Sunday, October 16, 2011

Travel TidBits: Jodhpur, India

Since a week I have traveled in India and it is a  beautiful and fascinating country.  There are so many stories to tell!  So I will jump right into it and won't just chronicle my impressions but rather offer some vignettes here:

Cows, Temples and Turban Men

Early Morning Street Sweepers

Sanctuary for Cows: This morning, we visited a sanctuary for cows!  This is probably an oxymoron for everyone reading this, but in India, cows are sacred.  They roam the streets, they are in the medium of divided streets, they stand in heavy traffic and everyone drives around them.  It’s quite a sight to see.  But what happens to the cows as they are getting old and frail?  Here is where the sanctuary comes in.  This one is in a suburb of Jodhpur and is run by a man belonging to the Jain Religion that preaches compassion to all living beings.  The sanctuary was behind a high wall – not unusual for the Indian suburban architecture – and houses 260 cows.  There was a whole area for blind cows, others were undernourished and all of them are thin with bones clearly visible through the hide.  There was a couple-of-days old calf born to a cow that did not have milk and the little creature was feed milk through a bottle. 

One can of course wonder why are the cows on the street in the first place.  According to the Hindu Religion, cows are only used for milk production and beef is not eaten.  Thus the female calves and cows are valuable as long as they produce milk.  So male cows at an early age are useless for society and they roam the streets and country side only to be joined by female cows that lost their mild production or thus usefulness.  These animals are at the mercy of their environment:  in the country side they find greens in the fields or even along the roads but in the city their life is more difficult and they go through the ever present garbage or being fed by friendly store owners.  So, being taken in by the sanctuary might present a luxury senior housing where food is plentiful and peaceful. 

Laundry day

Women selling goods at a street corner

The Mandor Memorial:

 In the same vicinity, we visited a beautiful park serving as a memorial and burial ground for by-gone Maharanas and Noble Men.  In the Hindu tradition, once passed on cremation is done within 24 hours of death and for the royals it was typical to built a memorial for the urn to be buried.  The Mandor Memorial was created for the Royal of the Mandor family, the ruling family of Rajasthan for the last 500 years.  The memorials erected over the burial ground are elaborately carved in marble, with conical towers pointing to heaven.  It must have been a splendid sight in history but unfortunately, like so many things in India the temples have fallen to neglect.  Never-the-less the stone carvings survived many centuries and tell the story of a more glorious past.

The old Town of Jodhpur

The Old City Gate

Jodhpur is a bustling city of 5-6 M people and a center of commerce in Rajasthan.  Built in 1500, a fort strategically built on a hilltop overlooks a sprawling town with an old town center within the old city walls.  As we enter through an enormous gate, we enter the clock tower plaza from which the streets narrow to alleys with vendors and tiny stores lining each side.  Little light penetrates to the street level.   Pedestrians, bicycles, motor rickshaws, pushcarts, motorcycles all hustle back and forth causing the periodic traffic jams that we have come to expect.  It is amazing how 2 motor rickshaws squeeze by with the rest of the foot- and wheeled traffic piling up behind, horns blow but in general all resolves in time and all traffic flows again.

Strolling along the alleys, we encounter a diverse selection of merchandise:  from houseware to food to clothing to locksmiths to spice vendors all displaying their merchandise within and in front of their stalls.  The most colorful are the fabric and the spice vendors.  Rajasthan is known for their colorful saris worn by all women – young and old – and that so attracts my photographic eye.  There is something very elegant how the women in India wear their saris, and I marvel how a single piece of fabric can be so elegantly draped topped with a color-coordinated shawl often of chiffon materials.  This shawl can be easily pulled over the head and will veil the face on a moment’s notice – particularly when not wanting to be photographed.  The women seem to glide along their way even when they carry a basket or other goods on their head.

As we penetrate further and further into the old city, it is not just the women that attract our attention but also men with long white beards and enormous turbans in bright colors.  Although the color of the turban has significance and tells of the origin of the wearer or his occupation, it will take more study to understand all these intricacies.   Fascinated by the elaborate turbans, we question whether they are like hats or being assembled each day.  Our guide, Ashim, tells us that the turbans are one long piece of cloth about 10 m long (!) to be draped over the head within less than a minute.  To prove his point, he asks the next turbaned man whether he would show us how to bind a turban – and voila, he complies.  He takes off his turban, disassembles into one very long clothes and within a minute he recreates his turban right in front of us. 

We can only marvel at this!  We take pictures, he laughs, the store keepers around us all smile and the diverse worlds have just become a little bit closer. 

Til next time,