India - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 195 (5)

Taxi to Jodhpur

Sunday 19th September

We somehow managed to get up on time this morning and were quickly organised. We did most of the packing last night and all that remained now were the few bits and bobs we needed this morning. I already paid for both the room and the taxi to Jodhpur last night. The total bill came to R7,200 ($160). We had some laundry done for R200 ($4.5) and the taxi ride to Jodhpur via the Kumbhalgarh fort and Ranakpur temple came to the going rate of R2,200 ($49). The R1,200 ($27) for each night in the hotel, however, was apparently a bit over the going rate. It does have to be said that it was a very nice hotel with many more modern conveniences compared to some of the other budget places but we still would have been able to shave a few hundred Rupees off if we’d bargained harder. Oh well.

Udaipur is not serviced by any train lines and so the easiest and most convenient option of catching an overnight train to our next destination was not on the cards. We could have caught a flight to Jodhpur but this would have meant foregoing the opportunity to visit a couple of very worthwhile places of interest on the way. The cost of the taxi is not much more than what an overnight train for a similar distance would have cost but it does mean being subject to several hours in the car, something that sandy will not forgive me for.

The taxi and driver were both ready for us long before we were. It’s a very small car but it does have A/C – something that elevated the cost by R300 ($6.5). Our driver is very polite but also very quiet. He seems to want us to be happy with everything and the car has clearly been cleaned out especially for the journey.

Two stops were scheduled for this trip up to Jodhpur. Kumbhalgarh fort was the first of these and the quality of the roads leading to it were our worst nightmare. Somewhat expecting a bumpy ride, I took a Cinnarizine anti-nausea tablet. We learned about these in South Africa when did our first SCUBA diving at Sodwana Bay. We know from experience that they work very well and we stocked a good quantity of these in our medical kit. Sandy elected not to take any and was feeling nauseous within the hour. She was so miserable, in fact, that for a moment there, I was elevated to the status of loathsome scum sucking son of the devil. I was able to convince her to take a couple of the Cinnarizine tablets eventually and, this seemed to have done the trick. She never listens.

As we got closer to the fort, we started to slowly elevate around the hills and mountains (the fort is located top a mountain ridge) and the condition of the roads improved enough for me to get a little bit of sleep on the back seat. I was consequently a little groggy when we arrived but quite stunned to see the fort in all its glory at the top of the peak. Leading up to the fort is a very impressive wall that runs for some eighty-five Kilometres around the mountainside. Several temples dot the landscape and made for some wonderful photos but it was pretty much clear from the get go that the best vistas were going to be from the main building at the very top. Still feeling some of the after effects of her earlier bout of nausea, Sandy was reluctant to climb the steep ascent so we agreed that I would take the camera and do the honours – lucky me!

It was a very steep and very long climb in the blistering sun and I had to pace myself with a very slow but very steady step-by-step climb. I took with me the detachable portion of Sandy’s day-pack that has the integrated water bladder, having filled it with cold water before we left. I must have drunk half the contents before I reached the top and probably sweated it all by that time also. The effort was worth it in the end as the views out over the landscape were quite incredible. The main palace building itself was interesting enough but it was the views of the great wall, second only to the Great Wall of China according to the attendant, which extended around the mountain way out into the distance that I found impressive. We got some great views of a couple of the wonderfully and intricately sculptured temples also.

Having seen what there was to see, I thought I’d better start my decent to find Sandy but didn’t get very far. She was nearing the top part of the structure and was completely engulfed by about eighty of so school children. I don’t know what it is about Sandy but she seems to act like a magnet to children and never seems to escape their attention wherever she goes. After the obligatory shaking of hands and a few photos, we finally managed to drag ourselves away and made our way back to the awaiting taxi.

Next up on the tour was the Jain temple at Ranakpur. All the temples we’ve seen so far have been wonderfully sculptured from what appears to be a solid lump of marble. The detail has always been just awe-inspiring but nothing has prepared us for the splendour of the Jain temples at Ranakpur. There are four temples in all, ranging in size from that of a small house to the largest which must cover about a five hundred square metres in area and stands at about four stories tall at its peak. Inside, there are about a thousand pillars of intricately sculptured marble, each unique. The elaborate sculpturing does not only extend to the columns but also to the walls and even the ceilings and the many domes. You really don’t know where to look. Dotted around the temple are numerous efficacies, also apparently carved in marble, of various gods and deities. We had to pay R50 ($1) each to bring in our cameras but were instructed that no photography of any of the deities was allowed. We adhered to this restriction but this didn’t concern us, as the whole place was a photographers dream come true.

