Today is my fifth day in Rajasthan. Today and tomorrow I will be in Jaipur after coming from Jodhpur and previously Bikaner.
These towns are similar, all part of the Rajput people’s / former princely states of this area, but have some slightly different atmosphere.
I really loved Bikane, maybe because it was the first town I visited, maybe because it is smaller than the other towns on this tour, maybe for both of these reasons. There is tremendous poverty everywhere, but Bikaner seemed less desperate, more provincial. Camel carts everywhere.
Junagargh Fort was truly spectacular, the only, unconquered, land fort in all of India. Very interesting to learn about Bikaner’s last maharaji Ganga Singh and his valor fighting in four wars, including the Boxer Rebellion and WWs I and II.
Even the camel tour, which I took as part of an overpriced tour package from a “government-approved” company in Delhi (win some, lose some), ended up being a lovely experience thanks to the generous host Primm from Nepal, who shared stories about 16 years of work all over India and his wife and two children and their life post-disaster back in Nepal.
Most of all, Bikaner felt safe, and I felt less like a walking dollar sign.
Jodhpur was a different experience. It seemed everyone, including my hotel host, was on the make. If you stay at Heritage Shubham Haveli, and Raj invites you to take tea with him, just know you will pay for it when you leave. Anyway, the tea is not that good.
Poverty in Jodhpur felt more desperate, or it was more out in the open, with people everywhere sleeping on sidewalks with their children. I don’t have a lot of pictures, because it feels obnoxious to pull out an iPhone while next to people making their home on the street. I felt awful, guilty, seeing children outside of the sweet shop begging for food, and here I have just bought two shirts and dinner. Jodhpur gave me perspective, so I am glad I was able to visit. Yes, tourists will be charged five or 10 times over for transport and museum fees, but in USD, this is not much money. More important, this money means a lot to people living in desperate poverty.
I have not seen many tourists, four at my hotel in Bikaner, but none out walking. They must be staying somewhere though, because I saw about 10 tourists at Merangargh Fort in Jodhpur.
Here’s a view of the old city,which gives Jodhpur the name “blue city”, below. Apparently, lapis lazuli paint helps cool homes in summer and was originally reserved for the clergy class in this neighborhood, though anyone can paint their home blue now.
The other big site in Jodhpur is Umaid Palace, built at the turn of the 20th century by Maharaji Umesh Singh. Interesting about this building is that it was a kind of Rajasthani “New Deal”–the maharaji’s answer to the drought was to create this palace, which took 15 years and countless workers to complete.
I am hoping Steve or someone will write a screenplay about Stefan Norblin, the Polish artist who decorated and designed the interior of the palace. His life story is facinating. Famous for his product posters in Poland, he fled with his movie star wife to the Middle East, where he was employed as a portrait artist for Iraqi royalty. He moved to India was employed similarly. Decades later, he moved to San Francisco where he ultimately committed suicide at the age of 60 after learning he was going blind. Screenplay, right?