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Published: March 4th 2013
'A journey through Rajasthan' - India - 4 Mumbai-Udaipur-Ranakpur-Jodhpur-Nagaur-Roopangarh-Jaipur-Ranthambore-Keoladeo-Fatehpur Sikri-Chambal-Agra-Delhi-Shimla-Dharamsala-Pong-Amritsar Nagaur-Roopangarh-Jaipur
25th February 2013
Gone are the rocky Rajasthan hills as we leave Jodhpur by car, heading for Nagaur and the Cattle Fair. Nagaur is India's second largest cattle fair and the main reason for our diversion into the wilds of Rajasthan. One thing we had failed to discover in our research was the vast renovation project being undertaken on Nagaur's Ahichhatragarh Fort. The other thing we were previously unaware of was that Devendra's father, Karan Singh Bhati, (we met Devendra in Jaipur as you might remember) was responsible for the Royal Tent; a unique, moveable, 100 tented hotel complex, currently in the grounds of the Marharajah's Fort in Nagaur for the fair. Nagaur Fort came into the hands of His Highness The Maharajah Gaj Singh II of Marwar - Jodhpur, (another aquaintance of Mikes) in the 1990's and a massive restoration project is now well under way to develop an hotel of great splendour.
Guided by the kind hand of Karan, we toured the magnificent fort palace quarters, with its 99 fountains and rippling water flowing through
channels and dropping over waterfalls 'to cool the mind for meditation and contemplation' and visited the well appointed Royal Tent village before dining in royal luxury in a majestic pillared, square. This fort differs from those previously visited in that it was built on the desert plain, and without a rocky outcrop to hand, it was once surrounded by a moat. It is already functioning as an hotel, with thirty-two amazing rooms (beyond our pocket for sure).
The Nagaur Cattle Fair was always intended to be a 'lunch stop' to observe the spectacle, but events took hold and we were treated to so much more. A guide was sent with us in our car to the fair just out of town, where camels, cows, bullocks and horses, tethered and cobbled, fed and watered, were awaiting sale. A fascinating experience of sounds - and smells, to file in the memory bank. Thank-you, Karan for your kindness, and thanks too to Devendra for the thoughtful introduction.
It was a long drive to our hotel for the night in Roopangarh, but it was worth the wait. The 'garh' in Roopangarh might give you a clue to our
accommodation in the centre of this delightful little town of extremely, one-car width, narrow streets, open-front shops and flat-roofed dwellings in varying levels of attractive renovation and delapidation - for 'garh, read Fort! Our car reached the steps to reception after a few three-pointers through the arched gates and up the steep cobbled incline - where attacking warriors and their elephants once feared to tread. Our room seemed a little sparsely furnished, but then, it was 14m x 18m (46ft x 60 ft) with ceilings 6m (20ft) high! Mike's room was the same size. We had one whole floor to ourselves with two balconies; one for sunrise and one for sunset - and there's a tennis court, or cricket pitch should you prefer, on the roof below. Who wants to be a millionaire? Fantabulous. Absolutely Fabulous!
As the sun eaked its way into the day we took a leisurely walk through the town before leaving. A layer of dust had settled overnight and shopkeepers swept their entrances into the street and bent-backed sari-attired ladies brushed litter from the roadside into piles, moving it from here to there with thier short beesom brushes, as yawning dogs opened an
eye to a new day. A few shops between the pink-stone terraced dwellings were still shuttered, awaiting opening time, somewhere around 10am, and smiling, uniformed kids waved in welcome, 'Hello. How are you today?'
Leaving town, a horse-drawn cart sauntered in from the countryside and motobikes came streaming through the eye-of-a-needle alleys. Our pot-holed single-track road across country suddenly became a mere bumpy mud track as we entered a remote village, strewn with litter and putrid puddles and beside the road women were digging with hand-picks and carrying rubble on their heads in steel bowls. The ladies in rural Rajasthan might be slight, but they certainly need to be tough.
Out of the village the flat desert countryside turned from irrigated fields of mustard and wheat, to scrub, and thorny acacia trees stood like black silhouettes, denuded of all greenery for thier browsing cattle and goats. Local dogs were squabbling over the carcase of a dead cow by the road. Dogs, unlike many Indian people, aren't vegetarian. Interestingly, there are no cats in evidence here for them to chase.
I'm not quite sure how Sambhar Salt Lakes came to be on
our itinerary. What we do know is that Mike had shown an interset in salt production and Janice and I were aware there might be wintering flamingoes in residence. Flamingoes there were indeed in good numbers, outstretched necks as they circled in flight, dragging their legs behind them and raising the pulse of the grey-haired-nomads a little despite being a little distant.
The British built a salt factory on the edge of town which was taken over by the Indian Government when they left in 1947. Nothing has changed since then. The same od rusty generators run the belts that run the conveyors, that run the boilers, that run the water pumps. We knocked on the door of the office seeking information. Mike wanted to see the production process at first-hand. A lady manager answered our call and offered her services as our guide! There never was any Health and Safety here and there doubtless never will be. For now the factory bumps along with manual labour washing and sorting and weighing and packing. It works, but that's about all. But it provides valuable employment locally. There are now newer, more producive, factories in private hands so perhaps its
days are numbered.
