Saturday, March 23, 2013

Winter Break, part 3 of ?

After one day in Pushkar, which was plenty, I was supposed to take an 8 am bus to Jodhpur, a city within the state of Rajasthan.  Supposed to.  Turns out it might have been faster to “push” a “kar” to Jodhpur than to take a bus.  Hehe.  I’m sorry, I’ll try make that my first and last bad pun this time around.

Here’s the story.
After dinner, I checked with the Milk Man employees to make sure they would be up at 7 so I could check out.  My plan was to quickly scarf down some breakfast before footing it to the station at 7:30.  I don’t know why I continually harbor the hope that people here will do what they say they will do, though; my optimism, continually squashed, still springs eternal. 
For a visual demonstration of this depressingly repetitive process, click here and watch 1:20-2:05.  Pigs are my favorite animals, which makes this clip especially appropriate.  It isn’t as cute in real life, though.
Contrary to promises suggesting otherwise, the restaurant/lobby area of the Milk Man was still dark at 7:15 and I literally trampled over a sleeping body when I entered.  I sadly skipped breakfast, my most favorite meal of the day, because I was afraid it would make me miss my bus.  An ironic supposition, in retrospect.
It was only a 10-minute walk to the bus station.  The man at the ticket/info counter said that the bus would come at 8:30.  Immediately disappointed by my unnecessary loss of breakfast, I retired myself to a bench for a long and anxious wait.  I remained alert, scanning the incoming buses and trying to grasp any methodical pattern to arrival and departure… but if there was one, it eluded me.  When 8 am rolled around, I began actively asking the bus drivers if they were going to Jodhpur; my ticket did say 8, after all. 
An older man at the train station seemed to take a particular interest in me, either because I was plaguing his oddly tranquil hangout or because he felt pity for my odd and uncomfortable hang-up.  At one point he got my attention—“Ma’am!”—and motioned me to a bus headed to Jaipur.  That’s right.  There were a million and a half buses going to Jaipur, I was going to Jodhpur, and my accent probably made the two indistinguishable.  A cruel linguistic trick.  When the man understood my actual destination, he said he would let me know when my bus arrived. 
Torn between trust and experience, I continued to confront bus drivers up until 9:00.  No luck.  Again, the man approached me and said he would “take care of it,” so I sat back in exasperated surrender.  Then, at 9:15ish, there was a sudden influx of passengers, including a group of youngish guys who spoke good English.  Our conversation went something like this:

