The Blue City

Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2013

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Sunday, December 30, 2012

Leaving Jaisalmer referred to as the Golden City, we drove just under 300 kms to Jodhpur known as the Blue City because of the walls washed in blue to protect against insects and keep buildings cool in the summer. Jodhpur also gives its name to the horseback riding trouser; invented in 1887 for the brother of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II.

About an hour and half outside Jodphur we stopped in at the Sambhali Setrawa Empowerment Centre ( located in a small rural village of Setrawa, with a population of approximately 3000 people.   The Centre allows hardworking girls and women to have a place not only to work and learn, but also to relax and play. It provides both an after-school program for girls who go to school, but also a centre for uneducated girls to read basic Hindi, Maths and English, and a chance for them to wash and clean themselves.  It was not clear whether these girls were consider untouchables; people from the shudras (menial)  varna whose jobs involve contact with dirt or death.

After being greeted at the door with a welcome blessing we sat down and learned a little bit more about how the different programs run, and were introduced the young women and girls who sang us a "welcome" song.  Then we found ourselves in a sing competition with them were they sang one song and we had to respond with another.  We came up with “We wish you a Merry Christmas” thinking we would get off the hook with one. But after their next song we were forced to “do the hokey pokey”.  They then continued with another song and afterwards we conceded hands down.  Next activity was a turban tying contest; first the boys and then the girls. Then it was off to the playing field to for tug of war; girls from the center against the guys in our group.  The girls won three times in a row.  Finally after we all participated in tug of war we were able to defeat the girls.  It was unbelievable how strong they were for such slight tiny bodies.  After a break of chai and biscuits, it was on to a sari tying contest and then had no choice but to play a very exhausting version of tag (I can't even explain the rules it’s so complicated).  As you may have guessed, they also beat us at that as well with a score of 35-29.  The last game we had to endure was a fairly calm version of duck, duck, goose.  After all that we felt like we just went through some kind of India boot camp or basic training.

Back at the centre we had a delicious but basic lunch of Chapati, potatoes and pasta salad (more or less) and lots of lime pickle.  Then the girls did henna on our hands and feet; one of the skills they learn at the centre.  Some of the designs they came up with were quite intricate and beautiful and they completed them so fast.  Saying goodbye we continued our drive to Jodphur to our homestay for the night at Durag Nivas Guest House (  The owners of this place are the same people who started the Sambali Trust.  The wife Mukla, greeted us and got use settled into our rooms and then she organized a cooking demonstration for use.  We had to do all the prep work of peeling the garlic and potatoes, chopping onion, tomato and eggplant, and stripping the coriander. Then she sat down with us and explained all the different spices used in Indian cooking.  Then she stared showing us how to make a eggplant curry, a potato curry, dal, chai masala and chapatti.  It took a while to prepare and we passed time by talking with Mulka and falling in love with five adorable 1 month old dachshund puppies.

Next day we went to the Meherangarh Fort a massive structure that looms over the city as it sits on top of a huge sandstone rock.  This has probably been the best fort I’ve visited so far in India in terms of the preservation of the buildings and the amount of detail and history that was conveyed via the means of an audio tour.  The current maharaja Gaj Singh has created a trust for the fort (his family’s former home) allowing them to keep the fort maintained and have detailed displays in the various rooms. 

Standing in the Coronation courtyard looking across the city is the magnificent Umaid Bhawan Palace where the Maharaja Gaj Singh lives in one-third of the palace and the remainder of the palace is a museum and hotel where rooms start at $950.00 USD per night.

After spending about two hours at the fort, Zoe, Hanna and I walked down the footpath heading toward the clock tower in town.  Wandering down we found the Sambali Trust boutique which sells the crafts the women make at the center.  In talking with the volunteer at the boutique she highly recommended we go to Mr. Omelette for lunch. Having read about Mr. Omelette as well we thought it must be really good. We walked by it the first time because we were looking for a restaurant looking place but after asking directions we found it as a street stall. Zoe and Hanna were a bit dubious about it but I convinced them to give it a try.  The son of Mr. Omelette set up three stools and a table inside the tiny shop and “ordered” us to read the many books of comments written by previous customers.  I asked what the best omelette on the menu was and it was the Cheese Masala Butter Omelette.  So we ordered one each on a bun and chai masala.   They were absolute fantastic omelettes and Zoe and Hanna were so glad that I pushed them to give it a try.

Chatting with Mr. Omelette and his son of course meant we had to go to his cousin’s textile shop and we had a personal escort there.  In fairness, his cousin was actually very nice and took the time to show and explain the difference between fake silk and pashmina and the real stuff.  If you light an end or tassel of the scarf and blow it out, the real stuff smells like burnt  hair while the fake silk smells like burnt plastic and fake pashmina smells like burning paper.  He also told us about why the shopkeepers always ask where you are from and where you are staying; so they can gauge what products they should try and sell you and what price range.  He told us we should tell the shopkeepers that we live in Delhi, for 3 years and work for the embassy of our country, than they will leave you alone and/or give you a good deal.  I’ll try it next time.  He showed us some real silk and pashmina scarves and because I showed some interest in a really nice gray pashmina he was trying to give me a “good deal” but I honestly didn’t want it nor could I afford it.  So I had to stay firm with my low ball offer as we walked out the door.  Thankfully Hanna did play one for the team and bought a cotton skirt for a song.  Not what “cousin” was probably looking for, but better than nothing I say.

Grabbing a tuk tuk we headed back to our homestay and chilled out for a couple of hours before hopping on the truck for a 10 minute drive to another homestay, Indrashan  ( which was in a more upscale neighbourhood.  The home was beautiful and clean, the family gracious and the staff put on a really good buffet (as well as very yummy G&T’s), but we all agreed that the homestay the night before (though the accommodations were not as nice) just had more charm to it and felt like we interacted with the family more.
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