A little more than an hour later we were on the six lane highway to Jaipur, joining the speeding traffic heading east; pick a lane, any lane, overtake whichever side you prefer, honk your horn, mind that gaudily painted Tata truck with swishing tassels coming towards you in your lane, watch that white van - there are nine people huddled inside and four more hanging precariosly on the back! That overladen lorry coming towards us in our lane deffinitely has the right of way..... it's no use sounding the horn in the usual manner; best to apply the brakes! Janice is in the front passenger seat, white knuckles clutching the door-handle and looking sideways out of the window.
As we approach the Pink City of Jaipur there are dusty signs of a brighter tomorrow; flyovers are being built on the highway, there's a College of Engineering for Women, the new Metro system is under construction and should be finished by 2015 - Indian time (that's a little later than Spanish time). But the shanties of the poor cluster beside the road on the fringes of town and the streets
finally become cleaner as we approach the smart hotels and opulant palaces at the heart of this city of 3.2 million souls.
You'll know you're in Jaipur when you first see the pale faces of the many tourists trecking the golden triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and the truly fascinating facade of the 'Palace of Winds', the Hawa Mahal; a pink wedding cake on the main drag through town; five storeys of pink-stone balconies and laticed windows allowing the ladies of the harem (no longer in residence we gather) to view the busy street below. It is possible to photograph this amazing building in early morning sunlight from across the street if you're prepared to run the gauntlet of the manic traffic at that time of day. (With petrol at Rs50 per liitre it's bound to be manic).
The Old City of Jaipur lies within the city walls, The Pink City, or Sun City, as it is also known. The pink facades of the flat-roofed and open-fronted terraced shops are freshly painted, more a peach than pink perhaps, their goods spilling out onto the road as ladened handcarts are pulled and pushed
up the hill and food vendors brew their potions between the jostling crowds. There are tuk-tuks and cycle-rikshaws jostling for supremacy, and surprising to say, bikers with crash helmets- it makes sense and must be law in Jaipur. There are jewellery stores beyond the Palace of Winds and then the lively market, fruit and veg, spices, white chickens in cages, white eggs in trays, pots and pans, bangles and belts, all ringing with colour, smiling faces, a hustling child and a begging hand on the litter-strewn alleys. This is such a delightful country of delightful people but there can be little pride.
Jaipur City Palace wears its pink cloak with flair, though there is little to catch the interest within, other than harassing hawkers, bright, open squares and the two outrageously enormous silver urns more than six feet high that once contained water from the Ganges and accompanied Madbo Singh when he visited London in 1901. It is said he feared the London water! Now, there's a thing.
The nearby Jantar Mantar observatory you might have heard about was built in the early 18th century and is the largest and best preserved of its
kind in India. Some of the sixteen instruments of extreme complexity are still used today in a somewhat loose sense, but these great monuments to astronomy and astrology reflect the importance of such studies of their time. The scale and perspective of these sundials and astrological instruments of such enormous proportions is awesome and the lines and symmetry are quite breathtaking in the midday sun.
The Amber Fort is on everybody's list in the golden triangle. Its massive ramparts sit high above the city on a natural mountain ridge. It's a camel-ride up to the entrace of the fort but it really is easier by elephant despite the long queue of patient tourists fending off the ever-pestering touts with CD's, resin elephants, colourful pens, hats and souvenir baseball caps. Seated side-saddle, two to an elephant, we rocked and rolled up the winding hill through ancient archways to the imposing Suraj Pol, the 'Sun Gate' to the temples, vast squares and imposing gateways of the Palace and the magnificent Sheesh Mahal, covered in mirrors to reflect the light of just one candle; that I would love to see.
One could say that Jaipur is Work
in Progress.. That doubtless applies to all of India, but with GNP forecast at 6.1% - 6.7% for 2013/14 they're doing a lot better than us in the UK. As we now leave Jaipur in the shallow light of an Indian sunrise, the fertile landscape of green irrigated fields of wheat and mustard and oil-seed rape spreads before us, there's rubble and rubbish painting every village sidewalk, that ubiquitous layer of dust on everything, muddy puddles, weaving motorbikes, scavenging pigs and dozy dogs. Cow-pats for fuel are drying in neat stacks by the roadside and there are more trees and palms now.
The Times of India passes around in most hotels here. There's much news from jolly old England, particularly when it comes to football and David Cameron's current extended visit to this country. I find it amusing that they refer to police as 'cops' and children as 'kids' in their reports. Valentine's Day passed peacefully in Mumbai it announced, but regretably, bombers killed 16 in Hyderabad a couple of days later. It's a sad world where lives are so cheap that fanatics are prepared to kill the innocent.
It's good to be here
though, to breathe the soul of India. We're off now, to find tigers and birds galore at the start of nine days of birds and wildlife in Ranthambore, Baratphur and Chambal.
More in the next week or so.
For my little brother, Mike's, take on our five-weeks in India, go to: Keep Smiling
David and Janice
The grey-haired nomads
And a cardboard cut-out of Todd came too. (Either he's too big or the case is too small!)
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