The blue-painted city of Jodhpur lures with a weekend of traditional and not-so traditional folk music set beneath the space dust of the desert stars. Last year the Jodhpur Riff festival was cancelled because of a deadly stampede just days before the scheduled event at a temple located inside a historic fort where the music takes place.
I'd written about the scores of deaths that occurred when devotees, gathered at dawn to mark the first day of Navratri, a nine-day celebration of the Mother Goddess, were crushed on a steep pathway. I had no idea, however, just how steep the pathway had been, but labouring up the incline into the famous Mehrangarh fort it becomes clear just how perilous it must have been.
Inside, such dark thoughts are eventually replaced by the remarkable mix of music that's on offer. One night, a trio of female singers, one specialising in Sufi music, another in the Maand style of Rajasthan and the third an expert in the full-throated Bhopa tradition, come together in a wonderful combination of sounds and textures. Another evening there is a performance by members of the Langa community playing traditional instruments and singing, followed by a enthusiastic set by a group of US folkies.
For me, the pick is a combination of British and Indian, when "vocal percussionist" Jason Singh and his guitarist friend Kirk McElhinney from sunny Manchester perform with seven Rajasthani musicians with whom they had been working for three weeks. The result is a mesmeric, organic sound that could not be more suited to the setting. The musicians perform in one of the courtyards of the old fort and their sound would take the roof off. If there was one.
This is what I call cosy
The journey to Jodhpur is not so mesmerising. We have two seats – one confirmed, one wait-listed – in the first-class carriage of the Mandore Express. "Ninety-nine per cent certain the second berth will come free," the railway official had said. Had he lied or was our experience really the one-in-a-hundred instance? Either way, for 13 hours, we've no option but to squeeze on to the single berth. "You must sleep head to foot or else there will not be room," a fellow-passenger advises. My long-suffering better half is silent but does not look impressed. We eventually arrive, feeling as spaced-out as those stars.
Let's hear it for the pool
Can it be so desperately hot? It is still 40C in October. Our guesthouse in the old city is atmospheric but basic. Fortunately, some friends are at a five-star hotel with a pool. Come over, they say, and we do – every day. The splash of water is the best music of the weekend.