Rainy days and corporate reflections

Wet weather and a nice hotel set up (decent sized room, which actually has a table and chair and non florescent lighting, a sweet little shared terrace outside our screen door complete with fat, chatty resident sparrows, comfy chairs, and room service delivery of big pots of coffee and a friendly French/Lithuanian couple as neighbors) has encouraged us to have a very lazy stay in Jaipur so far.

I am proud to share that rather than feeling like a travel failure and freaking out about a big list of ‚shoulds’ as I might have done a few weeks ago, I am actually rather enjoying it. I see this as a sign of progress and also marvel at the fact that it has taken me this long to start to really relax! 🙂 I’m still not at Roman-levels of chilling out – he is really a master at this – but if I keep at it, I might catch up with him eventually. 🙂

I’ve been trying out a new mantra – ‘Who gives a $#!@’. The mechanics of the technique are pretty straight forward. Any ‘should’ or judgemental thoughts that my brain starts spewing at me can be countered with the simple but potent incantation.

I haven’t showered and my hair is messy – ‘Who gives a $#!@’. These clothes are comfortable but do they look ok? ‘Who gives a $#!@’. It’s raining and we are tired but if we stay at the hotel we will miss out on the cultural landmarks of Jaipur. ‘Who gives a $#!@’.

I’m starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin again so it seems to be doing the trick! 🙂 Also helpful is remembering that just because we are traveling doesn’t mean that we have to be doing stuff all the time; down time is important.

I wonder if some of the pressure I’ve been putting on myself is just residual stress from my recent past life as a team leader in a corporate environment. How long does it take to detox from an eight year career in finance I wonder? I heard from a good friend still working at my old employer that there has recently been yet another big round of lay offs…

Even months removed from work, I still feel strong loyalty to the people there and it makes me upset to hear about how carelessly people’s lives and livelihoods are manhandled all in the name of the anonymous shareholder… So please excuse the rant. 😉

There were so many positives about my old job. The work was really interesting and I learned a lot. But the best part by far was the great people I got to work with and how valued they were. The culture of the company has been increasingly pressured and compromised though.

I don’t know what will happen when it’s time to get back to work after this big trip, but, especially having some distance and perspective, it is hard to reconcile the thought of giving my time and energy to any company that views its employees as completely disposable. I know that is probably the attitude most employers take, but it just seems like a completely flawed stance to take based on mercenary, short-term thinking.

Anyhow, I am angry (in case you couldn’t tell 😉 ) on behalf of my friends still there and at the seemingly poor perspective of managers who value short-term gain over long-term quality and a healthy culture. I also wonder if this will remain the pervading reality at most employers. In the corporate world in India, from what I have heard, it is even worse and most white collar workers hate their jobs but competition for positions is so high that employees will put up with bad work situations.

This may sound naive, but it just seems insane to spend the majority of your time being miserable at work or to support a work environment where your employees are seen as a cheaply transferable commodity rather than a valuable resource and maybe even as human beings. I realize that one’s happiness is one’s own responsibility and having the right perspective can transform any situation into something positive. But still, I have a tough time understanding certain aspects of corporate mentality…

And, spending time remembering all that, I am all the more grateful to be here in the bad weather in Jaipur with Roman. 🙂

Jodhpur: Part two, Mehrangarh

We spent the afternoon of our second day in Jodhpur doing the fort tour.

Mid-day was rainy; we made our way through muddy (at least, I told myself it was just mud…) streets to our favorite haunt, Café Sheesh Mahal for some caffeine and reading until things cleared up. By the time we got up the hill to the fort, the weather was perfect!

The fort at Jodhpur, Mehrangarh, was just fantastic to visit. The family of the Maharaja is still involved with its management (new generations of royalty are still crowned here), and it is by far the most slick, tasteful and well-run tourist spot I have been to in India. The only people trying to get you to part with your money are the auto rickshaw touts outside and one group of musicians within the fort who encourage you to get your picture taken with them (Roman was gracious enough to participate to my amusement 😉 ). Everywhere else you can wander around completely un-harassed and accompanied by a really well produced and informative audio guide.

Beyond the impressive production, the fort itself is simply beautiful as are the views its height affords, and with the audio guide, it provides a really interesting glimpse into Rajasthan culture and history. Here is just some of what we saw, although I feel like the pictures don’t do it justice.


View of a temple against retreating rain clouds, on the way up to Mehrangarh


View of part of the fort on the way up the main entrance


Musician playing a traditional instrument called a ravanhatta and singing. (not the one who was looking for photo ops with Roman 🙂 ). The music was beautiful! The woman next to him may be his wife – the traditional bangles she is wearing indicate she is married. She collected any money the tourists gave.


