Our host took us on a tour of the village and it’s clear the feudal system that was in place for his ancestors is still in place today. The entire village is related to him, and he is head honcho. It’s a true fiefdom. They all defer to him. He set up a school at the urging of his wife for girls in the village. “Educate the women and you educate the village” were her words. He also has set up some micro lending programs for the village women for businesses, etc which he controls all the loans.
Rajasthan is known as the land of kings. The Rajahs were a warrior caste and forts dot hilltops across the region. The fort at Jodhpur is probably one of the best. On our rest day I spend 3 hours roaming the fort with a great audio guide and Clive, our British contingent who is also writing a blog and is a co-conspirator on figuring out blogging bugs and internet access work-arounds.
Mehrengarh (garh means fort) was still owned by the family that built it 500 years ago, and the heir is alive and living in a huge palace across town.
It was formidable – yet intricate and beautiful. It had never been conquered though you could see canon ball dents in the walls. There was long ramp to the gate with a 90 degree turn just before gate so an elephant charge couldn’t batter it down. The outside of the inner palaces were covered in intricate scroll work and immaculately carved and detailed. The inside rooms were painted floor to ceiling with bright pictures, geometrics and intricate inlaid marble and woodwork. The museum inside housed swords, armor,elephant litters and textiles that showed unbelievable workmanship.
It was truly impressive. Jodhpur itself is known as the blue city, and when you look out from the fort over the medievalold city that has been washed with indigo you see why. Apparently the indigo also acts as a natural mosquito repellant.
Today we rode 120 k to Fort Dhamli – and I’m happy to say I’m well enough to ride the whole thing. Finally. It was a ride through desert – tan sand covered by scattered trees and low growing succulents. It was flat, with mostly narrow road in mostly decent shape. Altogether an easy day, made a little more challenging by some feisty headwinds and afternoon heat.
Fort Dhamli is actually a town that was owned by Indra, a relative the maharaja and after the British took over his family picked this town of the ten or so they were given to live. He was our host – along with his Canadian wife –and they had renovated a heritage hotel hidden in the middle of a small rural village. The hotel is actually too small for our group, so several ofus –including me – arecamping in these tents on the roofs where they set up rugs, beds and canopies. It’s quite exotic. I have my mosquito net up though … I figure when you see mosquito coils around it’s a good sign to take that extra step.
Our hosts said that we could take photos, but to please not give out money or pens or gifts as in encourages begging. If we send them the photos they will distribute them to the villagers. I like that system – I don’t give out money anyway to individuals but will gladly give to a local school or charity or temple that’s legit. And I will only photo someone with permission.
As I was wandering on my own I saw three women. They took an interest in me and they were not shy. Their arms, upper and lower, were covered in bangles. They wore gold nose rings and earrings and necklaces. They asked me if I was married. I’ve been asked that enough I can recognize the Hindi word for it now. I usually say yes because it’s incomprehensible to them that a woman not be married. The few times I’ve said no, I’m not married, I get a look of great pity and bewilderment like how is that possible? And what sort of woman isn’t married – you seemed nice enough? And then the question along the lines of “so what do you do with your life, then?”
So I say Yes I’m married to keep things simple. So then they want to know where he is. I left him at home. Then they look me up and down and make it clear that I must have one sorry, cheap husband given the poor state of my attire. No arm bands. No gold nose ring or earrings. No necklaces. Nothing. They are pointing out their jewelry and wondering where mine is. So one of the women reaches up and takes off one of her pink plastic bangles and slips over my arm up to my armpit so I would have something to show I was married and – my host told me later – as a blessing for a happy marriage. I was so touched. Really love the genuine kindness and generosity of people here.