The Blue City

Day 756 – 26 March, 2017

After a restful night on the 12 hour train journey from Delhi to Jodhpur, I was eager to see the Blue City. It was the first time I had traveled alone in India and it actually felt great to be back on my way, regarding only my own whims and fancies. I hailed a rickshaw to take me to my hostel and we were off. As always, I had marked on my map where I wanted to go so when I noticed that we were going the wrong way, I tried to get my driver’s attention over the whirring of his motor. Unfortunately, there was a strong language barrier between us so I resorted to sign language and what amounted to a little dance to get us back on track. I could tell he disagreed with my directions, but I insisted, convinced that my map wouldn’t steer me wrong. Eventually, the road we were on came to a rather abrupt closure with a large mound of debris and trash. Just closed. No warning. By this time, my driver had given up on me so he turned around, pointed at me, and moved his first two fingers like legs before again pointing down the closed street. Super…so I guess I’m meant to walk then?

It wasn’t far. I followed the little blue arrow on the GPS to the exact spot that designated the hostel, but it wasn’t there. I walked up and down the narrow block at least ten times, looking down alleyways, searching up above store fronts where there might be an apartment over the street. It just wasn’t there. Several rickshaw drivers stopped to offer help, but I stubbornly refused to forsake my map. Very few people in this part of town spoke English so all they could do was stare at the ridiculous girl with the huge backpack. Needless to say, I was quickly becoming exasperated and my mood was souring quickly. A plump jovial man with a thick mustache, no shoes, and a belly protruding through stressed buttons approached me and thankful for that I was, he could speak perfect English and also seemed to know the exact hostel I was looking for. He insisted it was too far to walk so he flagged an auto-rickshaw that was already ferrying a passenger and urged me inside. I smiled apologetically at the other passenger, but he only moved over and opened his arms so as to hold one of my bags. The first man pressed in on the other side of me, sandwiching me in the middle, and shouted something to the driver. Off we go again! The original passenger was dropped off and we continued for several more minutes through a maze of alleys and pockmarked dirt roads. The ride lasted long enough that I questioned whether this was all an elaborate scam to get me to stay at a relative’s boarding house, but no sooner than the thought came to mind, we arrived at the hostel. The desk clerk, the driver, and my fortuitous guide each tried to help with my backpack, yet none of them hung about as if waiting for a tip. This kind man climbed back in with the driver and wished me a nice stay in his city before they disappeared again in the throngs of other commuters.

It was early, not even 8am. My bed was not ready, but I was told I could take breakfast on the rooftop terrace. The terrace, located on the 4th floor, opened up to a breathtaking view of Jodhpur’s crown jewel, Mehrangarh Fort, and the sprawling Blue City was laid out before me in the morning light. I met Beccy from the UK who was the only other early-riser and she joined me for a climb up to the fort where the calming reverential silence was in contrast to the crowded alleys below. Only a few other tourists roamed the marble hallways, but it seemed the main attraction was the view way off to the hazy horizon of the azure-accented neighborhoods.

Rooftop view

Later, Beccy and I met up at a stepwell, which is meant to serve the utilitarian purpose of irrigation tanks, but on a sweltering dry day, they can also be used as the local swimming hole. When I arrived, Beccy was already chatting with a couple of English blokes. We watched a few boys challenge each other as to who could jump from the farthest or highest platform, miraculously leaping unscathed before disappearing into the dark pool below. One of the English guys couldn’t resist the temptation of a swim, but the rest of us just shuddered at what that murky still water might do to our Western constitutions. I never saw those two Brits after that, but I could only imagine the gastric nightmare if he happened to swallow even a drop.

Watching the sunset from a rooftop in India is not to be missed so luckily, the restaurants offering this amenity are in wide supply. This was to be my only night in Jodhpur, leaving on a bus to Udaipur mid-day tomorrow. Beccy, having just arrived in India for a months-long tour, talked of her plans for a camel safari in Jaisalmer and to go to Ladakh for trekking in the Karakoram Range. I lamented how I wouldn’t have time to visit either of these places. Me, on a two plus year sojourn around the world, wouldn’t “have time.” It seemed absurd, but like anyone else on a standard American vacation, I was trying to cram in the whole of Rajasthan in just two weeks. Enamored with the country as I was, I began plotting my return before I was even gone.

The next morning we walked to Jaswant Thada, a mausoleum for the royal family of Marwar. It too was nearly empty save for a few brightly garbed women tending the garden. For everyone who had warned about the sheer throngs of humans that inhabit this northern region, I seemed to be finding lots of solitary moments. The walk back to the hostel wasn’t long, but the only vehicle that passed was a family of four, balanced on a motorbike. They only stopped to ask us for a photo.

Darting off to the bus station, I bid farewell to Beccy. As was not unusual so far, the bus attendant directed me to a picnic table out front and said the bus was running late. I chatted for awhile with a Russian guy, Sergei, who claimed to have been on the road for close to 10 years. We waited and waited. The bus finally clunked into the parking area with a huge burp of exhaust. One at a time we filed down the aisle, cramming luggage into broken and sticky storage compartments. I chose a seat by the window. The upholstery was peeling back around the edges and the seat back was broken so I was somewhat reclining into the lap of the person behind me. I have grown to secretly love this as long as I can ignore the sensation of impending death. Sergei stuffed his backpack into the row across from me. I leaned back in my seat, gazing out the window, as we inched out into traffic.

Thirty minutes later we were finally on the open road, my window pushed down for free air conditioning. Two men on a motorbike were dangerously maneuvering through the buses and 18-wheelers, gaining on us at a high rate of speed. The one on the back was frantically waving his arms. If I didn’t know better, it seemed he was trying to get our (my?) attention. He was blonde – this can’t be right. I realized at precisely the moment that the bus driver wizened up that this was indeed Sergei. The driver pulled over and Sergei bounded aboard, looking disheveled from his impromptu motorbike tour. Accusingly, he asked why I didn’t tell the driver that he wasn’t on board. The whole scene was so surreal that I just shrugged and laughed and turned back to the window.

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