Named for horse, known for sun
We very nearly missed our flight from Delhi to Jodhpur, the Sun City, this morning. All very inadvertent of course but it turns out that, although Indian domestic airports have those big boards for realtime updates on flight arrival and departure, they don’t actually update. So our flight, which we were told was delayed for an hour, was actually not, almost at all. Our decision to go have lunch was therefore very mistimed.
Luckily the ratio of white people made us not impossible to find. But still, we were a little pink-cheeked when we boarded, since the plane had clearly been sitting idle, and fully loaded, for a while. Eek.
All that commotion was nearly enough to distract me from the fact that our plane had actual propellers and looked not dissimilar to that with which Amelia Earhart made history. I am not a particularly nervous flyer generally but I will admit to watching the propellers for signs of slackening throughout the (thankfully short) flight to Jodhpur airport, a whitewashed bougainvillea-covered two-room affair, simmering in the mid-afternoon heat. A mirage greeting.
We have a new guide for this new city and he is impatient to get started. This was fairly much the wrong attitude to take with us as, in our supreme entitlement, we resent the feeling of being directed on (what is after all) our holiday. Regardless, we let him show us around JaswantThada, which was…kinda ok? I suppose? If you like marble a lot. Or a lot of marble. Or preferably both.
JaswantThada, in case you’re interested, is a cenotaph built by a 19th century Maharaja in honour of his father who was, you guessed it, also a Maharaja. It’s got quite a pretty outlook over Jodhpur, and the thinness of the marble does mean that it glows softly in the sun, but the pink satin they’ve used to replicate the throne-like seating arrangement inside is weird and the stylised drawings of each Maharaja which line the walls leave me outright cold.
My favourite moment is the guard, in full traditional dress, ignoring the tourists and watching videos on his iPhone.
Our next stop is Meharangarh Fort, which is one of the largest and most impressive forts in India. It is also the reason Jodhpur calls itself the Sun City, as this is apparently where the sun first rises in India. (Being ill-equipped with geographic skill I cannot verify this claim, but admit to having received it with an eyebrow unwittingly raised).
Built in the 15th century, it’s a pretty amazing collection of different styles (as, in typical imperial style, subsequent rulers were wont to tear down and add on-to the structure that preceded them). It’s also an absolute rabbit warren of passages, mirrored rooms and hidden alcoves and filled, in what we will come to realise is true Indian fashion, with absolutely every little curio connected with the site. (Is it just me who thinks good curatorship involves not displaying every horse-bit or dagger in your sizeable collection?)
Despite this, and although we’d have been a lot quicker guide-less, as his reading aloud of every (English) sign displayed next to a object de interest definitely slowed things down, we spent an enjoyable couple of hours wandering through its halls.
Our guide was, however, very helpful in the ATM department. Allow me to explain. A little less than two weeks before we arrived India demonetised the 500 and 1000 rupee notes; rendering much of the money in circulation effectively worthless unless deposited with a banking institution. The idea, we pieced together from The India Times and our trusted driver Mr Singh, was to flush out the so called ‘black’ money which is stockpiled, never deposited in a bank and thus never taxed. According to our driver there are families who own second houses for the sole purpose of storing such gains which is I think a rather beautiful, if absurd, image.
Regardless, the sudden announcement has thrown the economy into chaos. The old money is worthless and no-one can lay their hands on the new. (We learn later that night from a textiles manufacturer that the demonetisation was intended to occur on November 30 but was bought forward due to political leaks which thus prevented the printing of the requisite money in time). Each day we pass large queues of people at ATMs. Often they wait all day only to find there is no cash left. The Times reported only this morning that a 70-year-old man died of exhaustion on reaching the front of the queue.
So our request about the likelihood of withdrawing cash is hesitant. Hesitant but also tinged with desperation as in a country where most people do not have bank accounts, eftpos is only a burgeoning idea and not one largely embraced. Without cash we will struggle in the coming days. Our guide is effusive; cash is no problem, no problem at all.
We are unconvinced.
He is, however, right. He takes us to a Bank of India ATM, with a queue the runs around the block and leads us to straight to the front of it. It is immensely awkward. Apparently the Bank of India, in an effort to provide funds for tourists (since they will immediately recirculate them) has implemented this permitted queue jumping. This does not make the actuality of the act any less awkward or the eyes any less accusing as we trail past shamefacedly in our guides wake.
India is full of interactions I only partly understand, glances as well as words that I do not comprehend. This is both the usual tourist experience and some other heightened layer of otherness seldom encountered. It is not exactly unpleasant but it is rather discombobulating.
This feeling is renewed when on our way to the hotel; our driver pulls up on the side of the road. A group of three youths, all faux-leather jackets and brylcremed bravado approach and it would be a lie to say I did not clutch my bag a little more tightly on my knee. We are all guilty of such mundane impulse responses. The front passenger-door opens and our guide begins a lively exchange with the youths. Mr Singh joins in, money changes hands and is passed back, rejected. The voices raise, some indignant, others aggressive. I had thought this was an off-the-books money exchange; swapping demonetised notes for new but now I’m really a bit lost. There is some more shouting when the youths appear to be walking off with the money but they gesture inside the car and our guide picks up a large bag of what looks like grass clippings from beside his feet which strangely mollifies the indignant Mr Singh.
With a mumbled explanation of ayurvedic medicine and sick mothers, we are then back on the road, amid the swerve of brakes and sounding of horns that has already become synonymous with driving in India. Our hotel, when we reach it, is a whitewashed thing of beauty. A colonial lovechild of British and Indian traditions, it is airy and light with an encircling veranda decorated by bougainvillea and dancing figures.
We enquire about dinner and though the hour is late we are greeted genially and guided up several flights of stairs until we emerge onto the rooftop terrace, all set out with low tables and sumptuous pillows and best of all – no other people. We sip our first Kingfisher Beer, fireworks explode (actually) around us (thank you wedding season) and the festive music swells in waves as we dig into fresh fried vegetable pakoda, served truly Australian-style on a paper towel. It is bliss.
We stayed Kothi Heritage in Jodhpur and would absolute recommend it – charmingly eclectic rooms, great service and an excellent rooftop.