It’s not often that travel and sci-fi are mentioned in the same sentence. But if you bear with me, I have an unusual mash-up of one of my favorite sci-fi excerpts and my favorite city in India.
It’s weird. I know. Just bear with me.
In Douglas Adams’ classic novel The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I’ve always felt that Adams’ comic genius was best encapsulated in the scene where President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox steals the cleverly-imagined starship The Heart of Gold (equipped with the also cleverly-imagined Improbability Drive). What I found so amusing wasn’t the act of grand larceny or even the name Zaphod Beeblebrox. It was the description of the reception committee, which included humanoids, some reptiloids, and a Hooloovoo—described as a super-intelligent shade of the color blue. I don’t know why the concept of a super-intelligent color struck me as so hysterical. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never met a shade of blue that could even be considered of average intelligence. Whatever the reason, that’s the thought that sprang into my mind when—and here’s the connection—I first laid eyes on the historic center of the Indian city of Jodhpur.
It is at this point that any similarity to science fiction goes out the window. Despite the rapid modernization going on in other parts of the country, Jodhpur is still pleasantly ancient. Situated at the edge of a desert in western Rajasthan, with little else around, it wasn’t hard to figure out why.
The main attraction is the enormous Mehrangarh Fort, perched like a giant on a sandstone bluff dominating the skyline. This fortress-turned-museum houses relics of Jodhpur’s royalty along with the fascinatingly ornate architecture so prevalent throughout India. It is also here that one is treated with mesmerizing views of the heart of the ‘Blue City’—a sprawling yet densely-packed warren of flat-roofed houses nearly all painted in a lovely shade of blue.
I have no idea of what a Hooloovoo’s preference of living quarters might be, but if one did exist, I imagine this is where you’d find it. From the lofty vantage point of the fort, you can witness the locals going about their business much as they have for hundreds of years—drying clothes on their rooftops, sipping tea, or just chatting—all with that bluish backdrop that may or may not be intelligent, but is most certainly inspirational.
When I enquired as to the reasoning behind the blue palette stretching out as far as the eye can see, my guide explained that in the days of the caste system, a blue home was an indication that the occupants were of an upper-level caste. Eventually, someone noticed that this color apparently has the pleasant side-effect of repelling mosquitoes, and that’s a cause that appeals to ALL levels of society. Regardless of the origin, the visual effect it has produced—changing in hue with the angle of the sun—was sufficient to inspire me to travel halfway around the world.
And if witnessing this otherworldly scene isn’t cool enough, a company called Flying Fox Asia offers zip lining tours from off the ramparts of the fort, out along the shores of an artificial lake, and in full view of a portion of the Blue City. I’m a big fan of zip lining. I’m an even bigger fan of zip lining with interesting things to look at as I dangle precariously from a cable. Solely based on that criteria alone, Jodhpur was my favorite locale for this exhilarating yet safe sport.
There’s plenty more to say about this fascinating city but I’ll leave that for another time. Suffice to say, the Mehrengarh Fort and the Blue City are an inspiring sight to see. And as you walk the stony ramparts and gaze out at the maze-like city awash in blue, be sure to drink in the moment, drink in the ambiance, and, while you’re at it, you might as well drink up a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster*. Zaphod would want it that way.
*According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is defined as the “Best Drink In Existence” with its effects described as being similar to “having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.” Furthermore, it advises that you should never drink more than two unless you are a ‘30-ton mega elephant with bronchial pneumonia.’ For some more laughs, I recommend you Google the recipe and also pick up a copy of the book in its five-part trilogy version.