afternoon and James located our target accommodation without difficulty, the delightful Durag Niwas guesthouse at the end of a quiet residential road (a relief after riding through the busy main city and thinking it was, frankly, a bit of a toilet). The guesthouse was set around a peaceful courtyard and was painted in the Brahmin blue for which the old town is famous (the Brahmins are the highest caste – that of the priests – and their homes were distinguished by their blue walls. It used to be that only the Brahmins were permitted to use this colour but now anyone can.) The best thing about the guest house was that it was run by a really lovely, and refreshingly polite, family. And the fact that there was a well-stocked book shelf so I finally got my hands on a novel again. Oh, and the banana lassis (natural yoghurt drink with cardamom and saffron), so tasty! Unfortunately, we both got bitten to death by mosquitoes while getting showered and changed, not ideal as we were now in a malarial area but had opted not take medication for it. I also had a series of red bites at the top of my legs and round my waist which I suspected were from the camel saddle from the previous day – more than likely it had been bug infested. Then, the next morning I woke up with suspicious little lumps all over my shoulders so, fearing bed bugs, we asked for the sheet to be changed. All in all, not ideal!! Just writing about it makes me feel all itchy again…

The first thing we went to see in Jodhpur was the fort – a particularly impressive one (we are, by now, becoming fort connoisseurs!), perched up on a hill above the city. The admission fee included an audio guide so we wandered around trying to ignore the heat of the midday sun and concentrate on the history and anecdotes. From the fort we were able to look down on the concentration of blue houses in the old town, a pleasing sight though we were convinced that the pictures we’d seen on google were ‘photo-shopped’  – they had made the blue look much more vivid. We got lots of smiles and hellos as we walked around, and several people asked to have a photo taken with us (they seemed more forthcoming here – usually we catch people, more often than not young men, surreptitiously taking a photo of me on their mobile phone while they pretend to text or, the classic, one guy taking a photo of his friend and oh, what a coincidence, I’m just walking past as the button is pressed so it looks like we’re together!!) At the end of one of the ramparts along the fort walls was a temple which must have been dedicated to a goddess of fertility or something – all the visitors we women and children. We stood at the entrance for quite some time just people watching as the Indian women wound their way down gracefully to make offerings (much more civilised than the men; no hawking and spitting) in swathes of colourful saris. The peaceful atmosphere was at times punctuated by a prayer bell and multi-coloured Rajasthani flags fluttered up above the temple making for some great photos.

Feeling peckish, we made our way down a steep cobbled path to the clock tower and market where we’d been told we could find ‘Omelette Man’. And sure enough, there he was, operating out of a tiny stall by one of the gates in the old city wall. As the name suggests, Omelette Man is specialist in egg-based products (yes, I know Jackson, ideal for me!) and has been running his one-man outfit for over 30 years. Sitting on a dirty stool in the middle of a street full of crap and flies isn’t the ideal dining scenario it has to be said, but the masala special omelette was indeed a tasty little number! We wrote a comment to such affect in his guest book (he has piles of them, built up over the years) and went on our way. We spent a bit of time walking around the market but there’s only so much stinking rubbish and incessant beeping that you can put up with so we soon retreated back to the guesthouse for a cold beer on their rooftop; a great place to chill out and watching the setting sun. That evening we got chatting to a lovely Dutch couple and ended up having a bit of a ranting session with them; none of us could believe that tourists keep on flocking to India in their thousands when it’s so dirty and polluted (am sure James will let rip on this subject on the blog sooner or later; he’s got his driving rant out the way now!) In fact, most fellow travellers we’ve chatted to have expressed a similar sentiment but there are obviously still a lot of ‘India-lovers’ out there. Each to their own, I guess.

