Sunday, July 1, 2012

Jodhpur, Rajasthan

It's the first of July and I've been in India almost three weeks during which time I've been visiting relatives. Mumbai is a neat city with a lot of history but as there is a week between family functions I decided to get away for a while and go explore some place new. Besides, hotels here in Mumbai are extremely expensive for nothing out of the ordinary.

So last night I bought a ticket for Jodhpur which is located in the desert state of Rajasthan. I really want to see Rajasthan and besides, it was the cheapest place to fly to on short notice. The flight aboard Jet Airways tool only one hour and even on such a short flight we were served lunch and even dessert and after that coffee and tea. And the flight attendant addressed me by name the entire time. Really nice.

Clock Tower, Jodhpur
After arriving at the airport the heat hit me, it was about 104 degrees. It's a dry heat so it's actually more comfortable that Mumbai's humid 90 degrees. A driver waited for me with my name on a placard outside the airport and too me to The Kothi Heritage. I chose this hotel because it had so many great reviews, actually rated number 3 in the city. The Kothi is known as a Haveli which is a stately home converted into a hotel. The fourth generation brothers greeted me at the front door and took me inside where I was given flowers and a glass of fresh squeezed juice. After talking a short bit and learning that their great great grandfather built this home 129 years ago I was finally shown to my room. I had booked the Executive room, their most basic for cost reason. I was given a complimentary upgrade to the Luxury room and, well, luxury really isn't the word to describe it. The bathroom is bigger than any I've ever seen, and it' bigger than many hotel rooms I've stayed in. The king size bed is about 8 feet long and sits over three feet off the ground, there are three steps that lead up to the bed. The ceiling is no less than 30 feet and the room is impecably clean and quite. Sitting in here it is hard to remember that I am still in India.

After getting settled in I braved the heat and took an auto rickshaw to the Clock Tower. This is where the oldest market in Jodhpur is. And all of this sits at the base of the towering Mehrangarh Fort (1449). The market was interesting but as it is in the center of where the tourists stay it is not quite the feel I like. Everything is priced outrageously expensive if you're not from around here.

A very small part of Shadar market which surrounds the Clock Tower

Okay, I'm going to vent just a little bit. I asked at the hotel what it would cost for taxi to take me to clock tower, the response was "for you, $2", so I replied with "what would you pay" and he said no more than $1. I asked why the difference and he said "you're a foreigner, we all know you have lots of money so it's no big deal". It's that attitude that makes me so angry sometimes. And it's all throughout India more so than any other country I have ever visited. Hotels have two prices, some restaurants do as well. And then there are all these massive monuments and forts and palaces where the Indian government also has different pricing. For example the Taj Mahal is only $1 for an Indian to visit but $20 for a foreigner, and foreigners have to pay extra for taking a camera inside where as an Indian does not always have to. It's this reason that I refuse to visit most monuments in India, my way of boycotting.

So back to the Clock Tower. No one really bothers me, some kids ask for money, I try to take some photos but the sun is just too bright. I walk behind the alleys into the residential areas, everyone is calling me friend. The heat becomes unbearable and I head back to the hotel. Knowing what a local pays, 50 rupees, I was able to stand my ground and negotiate the same price for my transportation in both directions. Made me feel good.

I decided not to eat at the hotel's restaurant tonight, kinda pricey and takes 40 minutes to prepare. So I asked for a recommendation and was told to walk about six blocks down the road. I walked. In almost total darkness on a dirt road. Packs of stray dogs concerned me more than anyone lurking in the darkness or stepping in a pile of cow shit that I can't see. Crossed three major streets. Then out of nowhere appeared the desert oasis. Stores lined for two city blocks brightly lit, music playing and people hurrying about. Guess, Tommy, Levi, and other major brand names of clothes that are made in India have stores here. A convenience store with the usuals. And there on the corner of the street like I was told it would be was Gypsy Dining Hall. Two stories. The lower level is the fast food and chaat area with really nice outdoor seating on a huge patio, a boy sits facing the street with a cane in his hand beating away cows and dogs looking for scraps. There's a line of people waiting for a table. It's quite the happening spot, this a posh area of Jodhpur.

I find the stairs that lead to the restaurant upstairs. I enter and all goes quiet. All eyes are on me. Am I the first foreigner to step foot here? I take a seat, people start back to their conversations at the 20 plus surrounding tables. Hands now moving from thali to mouth.

It's an interesting place, one I've seen in movies or on tv but never in real life. It is an orchestra of waiters moving at the snap of fingers.

When you come upstairs to the air conditioned area to eat there is no ordering. Only one thing is served and it is a traditional Rajasthani thali (google it). Just take a seat. A boy comes with a pitcher of water and pours water over your hands, he holds a brass pot underneath to catch the dirty water. An empty thali is placed in front of me with six small bowls. I wait, and wait. People are still staring, trying to anticipate what I will do. A man in a white shirt asks if I'm ready, I nod. He raises his hand with such authority and with a snap of the fingers all hell breaks loose. One boy comes on my left with three bowls of chutney's, he quickly twirls the bowls and with each spoon places three small dabs on my thali and at the same time a boy on my right is placing a samosa and pakoras on my plate, another hand reaches through the crowd and places different vegetables in three of my bowls, another with dals and butter paneer and another with puri, roti and parathas and then the dessert boy places sweets in another bowl. Finally rice and palau is added to the center of my plate.

In ten seconds my plate if filled. The boys continue to other tables twirling pots and spooning out food, this is after all an all you can eat thali dinner.

I take a roti and tear it with one hand, I begin to eat noticing the disappointment on so many faces that I'm eating like them. The spoon placed next to my thali must be the only spoon in the entire restaurant, it goes unused. As soon as I finish the dal I hear a finger snap and with a blink of the eye my bowl if full again. I finish my roti and I hear another snap. There's snapping all around and boys running to each command. I'm asked questions, I answer in Hindi. People smile at me, the guy in white laughs at me, must be my accent.

Dinner was good though I didn't eat much. For three bucks it was quite nice. My walk back was along the same dark path, the dogs this time are too busy chasing scooters to bother with me.

Ladies buying cherries

Making and selling pots, the large ones used for carrying and storing water

One of many public watering stations throughout the city

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