Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blue City Madness (Carolann's Story)

In the cover song of his 1992 album, The Future, Leonard Cohen sings: "Repent. Repent. I've seen the future, brother, and it's murder."
Maybe it's Cohen's lugubrious, dark voice, or maybe it's the shock of today's experience inside the guts of a medieval city, ravaged by the contemporary world , but his words resonate with me now more than ever.
Here in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, I've seen the Blue City. And it's murder.
It's nothing new for us to walk through crowded markets, narrow streets thickly packed with auto-rickshaws, contending with motorcycles, pedi-cabs, bicycles, fruit carts and cows for pedestrian space. In fact, I'm boring myself with the same old stories of chipped cement blasting horns, and cow dung. How can Jodhpur's Blue City be different from any other pile of 15th century rubble shoehorned into the new millenium?
Let's say it ratchets up the experience.
It's been two hours since emerging. I'm at our hotel. My glass is almost empty. Though my hands are no longer shaking at the keys, I'm still a little light headed... and it's not the rum.
Dan wanted to see the Blue City from the inside. We've seen it from the tower of the Mehrangarh fort and it's truly a blue city. The town growing up over two centuries at the base of this spectacular fort was painted indigo blue, and continues to be maintained in blue.
It's late in the afternoon. We ask our driver to drop us at the clock tower and we'll walk into the Blue City. He agrees, but surprisingly, takes the role of guide now and joins us on our walk. After 15 minutes of the usual struggle along narrow streets, he negotiates a tour for us all in a auto-rickshaw through the maze of inner streets. Cars can't fit; only motorcycles or auto-rickshaws, horses, and bikes.
With a jerk of the engine, which the driver starts by pulling on a cord, we're tearing into the twisting ribbon of streets. Our driver is a maniac for speed, allowing for the circumstances, which includes old women, vegetable carts, and cows among other small motorized vehicles and the odd goat. Our guide, squeezed into the back with Dan and me is energized by the mayhem. Half standing and half sitting, he grips the back of the driver's seat like the reins of a kicking bronco, shouting something at the driver, teeth blazing.
We're going way too fast for the street traffic. We're swerving left and right and the engine sputters and coughs and we shake like a tractor over hardened furrows, every bolt and gear box shaking loose and banging amidst the cacophony of horns and bells and the wail of babies and blasts of motor scooters amplified by the funnelling streets as in an echo chamber.
We shriek to a halt nose to nose with another auto-rickshaw and a Brahma bull all vying for the same piece of pavement. The bull's tail is twitching and slightly raised and he's backing up into the side of our open carriage, yikes, towards the passenger side. Yikes, my side! I brace myself expecting the spray and all at once our cab veers sharply left. So this will not be the day I'm pissed on by a holy cow.
Instead, the whole cab lunges deeply and one of its back wheels is spinning over the open sewer. Quickly correcting, the driver pulls the vehicle ahead with a blast of power I wouldn't believe possible in this bucket. In an instant, we're back on the street but halting once more for a marching band. Red suited trumpeters, drummers, trombone players block our way forward so we wait until the last of the coronets pass and a dozen women who follow wearing yellow and red silk saris trimmed in gold. This is the wedding season. The fear-stiffened groom on a white steed is not far behind. His child bride is somewhere underneath a burden of heavy bands of gold and red cloth.
Rounding the next corner, the driver picks up enough speed to race by a hydro generator, a portion of which suddenly explodes in a burst of fizzling white light and everyone looks up at the web of wires and I suddenly pray that the driver makes speed. We leave the warren and hit the main street and fall into the wake of a large truck and we all briefly disappear inside a billowing cloud of black exhaust.
I now know what it feels like to be inside an oil drum filled with fifty pounds of loose car parts, two bolts of silk, a live chainsaw and a single-stroke lawn mower, two bags of sand, one confused cow, a pot of burning machine oil, random pieces of fruit, and a marching band. The drum is sealed and sent rolling down a hill.
Dan emerges elated and giddy as a teenager. I don't know my husband any more.
I emerge dizzy and coughing and wondering if this indeed is the future - declining empires, madness, grit, decay, noise, and stench, all in the desert of our own making under a burning white sky.

[see www.maturetraveler.blogspot.com for more travel stories by Carolann]

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