Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 28 - 30: Arrival in Jodhpur

The plane from Delhi touched down at the compact Jodhpur airport after a quick flight over dry and drier landscape, with occasional green irrigated patches. This is the country where we will be spending the next 6 weeks. The plane slowly taxied across a country road, where a policeman held up the traffic, and came to rest at the terminal. The air was cool and dry, but the welcome from Sukie and Madhu – two of the three FSD (Foundation for Sustainable Development) office personnel here – was warm.
Jodhpur Airport
Our first two nights we spent in a nice small hotel in Jodhpur, and on Monday we were driven to Chandelao – the tiny village 40 km east where we will be working. Our first two days are dedicated to “orientation”, which includes some Hindi lessons from Madhu, discussions and lectures on FSD policies, Indian government, how to avoid culture shock, family life, Rajasthan society, and other useful topics. We find that many of the Hindi words we learned in the Rosetta Stone course are woefully outdated.

India is as chaotic and colorful as we expected – the streets are full of cars and trucks of all vintages, motor rickshaws in various stages of dilapidation, men with vegetable carts piled high with bright red carrots and white cauliflowers, ladies in spectacularly colorful saris and “salwaar kameez”, camel-drawn carts, horses, and free-range humped cows everywhere.

Jodhpur is a sprawling city of a million or so people. The place is built of a handsome reddish-yellow sandstone. Many of the buildings in the old city are painted a pale blue color, said to repel mosquitoes. There are two dominating buildings on the highest points – the Meheranghar Fort, former home of the Maharajahs of Jodhpur, and the new palace, home of the current Maharajah, and, like most royal Indian residences, partially converted into a luxury hotel.

After checking in to our very nice hotel,built around a lovely garden with pond and even goldfish, our first act is to get passport photos – many, many photos, which are needed for applying for a cell phone, getting internet access, and above all registering with the police and immigration authorities. Then we went to the FSD office to meet Smita, the third member of the FSD team here, and to get my cell phone fitted with an Indian SIM card. The young man who handles the cell phone makes house calls, and turned up after only a few minutes. Then, we went for our first real Indian meal, and were introduced to the mysteries of eating all our food without utensils, and with our right hand. The unclean left hand must not be involved. Then we had to go shopping for some suitable clothes for Lin, but not for me. Men in the city almost invariably wear western type shirt and slacks or jeans, but women all wear some form of Indian garb, at least a kurta, or tunic and dupatta, scarf.

By this time we were in zombie-mode having slept for only a few hours on planes and briefly in a Delhi hotel over the past three days, so we went back to our hotel, grabbed a quick dinner and went to bed. We are ten and a half hours ahead of Philadelphia, so when everyone at home was getting up to enjoy their Saturday morning, we were already sitting down to dinner.

Sunday is not a day of rest. We had our first Hindi lesson from Madhu, and we (and she) were quite pleased with how much we found we knew. All those hours spent with the Rosetta Stone were not totally wasted! Then some more discussions and lectures on Indian culture and how the FSD works. Lunch was an experience. We went to a restaurant with the unlikely name of “Gypsy”, which serves vegetarian food “thali-style”. We were each provided with a large metal tray with many small empty dishes. Then a series of waiters appeared with various pots of chutney, pickles, yogurt, salads, different vegetables cooked in various styles, potato “pancakes”, stuffed pastries and the ubiquitous chapatis. If you ate even a small amount from any of the dishes or heaps of food another waiter appeared and refilled the dish. It was definitely “all you can eat” and as most of the food was cooked in ghee or yogurt or cream, it was very satisfying and filling. We were surprised that the food was not particularly spicy-hot, though there were plenty of chilies and mouth-searing pickles available.
Store in Jodhpur's Old City

On Monday we had our first taste of India's famed bureaucracy when we applied for our Residency Permits. Normally people spending only 6 weeks do not need a permit, but for some unknown reason our visas were stamped with the words to the effect that we had to report in 14 days, OR ELSE. After arriving at the spectacular, if sadly dilapidated, sandstone office buildings, covered with statues, stone carving, parapets and other decorations, our first task was to write a letter in our best handwriting explaining our situation and asking for guidance! After the lady in the outer office had finished her lunch, we handed her our letters which she took to an unseen person in the inner office who gave her permission to give us the forms which would allow us to apply for the residency permits. There were four forms altogether, which we duly filled out with many apparently relevant details of our lives. We then had to get them photocopied by one of the many entrepreneurs with photocopy machines hooked up to the local lampposts – 14 copies in all plus the 4 originals, which we then handed in with 6 passport photos to a different functionary who reorganized and stapled them together in a very specific manner. He then handed them back the the first person. We did not get our permits there and then, however, as another document we should have taken with us was missing. Hopefully, they will be issued in the next day or two.

On Monday evening, we met with Praduman Singh at the FSD office. He is to be our host in Chandelao. He drove us in the dark for about an hour until we arrived in the little village. We could see very little as there was minimal light, until the Chandelao Garh (Fort) where we will stay stood in front of us with closed iron gates. A turbaned attendant ran to open the gate and admitted us to the beautiful courtyard. He draped a colorful lei of welcome around our neck, and helped unload the luggage before showing us to our white-walled room with its built-in cupboards, spacious bathroom and embroidered red bedspreads. Sandy has to remember to duck on entering if he is not to be rendered unconscious.

We will write more about our first impressions of Chandelao in the daylight.

Namaste! नमास्ते


  1. Brings back memories of our trip to Rajasthan and all the trouble it was to get a cell phone with documents, photos and copies! Is Jodhpur all vegetarian?

  2. It is easy to be a vegetarian here, though there are a few meat dishes available in some restaurants -- chicken and "mutton" (which is usually goat). Lots of eggs, and dairy would be impossible to avoid.

  3. Reminds me of the 3 months I spent as a medical student in Kolkota and the long trip I took alone to Madras, bangalore, Cochin, Agra and Delhi in 1978! Never been back but the blogs make we want to now!