We said our goodbyes to Pushkar, and decided on a brief stop in Ajmer. It’s an unusual place in Rajasthan, being somewhat of a Muslim island amongst the Hindu majority. Ajmer has one of the most important Muslim shrines in India- that of the Sufi Saint, Moinuddin Christi. We foolishly visited on a Friday, so the crowds were huge, but we found a totally unique atmosphere to any holy place we’d visited in India before, mainly due to the huge numbers of people (men and women) sitting on the ground praying- either chanting from books or singing and playing exuberant music. The best part for us was the interesting and friendly market streets around the shrine, filled with very different and varied goods, such as head coverings for women, Koran prayer books, lots of chicken and lamb, and strange sweets. It was a good example of India’s ability to give something new/surprising/amazing/different almost every day, after all our travels here over the years. After a look at a couple of other smaller Muslim and Jain monuments, we were on our way to Jodhpur.
|Old paper cutting machine being demonstrated for us, Ajmer|
|Strange looking Ajmer sweets|
|MEAT!!! Ajmer market|
Jodhpur was another previously visited place for us- last time it was in 2002 on our second time to Rajasthan. There was a lot of the city we didn’t explore then, so, after a bad start, with both of us getting the runs, and Richard having a problem with his tooth, we eventually got back on track and experienced the sights of the “blue city”. It’s so named for the many buildings painted my favourite blue colour- distinctively Indian- that is supposed to repel mosquitoes.
|Dentist sign, Jodhpur|
The gorgeous centrepiece in Jodhpur is the massive fort looming over the town. We remembered it being one of the most impressive forts we’d seen in India, particularly because of the palace inside, but considering the entrance price had risen about 10 times since our last visit, we didn’t go in again.
|Jodhpur fort at dawn|
|The backside of Jodhpur fort|
|Jodhpur fort from Jaswat Thada|
There were so many other sights to see- most of them free or a minimal entrance fee. One intriguing temple perched high on a rock could be seen from the rooftop of our guesthouse, but as we couldn’t find out the name of it, we spent many hours roaming the twisting little backstreets looking. When we finally came across it, climbed it and saw the fantastic 360 degree view of all of Jodhpur, we decided it was well worth searching out!
Other sights included the beautiful, white, marble Jaswat Thada- a memorial to past maharajas (they really love their royalty here), perched high on a hillside; Madore Gardens, where in addition to the lovely graves of the maharajas, we were lucky enough to watch a dramatic TV show being filmed; Sadar Market, a mix of tourist spice stalls, second hand saris, fruit stands and crappy plastic toys; Maha Mandir, the remaining historic building in a busy area a couple of kilometres from Jodhpur, where Sally was lucky enough to be felt up by a schoolboy, who was slapped around by us and then his teachers as a result; and just generally wandering around the majority Muslim laneways of the old city, enjoying the friendly people greeting us, and kids shaking our hands, interesting and pokey little shops, and occasionally catching a glimpse of the fort or the impressive city walls, surrounding Jodhpur for miles.
|View of Jaswat Thada, Jodhpur|
|Remnants of the city wall, Jodhpur|
|Reflections at Jaswat Thada, Jodhpur|
|Pretending to be a maharani at Jaswat Thada, Jodhpur|
|Beautiful gardens at Mandore, Jodhpur|
|Screened windows at Mandore, Jodhpur|
|Richard looking very serious for some reason at Mandore, Jodhpur|
|Mandore Gardens, Jodhpur|
|Extras in a TV show, Mandore, Jodhpur|
|Gorgeous outfits, Mandore, Jodhpur|
|More extras, Mandore, Jodhpur|
|Filming the TV show, Mandore, Jodhpur|
Jodhpur is known for its antiques, and our 500 old haveli guesthouse fitted right in, being filled to the brim with old furniture, pictures and odds and ends. The atmosphere seemed lovely when we looked around, but we discovered within a couple of days that the manager was a complete nutcase, who stayed up all night yelling and moaning, and keeping everyone awake. After one week of this, we’d had enough, and had seen most of what we had set out to in Jodhpur.
|Door detail, guesthouse, Jodhpur|
|Great old Morris, guesthouse, Jodhpur|
|Balcony on haveli, Jodhpur|
|Modern bride, Jodhpur|
|Dressed up goat on a cold morning in the Muslim part of Jodhpur|
|Cute Jodhpur resident|
|Green door in a blue wall on the streets of Jodhpur|
|Cute and curious little critters|
We had ideas of stopping in various desert villages on the long way out into the Thar Desert to Jaiselmer. The first village, ancient Ossiyan, was quaint and quiet, and we very much enjoyed the intricate carvings on the old Jain temples scattered around the place. We stayed with a local priest, and considering the sudden cold change in the weather, we decided to forgo the basic cold water shower and sleep with all our clothes on. The idea of staying in Phalodi, a big town 2 hours away, was quashed when we arrived the next day and saw the accommodation options. We are certainly not fussy, as our friends will know, and have often stayed in the most basic of places in order to break a journey, or see a remote sight off the beaten track. But, the two hotels on offer in Phalodi were so foul and dirty, with bad smells, grog bottles, and pan (red chewing tobacco used everywhere by Indian men) stains indiscriminately spat inside the room, we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it- even for one night. This was very disappointing, as it would mean missing out on seeing the Siberian cranes that migrate here at this time of year on mass, and are apparently a spectacular sight.
