Day 130: Jodhpur, India. We had another lazy start to the day, with coffee and breakfast on the terrace in the fiery morning sun, then headed out to visit Mehrangarh Fort. The town had a bit of a snoozy feel today, perhaps due to the rapidly rising heat.
As we walked up the steep cobbled hill to the fort, two fighter jets shot past overhead. A man explained it’s a common occurrence, and that Jodhpur has the largest air base in South East Asia. Another random trivia fact to add to the pile.
We reached the fort, paid our entrance fee and walked towards the inner gates. A security guard waved us to the side and said “you will wait 5 minutes before entering”. So we stood with a bunch of people under the shade of a tree and waited, assuming they were undertaking some sort of crowd control exercise. Then after a few minutes, a few cars drove down the ramp of the fort, and people next to us put their hands together saying namaste (Añjali Mudrā) and bowed.
We asked a guy standing next to us who they were bowing to – he said it was the King and Queen of Jodhpur. It’s their son’s birthday today, so they were visiting the temple at the fort. Our first encounter with Indian royalty. Jim reckons the king waved at him personally. Lil says unlikely.
We spent a couple of hours wandering around Mehrangarh fort. We’ve been to a bunch of forts now and this one rates highly – it’s a fascinating old building, and very well preserved too.
Mehrangarh was built in the mid fifteenth century by Rao Jodha, the ruler of what was then known as Mandore. He also founded the city of Jodhpur in 1459. Mehrangarh is one of the largest forts in India (Rudyard Kipling called it ‘the work of giants’) and sits on a hill 125m above the city.
The fort is enclosed by thick sandstone walls, with several palaces within its boundaries, and seven gates leading into the fort. The second gate has holes where cannon balls struck, fired by the attacking armies of Jaipur. It looks like they must have been using peashooters, given how thick the walls are.
There’s also an excellent museum within the fort, with weapons, silverware, and pictures and other historic artifacts on display. Our favourites were the old royal palanquins, used for carrying royal womenfolk, and howdahs, which are elephant saddles and seats.
As we were walking around the museum, a little kid with his mother got transfixed by Jim – he couldn’t stop staring at him, with eyes following his every move. We asked his mother if we could take a pic of the adorable little kid, who was sporting black eye liner – a fairly common thing here to accentuate kids’ eyes and make them look bigger). She said yes. And then, of course, the sister and grandmother had to jump into a picture too.
Next we walked to Maa Chamunda Temple, a 15th century temple which is just inside the far southern tip of the fort. We took off our shoes at the steps and walked through the little temple, which is very pretty and has amazing views across the town. It is worshipped during Navatri, a Hindu pilgrimage that happens in late September. Sadly in 2008, 224 people were trampled and killed from a stampede during a visit to the tiny temple for celebrations.
While we were putting our shoes back on, a guy called Denish struck up conversation to practice his English and get answers to his ‘Top 101 questions to ask tourists’, including where we’re from, how long we’ve been in India, what our names are, what our favourite city is etc. Then it got interesting.
Denish asked “are you husband and wife?” We said yes. He seemed happy. Then “How many children do you have?” We said none. A very puzzled expression from Denish, then he asked again “How many children do you have?” Again, we said none. He said “None? No children?”. He looked sad and a little startled, but decided to move on with his questioning. The next one was “How old are you both?”. We told him, and he repeated the ages and said “But that means woman older than man!”. We said yes, that’s right. His expression quickly moved from puzzled to horrified to downright mortified as he squeaked “Not possible in India!”. We shrugged our shoulders, and said it wasn’t a problem in Australia. He thanked us for talking to him, and wandered off, still shaking his head. I guess we may not be his perfect picture of a married couple.
We stopped at one of the fort cafes for an afternoon coffee. We were only sitting down for two minutes when a gang of seven guys came over and asked for selfies. We said sure, thinking they meant one group pic, but then they swung into photography overdrive. They took a whole series of pics – every time someone took a photo, they’d jump into the group to be photographed and someone else would jump up to take the picture. Then they went through every combination imaginable – “now two, now three, now four people”. We finished by getting one of them to take a picture of the gang with us, minus the guy who was snapping the shot.
Two minutes later, a husband and wife waved and asked if they could have a selfie with us. Sure. So the wife sat beside Lil and asked “Can I wear your goggles?” and before Lil could answer she was already wearing her sunglasses and posing for a shot. Next her husband had to come and sit beside Lil, while the girl took a photo of the three of us. And so we took one too. It can all get a little exhausting.
We walked back through another section of the old town, checking out some more of the fascinating busy streets. Jim badly needed a haircut and quite opportunely, we passed a barbers that looked fairly decent. Jim stopped and indicated to the barber he wanted his hair chopped. Lil whipped out a photo from May to show how short he wanted his hair cut (for fear the barber specialised in bald heads) and the barber swung into action with scissors and clippers and – eek – a cut-throat razor blade (thankfully the barber unwrapped a brand new blade). Ten minutes later Jim handed over the fee of one dollar and wandered off down the street sporting his new do. Pretty good job too.
We walked back to the hotel, a bit fatigued after the heat (a high of 35C today and very little shade) and rested for a bit before heading up to the roof for dinner and beers. We briefly chatted about going to another restaurant in the area, but the food and views are just so good on the roof here, and it’s hellishly handy.
Tomorrow we’re planning to walk to Umaid Bhawan Palace, which is the official residence of the King. Jim’s hoping the king might give him another personal wave. Lil says unlikely.