Handprints at the entrance Lohapol, or Iron Gate. They are from the hands of the wives of Maharaja Man Singh, made before they committed ritual suicide on his funeral pyre in 1843.


The intricately carved windows of the fort palace are designed to keep the desert sun at bay, letting in breezes but not heat, and to preserve the modesty of the women living inside – they allow inhabitants to look out while remaining unseen from the outside. Apparently each set of window carvings in the palace is unique!


Ladies’ dumbbell for working those biceps and triceps!


The museum had an impressive array of intricately decorated weaponry. This is the carved ivory handle of a dagger.


The Maharaja’s poetry and music room


Stained glass above windows opening to one of the many courtyards


One view from within the palace


Pigeon perched in front of a carved peacock


Windows, sunlight, taking flight


One last sunset view of the blue city from the fort


A super cute wee puppy searching for scraps outside the fort. There are stray dogs everywhere in India, most in varying states of too skinny and less-than-healthy… I wish I could carry dog biscuits around with me, especially when we run into puppies (although this one is relatively healthy looking…)

Jodhpur: Part one

Maybe it was partially joy at being well again, but Jodhpur wrapped me completely around its finger. We arrived late Thursday night (after our train was delayed because it hit first a cow, and later a camel!! :-/) and had two full days in the blue city.

It is considerably larger than Jaisalmer (population of around 850,000, versus Jaisalmer’s 60,000 souls). It also has a fort (also considerably larger. Once the home to generations of Maharajas, it’s at the center of the city and absolutely towers over everything), and with its historic ambience, busy market squares, crowded, narrow streets and resident swallows wheeling overhead, like Jaisalmer I found it had something that evoked memories of Italy in summer for me. Although all comparisons to Italy definitely end there: Jodhpur has a fantastic vibe of its own and is all Indian.

We spent the first day just exploring the town and the second was the fort tour plus enjoying the town some more. We stayed at the Cosy Guest House, a squashy, slightly run down but mostly in a charming way budget place with, to quote their menu cover, ‘a killing view’ of the fort from the rooftop restaurant (happily we seem to have survived). It was a bit removed from the action but all the more enjoyable for that fact – I absolutely loved the sweet, vibrant neighborhood we were staying in. It was just great poking around as we slowly found our way by foot from the hotel to the busier, more touristy main square on the first day.

The residents of Jodhpur totally charmed me; I found them open, quick to smile and greet you – especially, of course, the children. We’ve met friendly people in lots of parts of India but in Jodhpur the exchanges felt completely guileless and felt great to share that brief but open contact everywhere we went.

Two quick dining highlights: We had a stunningly atmospheric, candle-lit sunset dinner on the rooftop restaurant Indique (inside a tastefully upscale hotel, Priya) – felt like we were floating above the city as the dusk settled into night and the stars came out. Just gorgeous. Although the palak paneer (happy to report being sick didn’t ruin Indian food for me! 😀 Although I may be free of my single-minded obsession – I am now starting to get really excited for Thai food… :-D) wasn’t bad it was totally bland. Felt like half the ingredients (i.e. the spices) were missing. For once, an Indian dish I could actually make better myself! The rest of the food was great though!

As well, although we were only there two days, we became regulars at the Sheesh Mahal Cafe. Absolutely loved this place. Although I will admit it was an little slice of the Western escapism set in Jodhpur – felt a million miles away from anything Indian except for the guys working there watching old Bollywood flicks on the TV. Roomy, clean and simple, very peaceful with comfy couches, tasty cafe frappes and saffron lassi and best of all, a small library of English books to enjoy while there.

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The ‘killing’ view of the fort and blue city from our hotel roof


Broken elephant, old flowers outside a small Hindu temple in ‘our’ neighborhood


Tomatoes for sale


These two little guys made me take about half a dozen pics of them – SO cute. I always feel weird about pictures of strangers – there’s probably a thousand I would have taken by now if it hadn’t felt like it would be totally rude and intrusive, so it was fun to have totally willing subjects. 🙂


One candid shot of them after the photo shoot


Possible copyright infringement?


At sunset

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Not exactly sure what this is about but it looks interesting

Snapshots from Jodhpur

I’m eager to do a proper post with pictures about the blue city, but it’s dinner time so here are some quick snapshots in the mean time.

–       In an auto rickshaw, on the way back to the hotel this evening, coming across a small parade sounding much more robust than I would have thought a group of four musicians outdoors could, playing boisterous, great music. Followed a ways back by a group of about twenty women all in bright clothes, clapping and singing a completely different song. No idea what it was about but it was great!

