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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 20.5937, 78.9629
I have travelled back in time to the 14 and 1500s. Now we are in a place most visitors to India never come, to the hinterlands of Rajasthan. This time we are staying at Bhadrajun Palace, a 16th century palace as personal guests of the Raja who also lives here with his family; his is the 16th generation to do so. Except for the addition of electricity and running water, this beautiful ancient palace remains much like it was for centuries. Few guests have been lucky enough to stay here, but if that changes, so will the village below. Now we, white Westerners, are unique, an oddity. When we walk through the village the children not only ask, "One for two!" (one photo), but also want to hold our hands, to touch us; I take their photographs and gladly shake their hands or touch palm to palm; I am reaching across continents and centuries to greet fellow travelers on this Earth. It is a delight and an honor to make such contact. I wish I had things to give them, but my gift is an honest smile, and an enthusiastic continuously saying hello.
Last night when falling asleep in this very dark place, I could hear: feet pattering below our windows, distant bells ringing, dogs and jackals howling, dancing and drumming on one of the upper courtyards, the palace gates occasionally opening and closing, owls screeching, and the snuffling of horses. The young moon had almost set by the time I pulled the rough, wooden doors to our room shut and slid the wooden bar across to fasten the doors from the inside; sturdy centuries old technology still works very well today. This morning the birds are calling, mosquitos are bothering, horses are still neighing, and a cow is walking slowly by under our windows. The sun is just rising from behind a mountain; it is not the red sun of Cambodia, but the same sun I know well from home. It is cool outside now, but the day promises to become hot.
Yesterday, on our way to Bhadrajun, we stopped in Jodhpur. I have to go back to Jodhpur! We visited Fort Mehrangarh, a magnificent fort first built in 1459 high atop hills overlooking the vast blue city. We didn't have nearly enough time to admire and explore the fort; I especially want to go back to study the 300 year old paintings that look as if they were painted yesterday. I could have spent hours, a week or a month maybe, in that fort and museum, looking and studying and absorbing everything that is contained in Fort Mehrangarh, the Citadel of the Sun. It is a treasure trove of history, its secrets available to anyone who will take the time to linger and learn.
There are many other rooms in this fort where I'd also like to spend more time. There is a room of mirrors that had been used as a hall for dancing. The mirrored walls and ceiling reflected candlelight; I can only imagine how romantic and lovely it would have been to dance there! Many bedrooms have colorful mirrored glass balls hanging from the ceiling; these balls also reflected candlelight. Several rooms, including ours, have more modern stained glass panels made from Belgian glass inserted in the early 19th century; through these windows splashes of rainbow colors fill the rooms.
This morning, after visiting two temples, one Hindu and one Jain, we went back to the market to buy sweets and pens to give out at a local school. Boys in the tenth class (grade) were sitting in rows on the ground spread far away from each other; they were taking their exams. But we also visited several classes of younger children, 4s and 5s together, 6 to 8 year olds, 9 to 11s, and 12 to 14s, all in groups of at least 50+ in a class, the youngest ones sitting in rows on the floor, and the older students sharing long row desks. They recited for us, and then we gave them each a piece of mango candy, one by one by one. I looked each child in his or her eyes; some knew enough English to say thank you. I fear I was a terrible distraction for the children; I smiled and talked to each one, and waved when we were leaving; they waved back and stood up or stuck their hands outside the fabric walls separating their classrooms, calling "Hello!" or "Good-bye!", either or both, or sometimes "What is your name?", not remembering exactly what that means. A school is a school, no matter if the children are sitting on the desert sand or chanting poems for astonishingly strange visiting foreigners who bring them candy. They are learning the mores and myths of their personal culture, and I feel very lucky to be allowed a glimpse of that.
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