Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Wedding in India - Jodhpur and Osian

Monday, March 7, 2016 

Our flight from Delhi to Jodhpur was uneventful and quick. It was only about two hours long, but they still served a quick lunch, which surprised me. We checked into our homestay, the Juna Mahal, and almost immediately departed for the Merangarh Fort, which is just a 15 minute walk from the Juna Mahal. We were hoping to make it into the fort by 3:30pm, when staff throws out meat for the birds of prey that live and fly nearby.

The walk up the backside of the fort led to some really gorgeous views of Jodhpur. They don't call it "the Blue City" for nothing:

Interestingly, there doesn't seem to be a consensus on why so many of the older buildings in Jodhpur are painted blue. Roger and I originally thought that perhaps a local stone was that color, but we were mistaken; the homes are definitely all painted. Some theories include that the Brahmin (priest caste) color was historically blue, and so their homes were painted with the vibrant color. Another holds that termites were a problem in the early city, and so homeowners added the copper sulphate to their standard whitewash to keep the termites out. Either way, the blue was spectacular: Jodhpur was definitely the most beautiful city we visited during our time in India.

The fort serves as a gorgeous backdrop to it all.

Built in the 15th century in a hill called Bhaurcheeria, the mountain of birds, it was really spectacular. We sadly arrived at the base of the fort at 3:30, so we couldn't be at the top while the birds were being fed, but we did get to see them swarming from the foot of the hills. It was really something special, and I'm so glad we managed to see it, even if just from below. Some of the birds, we saw as we got closer to the top, were incredible, with wingspans that looked to be at least 5 foot across. My mother has been pointing out hawks to me since I was a kid, and I was pleased to see quite a few in India already, but this was above and beyond.

We made our way into the fort by 4pm, and unfortunately, it was set to close at 5pm, so we felt we didn't really have time to wait for the audio tour, since there was a long line of German tourists also waiting for them, and we were told we'd have to wait until each of them got theirs. I think this might have been a mistake, because no one seemed to really press us to leave at 5pm, and I think the audio tour would have been really helpful while we were walking around.

Even without the audio tour, though, we were able to appreciate the incredible collection of howdah that the fort had on display. These elaborate boxes were designed for gentry to use on their elephant rides. They were pretty gorgeous:

We were a bit disappointed that you couldn't access the top of the fort, and that the views of the city weren't as beautiful from there as we expected. In fact, the views seemed to be better from the parking lot! But, seeing the inside of such an incredible place and remembering, again, that everything was crafted by hand without electricity, was awesome.

In the parking lot, someone had a camel that you could pose for pictures with. Roger and I aren't great fans of seeing animals being used for tourism, and we were worried that this one just sits all day unhappily. The fur was worn away on his knees, which we took to be a problem. But, since we also aren't great experts on camel anatomy, a quick google of this seems to say that knee calluses are normal on camels. Not to say he was definitely loving his life or anything because of that, but I guess it's hard to tell sometimes. Camel rides are extremely popular for tourists in this region, and you can ride one out to the desert and then stay in a camp there as a little excursion. I think people really love it, but it's not quite our cup of tea, I think. Anyway, we didn't do that and didn't pose with this camel but I did take his picture:

A view of the clocktower and market from the fort:

A view of Jaswant Thada from the fort:

After the fort, we wandered around the city for a bit, and were, after many years of traveling, finally taken in by one of those tourist-trap sales pitches at Maharani Art Exporters. Roger knows a bit about textiles, and we're happy with everything we bought, but we bought a lot more than we ought to have. I'm not sure why we were so taken in by the (admittedly very fine) sales pitch, but my theory is that it was a combination of feeling authentic (it's in a huge, old warehouse), feeling like a respite (I'm not sure if I've really conveyed this in these posts, but I was overwhelmed by traffic, noise, and being lost a lot in India, and the warehouse was quiet and friendly), and the product being genuinely nice and reasonably (though not stunningly) well priced. So, I do not feel ripped off, exactly, but I do feel as if we let our guard down and shouldn't have. Anyway, an expensive lesson learned.

Through no smart planning of our own, we happened to be staying in Jodhpur during Maha Shivaratri, the Hindu festival for Shiva. It's a nighttime festival, and as we made our way back to the Juna Mahal, we saw lots of people chanting and dancing in the street. Our homestay hosts had even created a mandala that we walked past on our way inside.

