Jodhpur and I don’t get off to the best start. Arriving at night following a bus journey during which I’d been groped by an old man and feeling dispirited, homesick and ill; I spend my first night eating dinner alone in an eerily empty restaurant on the edge of town, and wake up the next morning knowing that I can’t stay where I am for the next three days. Always one for following my intuition, I go in search of somewhere else to stay and move into the old town that same morning.
Passing through the central market square where the clock tower stands seems like moving between two different worlds. On one side squats the ugly present day, its cracked roads and grey buildings a backdrop to the fumes, the littered rubbish and the poverty; and on the other the Brahmin blue of the old town unfolds, walls studded with hidden guesthouses and tiny hole in the wall shops, streets busy with cows and food vendors and trundling carts full of vegetables pulled by tiny barefoot men.
The fort towers above the town, birds wheeling around its high walls, flat roofed houses cascading down the hillside below. Narrow passageways and alleys wind through walls and houses daubed with chalky paint; indigo and azure and pale sky blue. The paint flakes and peels away, stones and old whitewashed posters showing through in ragged patches, the history of this place clearly visible in its layered walls. Local families live their daily routines outside in the shafts of afternoon sunlight; elderly women gather on doorsteps to chat and children run and laugh, chasing a bouncing tennis ball. A woman crouches over a bucket of washing, beating the clothes against the walls and leaving them out on the stones to dry. A girl calls out to me in greeting from a balcony, brushing water from her waist length hair, and an elderly man clutching a baby in a lime yellow jumper beckons me over to take his picture.
Every turn brings me to something unexpected, a hidden courtyard or a tiny temple set back in the wall. At one point I round a corner and find myself ankle deep in the middle of a farmyard, lazing cows flicking flies with languid tails and a dead pig at my feet. Eventually I emerge from the town and climb the last steep cobbled incline to the top, the fort above me glowing in the sun and the city spreading below me. I wander through the ancient beauty of the fort, the arched doorways and intricately carved balconies an echo of the stories of 1001 nights I loved as a child, and the maudlin ghosts of the dirty grey city are forgotten in the magical hush of ancient Rajasthan.
At night, the blue rooftops stand in stark contrast against a blaze of pink sky, casting long shadows on the streets, and the call to prayer booms out across the city. I feel at peace, comforted by the thousands of years of history pressing in on me from all sides, and ultimately at home in this strange and wonderful place.