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February 17th 2013
Published: March 11th 2013
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Oranges in the groundsOranges in the groundsOranges in the grounds

Maharani Bagh Orchard Retreat, as its name suggests, has a small orchard (of lemon and orange trees), as well as over a thousand mango trees.
Sixteen years ago, on a tour of Rajasthan with my wife, we stopped for lunch at a hotel near the Jain temples at Ranakpur. There we met a boy named Lajpal. Little did I know then that this chance encounter would drastically change my knowledge and understanding of his fabulous country.

The first blog which featured this boy - now a young married man and known to me by his familiar name of Pintu - was in 2005 (my blog Life is like an ice-cream! explains all). I’ve returned to India several times since and, on each occasion, have been introduced to more and more of his family – so much so that it’s almost as if I’ve become an honorary member of it. They are all so kind, considerate and welcoming. Their thoughtfulness and generosity are humbling and often quite overwhelming.

The hotel at which we lunched in 1997 was the Maharani Bagh Orchard Retreat, a small, tranquil hotel in vast grounds that’s owned by the royal family of Jodhpur and managed by Pintu’s uncle Khuman. I’ve stayed here many times and included information in past blogs (most recently in The first ceremony - of many!), so I won’t wax lyrical here about how much I love this place. I
Bhaver and PentesBhaver and PentesBhaver and Pentes

When anyone arrives at the Maharani Bagh, they're greeted by drum and cymbal played by these two little chaps.
always feel so at home here, enjoying the relaxing environment, birdsong, hundreds of mango trees, rustic charm and cheerful people.

I’m always warmly greeted by Bhaver and Pentes (the boys who bash a drum and cymbal to welcome everyone at the hotel entrance), Ganpath (the nightwatchman, who clicks his heels and salutes me whenever he first sees me), Chattar (the head cook, who taught me how to make masala chai in his kitchen on my last visit), the smartly-dressed waiters whose names I’ve never been able to remember and, of course, the man who's become a dear friend, Khuman.

So it was this time, although Khuman was initially only able to welcome us by telephone as he was many miles away attending a relative’s wedding. We were, however, quickly escorted by the head receptionist to our rooms in adjacent bungalows looking out onto the gardens and the bird-feeding station. Shortly after, I was able to introduce Janice and David to my young friend Pintu, about whom we’d spoken on so many occasions over the years. I think they were as pleased to meet him as he was delighted to meet them.

A walk through the Maharani Bagh’s

Oblivious to a vast flock of sheep, the 'Grey haired nomads' continued bird-watching on our walk through the grounds of the Maharani Bagh.
gardens to its adjoining orchard and woodland followed. It’s one of the delights awaiting visitors. Janice and David were in their element with their powerful binoculars as we wandered for a few hours, spotting a wide variety of unfamiliar birds, only some of which were large enough for me to photograph. We saw a snake too and, fleetingly, a few deer – oh, and were surprised by a flock of sheep (see photo!).

Later, at the home of Pintu’s parents in nearby Sadri, we were greeted in traditional fashion, with flower garlands around our necks and tilaks between our eyes, by his mother Gajendra, his father Ranveer, sister Purnima and his charming but shy wife of almost a year, Rajshree. We enjoyed a special meal prepared and served by the ladies and were given some beautiful gifts specially chosen for us by Pintu; we will all treasure them as a memory of this happy occasion.

The following day, we spent an hour or two at the nearby Jain temples, with their remarkable white marble columns. Despite the number of visitors, there are always quiet corners here, as well as a hundred photo opportunities. Of course, this wasn’t my
Jain Temples, RanakpurJain Temples, RanakpurJain Temples, Ranakpur

With Janice in the background.
first visit to this wedding cake of a temple, but I couldn't resist taking dozens of new pictures.

