Our featured blogger, Liam Kennedy, takes us on an evocative journey through the twisting lanes of India's fabled blue city
Jodhpur, the infamous ‘Blue City’. A canvas of colour, marbled with veins. Tiny winding roads feed the city from Jodhpur’s heart, the towering Mehrangarh Fort that sits high above the houses.
The city’s lifeblood beats down from the proud battlements and imposing cliffs, through the labyrinthine Old-Town to the city walls, which stab the horizon through the haze of dust and sand with their sharp silhouette. Every second building is a grubby blue crystal that kisses the sky, jutting from the sandy rubble and rowdy rabble. Blue painted houses are an emblem, worn by a city awash with pride in its history; a history that has seen development from an opium trade route to an industrial hub and tourist temptation. I can hear a local band beating out a rhythm from the fort on the hill and with every beat of the bass drum, I see the blue-blood of Jodhpur flow, washing through the streets and painting houses and hearts prouder with powder-blue.
It flows through the overhanging tenements that encase you with a warmth and charm that rivals York’s Shambles; through the lines of identical embroidery stalls that moonlight as Diwali firework shops, selling flash-bangs to giddy-kiddies out of old embroidery boxes; through the market square, where a large black cow has made its home in the centre of a busy crossroad, laying on a pile of rubbish and acting as the Old-Town’s only successful traffic-calming roundabout; through the shop made entirely of bamboo, selling only bamboo; through a market that is far less hodgepodge than it looks, with several streets dedicated to specific wares, like ‘Cycle Street’ and its rows of shops that between them sell only one model of bike in varying shades of rust; through the smithing street and crackling flash of blowtorches and solders; through the armed military guarded gates and the ‘shotguns and smiles’ soldiers. And so the drum beats, the crowds flow through Jodhpur’s veins and the city breathes.
Our arrival saw us drive towards the heart, the streets shrinking like we were chasing Willy Wonka. Raj drives ruthlessly through alleys thin enough to make me breathe in. To Raj, Hanna and Liam are top priority and the angry rickshaw driver who was forced to mount the curb is barely worth the passive chuckle he throws at him.
We navigated the maze of mopeds, threading through gaps that seem to only appear when you take the chance and push the wall. I half expected a riddle from one of Jim Henson’s Muppets on the way to our hotel. The theme continued when we reached the KP Haveli Heritage Hotel, a real Bowie-on-the-ceiling labyrinth where the chip-gill-ees (Hindi for gecko) guide the way.
The decor in our room sums up the Indian prerogative perfectly. The walls sport incredibly intricate hand-painted decorations that must have taken hours to complete, but almost no care is shown for maintenance or finishing touches. A good example of this, as Hanna pointed out, is that the borders of the room are a trail of beautifully hand painted flowers with miniature detail but the sketch lines, drawn with pencil to ensure the artist keeps his work straight and equidistant, are still there. This one final hurdle would bring home the bacon but is completely ignored. Opting out of cleaning up the sketch lines certainly gives it a more authentic Indian ‘unfinished’ vibe.
Our first wander throughout town saw us drift into a familiar theme. Brahma, seemingly dissatisfied with his initial wrath, appeared once more in bovine form and waited to ambush me around the corner from the hotel. This time he didn’t pull punches and, with a quick three-step run up, he gut-nutted me so hard it lifted me off my feet. At least now I can skip Pamplona when I tour Europe. I was left with a nice, horn-shaped bruise across both my belly-button and my ego. Raj just laughed.
“Baby!” he said.
“Eh? No! That proper hurt Raj.” He didn’t know I was talking more about his mean words than my sore belly.
“She baby,” he pointed.
Then I saw the little mini-milk hiding behind her angry mother. Apparently, I was seen as more of a threat to the calf than the 10,000 other people who had walked around this particular corner today. Hanna is tiny, and Raj even tinier, so I like to feel like maybe my belly took one for the team. The extra cushion probably helped too, so I’ll have to drink more beer on our travels, to keep my shield up in case it happens again.
I brushed myself off and we found another stunning rooftop restaurant named ‘Indique’, the climb to which takes in a miniature painting shop with tiny scenes of stunning detail, a saloon bar with camel saddle stools and several smartly dressed waiters with matching turbans. We sampled the best curry I have ever tasted and watched the sun set over the blue behemoth. The scene was incredibly serene, the peace only slightly punctured by the huge, low-flying bats that steal the city from the birds at sun-down. The faint scent of masala chai lingers after each conversation with a waiter, much as it permeates the air of every busy street and the mind of every busy Indian.
There is a romance awaiting every traveller who visits this sublime city and to feel day turn to night over 30 minutes here is a trip. The lights begin to spread from city wall to city wall and the car horns mellow and cluster at crossroads, peppering the city with toots and hoots; a melodic refrain from the daytime wall of sound. Once again, above the chaos India seems to make a little more sense.
I recently returned from a ten month adventure. The trip saw me take around 40,000 photographs and several hours of film. I filled notebooks and I filled my head. My blog is where you will see it all, along with any other day to day musings, stories and images that need to come out.