India Holiday – Day 7: Nagaur

The first call to prayer is at 4:45am, and the sound carries extremely well into our suite. That ritual amplified sound of severely tortured dog is definitely one I can do without – might I suggest that muslims who wish to pray get an alarm clock and let the rest of us sleep?

Sadly, Mamta did not get better overnight and is coughing and sneezing miserably, poor girl. I can tell it’s serious as she for the first time since we started opts for plain toast for breakfast, rather than Paratha!

As we leave Jaipur, the scenery reminds me powerfully of a book I read recently, called Behind the Beautiful Forevers – it is set in Mumbais’s slums, written by a Pulitzer-winning journalist who lived there, and is both interesting and eye opening. In particular it sparks memories as we drive past large numbers of day labourers waiting and hoping for work, be it as a farm worker or a builder for the day.

The weather forecast for Jaipur this morning somewhat surprisingly said “Smoke”, and that is what we get: a thick, smelly haze reminiscent of the Delhi Stink. I don’t know what they are burning, but it doesn’t smell good.

Every city we have seen has autorickshaws – 3-wheeled narrow taxis that zip around and allow traffic to move. In the biggest cities they now run on compressed natural gas and are thus no longer a big source of pollution and interestingly it looks like each city has a different brand of rickshaw. In Jaipur, they are Piaggio like my own scooter is, and a little larger than the ones in Delhi. (In Nagaur they are different again, with lots of silver and decorations on them)

It occurs to me that traffic in India is similar to a fluid; going with the flow is literally what you have to do and while it looks chaotic I am sure it is much more efficient than the more rigid systems we use in the West. Riskier and more dangerous too I am sure, but if Indians suddenly adopted a Western attitude to staying in lane, overtaking on the inside, stopping at red lights and using the horn only in anger or emergency, I think the result would be a huge gridlocked traffic jam that barely moved… Not that that is a likely scenario 🙂

In Jaipur, we see several bicyclists with what looks like huge rifles over their shoulders. Apparently, they are security guards on their way to work – I am not sure what they will be guarding where a big rifle will be useful, but they probably know best. I’m sure they make a frightening Bang and they sure look imposing though!

The road out of Jaipur is frankly very good. 3 lanes in each direction with a big middle divider and relatively light traffic is the result of privatization – this is a toll road, and it’s a good experience. Of course, much of the way only 2 of the lanes are usable because the left one is used by traffic going the other way, or for broken down lorries and cars. Then again, in India 2 marked lanes serve as much more than that.

There is a big sign urging “heavy traffic” to keep left. Har, har. Lorries and buses drive wherever they please, clearly, typically halfway between two “fast” lanes. Our Transindus driver Mr Prakash finds it funny too; I think he has a well developed sense of humour 🙂

After a few hours, we turn off the toll road, towards a small town where we pit stop for lunch. From this point, the road is no longer excellent – in the good places it is a strip of asphalt just wide enough for two vehicles to pass, and in the bad places it’s either just a dirt track or a potholed asphalt road aspiring to become a dirt track. Mamta is feeling worse, and this road is definitely not helping.

Rajastan is famous for its marble, and we see huge numbers of places where marble is processed and sold. In one such city we pass through traffic suddenly grinds to a complete stop. This is unusual as it normally flows at least a bit, and it turns that the reason is congestion: on the narrow one-way road we are on, there are several tractors loaded with marble that are going the wrong way, completely blocking progress in both directions. They apparently do this to save themselves a large detour, but it frankly does not look like it is very efficient for anyone involved 🙂

As we finally approach Nagaur around 3pm, the landscape has turned distinctly desert-like. Big expanses of sparsely populated and very dry soil are interrupted by the odd solitary house and small groups of people working the land. Suddenly the term “to eke out a living” makes sense; eking is what these people do. It looks tough.

Nagaur is a small-ish city of 200,000 people, situated so it completely surrounds the central fort, called Ranvas Fort. It is an old fortification consisting of an impressive 1.8km of outer wall enclosing 36 hectares of land, with elaborate Havelis inside. It used to be the home of the local Maharajah and his 16 wives (!!!), with luxurious palaces, sophisticated water and wind capture systems, swimming pools, air conditioning, and much else. After independence and during the wars with Pakistan, the fort was used by the Indian army, and was sold in 1993 to private investors.

After being extensively restored with funds from both UNESCO and private charities, it started serving as a luxury hotel in October 2010, with each of the havelis (palaces) used by the Maharaja’s queens being used as a suite of rooms. This is where we stay, and it’s amazing! To first enter the bustling and busy city of Nagaur and then from there to enter the gates of the Fort where it is quiet and where there are no people is a relief. The structures are very different from our last hotel, but just stunning.

We opt for an early dinner and then spend a few hours on a guided tour of the place, ending with a walk on top of the outer wall just as the sun sets over the city. Truly stunning, and several groups of people on top of the roofs notice us and wave enthusiastically. It is impossible to resist waving back 🙂

Finally back in the tranquility of our room, we kick back and relax. And after a few minutes, we realize that there is a sizeable muslim population in Nagaur too, and that they also use a very public, loud wailing alarm system for remembering praying time, even worse than in Jaipur. Sigh…

Tomorrow, we leave Nagaur for Jaiselmer. I really hope Mamta feels better after a good night’s rest, so she can really enjoy the trip!