Archive for August, 2010

The invisible rubber stamp

August 25, 2010

Our own rubber stamp collection

Alison had retired to bed on our last night in Rajasthan and was disturbed by a phone call from the police. There was a query on our check-in paperwork which had been supplied by the hotel. Once Martin was located, he wasn’t far away, the interrogation started. The police in-charge was trying to establish why we were still in India 6 months after our visas had expired. Martin patiently took him through the letters from the police in Goa and explained that it had happened before. The in-charge was not satisfied. He wanted to see the original. It had taken about 15 minutes to get this far. When Martin produced the originals there was a general sigh of satisfaction from the now considerable crowd that had gathered when it was plain that there was a particular rubber stamp on a particular document. It had failed to show on the copy. We were not after all international terrorists or drug runners.
Why the in-charge hadn’t asked for the original in the first place was not forthcoming! All he would say was that because Independence Day was due in 10 days, security had been stepped up. With the rubber stamp now photocopied so that it could be seen, the in-charge, his driver and his two motorcycle escorts made a grand exit (without apologies). Haven’t they got anything better to do? Well; probably not! Foreigners in potential bother are a bit of a highlight in the working day of your average copper in India… could be some big baksheesh as well, if there happens to be a missing rubber stamp.

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Jaipur – The Pink City

August 25, 2010


From Jodhpur to Jaipur was quick and easy (for a change) by a 6.00am train. The business class (second) hotel was well situated for the places we wanted to visit, comfortable and clean. We used cycle rickshaws to get around; not the most comfortable way, but the rickshaw wallahs appreciate western pockets. They have a tough time to pay the rent for the cycle rig and make a living; their lives are short due to the hard work and pollution they live and work in.
We arrived at Anokhi an upmarket clothes shop in a cycle rickshaw and felt a bit uncomfortable with the incongruity. Shopping done, our rickshaw wallah trundled us off to a restaurant.
We enjoyed re-visiting the Jantar Mantar, a 400 year old celestial observatory, and a climb up The Isarlat tower for an aerial view of The Pink City.
We had less than 24 hours in Jaipur but it was a good place to end the Rajasthan tour of six days. We’ll be going back again to take in other cities and get in that camel ride into the desert.

Jodhpur – The Clock Tower Market

August 25, 2010


A short walk from the hotel found us in the Clock Tower Market square; chaotic, dirty, every kind of traffic from hand to camel carts, auto rickshaws and horse drawn tongas in and out through lofty gates. In the UK this would have been traffic free and probably quite sterile. In India, c’est normal. In one corner a cafe sold a Jodhpur speciality lassi (curd drink); irresistible! Down one side there was a metal mart dealing in re-cycled scrap, on another fabrics, on another incense and fresh vegetables. Just outside there was a kind of factory churning out wooden towers… no explanation as to what they were for. This bustling scene is overlooked by the fort. You’ve got to be there to appreciate normal India.

Jodhpur and ‘The’ fort

August 25, 2010


Founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, and strategically located on a trade route, Jodhpur has been a flourishing trade centre and a centre of Rajput power. The Mehrangarh Fort towers over the town, where indigo-painted houses have earned the old area the name of the ‘blue city’. And yes, the riding breeches of the same name do come from here (and no, Alison didn’t buy any).
Kipling described the Fort as ‘the work of giants and angels’. It is no longer the home of the maharaja and his family – they effectively lost their status with partition and the establishment of India as a democratic, secular state. However the family have worked hard to preserve the heritage and the fort is now regarded as the best palace museum in India. We would agree. It’s beautifully organised and run, with a mix of exhibits, demonstrations, and a full audio tour which not only introduces the buildings and the artefacts, but takes you off into side areas of local colour and interest. We enjoyed hearing the current maharaja’s grandmother talking about her marriage, aged just 16, when purdah was enforced. And also about how she and her mother-in-law came out of purdah to fight political elections.
Colour is an important part of Rajasthani life – not sure if it’s because the landscape tends to be relatively bleak (the district of Rajasthan run from Jodhpur is calledMarwar, which means land of the dead). But bright saris and turbans, and stained glass windows in the Fort, abound. From the Fort you get great views of Brahmaputra – the ‘blue city’. Opinion is divided as to why the houses are ‘blue’. Some say it’s to distinguish their Brahmin occupants, others that’s it’s a cool colour in the desert heat, and some say it’s because the colour wards off mosquitos.
Whatever, it’s a striking sight from the ramparts. Less so when you’re in it, when the scale of the poor sanitation and antiquated facilities in the city becomes clear.
Still our abiding memories will be of the grandeur of the Fort, particularly viewed from our balcony and the roof of our hotel. Also the kite flying – fighting displays conducted every evening by seemingly all children on every roof top.

