The Red Palace and White Temple, Jodhpur.

Thursday 10 November 2016 – Jodhpur, India.

A very frustrating and largely wasteful day. In the end I did visit all the locations I wanted to visit, but I did not spend as much time in each as I would have liked, though one of them was a waste of time and a tuk tuk ride. More on that later.

Today was the day the banks would re-open after being closed yesterday and all would become well with the world again, I hoped. As we all know, hope is a cruel mistress, and while the banks did open, my issues were not really resolved. Just moved around a bit.

If you have not read yesterday’s post then a wee recap of the situation is required. The Indian government announced on Tuesday night, much to the surprise of pretty much everyone, that the 500 and 1000 rupee notes would not be legal tender from the end of the month. New 500 rupee notes would be issued and the 1000 scrapped and replaced with a 2000 rupee. This is an attempt to disrupt the massive black and grey economy in India. It is massive. The ATM’s here only provide 500 and 1000 rupees notes. Though they are supposed to be legal tender for a while yet, basically no-one is accepting them, including my hotel. It is all I and all the other tourists have. To make matters worse the ATM machines are all closed Wednesday and Thursday and the banks were shut yesterday as well.

As I am leaving the Jodhpur first thing tomorrow morning I had to get cash today, my bill is going to be 5800 rupees. I have 5000 in bills that they will now no longer accept and they do not take credit cards. Hmmm…

After fare welling Christina and Jorg after breakfast, Natalie and I went to the bank just after it opened at 10. We passed a small pre-wedding on the way.

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And this delightfully named, and closed hotel.  I cannot imagine why it was not a booming success, maybe it was the location on the buy main road?

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There was a massive queue as we expected, but as we had fairly straightforward transactions and are westerners, we were allowed to bypass the queue and go straight to see the manager He informed us we could only change 4000 each per day (the same as the locals) and that we needed a photocopy of our passports. He didn’t have a photocopier, so it was back out on to the streets to the photocopy shop, get copies and then back to the bank to get our money changed, 4 1000 rupee notes became 40 100 rupee notes.

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We met some other tourists who told us of another bank that did not require a photocopy of our passport so we sneakily went there as well, supposed to be only one transaction a day, this one had an even bigger queue which we again we told to bypass. I changed my last 1000 rupees.

I now had money I could use, but this still left me short of what I needed to pay for my room, and no-way of getting any more – I may as well keep spending and do a couple of tourist things, like see some of the other key sites of Jodhpur.

This took me till after 1:00 to get sorted so I had lunch with Natalie and the group she was heading off with before finally getting out the door to do something. I grabbed a tuk tuk and made an agreement with the driver to take me to the Red Palace, the White Temple and then back to the guest house. I think we were both happy with the outcome.

Built on top of Chittar Hill, Umaid Bhawan Palace, or the Red Palace as it is known is one of the largest private residences in the world, and is truly massive. Construction was started in 1927 and it was finished in 1943. It was initially built to help local farmers with employment and the end of a long and severe drought.

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I was very disappointed with the Red Palace. I knew that it was still the Maharajah’s home and that most of it had been converted into a luxury hotel, but I didn’t realise how much of it was. There is not a lot to see in there and I could not get a straight on, straight up the middle photo. It is a fabulous looking building…

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There is a small collection of very dusty classic cars as well.

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I was not there long and I think my tuk tuk driver knew I wouldn’t be as well, he was waiting at the gate when I exited and we took a slow and fumey ride across town to the White Temple.

Jaswant Thada, the White Temple, sits on the same ridge as the fort I visited yesterday, and is far more accessible than the palace; not being a private residence, but a cenotaph. It was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in 1899 in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, and serves as the cremation ground for the royal family.

The mausoleum is built out of intricately carved sheets of marble and is quite glorious.

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I am not too sure who this dude is, point to the fort, I am assuming he is not leading an invasion, the statue looks quite new and I expect one day someone will put up a sign with some information.

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I think you used to be able to get down to this small lake, and get a classic reflection photo, and also walk around the back of the temple, but it is all closed off now which is a shame, I would have liked to explored a bit more widely if I could have.

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I had to wait to try and get photos without other people in them, luckily the place was relatively quiet or I would not have bothered. Lovely building.

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The interior is bare, but glows almost as much as the exterior. The walls are lined with paintings of the family line, it goes back a long way.

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In the grounds of the building are a number of smaller mausoleums.

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After a relaxing explore in and around the temple I asked my tuk tuk driver to take me back down into the noisy, smelly and chaotic city below and drop me at the clock tower square.

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I wanted to see nearby Gulab Sagar lake, the small lake I saw from the fort last night, it took 8 years to build and was started in 1788 to provide water to the community by the then Maharajah, Vijay Singh. It smelt so bad of rubbish and sewage that I took one photo and left, my plan to walk round it was swiftly discarded, even though the light was perfect for it.

