We land at Jodhpur airport and go to the pre-pay auto-rickshaw counter to get a ride to our hotel, the Singhvi Havelli. An auto-rickshaw is essentially a two-seater taxi built on a three-wheeled motorcycle frame. To give themselves a business edge, the drivers decorate their vehicles elaborately, and auto-rickshaws donate a lot to the ‘flavor’ of India. They’re slow, but they’re also small and nimble, and can usually get past blockages that would stop a normal taxi.
We pay our Rs150, pack our suitcases and backpacks into the tiny vehicle, and we’re off. Jodhpur is only about 5km from the airport, and we’re soon wiggling our way through the narrow branching streets of the old city.
Our hotel tonight is in an old havelli, or traditional home built around a courtyard. The structure is over 500 years old. The stairs are nearly vertical, and we’re at the top of the house, in a large corner room. Every square inch of the walls are painted with floral and abstract patterns.
It’s evening, and we go out for a walk into the streets. The streets are muddy, which surprises me, as Jodhpur is considered to lie at the edge of the Tharr Dessert, the second largest dessert in the world after the Sahara.
We walk downhill, dodging auto-rickshaws, bicycles, motorcycles, cattle, cattle poo, and other pedestrians. It’s an elaborate dance, a choreography of rules that mostly works. When it doesn’t work, a clot forms, where traffic locks up, horns are sounded endlessly, and drivers (or pedestrians) shout their advice for solving the blockage. Vehicles become so tightly packed that not even a pedestrian can pass.
An auto-rickshaw will angle 3″ to the right, a pedestrian will step from the street into a shop, a bicycle will be lifted out of the way, another auto-rickshaw will move 4″ forward, and then suddenly the clot will break and traffic will be flowing again.
We’re about a mile from our havelli when it begins to rain. A few drops at first, then a deluge. Women in sarees take refuge in shops, sitting on benches and chatting with one another, or with the shopkeeper. Boys and men dash up the street, sheltered by scraps of cardboard or tightly wrapped in their shawls.
We turn back and the rain just gets heavier. For a minute we soldier on, much to the amusement of the audience watching us from the shops that line the street. We finally get the good sense to get out of the rain, ducking beneath an awning between a gold and a silver shop. It’s still a mile back to the havelli, so we start looking for an auto-rickshaw. The rain has caused a high demand, and each that passes us is filled with people. One finally stops and we get in, negotiate the fare (Rs40, or a little under a dollar), and we’re off, buzzing back to our nest, where we sit on pillows and watch the rain fall outside.
The next day we wander around Jodhpur’s fort, a beautiful structure built on a natural stone mesa. We enter via a non-tourist gate that is close to our havelli. Inside people live and play. Steep steps lead up 100′ to the ramparts, which in turn look down on the city of Jodhpur. Laundry dries on the same parapets that once repelled invading armies, and children play on the steps, despite the lack of a guardrail and the long drop to the stones below.
Wandering around old Jaipur, we come to the Sardar Market, centered around an old but magnificent clock tower. Folks are selling vegetables, bangles, bootleg DVDs, etc. I see Ali, a handsome man wearing a brightly colored scarf, and I ask if I can take his picture. Yes, he says, but would I like to look at scarfs? We follow him to the Baba Art Emporium*, and are drawn down into its depths. It’s the classic sit-down-and-drink-tea-while-we-show-you-carpets scheme, except they are selling pashmina scarves and bed covers. We walk out having purchased three scarves and two bedcovers, beautiful pieces, for about half of the asking price. I know we still paid too much, however, because of the glee with which the salesman agreed to the deal.
Later we take an auto-rickshaw to dinner. Auto-rickshaws are amazingly fun to ride around in. Remember those little cars you would ride through the Chamber of Horrors in the circus? The ones where your little car would follow a rail, jerking around corners, then suddenly swivelling 180° to show you a skeleton? Well, auto-rickshaws are just like that, except instead of skeletons, you’re surprised when you suddenly see oncoming busses.
We arrive at “On The Rocks”, which turns out to be an ironic name, because the bar there cannot mix any drinks whatsoever. For example, instead of bringing you a martini, they bring you either 30ml or 60ml of gin, and if you desire, a few lemon wedges to squeeze into it. The gin is warm, and tastes like it may cause blindness.
I wander into the bar portion of the restaurant, which has a ‘cave’ theme, each grotto holding a single table, and one grotto holding a small dance floor lit only with ultra-violet light. No one is dancing, and the DJ plays sad, sad dance music.
The food, however, is excellent. Vegetable tandoori, chicken & garlic tandoori, rotti missi & parantha. It’s quite delicious and we clear our plates while drinking Kingfisher Red, the ‘strong’ version of the beer.
Tomorrow we’re starting a two-day drive to Jaisalmer, a remote Tharr desert fort city and a major trading post on the Silk Road.
* Baba Art Emporium, 224 Sardar Market, near Police Chowki, Clock Tower, Jodhpur. Cell +91 98296-39650, email