Jaisalmer to Jodhpur

August 25, 2010

The Blue City


We elected for the bus route back across the Thar desert, still a bit disappointed by the expanse of green instead of the hoped-for dunes. However as so often with travel in India, it wasn’t without its unexpected joys.
Things did not begin well when we pulled off the bus stand, trundled around Jaisalmer for about 10 minutes, then returned to the bus stand. We don’t know why, we just did.
We eventually got on the road for a fairly routine journey, enlivened by the antics of animals at the different towns we stopped in. There was the cow, hurriedly munching the sweetcorn he’d just stolen for a road-side cart;or the goat, making two successful forays to steal bananas. His third foray was defeated by an irate cart-wallah and his lathi (big stick).
Along the way we witnessed food sellers trying to throw wada pau (bread rolls stuffed with potato dumplings) into the sleeper compartments of our bus, without much success. Throwing and catching – not much good at – will be familiar to those of you who’ve watched India’s talented cricket team throwing games away with poor fielding.
Returning to the animals, arrival in Jodhpur provided a fascinating glimpse of India’s lack of town planning. The old city was a rabbit warren to navigate. Even with a Rickshaw wallah to guide us, he still couldn’t get down some lanes without moving the cows first (they had taken up prime positions in the middle of junctions).
Some roads are only wide enough for people to walk single file anyway, but that doesn’t stop Indians driving all manner or vehicles down them, sometimes at speed. It was a relief to step inside the courtyard of our hotel – a leafy oasis in the middle of the concrete and occasional attractive stone buildings. Sanitation as usual left a lot to be desired.

The art of buying and selling.

August 19, 2010

We want linseed oil – to protect our leather wear from monsoon. Easy, you would have thought, in a country of cricket fanatics merrily oiling their bats with the said substance.

But no, everywhere we asked, universal refusal to acknowledge what we were asking for.

Enter Mr Vaz of Vaz Enterprises (one of the best shops in Margao, because they’re helpful – and they sell alcohol). He knew where we could get the oil and, amazingly, we knew where the shop was.

Off sets the intrepid Mr Bale, in search of said oil. Do they stock it? No. So while scanning the shelves for putty, he spots some grimy tins on a dusty bottom shelf. Guess what? Several tins linseed oil, in two sizes! Oh yes! We have, responds the shop owner when this is drawn to his attention. Attempts to buy a small can are initially met with refusal – and instructions to go across the road to purchase elsewhere. However Martin perseveres. ‘I’ll give you 20 rupees (30p) for it’. OK says the owner. Gofer then retrieves the oil and points out that it should be 50 rupees. Mr Bale refuses to budge on his Rs 20/- offer and wins. It is very old stock going under the name of New Cow, possibly a collector’s item. Or then again it may not be linseed oil; as it says on the tin ‘Beware of Imitations’.

It’s pointless to ask for an explanation of why people in Goa tell you they don’t have something that they do have, or why they sometimes refuse to sell to you even when you can see what you want. They won’t tell you. The second most common phrase we hear in Goa is ‘you’ll not get’, even when you’re trying to purchase something you’ve previously bought in the same shop.

It isn’t always like this. Thank heavens for Mr Vaz.

Shopping in Jaisalmer and blue ducks in the tank.

August 18, 2010

Shikaras

A word about the Khadi Gramydiog or is it Gramidyog in Jaisalmer. There are Khadi shops all over India – Khadi was the home-spun cloth popularised by Gandhi, and they sell Indian cloth, clothes, spices and local handicrafts at good prices.

However the one in Jaisalmer is a bit special. It’s set back in a courtyard in the old town, and is a warren of different rooms for different items. Jaisalmer stone in one place, shawls and jackets in another, bedlinen and appliqué in a third. We bought several items, including an incense burner, silk scarf and wool wrap. But be aware this is India. If you buy items in different sections, they insist on giving you receipts from each different section. Carbon paper is definitely king here.

We spent the afternoon at and on the Gadi Sagar Tank. It’s a lake and it used to be Jaisalmer’s only source of water. And it’s relatively full at the moment, as can be seen from our pictures with trees somehow springing up in the middle of water. We had this idea we’d take a boat out – specifically we fancied a Kashmiri Shikara, the type of boat more commonly seen on Dal Lake in Srinigar. No such luck. The said shikaras were in a poor state – but never mind, a bright blue duck-shaped pedallo would have to do. Pace slow, steering variable, interesting views of the fort from the water while we tried to keep our blue companion straight.

A little history of Jaisalmer.