Exhausted, we enjoyed dinner on the roof of the hotel, looking out onto Jodhpur. We could hear music coming from the nearby temples, and it was a perfect, low-key way to end the day. The food at the Juna Mahal was delicious, and if we'd had another day in Jodhpur, I would definitely have asked for the cooking class that one of the owners runs. The homestay is in one of the Brahmin houses I mentioned above, and it's over 475 years old. The building was just spectacular, and it was such a cool place to stay. I loved exploring our room's nooks and crannies, and climbing the very steep stairs up to the roof to the restaurant. I loved a lot of the places we stayed, but Juna Mahal was my very favorite.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

We woke up early and headed to the bus station first thing, so we could make our way to Osian. Tej had warned us that the bus might not be quite what we're used to, and once again, I remembered the bus to Tamba and sort of got panicked. Roger, of course, was super excited by the idea, so we went for it. Roger's ticket was about 50 cents, and ladies apparently ride free, so we knew that it was a bargain, no matter how it went. 

And it turned out to be completely fine. I think the trip was about an hour and a half, and although it did get a bit crowded and some people needed to stand, overall, it really wasn't too bad of a ride at all. Perhaps nothing will seem too bad after the bus to Tamba?

The only part that was a bit dicey is that no one was really calling out the stops, and so we got off when Google maps told us we were approaching Osian. However, since it was just the two of us and a small group of women who got off, and the bus just dropped us off on the outskirts of town and it didn't seem like there was very much around, we were a bit nervous.

After a few minutes of hopelessly wandering around, waving to people in doorways and avoiding the cows who were hanging around the alley, someone took pity on us and asked if we were looking for the temple, and then pointed us in the opposite direction from which we had been walking. Before too long, we were at the entrance to a beautiful Hindu temple, the Sachiya Mata Temple.

We came to Osian (and Jodhpur) on the advice of one of Roger's former colleagues, who specializes in Indian art, and the temple did not disappoint. The carved walls were incredible, and much more intact than I would have expected.

Some volunteers gave us candy offerings to leave where we wanted, and we talked to a few people in the temple and took selfies with anyone who asked, of course. Roger's colleague had told us, "You'll be the only tourists in town and you'll wonder why." Given how beautiful the temple was and how quiet and peaceful the town was, she was definitely right.

(Although, full real life disclosure: Before someone led us to the temple, while we were lost and not even sure if we were actually in Osian, and all I could see were dirt alleyways and stray animals, Roger repeated that to comfort me, and I answered, "Um, I can definitely see why we are the only tourists here." Because sometimes travel is hard and sometimes I'm kind of bitchy.)

After the Sachiya Mata Temple, we wandered around town a bit more, looking for the Jain temple. I'm still not actually sure what the name of this temple is, but it's dedicated to Mahavira, so it's sometimes called the Jain Mahavira Temple. If you search for this, though, Google will tell you that temple is in Jaipur. The Jain temple it will tell you to go to is not the Mahavira temple. Anyway, just ask someone. Then, after your first turn, ask someone again. You'll get there eventually. You'll see some cows on your way:

We stopped at a candy store (we think? they also seemed to sell herbs), and bought some pressed mango and a lemon candy that is supposed to be good for your digestion. This was great because we'd wanted to check out one of these (maybe) candy stores, and we needed to break a big bill, and we also got some more directions to the temple. We also stopped at a pharmacy and bought Roger a decongestant about 50 meters later, because he needed a decongestant for the plane, and because we needed more directions.

I don't think I can really emphasize enough how bad at directions we were on this trip. But! Eventually we made it to the temple, which was gorgeous.

We made our way to where you can catch the public bus back to Jodhpur, and then decided to splurge and take a car back for 1300 INR (about $20). Turns out it was not a car, but an open Jeep, because as I said earlier, it's apparently quite popular to ride camels and sort of "safari" out to Osian. Our driver even asked if we wanted a safari. I have no idea what that would have entailed, but we politely declined, and I did my best to enjoy the Jeep ride and not think too much about not having any seatbelts in the back.

Back in Jodhpur, our driver dropped us off at the end of the road that leads to Ghanta Ghar, the clocktower, so we could grab a bite to eat and do a little shopping. We stopped at Shahi Samosa, which was amazing and made me wish I had ordered a lot more samosas throughout our trip. There is a dosa cart near my office that I swear makes samosas almost as good as the ones at Shahi, but they are $3 each and Shahi's were about 40 cents, so.

We wandered around the market, trying on shoes, and looking for copper pots and spices.

