Jodhpur & Bishnoi Village Safari

We arrived in Jodhpur in the late afternoon, so that night we only had time to settle into our accommodation and have dinner. Our accommodation in Jodhpur was a “home stay.” I’ve put that in scare quotes because the home we stayed at is owned by a pretty wealthy family; as I understand it they own a bunch of resorts and their family owned the entire gated 8-9 house street where the home is located. As such query whether we really learned that much about the daily routine of a normal Indian family.

The family was very nice, though I won’t lie I did find interacting with them for a couple of hours in the evening to be awkward. But hey, I find a lot of things awkward. However, they did make one hell of a good meal for us; I would honestly have to say that it was one of the best meals that I’ve had in the country so far.

We got picked up bright and early the following morning to go explore the town.

The city was established in 1459 by the Rathore leader Rao Jodha whose people originally came from a region near Agra, but were driven away by Afghans some 200 years earlier. Jodhpur (which takes its name from the founder) is sometimes known as the Blue City, named after the painted blue homes that dot the old part of town. Back in the 16th century, only members of the Brahmin or priest class could paint their homes that colour, but these days people from all walks of life paint their homes blue. The blue homes of the old city are surrounded by a 10 km long 16th century wall.

The main sight in the city is the Mehrangarh fort and it dominates the skyline. Its walls range from 6 to 36 metres high and they were made from the same big rock that houses the fort. You can see that the walls merge with the rock face at the bottom.

The entry fee of about $6-10 CDN includes a 1.5 hour audio tour. It appears that the same company is contracted to do the audio tours at the major sights across India and the audio tours are very good. I would frankly recommend them over live tour guides, but then again I rarely ask questions of live guides.

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A view from the fort, note the sea of blue houses:

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It is said that a hermit used to live on the rock where the fort was built and that he was driven out of his home to construct it. He cursed the fort, declaring that it would always run short of water. The rulers took the curse seriously and it was decreed that a human sacrifice would need to occur to nullify the curse. A local man volunteered to be buried alive in the walls of the fort, and the stone plaque pictured below commemorates his sacrifice–his family is still revered in Jodhpur.

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Pictured below is the original 16th century entrance to the fort, Loha Pol, which is reached after a 300+ metre ascent. You can’t see the entrance from this shot because there is a 90 degree turn right at the gate which, in conjunction with spikes on the door, was designed to prevent elephants from getting a running start to ram the door.

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Sati is the practice of self-immolation where widows are expected to throw themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands as per Hindu tradition. In his book, “Suicide” Emile Durkheim summed up the practice as one of the consequences of a society with too much social cohesion, so much so that people are willing to sacrifice themselves quite needlessly to preserve or enhance the honour of their families (Japanese honour suicides, or seppuku, are another example). The plaque below honours the sati of the royal widows who flung themselves on the pyres of their maharaja husbands. Amazingly, the widows of Maharajah Man Singh did so as late as 1843. However, given that widows essentially have the same social status as the lowly untouchables caste in the Hindu religion, perhaps the practice is not altogether irrational for the woman involved. “Honour” in death, or misery for the rest of their lives.

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The palace within the fort:

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The museum inside the palace has a collection of royal palanquins (the travelling seats that maharajahs were carried in) which is worth checking out. Some close-ups of my two favourites:

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As you can see the stone work for the windows of the palace is very intricate. Usually these are made out of a single slab of stone:

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Shots of the impressive inner halls:

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Views from the windows of the palace:

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Panoramic shot:

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A courtyard at the centre of the palace:

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It should be noted that a company by the name of Flying Fox has outfitted parts of the city with a network of zip lines. For about $40 CDN you can do the 45 minute circuit. Most of the people in my group signed up for it and everyone loved it. The only reason I decided against it is because I wanted to arrange for an impromptu tour of the surrounding villages and I needed to depart for the hotel offering the tours as soon as possible after visiting the fort. The zip lining would have delayed me for at least an hour.

The Durag Niwas Guesthouse as well as a number of other guest houses in the city arrange for tours of the villages to the south of Jodhpur. These are referred to as Bishnoi village safaris. The tour cost me about $30 CDN for a half-day including lunch, but you should be able to arrange for a cheaper tour if you go in a larger group. They arranged for the tour within 30 minutes of my arrival at the hotel.

The Bishnoi are a Hindu sect who follow the teachings of Guru Jambheshwar, who emphasized the importance of protecting the environment. They do not kill any animals or birds, and they take special care to protect trees, the sacred khejiri trees in particular. In 1730 workers and soldiers went to a Bishnoi village to cut down khejiri trees for lumber. A village woman refused to allow them to cut a tree, and told the soldiers to kill her instead. The soldiers complied but continued pursuing the lumber. Subsequently, villagers told the soldiers that one villager would sacrifice him or herself for every tree cut by the workers. A total of 363 villagers sacrificed themselves to protest the cutting of trees before word of the mass sacrifices reached the Maharajah and he stopped the collection of lumber. The Maharajah decreed that henceforth, it would be prohibited to cut down khejiri trees.

