Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Thursday, 25 November 2010
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.
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.
Monday, 22 November 2010
"Come to Kingdom of Dreams," said my friend L. "It'll be fun. They say it's like Dilli Haat on steroids."
Kingdom of Dreams is just that: a glittering dreamscape, a kind of alternate reality, like stepping into a movie set where everything looks like enhanced, hyper-real versions of how they otherwise are.
And then you flick the marble Doric columns and realise they're hollow, and made of Plaster of Paris.
But Kingdom of Dreams represents what the CWG structures could have been, were the games organised by the private sector. It's clean, it's grand, there are no caved-in ceilings or ripped carpet.
So what is it? It's a Bollywood theme park in Gurgaon, only open a couple of months.
And iIt's enormous. There's a theatre, with plaster elephants flanking the entrance. Lying alongside is perhaps the largest reclining Buddha I've seen. Inside, there's a stage, surrounded by decorative masks and elephant heads and filagree work. That's where the Bollywood musical Zangoora is staged.
But we didn't go to the theatre, instead we headed straight for Culture Gully, the bland name totally belying the experience. First, there's a giant representation of a lotus flower in bloom to walk through.
Culture Gully downstairs is made up of a heap of stands representing different states in India, laid out in a rough approximation of the map of India. So when you first walk in, there's Kashmir to the right, and Sikkim to the left, and Kerala right at the other end of the hall.
Kerala stand: a bar on a boat, with a beach
But these are no humble Dilli Haat food stalls, oh no. The Delhi stall is a mockup of the Red Fort , while Kerala is an actual houseboat, with a beach. Bombay is a train carriage, while Rajasthan has a peacock doorway just like the one at Jaipur's City Palace. Each stall is hawking either food, or souvenirs, or both.
Then, at various intervals, music starts up and out marches some kind of procession, such as a troupe of Himalayan dancers, complete with Chinese dragon. Or a clutch of monkey-men: dressed in silvery suits with blackened faces, these things were a menace, as monkeys are. One leapt in front of me and flailed his tongue menacingly, causing me to jump and nearly drop my kheema dosa.
Crazy monkey man
Upstairs is a bit more Palazzo Versace. There's a bar with a fluorescent pink floor, a shop selling incredibly expensive sherwanis and cufflinks and a whole other section with all sorts of fortune tellers. I had my palm read; he told me that good things will happen for me in coming months and I will have two children.
Since then, whenever i'm having a Bad India Day I think back to Kingdom of Dreams: its fake, Venice-in-Vegas sky, its larger-than-life religious statues, its fake twilight, and its liberal scattering of life-sized baby elephants, and think about life in a parallel India universe, and sigh. Clean streets, well-maintained buildings, space to walk, doormen who salute you, street theatre and hygenic street food.
But still, annoying and slathering monkeys when you least expect them.