–       Walking through a small, quiet square, an old man across the way with about five teeth in his whole head eagerly beckoned Roman to cross over and talk to him. He made small talk a bit and then started to explain, “All Hindus need God”. Roman seemed to pass muster, making the guy smile real big when he shot back “All people need God.”

–       Four boys under the age of ten balanced on a single bike balancing against a wall. A very precarious kick off and a very wobbly but enthusiastic start down the street made me smile.

–       Repeatedly coming across groups of older men sitting and standing around in various out-of-the-way corners around town, peacefully playing cards together.

–       Today from the rickshaw on the way up to the fort, a girl in a brilliant yellow salwar kameez, pumping water by the side of the road. She waved to me without stopping her chore but was too shy to smile when I waved and smiled back.

–       The way the man with the deeply wrinkled face and hennaed hair and beard laughed today when Roman called him on his attempt at a 5 Rupee auto rickshaw parking scam at the fort.

Pics from Jaisalmer

I had only a half day to explore Jaisalmer, but still managed to see so much beauty!

In town below the fort


View of the fort from the hotel rooftop restaurant


Rooftop laundry on a cloudy morning




Walking the road up to the fort

Inside the fort


Cow surveying the action in the main square within the fort


Building detail with pigeons


Paintings like this of Ganesh were on many of the buildings




View from the fort wall


Inside the Jain temple



Workers in the temple




Desert mis-adventure

I had expected to write at least a post about Diwali by now, but part of travel is plans changing and most of my plans for the past days got entirely sidelined by getting ‘traveler’s illness’ – the standard fever and less-than-elegant stomach issues that I had happily and amazingly had managed to avoid till now but that I kind of figured would catch up with me at some point. 🙂 Now we’re already in Jodhpur, and Diwali is feeling ages away. So, I’ll catch up on Diwali later on.

The timing of falling ill was actually quite good. If you have to be sick, it’s better that it start right after you arrive at the hotel rather than just before or during travel and it was a decent place to be sick – clean, good room, helpful staff. And I am lucky to have such a sweet and patient travel companion too. Roman took great care of me!

We’d left Delhi on Sunday. A short and easy flight brought us to Jodhpur where we decided to go cushy and get a taxi to take us for the long drive to Jaisalmer. We’d been up late and got up early so Roman slept for a lot of the journey but after a short nap, I was up and I loved the ride and was just glued to the window the whole time.

Rajasthan is in the northwest of India, and has a whole different climate and landscape from anything else I’ve seen so far here.

Heading westward toward Jaisalmer, we were driving into a flat landscape of desert scrub. The towns we passed were small but colorful, with women in vibrant clothing and men topped with bright, loosely tied turbans. Between towns we came up behind a cart being drawn on the road. I was confused by the back view of the creature pulling it – the height didn’t seem at all right – until I realized it wasn’t a cow or horse but a camel!

The villages became scrappier and less frequent as we went along. Driving after sunset, there would be periodic dots of light off of the side of the road and less often another small village comprising a handful of buildings, but mostly there was just darkness.

After about six hours, we arrived, found our hotel down a narrow, quiet stone-paved street, had a meal and got ready for bed, which is when the chills started, and after that I was out for the count. We were meant to go on a camel desert safari while we were there, but I was only feeling well again on our last day, so there is so much that we didn’t get to see.

Even for the little time that I did end up spending outside the hotel, I was totally charmed by Jaisalmer. It’s an incredible little city – like something out of another century.

All the buildings and streets are made out of thick blocks of yellow sandstone. Even from my sickroom, it was impossible not to be impressed by the view from my window when the sun lit the place up – you can easily understand why it’s called the golden city. The place looks ancient, like time decided to stand still a thousand years ago. This feeling is reinforced by things like the lack of street lights (it is pretty dark at night, at least where we were staying), the sound of bleating goats being kept outside of people’s homes, and minimal vehicle traffic (due to narrow roads).

The place also has some of the worst smells I’ve experienced in India. Maybe this is due in part to heightened sensitivity to smell from being sick. That being said, I think getting a full on waft from the open sewers might make anyone feel queasy. They also burned a really unattractive incense around the hotel – smelled like a cross between something a really cheap psychic would use and a stuffy old woman’s house. Delightful. 😉

So, I may have been sick and missed out on the desert safari, but I still loved Jaisalmer (despite the smells! 😉 ). I only had time and strength to spend a morning wandering around inside the hilltop fort and seeing the Jain temple within its walls, but I’m really glad I saw at least that. Being inside the fort felt a bit like being in a medieval walled city in Italy, where everything you see is beautiful and every photo you take looks like a post card.

Pictures in the next post… 🙂