“Where are you going?”
“An hour ago.”
“You need to ask the bus drivers where they’re going or they’ll leave without you.”
“Tried that.”
“Sometimes the bus comes at 7:45.”
“I was here at 7:40.”
Yet, sure enough, the guy behind the info desk told me that I had missed my bus, but, “No problem, no worries,” another would be coming at 10:30.  I shot daggers (an ineffective trend, it seems) at the man who was supposed to “take care of it” and show me my bus.  So, beginning at 10, I approached every single bus I saw.  Even if it said “Ajmer bus” on the side, I did not make the assumption that is was actually going to nearby Ajmer.  By this point, my introversion had completely dissipated.  I was no longer shy about approaching the drivers.  I was no longer embarrassed by my lack of Hindi.  I felt like dancing in the middle of the bus stop to draw attention to myself and my predicament.  I debated whether stripping down and writing “JODHPUR,” in cow blood, across my finer points would help things along a little.  In other words, I was ready to go.
And then… success!
The name “Jodhpur” had never sounded sweeter (or more distinctive, for that matter).  The bus was not crowded, but I still headed to the back to celebrate in relative solitude.  After about 10 minutes, the bus driver’s sidekick came around and collected money from all new boarders.  I flashed my ticket and pointed to my paid total with a grin.  Luckily, the guy didn’t make a stink about it being the wrong bus or the wrong time, which would have been a big, fineable deal in the U.S.  It’s funny, the U.S. takes advantage of people, just as in India… but at least it’s more systematic in the States!  I guess it helps that I’ve lived in the system for so long, too.
Just like in Ghana and Ecuador, there are hawkers that come aboard the buses when they make brief stops.  A boy came onto my bus with some grossly over-fried puris, attempted to sell them to me for Rs. 10 apiece, and cleverly converted my rejection into an invitation to sit, stare, and take multiple point-blank pictures with his cell phone.  Awkward. 
“Awkward” pretty much sums up how I felt walking around the streets of Jodhpur, once I got there.  I did like Jodhpur more than Pushkar, though.  There were tons of tourist stalls, but also everyday stalls with vegetables and textiles that were obviously patronized by Jodhpur locals.  I was lured into a variety of spice stalls on my first trek into the main Clock Tower area of town, each of them claiming that I should just “take a look” and that there would be “no pressure” to buy anything.  And yet, an atmosphere of uncomfortable expectation always hung in the air.  I think this is the skill I need to develop most while in India, standing my ground and not becoming intoxicated by this sense of expectation.  Developing a  “yeah, I know there’s a line of people behind me, an auto rickshaw honking for me to move, and a crippling language barrier, but I’m going to stand her until I get what I want” resistance to pressure.  A self-centeredness derived from necessity.
But that’s not completely realistic… there would never be an actual line of people behind me.
Clock Tower
Apparently, while there are many spice shops sprinkled around Jodhpur, there is only one original.  And, now that its “founding father” is dead, it has been (refreshingly) taken over by his daughters.  Their business card is hilarious, though; a Clock Tower area map is on the back, with X’s marking out the “imposter” shops.  Are they imposters simply because they, too, sell spices?  In America, we call that healthy, consumer-friendly competition.  One particularly entrepreneurial woman, Rheka, has embraced this competitive spirit; her “Spice Paradise” has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of many a failed spice shop because she offers a cooking class alongside all of her spices.  It’s genius, really… try out the product before you shell out the cash!
I stopped by early in the day and signed up for a 5 pm lesson.  But at 5, the doors were chained shut.  I loitered for a while, then knocked and stuck my face up to the glass like a kindergartener on a field trip to an aquarium.  Obviously, Rheka was not ready to start the lesson.  She said she needed to clean, which appeared to be overwhelmingly true, but I also found out later that her husband still needed to get ingredients from the market.  After ten minutes of waiting on the couch in her back room, I was joined by a group of four Australian college students.  They were on Christmas break and were randomly traveling to Nepal and India.  Meeting these girls (Annabelle, Hannah, Silka, and whatsherface) was exactly what I had in mind for this trip—bonding with temporary friends from places around the world. 
When class started out with the basic masala chai, I was a bit concerned—that stuff is for kiddos!  Also, Rheka seemed scattered and was helping other customers instead of us.  The whole scheme seemed generally sterile and businesslike.  I’m not sure at what point that all changed.  Perhaps it was when I noticed her great-aunt sleeping on a cushion in the corner of the room.  Perhaps it was when her children brought out Christmas trees they had decorated for school and sang—seemingly straight from the Germanic heart of northwest Ohio—"The Merry Christmas Polka"Or perhaps it was when Rheka told us about her sister-in-law’s jealous rage, which led to an armed robbery in front of Rheka’s children. 
Makhania Lassis
Rheka, husband, Aussies, one daughter
Making chappati
Smelling chappati
I knew, deep down, that this was a business venture for Rheka and her husband, plain and simple.  They’d dealt with enough foreigners that they knew how to tug at our heartstrings and play us like fiddles.  Their sob stories had been practiced and perfected, to be sure, but my Western sensibilities simply could not be kept at bay.  It’s interesting—I became very aware of my weaknesses in Jodhpur and could tell when I’d been “hooked,” but only just after, so I could lucidly (and helplessly) watched myself fall into traps.  Traveling with others would be helpful in this respect. 
At the end of the night, I left with a full belly, a full memory card, and full of ideas on how to improve my cooking skills.  I learned how to make veg biryani, raita, shahi paneer, dal, makhania lassis, carrot halva, rotis, parathas, and naan.  The problem is, for most of these recipes, you need her special mixes, or “masalas.”  So I left with a couple of those, too.  By the time I arrived back at my guesthouse—Rheka’s husband was nice enough to drive me there on his motorbike—it was a little bit after 10.  The class was supposed to end at 9, but we were simply having too much fun together!  When I went to open the door of the guest house, I panicked a bit when I found it locked.  But within a few seconds, an employee surfaced and let me in, informing me that curfew was 10 pm.  You’d think they’d inform me of a curfew prior to me breaking it.  But then, you’d be thinking wrong.
View of the "Blue City" from Hillview
One good thing about Hillview (because overall, I wasn’t impressed) was its proximity to Mehrangarh Fort.  One good thing about Mehrangarh Fort was the Flying Fox zipline tour.  Although, I have to admit I didn’t feel very foxy in the harness.
Smiling, but experiencing crotchal discomfort
Ziplining was fun.  However, ziplining in a cloud forest (twice!… once with a fellow student teacher and once with my sister) tainted the experience a bit.  Ecuadorian rainforest will always trump the beauty of any manmade edifice, but that’s not poor Mehrangarh’s fault.
A delightfully suggestive blast from the past
I spent the rest of the day meandering around the old fort, which was probably my favorite of all the forts in Rajasthan I visited. 
Mehrangarh during the day
Mehrangarh at night
The gist of Jodhpur:
1) Even if you get fort-weary in Rajasthan, which is easy to do, don’t skip out on Mehrangarh.
2) Never buy a cup of tea there.  Ever.  Act semi-interested as you walk by a spice shop and you will have tea practically thrown at you.  And not just regular chai--something with saffron and other cool stuff.
3) You can buy vanilla pods here.  I was originally quoted Rs. 60/pod, but when I said 4 for 200, the guy immediately acquiesced.  What?!  Bartering is no fun until someone has either lost all sense of dignity or sustained a flesh wound.  See how much lower you can get. 

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