Thursday, 25 November 2010

Jodhpur for the music festival

I've had a few pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming moments while in India. Barrelling down Marine Drive in a friend's car late at night, watching the lights of the Queen's Necklace twinkle. Watching the sun rise over Kanchenjunga from high on a mountain near Darjeeling. Drifting on the Keralan backwaters at twilight.

Now there's another to add to the list: sitting under the ramparts at a 550-year-old desert fort listening to master percussionist Pete Lockett jam with Rajasthani folk musicians.

It was late October in Jodhpur, at the so-called Rajasthan International Folk Festival (there was folk music, a lot of it, but it wasn't folksy in any way). I'd mentally bookmarked it at the start of the year when I'd seen a poster for it in Jaipur, and then promptly forgot about it till I got a notification on Facebook. Usually travel plans are scuppered by something, whether it be the inability to take a day off work, or train bookings, or hotel rooms, but all the ducks managed to line up and Jason and I got there on an overnight train, our very first trip to Jodhpur.

I do love Rajasthan, it's every cliche come to life but better because it's real.

The festival was on at the Mehrangarh Fort, which is not just large and imposing but extraordinarily well maintained. There's even a lift.

The first must-see on my list was a session called Living Legends, held in the Moti Mahal, a small marble hall just off a courtyard, through a maze of rooms and hallways. I stupidly forgot my batteries, meaning I couldn't take photos nor record any of it. And it was marvellous: it turned out to feature Patashi Bhopi, the wife of a man called Mohan Bhopa who was featured in William Dalrymple's Nine Lives. The chapter on him told of how he and his wife were among just a few to be the custodians of the oral legend of the Rajasthani folk deity Pabuji, told in song that takes a day and a night to recite. Patashi Bhopi - now a widow - recited a few verses while her son played his rawanhatta and marched, duck-like, so the bells on his ankles tinkled in time. (More reading)

Then it was through a decorative arch to another courtyard where a bar was set up. So as the sun went down we looked up at the sky and all around at the intricately carved archways and up at the small windows where courtesans once hung out of, with wonder.

Through another doorway and it was into a the main stage area. With floodlights up the sides of the fort walls and under the light of a full moon, a flamenco troupe from Barcelona danced and played and sung. Then they stood aside while Rajasthani folk musicians came on, with a ghoomer dancer in a wide blue skirt seemingly made almost entirely of mirrors. When she spun around in a circle the skirt flared out around her, like an extremely reflective spinning top, around and around and around. Then the flamencos came back out and while the musicians all jammed together, the dancers had what amounted to a dance-off. And no amount of foot-stamping and arched-back hissing could match the girth of the skirt which almost swallowed the stage. Ghoomer well and truly won that one.

Afterwards, we headed to another area of the fort that was converted into a nightclub, a kind of open-air courtyard with a roof terrace from which you could lean over the shin-height barrier and look at the dancefloor below. Or you could lounge on a mattress, lean back on a bolster, and look up at the fort lit up by the moonlight as you sipped your g&t.


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Mezze Moments said...

Hi I was wondering where you had disappeared to ! It is on the books for me next year - have booked already too. Sounds fab. Caught the Nine lives with WD at the Literature Festival last year and it is quite something. Love m

Rakesh said...

Jodhpur is lovely and beautiful place. It looks like heaven on the earth. I love Jodhpur.

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