Jodhpur, April 2016

img_0822I am writing now from a blue rooftop overlooking Mehrangarh Fort as a tortoise crawls around me and the kids. We are at our hotel restaurant in the Blue City, which has large cushions for seats around low tables and a porch swing, wall paintings, many plants, nice views, and a friendly tortoise. We’ve been here for a few days.  
I’m glad we chose to stay in the Navchokiya neighborhood west of the fort. We are in a mostly residential maze of narrow streets in walking distance of the fort. We have walked there and back several times, and there is always something interesting to experience. There are smells of cooking food, incense, and the open sewer near your feet. It is not the cleanest place to wander-cows and stray dogs are plentiful along with their droppings and the usual copious litter.  

 There are little shops and children about. Last night, three older women sat on a stoop and sang beautifully for no apparent reason. There are men playing cards and a chess-like game they draw on the cement. We got adorably scammed to the tune of 30 cents by two older women who invited us onto their porch to show us the lovely view- and then their palms as they requested payment. We gave them 20 rupees. I thought it was hilarious!  img_0853

Above: the view. Below: the scammers in action 

 Anyway, plenty of things to see and smell as you walk around the area. The streets are very narrow, some are a squeeze for motorbikes and are too narrow for tuk tuks. We thought in fact that the tuk tuks themselves were narrower here to better handle the tiny streets.
Other than hanging around the hotel roof and walking around the fort (we declined to pay the steep $8pp entrance fee) we spent time at Rao Jodha, a 175-acre desert eco project, and at the market near the clock tower. 
The fort is beautiful from a distance at any time. It is nicely lit at night and the sun makes it glow differently at different times of the day. When we walked around, we could see the amazing stonework. There is a beautiful garden at the fort, adjacent to a fancy restaurant and free to enter. We walked all over the garden, enjoying the relative lush environment in the desert. Part of it is a ‘moonlight garden’ with night-flowering plants. There are pomegranate and banana trees as well. The old stone structures in the same soft reddish stone as the fort are highlighted by the plants. It is a place full of beauty.  
Rao Jodha is a lovingly restored desert landscape with indigenous plants and an impressive bird count. The plot was seeded with an invasive plant in the 1920s by a leader who wanted to see more green, however he chose an inappropriate plant. Since around the year 2000, workers have removed those plants and cultivated local ones, which now thrive, flowering and coloring the muted rocky hills. We went on two guided tours of the place, one morning and one evening walk. We saw many birds, lizards, and plant life as we walked along with an enthusiastic and knowledgable guide. 

  The visitor center is a restored city wall entrance and has details on the ecology of the place and the story of its development. 

  The clock tower is at the center of Sardar Market. Here we browsed the artisan shops and had lassis. There are many backpacker hotels here, and we ate at two of the many restaurants. The food seemed to be pricey wherever we went- even simple dahl and rice in several neighborhoods were twice what we are used to paying. The shops were nice. They had quilts, bamboo baskets being made as we watched, bangles, and saris. We were very happy to take advantage of the shoe repair area. Our hiking sandals, which would be difficult and expensive to replace, were falling apart and we were considering getting local versions of them.  

 These guys on the street had little workshops with flip flop parts, pieces of rubber (sometimes using old tires), and special adhesives and sewing materials. In a few minutes and for about $6, we had nicely repaired shoes. I’m grateful every time I put on my sandals. 
Jodhpur is called the Blue City for its many blue painted buildings. Our hotel was one of them, there in the old city with many square houses and roofs full of life- cooking, sleeping, playing family members were on many roofs. It was approaching summer as we visited and the hot weather makes the roofs a welcome space for the locals.  

  

 The city is also called the Walled City for its large historic wall. Many Rajasthan cities have these protective walls from the time when they attacked each other. In fact, I think Jodhpur was attacked by the Jaipur king at one time. It is a shame that such lovely structures were built for a war-oriented purpose. The people at Rao Jodha mentioned that the walls, which had lasted hundreds of years, had been deteriorating and allowing invasive plants and animals in, threatening the indigenous species the project exists to protect. So, parts of the wall were repaired in the name of keeping out attackers, this time the ecological kind.
We left on a late afternoon train back to Jaipur for another few days there. The setting sun was so pretty on the desert landscape out the train window. I really appreciate the train rides, especially since we are so late in buying tickets due to our flexible (ok, maybe unorganized) itinerary that sometimes we can’t get or we just barely get the tickets we would like. But there we were, together in decent seats, riding the rails in Rajasthan and watching the sun set.

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