I nearly didn’t get into the temple to begin with. I was wearing my cut-off trousers with the bottom half of the legs still in my backpack. The man at the ticket window, from whom we brought our camera tickets, told me that I was not allowed into the temple with my legs exposed. The ever-helpful Indian administration, having already thought of this scenario, had a remedy for this in the form of a temporary pair of trousers for the bargain basement price of just R15 ($0,30) per pair. No point in losing tourism income just because we westerners like to wear shorts. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of having to rent a pair of trousers that had previously contained half the population of India’s male legs so I went back to the car to get my own legs out of my backpack. Unfortunately, our car was not there anymore. Our driver had obviously popped off to somewhere thinking that we would be occupied for a while with the temples. It was at this point that a horrific premonition thrust its way to the forefront of my mind. What if the driver never came back at all and simply did a runner with all our gear (include my precious laptop – not to mention all our clothes)? We would certainly be well and truly up that oh so familiar creek without that oh so familiar paddle. Fortunately, he did show up a few minutes later, full of apologies no less. He’d apparently gone for a quick cup of Chai. Given the sweltering heat, I couldn’t really blame him.

Magnificent or not, there is only so much admiring you can do in a temple and we eventually made our way back to the car and off we set again. We are now about forty minutes outside of Jodhpur so I think I’ll grab my guidebook and start to see what we can do about finding a place to stay.

We’ve arrived in Jodhpur and I think it’s fair to say that our honeymoon with Indian is well and truly over. So far, Jodhpur is nothing like Udaipur and we are struggling at this moment to find its endearing charms. Several factors have conspired to bring us to this sad state of mind. Firstly, we arrived late in the evening just as the sun was going down and after spending a total of seven hours in the car on the Indian road system, the last three and half of which in one continuous stretch. The Indian roads are in a bad state of disrepair with potholes creeping up on you all the time. The driver was constantly breaking or swerving hard and I bumped my head several times on the handrail just above my door. It’s almost not uncommon to overtake other vehicles overtaking other vehicles directly into oncoming traffic but you do develop numbness for the madness eventually. We’ve also not eaten since breakfast and this always makes Sandy groggy but I developed a splitting headache too. The city is very dirty and also a lot more congested that was Udaipur – at least what we’ve seen of it so far. There are a lot more rickshaws on the roads, each pumping out copious volumes of noxious black fumes. A very visible layer of smog hangs in the air everywhere and you can actually see the disturbances that moving traffic has on it. To top it all, we didn’t have a good idea of where we were going to be staying other than a couple of dubious recommendations from various people. Since we learned about the system of kickbacks and that the cost of these are added to your room rate each time you are taken to or recommended to a hotel, I was very reluctant to go with any of these suggestions. To make matters worse, our driver suddenly developed a serious comprehension block when I tried to tell him where to take us. I very much got the impression that he was thinking primarily of a kickback that might be coming his way. A quick scan of the guidebook revealed one of the guest-houses, the Yogi guest-house, that we’d been recommended by a restaurant owner back in Udaipur. I must have missed the fact that it was listed in the budget section of the budget section.

It was now pretty much dark and neither of us fancied wandering the polluted streets of a strange place fully laden. This Yogi guest-house was listed in the guidebook so it must be good, right? Well, at least that was my hazy thinking process at the time. The driver didn’t know where this place was so Sandy had the brilliant idea of using our phone, now fully functional with its Indian SIM card installed, to give the guest-house a call to see if they had any rooms. It's low season so naturally they did and I spoke with the man on the other end about room rates. His initial range of rates was between R150 ($3) and R700 ($16). He told me to be careful with the rickshaw drivers since they don’t give kickbacks and the rickshaw drivers are reluctant to take people there as a result. I was somewhat encouraged by this and haggled with him about the rate. I asked him about A/C and he told me that they have an air cooler, whatever that means. I also told him that I didn’t want to spend more than R300 ($7) on the room. He said that this wasn’t a problem and that something could be worked out so I agreed to come by and check on the room.

Reaching the hostel was a bit of a nightmare. It’s located in the very oldest part of the city and the streets are particularly narrow – so much so that our driver was quite reluctant to go there. We did eventually find it even though we had to park the car a few streets away. It’s a rather rustic place and is very cheap and cheerful. The guy at the front desk seemed nice enough (don’t they always!) and showed us a room on the third floor. We rejected this out of hand as it must have been close to the temperature of the surface of the sun in there with no fan or A/C. We rejected the next room he showed us also since it was on the second floor and right next to the very busy street. We could barely hear ourselves talk in there. Finally, he showed us a room on the ground floor that had an ‘air cooler’. It turns out that this is basically a humidifier type A/C unit. It forces air to pass through filters with water trickling through them. The idea is that the continually circulated water cools down the temperature of the air. It sits just on the outside of the mosquito mesh on the window and blows air into the room. The air coming out of it feels slightly cooler than the outside air but I’m not entirely convinced it is actually cooling down the room. It’s been on for over an hour now and I’m still sitting here sweating. Fortunately, we have an overhead fan and this does provide just a little relief.

