|If the getting there is more important than the destination than Jodhpur was the pleasant result of wonderful day. Our fortune was good when we came around the corner in Udaipur and spotted Liam and Sandrine, whom we had only met briefly a week or so before. Our good fortune was doubled when, in conversation, it became clear that they also were heading in our direction. And the luck tripled when they invited us to join them in a hired car they had negotiated through their guest house.
The plan was to take a taxi, a form of transportation until now reserved for quick trips to and from the bus station, for an extended journey that would bring us from Udaipur to Jodhpur visiting two important Rajastani sights along the way. We welcomed the opportunity to miss a bus ride and were rewarded with the super pleasant company of our new friends.
We left early from Udaipur (with only a quick sideways look at our itty-bitty sized cab) and hit the road with our packs tied to the top and our driver, Reesh, providing the newest in Hindi pop-music blaring from the speakers. Two hours drive seemed liked less as we enjoyed the freedom of a small car on the winding roads that brought us to our first sight, Kumbalgargh Fort. A monstrous thing rising from the crest of a golden hill Kumbalgargh (which I am mispelling) was more impressive than I expected. It seemed like something from another world, which, I suppose, is exactly what it was. The four of us ascended the steep road and explored the many rooms, bastions, and surrounding temples while Reesh kept a close eye on his watch. His fear was that we would stay too long - mesmerized tourists - and he would be forced to drive longer into the night than desired.
As we left the fort we drove towards the Jain Temples of Ranakpur. This part of the drive gave us witness to some of the most beautiful countryside we have yet seen in this country. Wonderful scenes of rural life came at us from every window, and I for one, simply reveled in the ability to roll down the window of our car - something impossible while on the bus. We saw woman carrying large pots of water atop their heads, huge buffalo turning the water wheels that brought water up from the wells, and everywhere the fabulous details of these exceptional people making their lives from this imposing land. You could tell it was not an easy life, but after observing so much of Indian cities I could only hope that this rural toil offered something that urban struggle could not.
The Jain Temple was another awesome sight. Carved from marble pieces and more intricate than anything we've seen it was an amazing place to wander about during the heat of the afternoon. The polished white stone gave the whole place a cool feeling and rather than take in each and every of its vast rooms, columns, and hallways the four of us meandered in just a few places. We sat in the alcoves, talked about our travels and ourselves, and took in some of the silence that pervaded when the other tourists went out of earshot. After wandering the grounds a bit we found Reesh waiting for us and eager for lunch.
After a nice garden lunch - does this whole day sound too pleasant? - we were back on the road for a final push to Jodhpur. And here we can tell you a little about the downside of driving in a car on an Indian road. First off, in a bus it is much harder to see the chaos that is going on in front of you. There are too many people standing over you, on you, around you to concern yourself with what the driver is doing. In a car, however, you are only too conscious of the dangers of these roads. Most roads are just less than two lanes wide. It would be an exageration to say that they are single lanes, but not much. So everything is great when its just your car bombing along at 70 kph. Its another matter entirely when you share this 1.5 lane with trucks, busses, bicycles, goats, richshaws, buffaloes, cows, motorcycles, vendors, and whatelse? - oh yes, other crazy taxis.
Now, I commend Reesh (although his name I surely mispell as well) for he was a very safe and dutiful driver. But still, the ride was a harrowing one because every jerk and halt of the steering wheel was felt by all four of us passengers. And there were necessary many such jolys and jerks. Oncoming traffic, whole herds of cattle as we came around a sharp bend, and too many dangerous passing attempts to list. We all felt (I think) more or less safe, but it was a tense four hours despite out attempts to distract one another from the chaos of the road. Special mention can go to the last hours when we drove in the darkness. Indians have a peculiar idea that it saves fuel if you don't use your headlights. Apparently, though, the horn fuel is inexhaustible. Beep-beep.
We reach Jodhpur, as I said, in darkness and after Reesh finally receives helpful directions from a local he lands us safely at our hotel. We enjoy a much needed cold beer on the roof to release our tensed up muscles and get our first look at Maharagard (again mispelled) that towers over the town. The following morning we take a long morning tour of said fort which is an enjoyable and educational experience. Our friendship with Liam and Sandrine strengthens and it is nice to have travelling companions to share sights, meals, and experiences with.
It is in their company that we book bus tickets on towards Jaisalmer - the western most city in Rajastan. And the following morning we are off, deeper into the desert, and happy to be back on a crowded (nay, overcrowded) bus.