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I wanted to go back to the stepwell and see it in the daylight, it is a magnificent piece of construction, even better in daylight, and still pretty empty of both tourists and locals. The design is just so awesome, I loved the lines and angles, a huge amount of though must have gone into building something that was practical, functional and yet beautiful to look at.

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I went back up to the roof top bar we went to last night as I wanted to grab a couple more photos of the fort and the white palace – obviously I had to sacrifice some more of my hard earned money to buy a beer!

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And that was it, the end of my touring in Jodhpur, the sun was setting, and I am off tomorrow, there is still a lot more to see here, but I have so little time, and even less money!

In the end I was allowed to pay the remainder of my accommodation on my credit card at a local travel agent, it wasn’t ideal, but no-one had a choice. While I was there I also picked up some medicine at the local pharmacy, something to at least prevent my nose from streaming. I couldn’t, or didn’t want to get anything I didn’t recognise for my increasingly sore throat. Strepsils would have been perfect!

I never did see any Jodhpurs either…

Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.

Wednesday 09 November 2016 – Jodhpur, India – Part 2.

The last post left myself and three people I met in the guest house heading up to Mehrangarh Fort, which looms over our guest house and completely dominates the northern skyline of the city.

Construction of the fort started around 1460 by Mahrajah Rao Jodha, when he decided to relocate the town of Mandore to the top of the hill. It was initially completed almost 200 years later, though a second phase of construction took place in the 18th century. I am not sure which bit is what though. It is a monster of a fort, the stones that make up the walls are absolutely massive and it is an absolute marvel of construction. The current head of the Rathore clan Maharajah Gaj Singh II is still the custodian of the fort.

From the outside the entrance is impressive enough! I have not seen such high walls on a castle before, it is truly monstrous.

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Regrettably I did not take an audio tour with me and make some notes as we walked around, we were a little pressed for time. I am struggling to find information to fill in some of the detail of the what I took photos of. I took a lot of photos…

I am assuming the works of art on either side of the entrance gate explain the retaking of Mandore from the Mewar by Rao Jodha.

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Getting inside was an issue, as I mentioned in my last post the Indian government changed the currency overnight and the fort were not accepting 500 or 1000 rupee notes, which everyone had, not just us, a number of other visitors were also struggling to pay. Fortunately, unlike all the other places I visit on this trip, they took credit cards so Jorg paid for us all and we gave him (useless) 500 rupee notes; 500 rupees was the entrance fee. These notes are exchangeable in a bank, so they retain value, they just cannot spent in many places, even though they are valid currency until the end of the month.

Once inside I was wow…

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And this was just getting inside the first level of walls. We arrived quite late in the day and a lot people were leaving, we intentionally arrived late as we wanted to be there for sunset.

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There was not a huge amount of detail outside of the museum and palace section, little bits here and there, all sort of built into the design of the building.

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There was some pretty cool doors and gates as well.

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The museum was impressive, linking a variety of buildings and multiple levels, it was not full of marvels, but the walk around the buildings was really interesting. 

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There were some interesting knick knacks to see.

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The view out of the windows on all sides over Jodhpur under a dropping sun was stunning.

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I will visit the White Palace tomorrow.

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I tried to sneak photos of the fort staff whenever I could, though they were quite accommodating and cheerful when I got busted.

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As the sun started to really drop we headed off to the far western side of the fort to the Chamunda Devi temple for the sunset. There was limited viewing so I walked back up the hill a bit and got the temple in the very unspectacular sunset.

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Amusingly, us westerners are the subject of some interest to the Indian tourists, even I have had my photo taken with individual and small groups of Indian men. However, unlike Christina, I am not a 6ft tall blonde woman, as we were heading out of the fort she became the focus of attention of a couple of groups and a melee of photo taking with Christina, Natalia and Jorg the centre of attention ensued.

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I slunk off to one side as soon as the madness started, attention is not my thing 🙂

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Though I did have my own fan. I think she was just avoiding the madness as well

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It was after dark before we finally extracted ourselves from the adoring fans and the fort. There was time for a couple more final photos before heading back down to the guest house.

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Natalie went off with some friends for dinner and I was invited by Jorg and Christina to join them for a meal in the Cafe Royale, a small cafe near the Clock Tower, which they discovered had really good coffee in earlier in the day. The food in the cafe was really good, but the best thing was the family that owned and ran the cafe, a really lovely couple and their two sons, who we spent the rest of the evening with.

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After we had eaten and chatted for a while the parents asked us if we wanted to see the stepwell, I had no idea what one was, but they said it was very close by and we should come and see it. It is not in the guide book, and there is almost no information about it on the internet, so I cannot find out when this one was made. There are quite a few around India and Pakistan.

Basically a stepwell is a well with steps that go down to what was at the time of building, the lowest level the water drops to. Stepwells date back as far as 600ad, but the most prolific era of building was the 12th to 17th century, so this is pretty old. And also stunning. Probably the highlight of my stay in Jodhpur. The fort is amazing, but this is amazing and beautiful as well.

