Morning comes early, but by now we are used to it. I’m bleary eyed and exhausted, but thankfully, completely recovered from yesterday’s bout of god-knows-what illness. I grab the seat next to the driver and lean back, watching the morning go from gray, to blue, to a bright yellow. The air is cold, the sun blazing. Not a bad day to travel two hundred miles and change.
The road is an uniform strip of smooth asphalt stretching into the horizon. The scenery changes from comparatively urban cityscapes to open fields peppered with scrubs and shrubs with spiky little leaves, to stony hillocks through which the road cuts through like a slice off a birthday cake. Google Maps tells me that the journey to Jodhpur will take us around six hours. Ravinderji assures us that it will be closer to 8. I am inclined to believe him.
The rhythm of the road has already lulled me into a stupor when we pull into a bright red and yellow hotel for lunch. There’s an Amul outlet attached, with promises of ice cream and cold beverages – an especially welcome sight. The food is ordinary – red spicy gravies and butter drenched rotis we have gotten used to and the mother has come to hate with a passion. Ravinderji is unimpressed as well. Apparently, his request for a simple dal and roti has not been met. We stock up on plastic bottles of cold coffee and are once again on our way.
By the time we roll into Hotel Monarch in Jodhpur, it’s almost dark. The journey took eight hours and then some, and the hotel is in a particularly desolate part of a city that we would discover is pretty desolate anyway. The rooms are clean, however, and the hot bath is delightful, washing away the tiredness of the journey. Refreshed, we decide that we can’t really let the day be spent simply getting from point A to point B. With a car at our disposal, let’s do some exploring!
We are greeted by cold, silent and completed empty streets. Unsurprising, really. It’s a weeknight in a small town – not exactly a hotbed of activity. We are about to give up when we spy an oasis of light in the darkness. Big, giant letters greet us – “Jodhpur Handicrafts Festival”. Oh my! This is exactly what we were looking for! We clamber out, visions of cheap gifts dancing before our eyes. Surely, we’d get all our shopping done right here!
We can, if what we are looking for is cheap plastic tat. There’s a lot of stalls, but they can be divided into six basic categories, and each stall is basically identical to others in its category
- Shops selling the aforementioned plastic tat. This includes, but is not limited to, brooms, buckets, mugs, slippers, sunglasses, hairbands. The overall colour scheme is “garish”.
- Shops selling biscuits, loose, from giant sacks. This includes, but is not limited to, jeera biscuits, cashew biscuits, sweet biscuits, savoury biscuits, small biscuits, big biscuits. The overall colour scheme is “brown”.
- Shops selling an assortment of dry sweetmeats. Milk-based sweets aren’t really common here, so sweets are basically various permutations and combinations of lentils, jaggery, sesame seeds, peanuts, cashews etc. The overall colour scheme is, once again, “brown”.
- Shops selling candy and appetizer lozenges of the type available in footpaths in most cities. The overall colour scheme is “pride flag”.
- Shops selling sugary, artificial “juices” of exactly two types – orange and lychee. The overall colour scheme is “orange and lychee”.
- One glorious shop selling nothing but swords and shields – mostly traditional Indian curved scimitars but also a couple of throwing axes (YES!) and a replica straight out of Conan the Barbarian (YEEEEEEES!) mounted on wooden shields. The overall colour scheme is “manly as fuck!”.
The last stall fascinates me. In addition to all the swords and knives and axes, the stall also has on offer an assortment of vegetable peelers with bright plastic handles. Pink and minty green handles. Perhaps these are there to ensure the place doesn’t explode with all the testosterone? Even more mysterious is the replica Eiffel Tower. Granted, you can still stab people with it, but still…
Within the fairgrounds, but to a side is what in a mall we would call the food court. Standard small town fare with a dash of local flavour. You know, the deeply brown noodles, the crispy kachoris fried just a little too much, dahi vadas with the almost liquid curd and three types of chutney pooling at the edges of the white cardboard plate; forming a sweet, tangy, spicy concoction that makes our mouths water. The air is heavy with fragrances and flavours. I purchase something called “fruit cream” from a man who looks like he’s just about done with the screaming kids around. The little bits of fruit are watery and frozen, the cream itself is watery as well. The whole thing is sugary sweet. Anywhere else, and I’d hate it, but here, somehow, I enjoy every dripping bite. The mother, meanwhile, has convinced the kachori seller (who was in the middle of packing up) to fire up his stove again. Hot kachoris for dinner. It’s perfect.
It’s nine, and we are back in the hotel. Drained of energy, we crash into the soft bed and somehow, crawl under the covers. Another night, another new bed. Compared to the rest of the trip, day 5 was the most “uneventful”, and certainly didn’t go as planned, but we are better for it. A break from the grandness and the opulence and a day spent doing what the locals were – a day letting the atmosphere of the people and the city seep into us, rather than the history. It was a good day.
Tomorrow, of course, we’ll be back to the seat of the maharajas. Mehrangarh Fort beckons.