Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat


Today was one of those days where it looked like everything was going to go wrong but actually worked out amazingly well in the end.  It all started with our bus ride from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur.

The Indian bus system is something unto itself.  Most of the buses are modern and quite similar to a North American coach, but there are some important modifications for the local market.  First, they rip out the overhead storage space and replace it with courgettes.  This means that if you’re sitting in a seat it’s like being inside a tin can; there’s about two inches of clearance between your head and the ceiling.

A second important difference is that there’s no reason to limit the bus’ capacity to available seats and courgettes.  Once those are full, people simply stand, sit on the floor or sit on their luggage (there’s a 10 rupee - 30 cents - charge to store luggage in the boot, so most carry it on).  Once that’s full they stuff people in behind the driver (four or five) and in the stairwell at the front.  At one point our bus easily had 80 people in it; I literally couldn’t count how many people there were.

Anyways, back to the nuances of the trip from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur.  The drive is about 200 to 250 kilometers.  If you ask a local they’ll tell you “if you get the 8:30 bus it’s the fast bus and it’s only a four a half hour drive.  You’ll get there by 2:30.”  There’s s curious Indian logic to that.

We caught the 8:30 bus and it ambled out of the station (read: dirt lot) by 9ish.  India has 700,000 villages and I think we stopped at about half of them over the next few hours.  The best was the one we stopped at where everyone got off the bus, including the driver.  Aine and I went to buy some food and go to the washroom; when we returned: no bus.

It was nowhere to be seen.  We looked up the street; down the street.  Nada.  We tried indicating to a man who worked for the bus company that we were looking for the bus to Jodhpur.  Finally, a tuk-tuk driver grabbed us and said “Bus to Jodhpur?  Gone!”  We jumped in the back of his tuk-tuk and began a furious 30 km/h pursuit of the bus.  We felt like absolute idiot tourists (which was exactly what we were) when we hit the edge of the town and the bus was sitting  there waiting for us.  I have to give the bus operators credit for stopping and the people here are incredibly honourable: they’d even saved our seats.

The bus kept ambling along and I was fascinated watching people get out at places that didn’t even seem to be towns.  Not only would they get out, they’d have huge sacks full of god knows what that they were bringing back to their relatives.

After a few more hours we came to a traffic jam.  I’ve no idea why the road was blocked, but it was judged impassable by our intrepid bus driver.  He proceeded to pull a u-turn and take a dirt path short cut.  This worked really well until he tried getting over one particular nasty hump and blew out the suspension.

We found ourselves stuck in the desert waiting for another bus to come.  Incidentally, another bus trying to pass our bus (while also taking a short cut) managed to damage itself, so for a brief half hour all the roads into Jodhpur from the West were blocked.  After a while the bus came and we loaded up; our seats were taken so Aine and I road shotgun in a courgette-that’s a photo of her in one above.  It’s a hilarious way to travel; you literally tower over the road and sway one or two feet as the bus rocks from side to side on the pot-holed highways.

We were exhausted after arriving in Jodhpur after an epic, Homer-esque journey.  However, I have to say that we were able to snatch victory for the jaws of defeat as the remaining few hours of the day turned out to be incredible.

I had an amazing nut curry in Jaisalmer and the cook at the restaurant had been kind enough to give us the recipe.  The two secret ingredients: watermelon seeds (I can do that) and Kasturi Mathi (Say what?  Turns out it’s a Kashmiri leaf).  We’d heard that Jodhpur is one of the places to buy spices in India and the main market is the place to start.

It definitely was an amazing shopping experience.  There are shops with literally giant bowls of spices sitting outside of them:

The world’s kindest tout, a 12 year old kid in a blazer, took us around to a variety of stores to help us find the Kasturi Mathi (He gets a commission that pays better than school).  The second store had it and they also gave us some of the most amazing tea I’ve had.  It’s Kashmiri and consists of cardamon, cinnamon and a hint of saffron for colour and flavour; a pinch of sugar to sweeten; no milk.

Anyways, after that we walked around the market and then back to the hostel as the sun set.  It’s amazing walking around India as there are no retail chains.  There’s not one supermarket or corner store.  Even the gas stations don’t sell anything beyond gas.  This is starting to change as Walmart’s entering with a JV with the Bharti group and apparently there are two chains in Mumbai (with a combined 20 stores), but it hasn’t hit Jodhpur yet.  Here are a few photos to give you a sense of what it’s like to shop in India:

Incidentally, I’ve never seen a book store outside of an airport.

The other great thing about shopping in Jodhpur is that everything takes place on a few streets and one square.  As you walk down the streets you’re browsing shops while dodging cows, tuk-tuks, motorcycles and other pedestrians.  This should give you a sense of it:

As if that wasn’t enough, when we were on our way back to the guest house, we passed an Indian wedding.  The most elaborate wedding procession I’ve ever seen was snaking its way through the street-amongst the tuk-tuks, cows, motorcycles et al.

The procession was fascinating in its intricacy.  At the front, a marching band of maroon-uniformed, mustachioed/bearded and turbaned men were banging out a cacophonous rhythm on drums, flutes and bagpipes.  They were followed by the men, walking in their Sunday best while wearing multi-coloured turbans (almost rainbow-like in colour).  They were followed by the turbaned groom wearing a white tunic while riding on a bejeweled horse; his (child) bride (? we’re not sure if it was her; it wasn’t clear) was clutching his waist.  He in turn was followed by a gaggle of women in every imaginable colour of saris.  To top it off, the whole procession was flanked by labourers carrying electric lamps to illuminate the scene.  Here’s a shot:

We called it a night at that point and headed back to the guest house.  Along the way we noticed two more interesting things.  First, men and women here do not mix.  Everything here happens outside and at night everyone simply hangs out on their porches or in squares.  However, it’s almost exclusively men in the squares and women on porches.  Take a look at this photo of the square; hardly a woman in sight:
The other interesting thing was that just off this square was a well.  This is a city of 1.7 million and some of the residents still have to use the well for water.

Incidentally, here’s the recipe for a ground nut curry.  It’s courtesy of Gopa Chowk at the Midtown Restaurant in Jaisalmer (Great fort views).  To create the sauce:

1) Boil onion & tomatoes in water (nothing else)

2) Crush in grinder

3) Strain; add ground ginger if like

To create the curry:

1) Cook garlic and watermelon seeds in water for 30 minutes

2) Grind (but don't strain)

3) Prepare a pot with double oil

4) Add watermelon seeds and garlic

5) Add spices to taste: garam masala, salt, pepper, coriander powder and a little dried chili

6) In another pot add a bit of oil

7) Add chopped onion & green chilies, crushed garlic and bit of fresh ginger

8) Add the contents of the first pot and fry a little

9) Add fried peanuts and a little salt

10) When it's done, decant the oil and add some Kasturi Mathi (a Kashmiri leaf; you crush the leaves).  Stir it in and serve.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in spices, you can get in touch with my man Gori Shanker at M.G. Spices.  He’s at +91 93147 04419 or  He apparently does export; try dropping him an email.  The spice shop is found at Shop #206-A, Vegetable Market, Clock Tower, Jodhpur.


Monday, December 18, 2006

# Exception: TypeError
# Message  : contentDiv.getElementsByClassName("comment-manage-link").each is not a function