Day Ten: Jodphur’s Opulence and Makers
We started the morning with a basic breakfast in the courtyard of the haveli hotel. I was ecstatic to learn that I could add a third addition to my post Delhi belly breakfast diet – hard-boiled eggs! My appetite is coming on strong, but I’ve been told to caution against anything with spices or oils, so I’ll have to curb my enthusiasm until my stomach is back in one piece.
After breakfast, we packed up our bags and made our way over to Jodpur’s Meherangarh Fort by car. We met an older and very cheery Australian couple the night before who told us they were in town just to experience a music festival happening inside the fort that very day. When we asked Sono, he kind of shrugged it off saying there were music festivals happening all over India in preparation for Diwali (Festival of lights) later that month. Music festival or not, the adventure sounded fun as our car snaked up and around a mountain leading up to the magnificent piece of architecture.
Alas, we arrived. Just over the mountaintop view, you could make out the lego-like indigo washed walls of the “blue city,” what Jodpur is known for. Out of the giant mountain emerged the fort, and we hiked up inside the high stone walls to start our journey inside.
As we climbed the steepness of the first stretch, we quickly heard the tuning of an instrument coming from a man, sitting on a colorful fabric with his wife and baby. The instrument, called a Revahatta looks parts digeridoo, guitar and violin – it’s in the shape of a long cylinder with 15 strings made of horsetail all with their own tuning knobs, culminating in a small attached drum made of Buffalo hide. He started to play and his wife began to sing, her voice melting into the instrument’s plucked sounds in complete harmonic unison.
I guess there really was a music festival happening in the fort -- genius idea and the absolute perfect day to be there!
(Apparently you can also zip line from the fort into other parts of Jodphur – what??)
Before turning the corner to enter the proper grounds, another trio of turban wearing musicians – two flautists and one drummer – entranced us with their sounds, a mixture of jazzy flute pulsations, tribal bass drums and accented chants.
Called Jodhpur RIFF, this five-day festival was put on by some prestigious organizations and foundations, and sponsored by the most surprising countries, including Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Why Brazil would be sponsoring a festival in a Jodphur fort left me slightly puzzled and amused, but as I watched the performances take place in the Coronation Courtyard (where the maharajas or kings are crowned on an elevated marble throne), the subtle similarities between traditional Indian music and dance and Brazilian samba kind of came to life.
With so much people watching and music to take in, the fort became less of the focus, though there were some cool tid bits to take in.
During the reign of Maharaja Vijai Singh (1752-93), he commissioned a massive body of art centered on the glories of the Goddess. Devi (the all-encompassing goddess from which all other goddesses are manifested) covered the walls of the fort’s gallery hall. It’s ironic to me that a modern Indian culture seemingly dominated by men looks so highly to the Goddess in all religious and spiritual folklore. She’s this powerful warrior lady that I wish I could see more of outside the walls of the fort! (She also apparently has a sense of humor)
A relaxing lunch break later, we were back on the road headed to see three distinct Vishnu villages. Vishnus are considered one of the highest castes, right below the Brahmin (usually depicted as blue-skinned gods or religious leaders). The Bishnoi people typically wear all white including a turban of some kind and color.
Our first stop: “The Opium People” in Sono’s words. Though illegal, opium is still imported from the Middle East and the ancient ritual of making this tea is still going strong in super remote villages. Drinking this tea was once a regal tradition practiced by the famous Maharajas before going into battle for the calming effects it had on the mind. When we arrived, we were greeted by a few lovely family members who brought out two comfy beds for us to sit on. Then, the preparation began.
Second stop: Block printing compound. Jodpur’s famous fabrics are made by local villagers who practice the art of block printing, which we learned is the oldest form of textile printing. Using only natural and plant-based dye, the blocks are dabbed in the liquid and applied directly on fabric. Using mud to block out certain parts of the design allow other colors to make their mark without affecting their color. Turmeric is used to make my favorite color, mustard-y yellow.
Third stop: Handweaver’s hut. We met with a man who made his own hand loom from scratch, a practice passed down from his grandmother. He demonstrated the art of creating carpets using finely bound thread dyed in all natural product. Using a tool akin to a fork with several strong claws, this is used to bind the thread together. With just two artisans and a handloom, a small carpet of about 4x6’ can be made in about a month. For Wylie and I, it would likely take up to a year. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a maker in their element.
We were shown beautiful carpets for hundreds and hundreds of dollars cheaper than what you’d pay for in the States. Sadly, our backpacks would never see the light of day if we purchased one, so we took some pictures for keepsake.
And as the early evening approached, we hit the road for our next stop on the road: Ranakpur.