|Sexy temple carvings. Ossiyan|
|Voluptuous carvings, Ossiyan|
|Temple carvings, Ossiyan|
|Another pleasing doorway, Ossiyan|
Despite the letdown, the bus journey nearly made up for it. I found the small insight into desert life intriguing. Due to the lack of wood in the desert, most of the fences are made of big slabs of stone, making for a distinctive landscape. Many villages have tiny houses made of the same stone with thatched roofs, or mud huts, with dried up thorn bushes surrounding them as a protective fence. We saw elephants, camels, peacocks, mongoose and a desert fox (dead), in addition to the usual livestock on the roads. There is also a huge military presence, due to the close proximity to the Pakistan border.
So, onto Jaiselmer it was, with memories of our first trip to India in our minds, and hopes of a hot shower. The idea of India being a hot country is well and truly crushed in the Rajasthani desert in winter! The heavy snow in Kashmir, had apparently worsened what was already a chilly climate, and we rugged up in newly purchased jackets, socks, hats, and most of what we owned underneath! Richard finally had to replace his shorts with long trousers, although he couldn’t quite bring himself to wear socks! In a climate where they have very cold weather for at least 3 months of year, the desert dwellers seem not prepared. The buildings are all designed for hot weather, with tiny windows and courtyards that don't let in the sun, hot water is not the norm, and of of course, no heating. It must be very miserable to live here every year during this time.
The touts in Jaiselmer have a reputation as some of the most aggressive in India, and our memories of arriving at the bus station 16 years ago, and being met by hundreds of screaming men holding up signs for various guesthouses, while being held back by a police line, were still fresh in our minds- kind of hard to forget!! Now, there is a train line to Jaiselmer, and we hoped we would sneak in under the radar, coming by bus from the untouristy Phalodi. Funnily enough, when our bus stopped an hour out of Jaiselmer, a tout got on to promote his new guesthouse! Since we didn’t have anywhere in particular to stay, we took his card, and promised to look out for his “brother” when we arrived. Sure enough, when our bus pulled in, a man was there asking for “Ricky” (Richard’s Indian name- they all love cricket out here, and Australian player Ricky Pointing is a big hero). We jumped in his car, and he took us for free to look at his guesthouse. We didn’t end up staying there, but it saved us the hassle of finding where the guesthouse area was.
|Rich on the roof of our guesthouse, with Jain temple in background|
Despite the cold, December and January are the height of the tourist season here due to Indian holidays, and besides Jaipur, there is nowhere more popular for tourists in Rajasthan than Jaiselmer. Of course, there is a reason for that- the magnificent fort rising out of no-where in the middle of the desert, is quite a sight, and the interior is quite unique, with cobble stoned streets, gorgeous old buildings in a warm golden colour stone dripping with carvings now being used as homes and businesses. The old city surrounding the fort and various sites around the town are also of some interest, but it is the entire setting that is so exceptional. Unfortunately, the cold, foggy weather meant it was impossible for us to capture any nice photos of the stunning views.
|A rare photo of the two of us together!|
|Large balls, once used to drop on the attacking enemies' heads, Jaiselmer fort|
|Gorgeous fort, Jaiselmer|
|Boy flying a kite, with the foggy fort in the background, Jaiselmer|
It’s so hard to imagine nowadays, but all these towns in the middle of the Thar Desert were once very important, and on a main trade routes to and from the Silk Road. The merchants who became rich from trading built their superb homes (called havelis) resplendent with fine carvings and/or murals all over the western part of Rajasthan. These are mostly well preserved in the dry desert climate, and the best are seen in Jaiselmer.
|Gorgeous haveli-cum-shop, Jaiselmer|
|Jain temple decorations against the sky, Jaiselmer|
|Haveli in Jaiselmer old town back street|
|A rare clear view over Jaiselmer from the fort|
|Haveli horse detail, Jaiselmer|
The downside of all the beauty of Jaiselmer, and the subsequent interest, is a town that feels only interested in the tourist dollar. We always try to see a different side of the town and people in such places, walking in less spectacular areas, where people are just going about their daily lives, or doing day trips out to lesser seen sites, but there was something about Jaiselmer that didn’t let us in. It was probably also due to the fact that we had to change hotels due to lack of warm water (never did get that warming shower), and we had a lot less enthusiasm because of the chilly, dry weather. One day was so misty and freezing, we were forced to hang out in a warm restaurant for the entire day- our bodies were not coping well!