Jodphur, Thursday 23rd October.
We arrived in Jodphur yesterday afternoon after a long drive from Udaiphur ( with a stopover for a quick look-see at a famous marble Jain Temple in Ranakpur…. Memsahib had a priest say a prayer for her there…. which she had to pay for….but I declined the offer…. ‘Bloody Athiest’ I thought I heard him mutter in Hindi.
In India, traffic, (like Indian society) is structured on a strict caste system. The following take precedence and the rules must be adderhed to at all times. In descending order, give way to cows, elephants, camels, buffalo, pigs, goats, dogs, heavy trucks, buses, official cars, pedal rickshaws, private cars, motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws, hand-carts and finally, the lowest on the pecking order, pedestrians.
Today is Deepvali ( or Deewaali if you cant be bothered prouncing the ‘P’) , the main Hindu festival ( it’s the festival of light) which means lots of noise from all the ‘bangers’ ,firecrackers and fireworks which the locals spend hundreds of dollars on ) Our hotel here, The Raas, is a bit different from others we have stayed in, in that it’s a really stylish, very hip, very sleek ‘boho chic’ place, which blends old with brand new, and has spectacular Jodhpur Fort views from our two story ‘suite’ as a bonus.
Our next stop is really facinating….. we drive through the countryside for another 20 minutes, down some very narrow
roads tracks…. we are going to visit a Mr Brijal, who owns a small farm. The reason for our visit though is not to see his cows and goats, it’s because Brijal-ji is also an Opium Addict…. and he has ‘invited’ us to an Opium Ceremony. We are met at the gate of his property, a small cluster of ‘cow-dung’ thatched huts by a fine tall distinguished looking character, dressed in traditional style and with a white turban on his head. He sports a large white moustache also, and an even larger smile on his face, and I notice that his eyes are also smiling….and twinkling.
After some introductions by Pummie, Brijal-ji offers us some ‘Chai’….tea. It’s what everyone here drinks, called Massalla Chai, it’s made similar to ordinary tea with milk ( but lots of milk) with the addition of ginger, nutmeg and cardamon…. or various other combinations….. It’s very refreshing too, but needs to be drunk very hot or the milk in it tend to ‘scum-up’. While I accept his gracious offer, ( Memsahib declines but I don’t want to offend his feelings ) I’m thinking to myself about the quality and cleanliness of the water used to make it. I can see the well he uses to draw water, but obviously he must have boiled the water first….so what could possibly go wrong!
After spending some time showing me how to tie a turban…. which he then places on my head, we all sit down to start the ‘ceremony’…. no, not the tea ceremony but the Opium one. He brings out a ‘poppy head’ to show us, and our guide Pummie interprets the way that the Opium is extracted. Normally, the opium is mixed with water and offered to tourist guests in a small cup, but Brijal-ji has a surprise for me.
He aks me, through the interpreter, if I have ever tried Opium before. ( I’m not going to tell you my answer….. but hey, it was the ‘sixties’ ) He goes inside the hut and returns with a small silver foil packet, which he carefully unwraps and shows to me. It is a sticky black substance, almost like tar ( which, coincidentaly, is one of the slang terms for Opium) …… he takes a matchstick, pokes one end into the tar, and when he removes it the end is covered with a black ‘bud’ of the substance. ‘Like this” he gestures, and puts it onto his tongue and licks the matchstick clean. He produces a clean matchstick and repeats the procedure, this time offering the ‘bud’ of tar to me….. it tastes not unlike bitter coffee grounds. I’m not sure if it’s the affect of the cup of Massalla Chai I had, or the ‘tar’, but I do feel slightly euphoric shortly afterwards….. Brijal-Ji is grinning from ear to ear, and laughing out loud, and him and I pose for photos. I ask, through the interpreter, how often he would have a bud…. ” He’s an addict, so quite often’ I’m told. He also tells me that Brijal-ji is very unhappy with the Americans, ( and Al-Qaeda as well) , as since 9-11, the price he has to pay for his opium has trebled. ( god-damn that Ossama)
Is Opium legal in India then?…. the answer is yes and no ( the answer you would expect in India). For tribes like the Bishnoi, they have been using this stuff for centuries…..they don’t partake of alcohol or tobacco…. the work is hard, life is tough, and so need occasionaly to let their hair down ( or take off their turban). It seems that as long as they dont posses more than 2 grams of the drug, then the authorities wont bother them……I ask where he gets his supply from ( dont get any ideas, I’m only curious) but am met with a shrug of the shoulders, and that funny little sideways head shake that can mean anything…… It’s complicated, but like much in India, it seems to work.
PS: The photo below was taken in a small remote village in the backwaters of Rajasthan, where we had stopped to buy some water…. bottled water. This young girl who followed us around the village, was so pretty and delightful and natural I just had to take this photo of her…. look at her smiling eyes…..I wonder what will be her future?