In the evening, we were all invited to join Khuman at the fire-pit outside his quarters in the hotel’s grounds. Here, beneath a star-studded sky, beside a blazing log fire, we met up with Pintu’s family again. This time, it included Khuman’s youngest son, Shibu, with his wife Devendra, to whose marriage last April I’d been invited, but was unable to attend. We had a very enjoyable evening, with drinks, snacks and lots of chat to start, followed late into the night by chicken and special spicy patties cooked to perfection in the hotel’s kitchen by Shibu and Devendra themselves. We were given some more unexpected gifts too; we’ll have to pack these very carefully to ensure they remain unharmed for the rest of our trip. As I said before, the generosity of this delightful family is out of this world.

Our journey the next day, to the city of Jodhpur, would take us through the small town of Gundoj. This is where Khuman, who is a Thakur (a feudal lord), has his home - in a fort! We stopped
Happy familiesHappy familiesHappy families

Front row l to r: Pintu's mother Gajendra, his wife Rajshree, his sister Purnima, and Janice. Back row l to r: Pintu, his father Ranveer, David, and me.
briefly as I had to acquaint Janice and David with another important member of this charming family: Khuman's wife Sailesh. Introductions over, tour of the fort and tea and biscuits kindly provided, photos taken, we then continued on our way...

Accommodation: Maharani Bagh Orchard Retreat, Ranakpur Well-equipped and very comfortable bungalows full of rustic charm. A spacious bedroom, incorporating a sitting area with refrigerator, and a verandah with chairs and a view of the garden. No wi-fi, just lots of fresh air. Good buffet-style meals in a covered dining area within the gardens. Outstanding service from friendly staff. Pricey but worth every Rupee.

Regular readers will know that you need to scroll down for more photos – and that the panorama at the top of the page is actually part of a slideshow.

For more about our journeys, click on Grey haired nomads to hear what my travelling companions have to say.

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Ganpath the nightwatchman on day duty!Ganpath the nightwatchman on day duty!
Ganpath the nightwatchman on day duty!

At night, he wears a dark uniform and a beret.

Several small flocks of peafowl wander the grounds of the Maharani Bagh.
Red-vented BulbulRed-vented Bulbul
Red-vented Bulbul

On our walk through the grounds of the Maharani Bagh.
White-naped Woodpecker (female)White-naped Woodpecker (female)
White-naped Woodpecker (female)

On our walk through the grounds of the Maharani Bagh.
White-naped Woodpecker (male)White-naped Woodpecker (male)
White-naped Woodpecker (male)

Near our rooms at the Maharani Bagh.
Long-tailed ShrikeLong-tailed Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike

On our walk through the grounds of the Maharani Bagh.

Found on our walk through the Maharani Bagh's grounds. Believed to be a Common Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis tristis). Non-venomous!
Rose-ringed ParakeetsRose-ringed Parakeets
Rose-ringed Parakeets

At the feeding station beside our rooms at the Maharani Bagh.
Palm SquirrelsPalm Squirrels
Palm Squirrels

These cute, fast-moving creatures were not easily photographed, except at the feeding station beside our rooms at the Maharani Bagh.
Jain Temples, RanakpurJain Temples, Ranakpur
Jain Temples, Ranakpur

The front steps
On the way to GundojOn the way to Gundoj
On the way to Gundoj

A typical rural scene on our way from Ranakpur to Gundoj.
Demoiselle CraneDemoiselle Crane
Demoiselle Crane

On the way from Ranakpur to Gundoj
At GundojAt Gundoj
At Gundoj

A friend of the family who helps to maintain the fort at Gundoj.

Khuman's lovely wife Sailesh at their fort in Gundoj.

13th March 2013

Returning Home
What a great connection you have with your Indian family and Rajastan...warms the heart.
13th March 2013

Yes Dave. Pintu has become my 'Indian son'. In one of my blogs I think I said that, thanks to him, I now liken my experience of India to going backstage at a theatre. I see things through Indian eyes, rather than as a tourist, and it really does make a difference.

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