Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jodhpur – The Blue City

"The Blue City" of Jodhpur
Jodhpur was a fairly routine (at least routine to us now) 4-hour drive away.  We stayed at Ratan Villas with lovely owners (descendants of a Maharajah) and very spacious accommodations.  Jodhpur is known as the Blue City because of the many blue buildings in the old city.  Interestingly, one of the main industries here in Jodhpur was opium (used only for pharmaceuticals today).  BTW, we are on the edge of the Great Thar Desert, the 10th largest desert in the world.  Ever hear of it?  Neither did we!  Supposedly, one of the reasons Indians like bright colors so much is because of the dull brown colors of the desert.
The bullfight in downtown Jodhpur
Our guide named Ragu (spaghetti anyone?) led us on a walk through the downtown markets that felt a little like “been there, done that” -- until the bullfight.  Two young bulls had literally locked horns right in the center of a pedestrian street.  We didn’t fully understand the danger until Ragu hustled us into one of the shops.  These bulls were raging!  We realized that these thousand pound plus creatures could pin us up against a building or a stone wall in an instant, and that was why we were hustled inside to safety. Finally, some brave soul threw a pail of water on the bulls to cool them off, and they ran after each other down a side street.  Whew!  Almost like running with the bulls in Pamplona LOL!

Mehrangarh Fort

The next day, we toured Mehrangarh Fort.  We honestly thought we might be all “forted out,” but we totally enjoyed this marvelous site and the excellent narration on the accompanying audio guide.  The fort was built in 1459 by the founder of Jodhpur, Rao Jodha, who was the original leader of this region called Marwar (Land of Death).  Sounds sinister, but the name is fitting when you hear how many warriors died here in various battles.
From the hilltop where the fort resides, we could see the city of Jodhpur below.  Many of the buildings were colored a light blue, hence the name, the “Blue City”.  The color blue is supposed to make the buildings feel cooler in the extreme heat of the summer, and it also repels the mosquitos. 
Colorful ballroom at Mehrangarh Fort
The fort was a delightful feast of graceful architecture with many colorful rooms like the elaborate dancing hall with giant Christmas balls hanging from the ceiling (we see these everywhere and learned that they were adopted from the British).  The fort also included several museums with displays of howdahs (elephant seats) and palanquins (covered carts to carry royal women so that they remained hidden from view). 
Another museum contained dozens of royal cradles exquisitely decorated – many with guardian angels poised to protect the young royals.  Astrology is extremely important in India and every child must have a chart drawn to know what pitfalls to avoid.  Having an astrological chart drawn is as important here as cutting the umbilical cord!
There were two very tragic sights at the fort.  The first concerned a hermit who was evicted from this site when Rao Jodh decided to build a fort here.  The hermit cursed Rao, and to obviate the curse, Rao required a human sacrifice.  Some guy volunteered and was buried alive in the foundation of the fort (a plaque marks the spot).  To this day, an annual ceremony commemorates his sacrifice and his descendants continue to be honored.
"Sati marks" on the wall of Mehrangarh Fort
The second tragic sight is the “sati” marks, handprints of the Maharajah Man Singh’s many wives who climbed on to his funeral pyre in 1843.  They left their handprints in henna (a colored dye used to decorate the palms of the hands) on the wall of the fort as they passed by in a procession that would lead to their deaths.  Later, the little handprints were carved into orange stone.  They say these women sat calmly as the flames engulfed them, anxious to be reunited with their beloved husband.  Those women must have been doped up on some serious opium!
This is a good time to talk about the status of women in India.  Anne can tell you from personal experience that men are definitely top dogs here.  Every morning, the hotel staff would rush over to Frank saying, “Good morning, sir!”  “How are you, sir?”  “Would you like breakfast, sir?”  Even our driver Rampal constantly opened the car door for Frank leaving Anne to fend for herself.  And when Anne took the lead in a conversation   discussing where we were headed next, or what activities were planned for the day, the Indian men would get a perplexed look on their faces as if they were thinking, “Why is she talking?”  These are small irritations but indicative of how women are viewed here.
For many years, Indians followed a custom called “purdah,” the practice of concealing women to “protect them from the lustful gaze of men -- an idea that came from the Arab invaders.  This is why palace after palace contains stone screens so that women can get a (fractured) glimpse of the world without ever being seen. 
A Maharini once visited London, but she remained hidden from view.  She was always transported in a curtained car and a covered palanquin.  As you can imagine, the English press went wild trying to get a photo of her, but all they got was a glimpse of her ankle.  The Hindu royalty was so furious about this photo of their Maharini’s ankle that they bought and destroyed every single issue of the newspapers that would have exposed her ankle to the world. 
Even today, some of these crazy ideas continue.  Remember Parvati from a previous report of ours - The “Parvati’s Meeta” story?  Parvati  wore several bangle bracelets on her arms and ankle bracelets that tinkled as she walked.  She told Anne that she lived with her extended family, and that the women tended to stay in one part of the house.  Parvati’s bangles and ankle bracelets were noisy enough to warn the men of the house to leave if they heard her coming.  As Parvati explained, “That way I am never alone with my brother-in-law, so there are no problems.”  It’s as if there is an assumption that no man can resist or restrain himself around a woman, so the only answer is complete separation of the sexes. 
Faces of India:

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