India. Contrast seems to be what this country is all about, and it's probably near the last thing I expected.
5pm on the streets of Jodhpur, and it's chaos. Rickshaws weave wildly around scooters and motorcycles, bicycles wobble unsteadily through the crowd, and pedestrians are seemingly deaf to the constant blasting of horns - this din that is India.
If you want to get a feel for what 'India Time' is all about, don't look for evidence in train and bus departures, schedules and timetables. You'll see it as a grou of people, 3 across, walk up the highway, and you're in the front seat of a tiny minivan bearing hurtling down on them. On the opposite side, a truck is overtaking a cart towed by a camel, and these people are facing death in both directions. Still, they don't budge. Not until we're almost upon them, when they swerve to the side with just enough time to spare. The only other living creatures in India with less concern over trivial things such as murderous traffic are the cows. They simply don't move. Actually, they're more likely to lay down. India time.
So we arrive in this chaos, our tiny van feeling massive in these tiny laneways, the noise unbelievable. When we stop, step out of the van and grab our packs, it feels like we've stepped out of the safety of some form of cocoon. When travelling, you can't let your guard down for one moment. Strap that pack on though, and it's as good as screaming 'I have money!' We're the flame, and the moths never fail to disappoint.
It's a fine line, the point between sensible caution and downright mistrust. Of course, everyone you speak to has their own little horror story about India - don't hang your arm out the window, they'll chop off your hand to get your watch - the rabid dogs will attack you - everyone is after your cash - etc etc. First day in India though, wandering blindly through Mumbai, hoping we were heading towards the railway reservations office, we came across Mike and Sam. Before we knew it, they'd walked us to the reservations office, helped us book tickets out of there, and arranged a taxi for a whirlwind tour of the highlights of Mumbai, spread over a couple of hours. They refused any payment for their services, save a bottle of beer, and dinner (dinner was our idea - they would have been happy with a second bottle of beer and nothing more!) One day in, and we'd learnt that trust, even in the midst of the chaos that is India, gets you a long way.
Jodhpur feels like it was created by the hand of a mad god. He took a handful of blue coloured blocks, and threw them into the air. Where they landed, is where they stayed. You wind between impossibly tight laneways, barely enough to fit two people abreast, before the frenzied honking behind you warns of a rickshaw driver closing in. Finding your hotel, you finally can breathe again. Of course, before this you've said hello dozens of times, and answered the question 'which country?' just as many. It's impossible not to smile - while many times the questions lead into a tout, or a scam, many more times they don't - just a smile, and for me, the only boy in our group of three, an inquiry over whether I like the cricket.
In this city - at least this section, the old part circled by a stone wall - every place has an open rooftop, many times a few levels. I walked onto the rooftop above our hotel, and I may just have stopped breathing once again. It's called Meherangarth - 'The Majestic Fort'. It's aptly named. Towering over the city, atop a mountain of sheer rock, sits this fort. It's massive. It is so totally dominating, that even if you try to focus on another part of the city, your gaze is invariably drawn back to it. When I hear the word 'inpenetrable' from this time on, this fort will be my minds reference.
Sitting high on a rooftop, the entire city spread before me, it's easy to forget the scene played out at street level. Up here, you're in a different world, and all I want to do is run across it, rooftop to rooftop. I believe you could make it from one side of the city to the other this way.
Then, the kites appear. At first, only a few. As the sun gets lower, and the breeze picks up a little, their numbers grow. Before too long, there are dozens and dozens of them, in every direction. People occupy rooftops everywhere, mainly children. In the absense of any open space, this is their playground.
In the space of a few hours, I've gone from the mania of an Indian highway - pot-holed and dusty, passing thousands of pilgrims making a long trek to a holy destination - to kites above Jodhpur.
Sometimes, this world is beyond wonder. You simply have to sit on a quiet rooftop, and soak it all in.
And hope you never forget this.
Apologies for minimal linking, and possible (probable?) spelling errors and typos...the PC in this tiny little Indian net cafe, in the middle of a desert, is none too flash. Particularly the keyboard!
If you're interested, there's a picture of Jodhpur on my homenode.