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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 20.5937, 78.9629
Yesterday evening we had the pleasure of the Raja's joining us as we headed out into the desert in a 1945 WWII jeep to watch the sunset. The driver and the Raja sat up front, so we slid into the sideways benches behind them. The ride through the desert was not comfortable, but that could have been the rough, mostly unpaved roads or the lack of (or bad) shocks on the old jeep, or a combination of both. But the air buffeting us was lovely; the temperature perfect for an evening ride in the desert.
The Raja is a very pleasant man. He greets all guests who come to stay at his palace residence and makes sure they are comfortable and well fed during their visit. He has only been Raja for two years, as his father was the Raja before him, and died suddenly two years ago. He is very well respected in this part of India; as we were driving last night almost every adult who saw him offered a bow of respect. (The children did not, but they shouted "Hello!" to us and ran after the jeep, trying to touch our hands. Many times they were successful.) I wasn't sure what to expect when meeting a Raja, but he seemed a very down-to-earth, serious middle-aged man; he does carry a lot of responsibility, basically for mediating disputes, fairly, according to customs here. He wore a red and orange turban, but the rest of his clothes were decidedly western: striped button down shirt like business men wear; plain, everyday nice pants; a vest in case the evening turned chilly; and (ta da!) running shoes. Except for the turban he looked very Western.
After stopping at a village along the way and visiting a shepherd's house, we finally came to a halt. How the driver knew exactly where to stop is a mystery, as one turn in the vast desert looks just like all the rest, but yes, this was the hill we were to climb up to sit and watch the sunset. Even though it was all sand we wore shoes (Tevas for me, about as much of a shoe as I ever wear when it's warm) because little thorn bushes poked up along the ground. Much larger thorn bushes grew up higher, but we successfully slid our way to the sandy top without getting impaled. After shaking out our shoes, we sat down in the sand and looked out over this beautiful Bhadrajun Desert to the mountains beyond. Deserts have their own beauty, stark but mutedly colorful. We could see for miles, and hear motos and cars approaching from very far away.
The driver, who is also the Raja's bodyguard, poured tea for everyone, and offered snacks as well. A pleasant, small picnic in the desert as we watched the sun sink lower and lower, and then quickly disappear behind the mountains. "Shall we go?" said the Raja. Slip-sliding back down the sand dune, we climbed back into the jeep and drove to another Hindu temple, this one over 3000 years old, where we witnessed their aarti ceremony. This is a ritual combining blessings by fire and water, accompanied by loud drumming and the ringing of many bells. It went on for longer than I expected; I was surprised that we were included in the fire blessing as well, but we were. We also had new bindis traced on our foreheads between our eyes.
After the ceremony we made an offering of 100 rupees to the head priest, about $2 American. The priest seemed very happy with this and gave me an extra blessing. (Now I have been blessed by the Pope, the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist monk in a temple on top of a mountain in Chiang Mai in Thailand, a Bishnoi elder, and the head priest of a 3000 year old Hindu temple in India.) It was full dark when we left; good flashlights were needed as we headed back down all the crumbling stairs leading to the temple. On our way back to the Raja's palace hotel we stopped to look at the stars. I pointed out a few constellations visible even with the waxing moon: Orion, Big Dog, Sirius, the Big Dipper, and Polaris, the North Star. It was a beautiful night, but not quite as clear as many nights we have in rural Maine.
The Raja joined us for a late dinner. We chatted about our families, our children, our work, the places we lived, the places we have travelled. It was very pleasant, dining with a Raja at his palace home. I hope he will join us again this evening. (He did.)
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