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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 25.135, 73.447
Our explorations continue through palaces, temples, forts, and small villages. Yesterday we took an audio tour of Ranakpur Temple, one of the five holiest sites for people who follow the Jain religion. This is a huge white temple, three stories high, built in the 15th century. It is made all of marble; it has twenty domes and 1,444 carved marble pillars, no two the same. There is a wishing tree just inside the entrance, but both my roommate and I misunderstood what Singhji told us about its location, so we missed the guaranteed chance of having our wishes made under there coming true. (We will try wishing under another tree here; maybe that will work just as well.)
Recently we had lunch in a Bishnoi village with a Bishnoi family. We helped them grind the millet (not very much as it was very hard work turning the grinding wheel), and watched as they made the chappatis in a frying pan over a little cooking fire in their kitchen. Spicy red chutney accompanied the meal, along with an onion and pepper dish. It was quite delicious. The Bishnoi live peaceably in nature; they do not cut down trees, nor eat any non-vegetarian foods. They believe in extending compassion to all living beings. I felt right at home with their principles, but think I would have a hard time smoothing out the mixture of cow dung and sand that they spread by hand to make their courtyards. The surface felt very nice to walk on, however, even barefoot.
Today we visited Kumbhalgarh Fort. First construction began in 1459; it took about fifty years to complete the main part. Kumbhalgarh Fort has the second longest defensive wall after China; it is 35 kilometers long, wide enough--in parts--for four horses to run abreast, and (Singhji says), like China's Great Wall, it can also be seen from outer space. This morning I walked on this wall!
Driving anywhere in India is like a continuous game of chicken. Roads are narrow, many only one thin lane wide, but trucks, busses, cars, motos and tuktuks all come (or go) barreling down the center of the road, horns blaring (Here I come! Watch out and move over!) as blind turns are navigated. Many times on this tour we have had narrow escapes, very close encounters with oncoming vehicles; our driver likes to look at Singhji as either of them talks, so frequently he isn't even paying attention as we speed down the road, but he honks the horn almost constantly. A common joke we have heard about drivers in India is that they need two licenses: one to drive and one for blowing their horns. Add to this mixture stately and self-possessed cows wandering freely, goats either singly or in large groups, getting stuck behind a herd of water buffaloes who are happily just standing in the road, and/or dogs lying right there in front of your car, and you have a picture of driving in India. It is not usually a relaxing experience.
We are staying at Aranyawas Eco-Retreat, an absolutely gorgeous resort that grows all its own organic foods. We are surrounded by forests and hills; langur monkeys roam in packs throughout the area. Our room is large and lovely; we have a separate dressing room that also houses our luggage and other gear, plus the bathroom has the best shower I have taken in all these months of travelling. Our front doors look like the large wooden doors we see on forts, with heavy locks that secure the iron bolts that fasten the two doors together. It's a peaceful setting, with birdsong and a small stream running below us; we also have a deck built of stone with comfortable rattan chairs; this is where I am sitting as I write. My roommate is asleep, so I think I'll go take another luxurious shower.
This afternoon we'll head into the nearby hills and visit Bhil tribe villages; tonight some of the Bhil tribes will come and play their traditional music for us. We will eat and drink and dance. I expect I will be offered my nightly gin and tonic with lime (we are told there is no wine in India), and I'm sure we will be served a delicious array of many choices of Indian foods. And if we're lucky there will be laddu (a wonderful sweet) for dessert. There is always more than enough to eat, and tonight there will also be Bhil tribal music, and a chance to dance. Saint Augustine once wrote, "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." On my travels I keep learning the truth of that ancient wisdom.
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