An adventure beckoned. A solemn morning visit to the cenotaphs of Badabagh, the royal burial grounds, an elegant compostion of Mughal and Hindu architecture. My next stop was the old capital city of Ludhrva followed by Kuldhra, a ghost village, deserted and deconstructed due to tariffs imposed on the villagers. Following a picnic of roti and dahl, the subsistence food of India, namely, flat bread eaten with an assortment of 60 types of lentils in varying sauces, we arrived in the small desert village of Khuri.
There I met my camel and the adventure began! This agreeable creature and I quickly developed a rapport as we spent the next several hours trotting in the grand style of a camel, into a space of perfect serenity. The only voice heard was my own, as I delved into the life of my camel driver, a young animated Indian who spoke cordial English, Spanish and French yet could not read or write in any language, including his own. I am fascinated with the lives of the desert people, who rely to such a large extent on the tourism industry. As does so much of India. There in the desert, amidst moments of my own quietude, I could feel timelessness.
The havelis of Jaisalmer are most magnificent. This one in particular caught my eye and I could not turn my gaze away. This sculpted sandstone building is detailed with such delicate stone lacework. Clearly built by brocade and jewelery merchants who had a taste for detail.
Traveling in India can be rather arduous. We hired a driver to journey with us for the continuation of our expedition through Rajasthan, our next stop being Jaisalmer. It is strange to have a driver who is essentially a stranger joining us on this adventure, but there is an element of safety I feel in his presence. During the 10 long hours on roads that have no end, I thought much about what his life must be like, what he thinks and dreams about. I often muse about the private lives of these people I encounter, whose lives are so disparate to my own…we arrived to the Golden City in the late evening. The illuminated Jaisalmer Fort greeted us at this small city which feels like a mirage in the middle of a barren desertscape. About 25% of the city’s inhabitants reside within the walls of the Jaisalmer Fort, which harbours a palace, temples and hundreds of sandstone havelis. This feels much like walking within a living museum. Beyond the walls of the fort lies a connecting complex of seven beautiful yellow sandstone Jain temples, dating from the 12th to 16th centuries, stunning! A very spiritual day was spent in this Golden City.
On march 28th Sooji and I celebrated her birthday. I tried to make it an eventful day, not easy as each day seems to be filled with surprises. We had a most memorable meal at a ‘special village’ called Choki Dhani. It’s a neo-Rajasthani village filled with delicious Rajisthani thali, a plate of multiple dishes combining vegetables and sauces I could not even begin to describe. We indulged in all that was presented to us.
To complete the night, as in any proper Indian celebration, we rode on a camel and adorned our bodies with henna.
It is easy to lose yourself in the local fineries of Jaipur. Shopping is quite an experience! All the shopkeepers immediately become your best friends, offering a hot cup of chai as you haggle for a silver pendant that looks like it was worn by an Empress in the late 19th century. And if you are the merchants first customer of the day, good luck walking away without a purchase! Day one is entertaining. Day two is overwhelming. Day three is when you wrap yourself in a shawl as not to appear visible to any of the shopkeepers that all seem to know your name and exactly what you are looking for. Like much of India, the experience of shopping is equally exhausting and fulfilling. And very addictive.
Amidst all the chaos I experienced a moment of profundity. It was there in Jaipur that I met with the most penetrating eyes, a blue so deep you could feel the calm of the sea. These eyes belonged to two mute artists, identical in appearance and manner. Though they could not utter a word, their eyes spoke most resoundly. They sat on the floor at an art emporium, astutely painting on 80 year old paper with the single hair from a brush. Their eyes spoke of a kindness that is impossible to express in words. My eyes smiled back.