My Marudhar Express pulled into Jodhpur Train Station at 8:45PM. I’d been holding my breath by the exit door, flicking my nails with anxiety. Jodhpur’s “blue city” is a world away from my cosmopolitan Manila, and if you think I’m fibbing, I am not the ignorant one. But this is where the wonderment comes from; the brimming local color that’s too far removed from my version of civilization. Manila is little America - and Jodhpur might as well be Neptune. I’ve personally chosen this over literally thousands of options in my 3-inch thick Indian Lonely Planet. Sometimes, it’s a mere photo that sets you off. And seeing a whole city bathed in pastel blue did it for me. It’s as blue as Viagra. But would my curiosity flourish in such seemingly remote environment?
It was a nippy evening. As I made my way out the chaos-free lobby, I was curious of the few touts. Maybe there was a convention of wallahs elsewhere? I wasn’t sure where to go, but I had an address written down a piece of paper. Shivam Paying Guest House is a well recommended family-run budget place with gentle people and inexpensive rates. I approached an auto rickshaw driver who asked for 150 rupees. I balked of course. But there were plenty waiting in the wings. I walked a little further away and asked another, and gave him the address. “30 rupees,” I told him. At least that’s what I was supposed to ask, and that’s a far cry from the 150 rupees asked from me earlier. We haggled and shook hands at “50 rupees” ($1). Now, I was curious if he indeed knew where Shivam was. You see, most of these drivers would never admit they didn’t know until you find yourself with a big fat bill for inadvertently touring a city.
We turned left and passed through what would be New City, a charmless commercialized place that has seen better days. It was cramped and ugly. A few minutes later, I saw the Clock Tower and the city arch (think Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, Vientiane’s Patuxai or, locally, University of Santo Tomas’s Arch of the Centuries). I knew I reached the Old City from where a view of the conical hill (where a historical fort stands) could be seen. I saw the now-sleepy Sardar Bazaar (the bustling old city market). We navigated the little alleys, mostly dimly lit. Don’t you just love late arrivals in places that sleep a tad too early?
My driver knew where Shivam was. I handed my 50 rupees after he helped me by the door. I was allowed inside, and up a steep stair, only to be told that all their 15 rooms have been taken. I didn’t know what to do. But the owner smiled and offered, “We have another guest house if you want to see it.” I can only nod with restrained glee. He took my backpack and asked me to follow him outside. The streets were sinewyy, narrow and uneven, not to mention dark and creepy.
After a few turns, we reached Ganpati Guest House, a small blue building with faded yellow concrete stairs. I was told that Shivam and Ganpati share the same owner. Unlike many places in India, these people were more laidback. In fact, they didn’t let me sign the logbook that guests were supposed to fill (with a coterie of information). Well, not until the next day, and I had to ask them for that as I wanted it to be as legitimate. It was a huge fan room with clean and tiled bathroom and a bed fit for two. And for just 300 rupees ($6). Ganpati has 12 rooms and a splendid rooftop which I discovered the morning after.
“You may have your dinner at Shivam if you want,” the owner offered. That was welcome news, if only I could find my way back to Shivam. I did. I was famished, not having had a proper meal during my 11.5 hour train ride from Agra. The rooftop restaurant at Shivam was well appointed. It had 5 tables and billowy curtains. I could see the Clock Tower nearby. It was comforting to realize I could orient myself somehow.
A Korean guy named Ooo (Yup, the “Ooo” in oohlala) joined me. Moments like these were common and welcome. Travelers loved exchanging stories and friendly acquaintances. It’s really one of the pleasures of travel. He’s 23 years old and just got out of the army. Korean guys are required to do military service sometime in their lives. Ooo has been traveling around – Turkey, Iran, India. Very brave bloke, indeed.
Chicken Fried Rice and Egg Curry (with Pepsi, of course)
Rooftop restaurant at Shivam Paying Guest House (quite an unusual name, is there a non-paying guest house?) The purple-and-red color combination (below) doesn't help much at night. It was a dark corridor.
Back at my room, after a fast shower, I noticed the snack that my friend Junaid gave me before we parted ways. It kinda looked like rice puffs, called “Bhikharam Chandmal” from Bikaner. I felt like finishing it off, but waited until I finished my readings for tomorrow’s itinerary. I slept like a log that night.
In the morning, I woke up energized by the cool morning air. I took the stairs that lead to the rooftop and saw the magnificent view of the 150 meter conical hill. Standing on top was Meherangarh Fort (Magnificent Fort), a captivating and massive structure viewed over foggy air. The massive walls followed the outline of the hill, looming mighty. It’s the largest fort in Rajasthan, founded in 1458 by a different ruler. Nope, not the Mughals for a change! The visionary leader was from a rajput-clan called Rathore (considered the samurais of India). His name – Rao Jodha!
How mighty is this fortress? It’s never been taken in the last 500 years!
I planned on scaling that hill to check out the fort, a virtual city in itself. And really now, if there was a single place to visit in Jodhpur, that would be the Meherangarh Fort!
Before that, I had to walk back to Shivam for breakfast. The morning was cool and air was fresh. Climbing through the different floors of Shivam GH, I was quite pleased with Ganpati GH. I liked the fact that I had my guest house practically all to myself. Shivam looked very homey; too homey for comfort, to be honest. But what really makes a home? The people living in Shivam were accommodating and helpful without being cloyingly patronizing. They’re there when you need help. I sat by my lonesome that morning. It was too early for the other tourists, but I had plans. Breakfast was a chili omelet, a banana pancake and a glass of pineapple juice. Rice meals in most places all over India are close to impossible to find before 11 AM except in major cities. I was looking forward to roam. And I shall.
This is the Eye in the Sky!
Entrance of Ganpati Guest House just a few sinewy blocks from Shivam Paying Guest House.
My spacious room at the Ganpati Guest House
Bhikharam Chandmal rice puffs: a snack for the hungry
At the rooftop of Ganpati Guest House
Ganpati Guest House's rooftop: mostly empty, but amazing view of the Meherangarh Fort!
Rooftop view from Ganpati Guest House
Ever tasted a chili omelet? This one's it.
Massala Omelet at 35 rupees.
Banana Pancake sets you up for the day. It's their Continental Breakfast worth 110 rupees.
A common sight in the narrow streets of the old City of Jodhpur.
Please check out: Train ride from Agra to Jodhpur - http://eye-in-the-blue-sky.blogspot.com/2011/09/out-of-agra-and-into-magical-rajasthan.html
Up next: Around the Old City of Jodhpur!
Formidable Meherangarh Fort on top of a conical 150-meter hill.
Jodhpur is located at the Marwari region, northwest of India at the fringes of the Thar Desert near Pakistan.