Our first stop on the tour was a farming village a 30 minute drive from the Durag Niwas Guesthouse. Below you can see the well that the six-person home uses.

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This is the front of the home. There is a gate to the home, and inside the floor is made of dried dung. But aside from that gate, the home has no doors or windows. The family pulls out sleeping mats and they sleep under the stars in the courtyard every night, or under the tin roof when it rains. There is a small cooking area, and a room (with no door) where they store their belongings. Notwithstanding the humble nature of the home: i) the place is absolutely immaculate inside, and ii) all the adults had a smart phone with an internet data plan. The piece of rubber at the front of the picture is buried into the ground and is used to tie up animals.

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This neat contraption pictured below is their refrigerator. The family produces a big jug of buffalo milk every day which they sell the following morning in the village. This ring is made of a mixture of dung and ash and they cover the surface with water. The jug is then placed on top. I have no idea how it works, but I am told that the contraption keeps the milk cool overnight, so much so that there is sometimes a layer of ice on top by the morning:

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The cooking area:

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We happened to be there on one of the harvest days so I got to see them cutting down some crops:

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A locust competing for the crops:

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The really nice farmer family, here photographed on a break. The son with the orange bandana is deaf and does not appear to know any sign language but his parents and brother do not appear to have any difficulty understanding him. He also has a family of his own:

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This is his wife. If I understood my guide correctly, she is only 23 years old and the 9 year old girl in the pictures is her daughter. My guide told me that people in Bishnoi villages get married at 13 and have kids shortly thereafter.

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Admittedly, she looks kind of annoyed:

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After visiting the farm, our guide took us to a nearby nature reserve. Unfortunately we did not see any animals on the reserve, only a few birds. However, on the drive to our next destination we did spot a blackbuck and a whole bunch of chinkara gazelles but they were too far away to photograph.

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The next stop was at the workshop of a potter. He spins the enormous potter’s wheel by hand as you can see below. Because of its enormous size and the tiny point that it pivots upon, he can keep the stone spinning for about 15 minutes without further pushing. I personally saw the thing turning for a solid five minutes without any hint of stopping.

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This guy can make a clay pot or bowl in about 20 seconds flat.

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Even with his son distracting him nearby:

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After the potter’s workshop we visited another farm. There were three big piles of cow dung patties which are dried during the summer months and then used throughout the year for fuel around the house.

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After cutting down the crops as they were doing in the first farm, the next step is to stand them up as pictured below to dry them out.

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The farmer family’s huts, note the cute peacock drawn on one of the ones below:

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One of the kids tending to a calf:

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The main purpose of visiting this particular farm was for an opium ceremony. I always thought that opium was smoked, but in India the resin is crushed up in liquid and then passed through the filters pictured below. The liquid is then consumed like a tea. At one time there was a religious component to the practice, but according to my guide, these days most people who consume opium just do it to get high, including the fellow below (though he did do some little chant before drinking the liquid). He offered me a bit to try but I declined. Frankly, I was more afraid of his source of water than the opium. Regardless of the open practice, opium is still 100% illegal in India.

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We finished up the tour in a village home that also functions as a guest house, though I saw no other tourists around. We attended during a religious holiday and the owners were hosting their fellow villagers for lunch that afternoon. It was a very humble meal, no utensils were offered and we washed our hands with water jugs poured by one of the owner’s daughters.

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You see offerings like this all over India. They had this in the middle of one of the courtyards, a little spot where people put a little food and coloured powders as religious offerings.

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The simple but tasty meal. Don’t let the meager quantity on the plate fool you, they kept plopping more food on our plate, even if we protested.

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The outdoor cooking facilities:

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During the meal something happened that reminded me that the practice of marginalizing those belonging to the untouchables caste is still a reality. A fairly well dressed woman showed up to the home as we were eating. Unlike everyone else arriving at the home who was welcomed in for a meal, she remained at the entrance. Some food was brought to her and then she was then on her way. When I asked my guide why she had not entered the home, he explained that she could not as she was an untouchable.

The owner of the home makes his living weaving wool and cotton rugs. They were not expensive, $150 CDN gets you a completed rug pretty much identical to the one on the loom. Had I brought sufficient cash, I would have purchased one. The price even includes shipping. I’ve been told by multiple merchants that the government subsidizes shipping for garments, rugs, and other crafts so even stores that charge you for shipping will only charge around $15 CDN to send a large parcel to Canada.

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A word of caution about the tour that was organized through the Durag Niwas Guesthouse. I arrived at the home alone and when I asked to set up a tour for that day, the owner of the guest house told me that it would have to be fairly expensive ($30 CDN) because he has certain fixed costs that he has to cover when I’m alone. I had heard good things about the tour so I agreed, even though it pretty much blew my entire budget for the day. By the time we departed however, he informed me that he managed to get two additional people to come along so the price would now be $6 CDN less. I was completely satisfied with the tour and it was good value even at $30 CDN. But then when he dropped me off, he just pocketed the extra money and took it as a tip for himself. Yes, $6 CDN is not a lot of money, but to put things in perspective for India, most of my lunches are under $3 CDN and last night my dinner was $1.30. The ironic thing is that during our trip he asked to see my Lonely Planet guide which recommends his services and he was happy to see that he was still in the guide. One of the things that he is praised for in the guide is his honesty.