The next day we had a lazy morning then ventured out in the afternoon to see the old blue part of the city close up and personal… hmmn, we shouldn’t have bothered! The indigo houses that formed such a striking image when viewed from the fort were, in reality, run-down buildings set amongst a maze of narrow garbage filled streets, with malnourished cows and mangy dogs appearing at every turn. We came upon a cow in one street that promptly lowered its head and barged into James, scraping his side with its horns and only just avoiding serious damage to his ribs! This only added fuel to the fire of our vitriol against cows and doubled our determination to have a steak as soon as possible! Fed up with the stench and insufferable din of the old town, we got an auto-riskshaw up to the Chittar Palace only to be told by an officious guard at the bottom of the hill that the museum was closed. Ok, we’ll just go up and look at the palace then. No sir, the palace is for guests only (it’s been converted to a luxury hotel). Ok, we’ll go up and have a drink then (jeez). As you wish, sir. However, when we reached the elaborate gates, the cravat-sporting concierge looked at our rickshaw with ill-disguised distain and informed us that a drink at the bar would require a minimum spend of 2000 rupees (about £30, or five nights accommodation at our current place!!) Oookay then, time to turn around rickshaw man, we didn’t want to see the palace anyway… It seemed we’d reached the end of the line with Jodhpur and it was time to think about our onward journey to the mountain resort town of Mount Abu.

11 Responses to “The Blue City”

  1. Darren says:

    I’m having steak, pepercorn sauce and Dophinoise this evening mmm

  2. Motoventurers says:

    Ha ha, James is desperate for some red meat!! Rub it in, why don’t you!!

  3. Lorna Souch says:

    Hi Guys, hopefully you’ve recovered from all those bites! That photo of the ‘Blue City’ is so weird- really incongruous. Loving all the photos and adventures of your adventures.
    lots of love from us all, Lornaxxxx

  4. julian says:

    Hi team. Wonder where you are now then? I’m about 8 yrs behind with my photos to albums so you are not doing too bad!
    Wonder if you,ve got any comments from Sunsail people yet. My contact there, Kerry, said the whole department is now following your website!
    Love from gotobalidad X

  5. julian says:

    Doh! I see you are in Nepal! Fantastic!

  6. Jess says:

    Finally some more blog! Yes!
    Don’t like India much then. Jack – you gonna defend it having living there for 6 months?
    Good call on avoiding the rats.
    Please put more blog on soon!

  7. Jackson says:

    Ha India. Well all I can say is I am so glad i did 2 things out there which restored my faith in the country
    - the trip to kashmir snowboarding. Stunning scenery, more genuine people, and the hard core act of boarding on montains with no piste whilst the edgy presence of lots of AK47′s keep you on your toes…or you edge rather
    - the motorbike tour with Dad. No traffic problems up there near Tibet. You wouldn’t see anyone for hours and then it would be some upside down car which had fallen from the hairpin above.
    And I guess 2 things I would def recommend:
    - rafting down upper Ganges and camping on the river banks
    - the camel fair in pushkar.
    But yep other than that, disgusting, hard work and fundamentally flawed country

    Must say though I’m well impressed with NE brazil.paradise here. Endless White beaches, warm sea and amazingly consistent wind. Throw in a chilled out caiperinhas vibe and beautiful locals and I am a happy man ;-)

    Egg james, given you are so far behind perhaps a big round up blog is whats needed to cover the rest of India and get you up to date. Remember who you are doing the trip for – not us. As much as we love your blogs, don’t let it become a chore. Given that it hasn’t inspired you like other places perhaps just give it the print it deserves. Just a thought.

    Love to you both

  8. Motoventurers says:

    Ha, glad you’re enjoying Brazil, Jack : ) Don’t worry, we enjoy doing the blog and we know it will be a valuable aid memoire once we’re grey and old!! You’re right though, I think a lack of inspiration on the India front led us to get a bit slack!
    Have just uploaded the rest of the Jodhpur pics. In Pokhara now after a heavenly twisty route to get here. We love Nepal!!
    Thanks everyone for your continued interest!
    Love E+J xxx
    P.S. We also finally updated our map and will endeavour to keep on top of it now!

  9. Jess says:

    Cool to see more pics up! xxxx

  10. Joanna says:

    Hey chaps – long time no speak! Have always wanted to visit India – my desire seems to be diminishing as I read your blog! Have been following Carl and Bene’s antics in Nepal and have severe trekking envy – hope you have just as much fun as them!

    Lovely to see all your fantastic piccies – you both look fab!

    Bisley land all send love.
    Miss you heaps

  11. Mama/kate says:

    Oh my goodness, you lovely, beautiful people. cannot wait to see you in December. x

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