Arriving in Jodhpur
Held at bay by a baton wielding Sikh policeman, the drivers pumped signs up and down, shouting the names of one hotel or another, hotels that would pay them commissions for the guests they snared. The intense competition among hotels had even reached us on the train, where touts plied the corridors, pressing flyers into our hands and haranguing us with promises of luxurious inns at rock-bottom prices. I had been warned that all places so promoted were dumps.
Edging past the surging line of drivers, we made our way to an independent tuk-tuk driver. Ignoring catcalls from the hawkers, we gave him the name of our haveli. He drove us through darkened streets, skirting cows asleep on the pavement. FInally we reached a towering wooden door set in a stone wall. He indicated that this place was our hotel.
No streetlights, no lit windows, no people about: the place was deserted. Our driver went up to the massive door and pounded on it. No response. He pulled out his cell phone and looked at us questioningly. We gave him the hotel number and he phoned. Several minutes later a small wooden window set within the great door opened. A sleepy face looked out. Its owner seemed to have no idea why we were there or what to do with us.
Eventually doorman admitted us, saying that no one was yet awake who could show us our room. Kicking two sleeping men off a pair of low divans, he asked if we'd like to sit and watch television for awhile.
Why not? He brought us some Nescafé, and we settled onto the cushions to watch an incomprehensible Bollywood movie featuring cold war spies, a doomed romance, and endless frantic dancing. Two hours later, someone showed up and led us to our room. Finally we had a place to wash off travel grime and change into clean clothes.
The room was large, constructed of yellow sandstone blocks (as most of Jodhpur would turn out to be). Furniture consisted of an eclectic mix of old pieces. It was interesting, unique and comfortable.
Portraits of long-dead maharajas hung on the walls. Oddly, a large photograph of a very young Queen Elizabeth II also hung there.
Rooms were arranged around a once-elegant courtyard, a peaceful place for reading in the morning before the heat came up. We came to appreciate its tranquility, a retreat from the daytime bedlam just on the other side of the great door.
We were hungry after eating only one meal that day—an execrable dinner on the train. The haveli owner steered us to a restaurant owned by a friend of his, a former cricket champion turned entrepreneur. Named Krishna, there we ate the finest meal served to us in India. The restauranteur joined us for our meal, entertaining us with stories about his life and family.
We ate the foods he recommended. Our meal consisted of tikka masala (chunks of Indian cheese called paneer, in a red sauce loaded with spices), potatoes stuffed with vegetables, zeera rice, and naan, that wonderful flat bread baked by sticking flattened dough to the side of a clay oven called a tandoor.
I always enjoy eating regional cuisine wherever I'm traveling. Local food is usually excellent; foreign foods are iffy. In India, even fine hotels won't serve you steak (cows are sacred), and their attempts at Japanese or Chinese food fall flat. But a lowly roadside stand will cook you an aloo paratha (potato pancake) you'll remember for the rest of your life.
The cost of our meal in this, one of the better restaurants in Jodhpur, was around ten dollars.
Now we were washed, rested, and fed. We were ready to go forth and experience the culture and sights of north-western India, in the state of Rajasthan.