Almost out of no where, we stumbled on Rathore Spices, a great little booth with a nice selection of spices. They offered a few mixes (we bought ourselves and a few friends their garam masala, and I got myself a spice mix for masala chai), and it was really nice to chat with the proprietor of the shop, who was incredibly friendly and clearly knew a lot about cooking, recommending some websites with good Indian recipes and telling me that garam masala is actually supposed to be put on the food as a seasoning at the end, just as it finishes cooking.

We made our way back down the end of the road to Janta Sweet Home, a really tasty bakery. We ordered some extremely tasty, extremely pretty desserts, and I ordered the special lassi. It was delicious; thick, with a pat of fresh butter, slivers of pistachio, and a few strands of saffron.

That evening, we headed back to the hotel and ate there again. On the one hand, I wish we'd been a little more adventurous and tried some street food, or at least a different restaurant, for dinner that night. On the other hand, the food was really good, the view was awesome, and we were almost at the end of the trip, just reaching that point where you're tired and don't want to keep making decisions.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

We woke up, and it was time to start saying goodbye to India. We ate breakfast at the hotel, and took in the really spectacular view from the hotel roof:

And, as I looked past the German tourists who were also having breakfast on the roof, I noticed some monkeys on a building not too far from our hotel. This is exactly the distance at which I prefer to admire monkeys. It was a lot of fun to watch them while we ate, and I was glad we took in a daytime view from the roof!

After we checked out and left our luggage with the hotel owner, we headed to Jaswant Thada, a cenotaph not too far from the fort. It was a quiet, beautiful site that looked out over the city and had a number of birds, lizards, and other animals wandering around in the natural setting outside the monument.

We wandered around the site for a long time, taking in the quiet and relaxing. After a while there, we took a rickshaw back to the hotel, and grabbed our bags before heading to the airport, perhaps a bit too early, given how quick it was to get through security and into the airport, which only has one gate. The flight was uneventful, but we ended up spending an extra two hours in the Delhi airport, trying to get the airline to accept our luggage for the next flight. This was made more difficult by the fact that Roger's confirmation email about his flight was only in his email, which we couldn't access from my phone. Ultimately, we checked our bags into the left luggage station, but I wish we had done that to begin with, instead of spending the time trying to get the airline to check it.

After checking our luggage, we headed back into Delhi for our last evening. We kept it pretty low-key, because I get paranoid about being late for flights (in this case, I'm glad I was!), so even though we had about 5 hours between leaving the airport and when we needed to get back, I still only wanted to try to go to one market and dinner. We decided to go to Dilli Haat, which someone had recommended to us at the very beginning of the trip (and which is not, as I'd originally heard it, called "Delhi Heart"). The stalls are always rotating, and I found the prices to be quite reasonable. We did much of our souvenir shopping here, and actually, I wish we'd bought a bit more in the way of paintings and small sculptures to give to friends and family. It turns out we were a bit selfish and mostly got things we wanted!

Afterward, we had our last Indian meal at Veda, where we'd eaten with Jess and Madhu a week earlier, because it was delicious and we weren't quite up for an adventures this late in the trip. It was delicious again, of course. We headed back to the airport at 10pm, in an auto-rickshaw. Since we were on the highway (!!!) it was the fastest we'd gone in one, and I was genuinely worried. I was also a bit worried when our driver realized he couldn't legally go into the airport, and dropped us on the side of the road, with directions to cross the street. We did, and from there, we boarded the free bus to the airport, and we were at the terminal by 10:30. Since our flight wasn't due to leave until 1:30am, we thought this was plenty of time. But, after waiting in line to get Roger's confirmation printed, and then waiting in line to get our boarding passes, and then waiting in two security lines before getting to our gate, we didn't actually get to the gate until 1:15am. And then a vending machine ate our money when we tried to buy water for the flight. No, seriously.

The airport debacle was ridiculous, but it was actually a bit like the trip itself: a little hectic, a little worrisome. Ultimately, we had an incredible time, but there were definitely moments where I was a little overwhelmed. India is a beautiful place, and I'm so glad we got to visit for as happy an occasion as Caitlin and Tej's wedding. I hope we'll be able to explore the south of the country one day soon!


  1. I've really enjoyed all of your recaps of this trip, Kristin! Wow, the food! The scenery! And...the monkeys! Awesome...love it!

    1. PS. Somehow using google to sign in and comment here seems to have linked me to an old blog I'd made which I had entirely forgotten about! Ha! This is Danielle, btw.

    2. Thanks, Danielle! It was such an amazing trip, and I'm glad that (unlike some of my other recent trips) I was able to recap it pretty quickly after it happened, so I'll always have these details.

      Also, I was just thinking of you! I hope you're doing well!