August 18, 2010

Rooftop viewThe  bed

Jaisalmer itself is a great place to visit and we will return. It’s a town in the Great Thar Desert it’s major wealth and status was gained in from the seventeenth century, as it was a virtual toll booth for all traders on the overland routes between India and Central Asia. It lost its power as Europeans opened trading posts on the coast in the 16th and 17th centuries. Now it relies heavily on tourism and does a good job. The fort is the only fort in India which is occupied; 5,000 people live in it. The town has spread out under its ramparts and is like most Indian towns, dusty, dirty and noisy with difficult to navigate streets and lanes.The town dates from 1156. Its wealth only waned with the emergence of Bombay and Surat as ports for trade. However partition put an end to its trading role, and apart from tourism its major function is now military (see previous blog about the relative closeness of the Pakistan border).

The fort towers over the town, with ramparts made of soft yellow Jurassic sandstone. The fort itself is full of narrow winding streets, overlooked by carved facades and balconies. The fort and old town are famous for havelis – merchants houses covered in lattice work, fine screens and floral motifs. They’re built around courtyards and much of the detail tends to be on the private areas of the buildings. The biggest – the Patwon ki Haveli – built by opium (The East India Company set this up to supply China with this drug) and brocade traders from Patwa, is five separate living spaces all internally connected and looks like a normal if narrow street when you view it from the entrance.

A word about the malleability of ‘facts’ in India. All the guidebooks tell you not to stay in Jaisalmer’s fort itself, but to stay in the town. The reason given is that adapting the desert fort for tourist accommodation has created problems with its foundations. Piped water wasn’t put in properly, it’s leaked and now the foundations of the fort are crumbling. However if you talk to hotel owners in the fort, they tell you that it’s all just rumours put about by the 5-star resorts that have sprung up around Jaisalmer, as they would much rather you stayed with them.

Go figure. Our view was that the places in the fort are great for sitting in to look out, if you can ignore the usual Indian construction site/garbage dump routine and look beyond to the desert. And we liked how the balconies have been turned into half seat/half bed to lounge back on. But you get better views of the fort itself if you stay as we did in the old town.

Line fault

August 17, 2010

As some of you are aware we have had problems with our internet and telephone connection… about five weeks now. We have reported the problem to three different offices all of whom have got back to us a few days later telling us that the problem has been fixed. It must be a good job to be in when all you have to do is say the problem is fixed, therefore there isn’t a problem.
So we continued letter writing, telephoning and visiting. Yesterday as we were sitting down for lunch two scruffy BSNL workers arrived. ‘We are technicians’ they announced, ‘here to fix the line’. Looking the unlikely technicians and their lack of toolkit with some suspicion, we told them about the broken cable casing beyond our junction box. Lots of head wagging followed with the implication that they’d already dealt with that. They hadn’t and didn’t.
Eventually they reported that the fault was due to ‘carbonising’ and they had repaired it. Wondering where this carbonisation had come from (overheating telephone cables, too much sun, undetected fire?), we pointed out that although the crackling from the phone had reduced, the internet connection was not working. Boy, do you learn patience in this country. After closley inspecting the wireless router, like chimps with new toy, our ‘technicians’ set about looking for more ‘carbonisation’. Eventually the service was restored to something like 75% efficiency.

After they’d left Martin found a piece of cable with ‘carbonisation’ discarded on the bedroom floor. What these guys had done was to remove a four inch section of ‘corroded’ cable, twist the exposed ends together and hey presto! Job done.

Next time we’ll DIO (urselves) and replace the whole run with new cable. After all like nearly all cables in India they are not secured between the two points, they are just draped. Death due to electrocution is very common in India during monsoon.

Rajastan – Jaisalmer

August 15, 2010

The Fort

Jaisalmer Fort
We’re back to Goa after a week in Rajastan visiting the three J’s, Jaisalmer, Jodphur and Jaipur looking for escape from grey skies and rain. We flew to Jaipur and caught the midnight train to Jaisalmer, a 12 hour journey. It’s not the best approach we could have taken as the last three hours of the journey through the desert was dull and dusty. The carriages filled with sand as we raced through the desert. Our timing was not good; the desert had turned green with the arrival of the first decent monsoon for four years and the skies were leaden grey. Still we were treated to some camels, and peacocks everywhere. And skewbald horse (brown and white) who galloped alongside us a short distance.
Arrival in Jaisalmer was civilised by Indian standards. Smart station and the hotel touts all corralled into one small area, away from the exits, so you don’t feel like you’ve been mugged as soon as you leave the train. Our hotel seemed to have made a major miscalculation, one jeep to pick up around 20 people! They could get the luggage in but had to send for reinforcements to transport the people, all this in the rain. Still we’d recommend the hotel – the Shahi Palace – new but traditionally build in carved Jaisalmer stone, full of Rajasthani artefacts and paintings. And welcome working showers (note comments about sand)! Above all else, a great view of the fort from the rooftop

The most impressive feature was the bed made from the local stone… most things are made from the local stone here. We spent a couple of days wandering around and missed out on the must-do camel safari into the desert. We’ll do that on our next visit.