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Published: March 11th 2013
Ancient Cities & Life in the Wild - India - 6 Mumbai-Udaipur-Ranakpur-Jodhpur-Nagaur-Roopangarh-Jaipur-Ranthambore-Keoladeo-Fatehpur Sikri-Chambal-Agra-Delhi-Shimla-Dharamsala-Pong-Amritsar
'Fatehpur Sikri to Chambal'
2nd March 2013
Fatehpur Sikri, our next port of call, is on the route to our final wildlife experience, at Chambal. Mike insisted it should not be missed. Fatehpur Sikri was a 16th century Mughal walled city of palaces and pools in Indo-Islamic style, of considerable magnificence, abandoned after only fifteen years, through lack of water historians believe. Whilst much of its riches were plundered, the pink-stone buildings and stunning open squares remain in remarkable condition as if built in recent times. It would seem impossible not to stand and stare, awestruck, beneath the cloudless azure sky, swept by circling Egyptian vultures.
Above the city stands Jami Masjid, a grand mosque with magnificent gateways and arched cloisters. Sadly, we were pestered by prospective guides, kids with sparkling pens and touts with guide-books and snow globes (in India?) throughout our visit, a tuk-tuk to the walled city and mosque was compulsory, and a charge was made for looking after our shoes. However, Fatehpur Sikri should not be missed.
afternoon we were driving through the gates of Chambal Safari Lodge and shown to our well-appointed cabin set amongst lush gardens teeming with birds and wildlife. Within minutes we were enjoying lunch and then whisked away for a River Safari a few miles distant. This proved spectacular, with good sightings of marsh crocodiles, gharial (that critically endangered long-snouted freshwater croc), a jackal and a wandering wild jungle cat (almost as good as a tiger), in addition to some spectacular, rather rare birds!
We were woken the following morning at 06.30 by squawking parakeets chasing off a spotted-eagle in the tree outside our bungalow, a circling flock of cawing crows, the ear-piercing 'ee-oww, ee-oww' of peacocks, and chanting from the local mosque or temple. Fruit bats the size of buzzards roosted in the tree over our roof by day, taking to the wing at sunset in true Dracula style, their broad black wings stark against the deep blue of an Indian night sky! That evening we spotted a palm civet cat and we saw a pair of mongoose out hunting cobras, like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi of 'Jungle Book' fame.
A stroll through the grounds of the lodge
and plantation finally led us into another world. The local village is far removed from those villages previously visited in Rajasthan. Here the family buffalo stands tethered outside every front door, the children and women collect water from the village pump in metal pots and plastic containers. Adobe and brick blue-washed homes line the brick-paved streets with running drains and another brown dog stands guard beside a handful of kids. They welcomed us inside, smiling as ever, proud of their neat and clean tiny rooms; one had a table though no sign of a chair, a room for sleeping with a string-strung bed, and another for living. Their total posessions are a pot for water, home-made cow-pats for the fire, a hand-driven shredding wheel for millet and mustard, a chile grinding-stone and their valuable water carrier. It's Saturday and sari-clad teen-age girls are off school today, digging clay for adobe, hacking away with an adze type spade and carrying it home on their heads, smiling shyly as we pass and stop for a photo and a chat.
I don't know what I expected of India. It is sublimely warm throughout the day here in Rajasthan at this
time of the year, 20 - 25C by midday, the people are friendly beyond anything I might have imagined and despite the extent of manual work by women they seem to be happy, and curious in our company, giggling girls and laughing boys, following us through the alleys, wide eyed and excited in our presence. Our visits to these remote villages have vividly painted the picture of how little it takes to make a nation content. Villagers gather round us, intrigued by these white-haired nomads from another planet, eager to just stand and stare or offer a greeting, to follow us around the village, kids playing and skipping along as they follow the photo-snapping Mike like the Pied Piper. Such gracious people. Yet these contented people are not poor on life's scale of misery and hardship, as can still be measured on the streets of India.
But for how long can India resist the temptation to mechanise in order to keep its people employed? When agricultural mechanisation of the modern age eventually arrives in India the farmhands will flee to the towns and cities where industry fuels the pulse of outrageous consumerism; the fridge, the washing machine, the toaster,
the TV and mobile phone. By that time the world as we know it will have run out of energy and polluted the entire planet, the ice age will return in the blink of an eye.
It's all a bit different in the cities. The beesom brush brigade is out sweeping the streets, leaving the rubbish in piles in the hope that someone, sometime, will pick it all up. There's the Nissan dealership, Toyota and Hyundai, LG, Honda and Pepsi alongside roadside tarpaulin-roofed shacks. It's still chaotic but on a bigger scale; overloaded old trucks with bald tyres, men peeing beside the road, men in shreddies washing at the pump, Pizza Hut and McDonald's, ten to a tuk-tuk, four to a motorbike, all honkng horns, weaving like dodgems at the fun-fair, sleepy street vendors stiring their pots, cyclists aspiring to become motorbikers aspiring to be car drivers - and those with nothing and no aspirations above their station and ever hopeful of staying alive for another dawn.
Off the tourist route once again we took the car to the medieval temples at Bateshwar. A string of dazzling white temples lines one side of the
river, stalls and street vendors huddle together selling gifts to the gods outside the entrance and the faithful pay their respects at the shrine, bees buzzing in clouds around the sweet offerings and the constant clanging of a hundred bells! Kids were swimming in the fast-flowing river, a lady was doing her washing and there was a general family party atmosphere.
A few days later en route to Delhi from Agra, we passed a group of pilgrms carrying Holy Ganges water in pots on long canes to Bateshwar as an offering to Shiva.
Sunday will see us on the road again, heading out of Rajasthan and into Uttar Pradesh as we set our sights on Agra and the Taj Mahal. Join us there!
For my little brother, Mike's, take on our five-weeks in India, go to: Keep Smiling
David and Janice
Accommodation: Chambal Safari Lodge: Good environment, but severely overpriced, staff lacking commitment, poorly managed. We did not feel cosetted. Food adequate. Excursions good but also extortionate!
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