Exhausted, temperamental, starving and now with a throbbing headache, we decided to bite the bullet and take the room. Suddenly, the price was R450 ($10) so I challenged this immediately and after some more haggling, we eventually agreed on R400 ($9). I insisted on first seeing the air-cooler working and they tried to activate it. Apparently, there was no water in its reservoir and I was told that it would take several minutes to fill it up. I stood there waiting for them, much to their protestations and assurances that they would get it to work. I still stood my ground, insisting I wanted to see it work when it suddenly came to light that the water pump was broken. Within a few minutes, a new pump arrived and they set to work trying to get this rusty and very old unit to function. At this point everything was suddenly immersed into pitch-blackness when a huge power cut spread out across the city. Could tonight get any worse? Yes!

We decided to let them sort it out as by now our tummies were screaming for food. Unfortunately, the in-house restaurant on the roof was pure-veg (no meat) so I asked where to go to get a good meal. The immediate recommendation, and I’m starting to get annoyed with that word, was a place called ‘On The Rocks’ which was supposed to be a R30 ($0,70) rickshaw ride away. Since rickshaws are everywhere, this should not present a problem. Wrong again. Finding a rickshaw was not the problem. Finding one with a driver that had even a passing knowledge of English proved a lot more difficult. We eventually found one that was astute enough to ask a passer-by to assist with some translation. He listened to the directions given and kind of shook his head in acknowledgement at each bit. The fact that he shook his head about ten times altogether should have set the alarm bells ringing right there and then but I was still in a bit of a daze so it flew right past me. Off we eventually set in this rickety old thing at barely more than a brisk walk. It felt very much like an old children’s ride at an old amusement park. We kept going, and going, and going. After about fifteen minutes, we were well outside of our part of the city and wondering whether the driver knew where he was going. He kept frantically looking around in all directions, which did nothing for my confidence. Indeed he stopped a couple of times to apparently ask for directions before we finally arrived at what looked on the outside to be a very nice open-air restaurant. We paid the man the agreed R30 ($0,70) plus an extra R10 for his troubles and he seemed to be appreciative of this.

The restaurant seemed quite nice and the very young waiter was polite enough. There were quite a number of people there, which is always a good sign. This means that it is not only a popular restaurant but also that the food passes through the system quickly and doesn’t sit there for days on end waiting to be cooked and served. We were seated and given a menu to look over. Now, both sandy and I can pretty much live on chicken. This is fortunate enough since pretty much every item on the non-veg menu in every restaurant across the land here is chicken of one description or another. It can get a little boring after a while, even for us, and I quite fancied something else tonight. In addition to the regular several pages of chicken dishes, this menu also had a Chinese section and a fish entrée so I concentrated on those to make my selection. By now we were both absolutely famished and wanted for nothing but a bit of food. Our waiter came to take our order and I rattled off my request. My first choice was unavailable so I asked for my second. This was unavailable too, as was my third and fourth. OK, then, the fish. No, no fish today either. “Is there anything on the menu that I ‘can’ order?” I sarcastically demanded from the waiter. “Yes, sir. Chicken” came the reply.  Now quite delirious with agitation, I quickly scanned through the chicken dishes to find some variation that I would tolerate. I also asked if they had any regular bread. Well, this was obviously asking too much since we spent the better part of the next fifteen minutes trying to explain to our waiter, himself rapidly losing his patients with us, what ordinary bread was. We did eventually get the entire order in and, surprisingly enough, what was brought out was quite close to what we thought it might be – even the sliced bread and butter. Despite of our growing annoyance with each other over every little thing you could imagine, we managed to enjoy the meal and relax just a little. I did give up on waiting for the bill twenty minutes after we’d finished eating, however, and had to go and find someone to pay.

Now fed, if not completely happy with how the evening turned out, we went outside to get another R30 rickshaw back into town. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Wrong again! There were already a couple of rickshaws outside the restaurant waiting to hook the unsuspecting, rich, tourist diners. The first of these offered us a ride but for the princely sum of R80 ($1,75). Not on your life buddy! Out of sheer principle alone, I passed up this offer and the next for R50 ($1,10) also. After walking up the road a few minutes, we eventually flagged down a rickshaw that was, after the requisite haggling, willing to take us for R40 ($0,90) after proclaiming that the rickshaws were, after all, more expensive after dark. Perhaps this is another one of those scenarios where I should stand back and take a look at the bigger picture. We will have spent in excess of $45,000 on this trip after it’s all done and here I am haggling hard over less than a dollar with a rickshaw driver in a remote city in India. On the other hand, however, this is going to be a long trip and these little bits do add up. A daily difference of just $5 multiplied over the course of three hundred days is $1,500 after all.

Well, we are back in our hovel of a room now and the air-cooler is pumping out lots of air and making lots of noise but you could probably still fry an egg on the window sill. We’ll probably get very little sleep tonight so who knows how much we will enjoy Jodhpur once we finally get to see its most endearing features. Tomorrow is another day.