In which flip flops prove to be inadequate and we take some of Gandhi’s advice
Starring Divia Kumani the first woman in her village to sit outside
|Woman walking through Nimaj|
We made our way from Nimaj by private jeep. This is how pretty much how all the other tourists travel around northern India (I should mention that most of them are retirees) and it was indeed very comfortable and enjoyable.
We arrived to a choral welcome that included being dabbed on the forehead with ochre. We were staying in the home of the local Maharaja and everything seemed to have gone very up market (for which read colonial). The Maharaja’s wife, Divia, met us for drinks on the lawn. It was really fascinating talking to her as one of the things I’ve been most disappointed by India is that you don’t really get to meet people who aren’t trying to sell you something. She told the rather harrowing tale of how she’s arrived in the village for her arranged marriage (aged 19!) and been required to perform various ‘tests’ such as cooking a meal and dancing all of which were watched by the whole village who rated the likelihood that she would be a good wife based on her performance. Bored by living in Purdah (having to stay indoors, covering up) she eventually managed to convince her husband to let her convert their palace into a hotel and the success she achieved there led to two more. She is the first woman in her village to sit out the front of her house and talk with strangers and the only reason this scandalous behaviour is tolerated is because she’s made such a success of her business ventures and the fact that they have transformed the fortunes of the village.
In the afternoon we went on a ‘Village Safari’ which was just as awkward as it sounds. We were driven through the rural communities and unloaded to have a look around at how people live. As we all squirmed Pancham told us that the reason we were here was because Gandhi said that to see the real India, you have to see the villages. I bet he didn’t get there on a ‘village safari’. It was interesting though – we met the main village council – a bunch of elderly men sitting out under the trees chatting away and chewing paan – and watched a potter throw on another hand turned wheel. The kids studiously ignored us, focusing intently on a complicated game that seemed to involve marbles and a cricket bat. We finished up at a small lake full of bird life with great views of the sunset and the surrounding scrub was full of blue buck. The colonial tone continued with our driver whipping out a wicker basket of chai and biscuits.
Have I mentioned that India is filthy? I won’t have been the first to point it out. But it really is. There’s a rather sick satisfaction to washing your hands (which you do with relish whenever there is running water and clean bar of soap) because you can literally see the grey dirt going down the plughole. There is litter everywhere, the streets are paved in cow poo and the site of a long row of men taking their morning dump along the train tracks outside Delhi, sticks in the mind somewhat. But I hadn’t realised how much I had adapted to it all until I passed a dead puppy being feasted on by crows on my way to breakfast and it hardly bothered me.
Back in the jeep the next day we took a ‘short cut’ to Ranakpur that was suppose to get us there in about 2 hours. Alas, road conditions were less than optimal as most of the time the tarmac was wide enough to accommodate our car, a motorbike and whisker alongside one another, but the oncoming traffic was often not of the motorcycle variety. This meant we were constantly engaged in a nerve-wracking game of chicken with oncoming trucks flashing their lights and blaring their horns that almost consistently ended with us swerving off the road at the last possible minute. However, the main issue, as is so often the case, was that the bathroom breaks which were once again too few and too far between. The facilities were, shall we say, somewhat thorny? Given this is a desert region there are not many bushes to hide behind so I made my way in some haste down an embankment heading for a ditch and immediately discovered that flipflops are inadequate for dealing with acacia thorns which went straight through them and into my heel. I toppled over with a squeal and got similarly impaled in the butt and right hand. All very entertaining for those in the jeep who had been more conservative with their fluid intake that morning.
The main reason we were heading to Ranakpur was to see the enormous Jain temple there – the largest in India. It was built here protected from marauding Moghuls by a range of hills, and beside a river needed to keep the marble damp. Its extraordinary. It’s another mortarless construction held up by 1444 pillars and every single conceivable surface is covered in intricate carvings. The 18th generation priest who showed us around explained that they each polish 260 statues with milk every single morning. I think I spent over an hour just wandering through and staring at carving after carving after carving.
The change in scenery is quite a shock after days of desert – suddenly there are green hills and even rice terraces. We took a lovely walk in the afternoon through the fields past a water wheel that was still powered by oxen and rickety farmhouses. Everywhere you look it’s the women doing the work – keeping the oxen going, chopping trees, collecting water from the hand-pumped well, walking past with huge sacks of grain or sugar on their heads. We did eventually find the men – they were all in the roadside Chai shop where we stopped for a cuppa on our way back.