Toor Ji Ki Bawari stepwell, at night. I will definitely go back here tomorrow and see it in the day time.

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On the recommendation of our new friends, Christina, Jorg and myself stopped at a nearby roof top bar for a couple of beers and the stunning view over the city; before heading back up to the guest house and sleep. Looking at a city from slightly higher than the street always introduces a whole new perspective – and a wealth of things that get missed at street level.

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Another good day – considering the US election result and we the fact we are all uncertain as to what the heck is going to happen when the money runs out.

Jodhpur – The Blue City

Wednesday 09 November 2016 – Jodhpur, India – Part one of two.

I was up pretty early this morning and took a few photos from my room with its view over the city, it is quite smoggy again today and my throat is not getting any better. I am not sure if it just the poisonous air, a cold coming on, or both. I suspect both. This is the Red Palace and I will visit it tomorrow.

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At breakfast time I was introduced to Natalie, an American travelling solo. We then had the sad discussion about the likely outcome of the US election and that Trump was looking like winning. (WTF America, did you not learn from the Brexit vote in the UK). One day people will be asking, ‘Where were you when the free and decent world ended ?’ I can say Jodhpur.

The restaurant is on the roof of the guest house, which sits some way up the hill between the flat of the city and the monstrous fort above. The view is spectacular, in all directions.

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As Natalie and I were discussing our day we were joined by a German couple, Christina and Jorg and we all agreed to meet this afternoon and visit the fort together.

There was some interesting news today, apart from the US election results. In an effort to stamp out the grey and black economy that is pervasive in India the government have declared that the existing 500 and 1000 rupee notes will no longer be legal tender. Everyone has till the end of the year to change them. This is a major issue as so many Indians do not have bank accounts and literally have cash under the mattress. For instance, the home stay owner in Agra where I am writing this update says he has over a million rupees in cash. The wrinkle in the plan is that no-one can change more than 4000 rupees a day, so for those with vast amounts of cash this is a major issue. They could stick it all in the bank of course, but that means declaring the income. I really don’t sympathise too much about tax dodging, but this is creating an epic drama here.

In an effort to make the transition all banks are closed for the day and all ATMs are closed for two days. This is a problem. I do not have enough money to pay for my accommodation, and that is before I spend any money today. Which I am going to do as I am here on holiday. I will at least pay for entry to the fort, and I need to eat. To complicate this, irrationally, no-one is now accepting the 500 and 1000 notes, the notes we get from the ATM, all tourists have them, along with many many local people. So, even though they remain legal tender until the end of the year our guest house has informed us all they will not accept the only money we have. They also do not take cards. Frankly a complete and utter pain in the arse, more on that as the days unfold.

My plan this morning was to find the Blue City and take a walk around for an hour or so and then come back for lunch and then go up to the fort mid-afternoon and stay for sunset.

Natalie left with me and pointed me in the general direction of the Blue City, though I never did find it… Jodhpur is the second largest city in Rajasthan, and the old central part around the base of the fort is named the Blue City as so any of the houses there are painted blue. Unlike Jaipur and its Pink City, the Blue City is not really confined to one geographic space, so while I never really found the core of it, I did pass a lot of old blue buildings.

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I walked for about an hour, it was warm but not overly so, and the streets, as such, are narrow and windy and ludicrously dangerous with speeding motorbikes. I cannot imagine the accident rate here. They are mostly too narrow for cars, though the odd tractor seems to make it through OK.

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You might think from my photos that there were no people about, there were plenty, but I am not a fan of poverty porn, nor asking people to take their photo, so I avoided accidentally, or deliberately pointing my camera at people. This kid did walk through my shot, which is one of my favourites from the morning.

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Except these guys who asked me to take their photo 🙂 I have no idea what they were making in those large wok looking things. I asked but had no idea what they said… [Edit] thanks to Arv, who commented below,  I know now that these fine gentlemen are making an Indian sweet called halwai…. [end edit]

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Even though I was pointed to and walked in the general direction of the Blue City, I never quite found it, I ducked up side streets and alleys, peered round corners, took a turn here and turn there, finally ending up not knowing where I was.  Not quite lost, though at one point I did a complete loop and passed by the shops I had walked by 10 minutes before. I ended up getting a tuk tuk back, and it took a lot longer than I thought!

There was plenty to see nearby as well, perhaps I should have just stayed local, but where would be the adventure in that!

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I arrived back at the guest house in time for lunch (I am eating way too much food, and it has all been great). I have stuck to eating local dishes, though all the places I have been to also serve pasta, pizza, something called ‘Maxican’ and quite often Chinese as well. I don’t see the point in coming to India to eat Italian food.

I met up with Natalie, Christina and Jorg mid-afternoon and we all headed up a small path near the guesthouse to the mighty edifice that dominates our skyline. More on that in the next post !!

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