Tuesday March 17, 2015

Amongst the many different stops we made while we clack-clack-clacked our way around India aboard the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels were several stand-out cities which deserve special mention.

The first that comes to mind is the Blue City of JODHPUR. Ringed by a high stone wall with seven gates and numerous bastions, Jodhpur is the second largest city of Rajasthan. Founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha (a Rajput king), its highlights today are the larger-than-life Mehrangarh Fort (which got a mention earlier in this blog) and the grand palaces within. And near the fort complex lies Jaswant Thada, with a bunch of royal cenotaphs made of white marble.

But here’s the thing: the ‘Blue City’ really is BLUE – thanks to the untold painted houses that glow with that colour. We know, because we saw it – from a high lookout on the fort walls. And inside the Old Town is a tangle of winding medieval streets, strewn with shops and bazaars selling (along with everything else) the famous breeches (jodhpurs) this city’s known for and horsey-people love to wear.

Two days later, after a late breakfast on the train, we found ourselves in a different colour-scheme: the Pink City of JAIPUR – known as such because of the terra-cotta-coloured lime plaster that coats the old part of the city’s walls, buildings and temples. Our main highlight that day was the super-impressive Amber Fort – which we entered (like royalty) on the backs of elephants. But en route we also got to see the intricately-carved ‘Palace of Winds’, otherwise known as Hawa Mahal. It’s really an elaborate facade behind which the ladies of the court used to watch the daily goings on in the street below. And, in a word, it was stunning!

A further two afternoons later, we caught a boat-ride along India’s most famous waterway, the sacred Ganges, to a temple-strewn section of riverbank that’s famous for (I kid you not) its cremations: the city of VARANASI.

You’ve probably seen pictures or TV documentaries about it. We had, too. But the real thing is even MORE colourful and MORE noisy and MORE mind-boggling!

At sunrise, the Hindu faithful flock to the bathing ghats (steps leading down to the water) where they seek to cleanse themselves of their sins. But the endless activity continues 24 hours a day on the cremation ghats. You see, to die in Varanasi is to end the Hindu cycle of re-birth, and this riverbank is a very popular place to say goodbye to loved ones who have just passed away.

We Kiwis got a bird’s-eye view from our wooden longboat. There were numerous cremation fires already burning up and down this vast terraced area – and we watched as new bodies, draped in brightly coloured cloth, were carried down the steps by family members, lovingly unwrapped and washed, then laid on top of carefully constructed woodpiles. Flames soon leapt high, turning Grandma (or whoever) into the ashes that would, later, be sprinkled over the sacred waters.

It was strange … moving … and pinch-me-please-I-can’t-really-be-seeing-this-with-my-own-eyes!  

As the Indian sun began to set, the ghats became even more crowded, with locals and tourists thronging to witness the regular evening aarti ceremony (a Hindu ritual involving young priests, singing and dancing, flowers, incense and lit candles or lamps).

Our Mad Midlifers went ashore where grandstand seats had been arranged so we wouldn’t miss a thing. And later, back on the boat, we all lit tiny make-a-wish candles and watched as they floated away on the surface of the Ganges.

PEOPLE NEWS: Another Wonky-Donkey has been claimed by a new nominee:

  • Helen got the “Border Patrol” Award – for leading hubby John on a wild goose-chase this morning. A walk through the Periyar township turned into a marathon trek when the two of them got lost – and, with Helen playing Camp Mother and marching on ahead, they ended up walking right through the town to the border between Kerala and the neighbouring state of Tamilnadu. (Okay, not as far as it sounds, but far enough!)

NEXT BLOG: There’s a fourth city (remember?) that I ran out of room for here – a city that was made famous by a love story etched in stone. But it’s coming, folks, so don’t change channels …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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