There was another meal planned that night at the home where the second half our our group was put up for the night, but I ended up skipping it. For one, I just had lunch two hours earlier so I wasn’t particularly hungry. Then the fellow who came to pick us up tried to cram ten of us in a seven person vehicle so at that point going to dinner became more trouble than it was worth. Instead, I ventured into the old part of town which worked out for the best given that I hadn’t seen that part of the city yet.

This is yet another occasion where Indian service got surreal. I kept trying to hire a tuk tuk driver to take me downtown, but because there was a festival taking place that night, he kept insisting that it was too full to go near the old town or to get me anywhere close. After a good five minutes of negotiations where he kept trying to drop me off 5 km from where I wanted to go, I finally convinced him to take me within 1.5 km of my destination. Once we arrived at that point, there was some traffic but certainly nothing beyond the norm. However, he still refused to take me any closer. I just gave up and walked the rest of the way.

The clock tower in the old part of the city:

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I ended up in a restaurant on top of the Pal Haveli hotel for dinner. The place looks onto a man-made pond on one side (which looks awful during the day but lovely at night), and the fort on the other side. The restaurant is not particularly cheap, but the service is pretty good in terms of the basic functions of a restaurant, i.e. taking your order, being knowledgeable about the menu and bringing your the food. Their service in other areas was less impressive and somewhat surreal.

First, when I arrived one waiter sent me to the second level of the patio where the views are a little bit nicer. The host up top asked how many were in my party, and when I told him that I would be dining alone he replied that all of the tables had been reserved. I could see him saying that he is unable to accommodate a table for a large group of people but clearly if any tables were available you can ALWAYS accommodate one person. Obviously, he didn’t want to waste a 3-4 person table on a single person, but his lie to deal with the situation was plainly ridiculous and insulted my intelligence.

Second, given that this restaurant was relatively expensive and in a hotel, I expected wifi to be available. I looked at the available wifi connections and sure enough there was a strong wifi signal at the restaurant, but it required a password. I asked my waiter about the wifi and he promptly replied that there was no wifi. Now, I didn’t want to call him a liar to his face, so when he left I approached the bartender and pointed to the wifi availability for the restaurant on my phone and asked for the password. The bartender stuck to the lie about there being no wifi available for the restaurant.

This is where things got surreal. I kept pointing to my phone telling him that I could clearly see that a wifi signal was available. He finally admitted that there was a signal but that I couldn’t get a user name and access (I presume that they just want hotel guests to use it). I told him that I would be perfectly willing to pay for the connection in case overuse was a concern. He replied that it was impossible. I told him to please call the front desk and ask whether I could purchase access to the wifi network for the night. The bartender did call, and told me that it was impossible. At this point I just became curious as to where the monetary breaking point would be before they would give me access. I started low, offering $4 CDN for access, then $10, then $20, then $30, and every time the lobby said no. I got up to $100 CDN and I was still being told that it was impossible to get an access code for the wifi. I finally just lost my mind and told him that their intransigence was just amounting to terrible service. The bartender placed another phone call to the front desk and I was given wifi access, free of charge. Absolutely bizarre, though at least it’s not about the money …

I’ll close with two shots of the view from the rooftop restaurant:

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2 thoughts on “Jodhpur & Bishnoi Village Safari

  1. Y entonces…………donde cenaste? y que tal estuvo la comida?

    Tal parece que los ermitaños pueden ser muy mala onda. Un poco desproporcionada la falta de agua con tenerse que cambiar de casa.

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  2. Veo que Jodhpur es una ciudad grande. Lo de las casas pintadas de azul es interesante, la idea era para evitar el calor y los insectos. Según vi tiene varias universidades.
    Con lo del WiFi tengo idea de donde sacaste lo necio, pero veo que lograste tu propósito, como siempre. Esto te viene por parte de los Villarreal, o no se si también por lo Suárez y los Velez.
    Impresionantes todos los detalles decorativos de los interiores del palacio. Bueno al menos una de la chozas que fotografiaste tenia un pavo pintado, así que los campesinos también tienen su sensibilidad artística. Me pareció muy bien la idea de que apoyen a los artesanos con los fletes de sus productos, voy a promover esa idea por estos rumbos. (estamos organizando la forma de apoyar a unos campesinos de Gomez Farías (El Cielo) para llevarles turistas y sacar sus productos artesanales, ellos son excelentes guías para observación de aves y de plantas de la región).
    Según vi, el paso de la carretera de Deli con Guyarat, favoreció el comercio de opio, cobre, ceda y café.
    Que continues disfrutando de tu viaje y nos sigas comunicando tus experiencias.
    Si hay oportunidad, saluda a la familia que te recibió, de mi parte. Diles que si algún día a vienen a Mexico los recibiremos con mucho gusto.
    Un abrazo.

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