India - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 196 (6)
Monday 20th September
Today has thus far been very much better than yesterday and we are both a little less jaded about this place. The main attraction that draws people here is the huge fort perched on the edge of a one hundred-metre tall sheer rock face. For the most part, only the fortress like outer wall of the fort is visible from below but the sheer size of it is quite impressive and it towers over the entire city below.
We’ve decided to stay for just one night here and catch the overnight train to Jaisalmer this evening. I spoke with the guy at the front desk, in fact I woke him up, to see about making the necessary arrangements. Even the guidebook advises against trying to queue up at the train station to buy your tickets in India but fortunately everyone knows someone who can help. In this case for a commission charge of R50 ($1,10) each on top of the R399 ($9) charge for each of the tickets themselves. The R50 wasn’t levied by the hotel, so he tells me, but was to cover the cost of having someone actually go to the train station on our behalf to arrange the tickets. Fine, whatever! We vacated our room but have been allowed to leave our backpacks there until this evening so that we could set off and enjoy the fort for the day. I judged the character enough to trust leaving our bags there but I tied and padlocked them all together nevertheless.
We left the guest-house and swiftly hunted down a passing rickshaw and haggled our way to a fee to take us up the hill to the entrance to the fort. Organising a ticket to get in was a formality except for the rather enthusiastic old man selling the tickets who insisted on a very friendly explanation of the audio tour and what to expect. Five minutes later and we were in and wandering around the fort grounds.
Our audio tour was quite informative but the way forward after the first few tracks was up what looked like a rather exhausting ramp in the heat of the mid-morning sun so we decided to get an elevator ticket up the few flights to the next level. Quite like almost everyone else we’ve met in India, the lift attendant wanted to know what our names were and where we were from. As always, this inquiry was accompanied by a very welcoming smile.
The Mehrangarh fort is quite stunning and quite a feat of engineering in carving out all the stone and various building complexes given its location and date of construction. Actually, I’m starting to run out of superlatives given all the wonderful sites we’ve seen so far. We spent about an hour and a half wandering around the fort, listening to the audio tour as we went. Just as interesting and entertaining as the fort itself were the run-ins we kept having with the Indian tourists wandering around with us. Mehrangarh fort is a pilgrimage destination to many of the rural Indians in the outer lying villages and provinces. Many of these villagers have never seen westerners and it is an intense source of happiness for them to see people like us. It was later explained to us that they like to instantly share this happiness and this is why they always come up to us to shake our hand and request that we be photographed with them. What always made them particularly giggly was showing them the digital camera screen of the photos we took of them. They would all crowd around the camera and in turn study the screen, all the while laughing and jostling with each other. This scene repeated itself many times during the day and was always followed by hand shaking all around and jolly shouts of ‘bye bye’.
Half way down the hill between the fort and the town is a royal burial memorial. It sits there on the hillside overlooking the town and shines a brilliant white from its marble construction. We spent about an hour there just chilling out and sitting under the welcome shade of a tree.
In the space of a morning and half an afternoon, we have essentially knocked off those things here in Jodhpur that are worth seeing. There remains a rather opulent palace that we can see sitting majestically on the horizon where the Maharajah lives today. It doubles up as an expensive hotel and we will give this a miss.
We chilled out at the royal memorial until we got bored and decided to head into town to grab a bite to eat and, perhaps, to find an Internet café. The only rickshaw driver that was waiting outside the memorial turned out to be of the shadiest type. His offer of R50 into town was dismissed out of hand and after the round of haggling, we eventually agreed on R30 and we got in. He, on the other hand, didn’t. He told us that there were going to be two other passengers going with us that he was waiting to return from their visit to the memorial. I told him that I didn’t want to pay the R30 if we were going to share the ride. Since there were no other rickshaws, however, we didn’t really have a choice and had to sit there and wait. I kept telling him that we would take the next rickshaw but he seemed very keen to get his double fare and when another empty rickshaw did eventually show up, he told us to sit tight whilst he talked to the other driver to make the arrangements on our behalf. As I wandered over to the other rickshaw, I saw the new driver handing over a R10 bill to him and he told us that the new driver would take us into town for the agreed R30. It was quite clear that the correct fare was just R20 (if that, even) and that he was going to pocket the R10. Even though it is a minuscule sum in the grand scheme of things, I saw no reason to pad his wallet so I insisted that he return the R10 and that we would pay the R20. I made my displeasure know to him in no uncertain terms and he finally, and extremely reluctantly, handed back the R10. We got in and set off. Our driver then spent the rest of the journey telling us just what a scum-bag this other driver was and how we were being scammed to the hilt.
We arrived back in town and spent a few minutes chilling out at the guest-house before venturing into the town centre to see if we could find a restaurant or an Internet café. The only Internet café that we found was very small but nicely air-conditioned. Unfortunately there was no working connection and we had to move on. We wandered somewhat aimlessly looking for a restaurant before getting tired of it and finally flagged down a rickshaw to take us back to the same restaurant that we ate at last night. When we arrived, we noticed a big sign to another outdoor restaurant just next door and decided to give it a try instead. There were fewer tables spread out over a larger grass field but the whole thing was completely encompassed and had the feel of a nice park. A quick glance over the menu was enough to convince us to spend the next couple of hours there. We had a nice meal and spent another hour at our table resting. Sandy sat and read whilst I wrote some more of my journal.
We arrived back at the guest-house shortly before dusk and sat up on the roof for a while chatting with other tourists passing through the city, that had stumbled into the guest-house, about India and the various cities in and around Rajasthan. After exchanging anecdotes with several people about where we’ve been and where they’ve been, it has become very clear that we are going to have a fair bit of time on our hands after seeing all those places we planned on visiting. We’ve allotted ourselves at least four days for each place but many places will only sustain us for no more than a day or two before we are exhausted of things to see and do. We had thought of staying more time in Delhi, it being a major city, but several people have now told us that a couple of days is more than enough even for there. We are now going to study the guidebook some more to see if there are some other destinations that we can add to our original list. One or two have already come to light so we’ll see how it goes. The problem is that it’s not going to be a good idea to speed our arrival in Hong Kong and China. Hong Kong will be expensive and the entire first week in China is a major national holiday. Clearly, I need to devote some more thought to this dilemma.
We are now chilling out on the ground floor of the guest-house after a brief downpour of rain. There is quite a gathering of other travellers here from Israel, England and some other countries. Everyone is chatting about where to go next and what to do for the rest of their time in India. We now have our train tickets and leave here for the station in a couple of hours. The ticket that we have is a 3A class (three bunks on either side in an air conditioned compartment). We will be sharing our compartment with four other strangers so it should be interesting. The train leaves shortly after eleven and arrives at around five in the morning. We will, then, get less than a night’s sleep. We’ve already called ahead to a hotel from the guidebook (critically, one with A/C) for R500 ($11) and there should be a hotel driver waiting to collect us from the train station. I dare say we’ll go straight there and get a shower and some more sleep before we do anything else.