ROMANTIC RAJASTHAN - Travels in INDIA
Bagwan means god in Hindi. He drives like a god too, and miracles come to mind when the road appears to be one car wide, and coming towards you is a herd of goats, two men pushing banana carts, three women in orange saris balancing water urns on their heads, and one large truck. Somehow the road expanded to allow passing, and we sink into the back seat of our Ambassador, pleased that the top speed is a leisurely 70 km/h.
Rajasthan is desert country. Silver sage, Cerulean blue skies and ochre sand are the dominant colours. But these are punctuated by explosions of pure colour. Dashing men sporting handle bar moustaches, wear turbans in yellow, pink and red. Women float along in their lime green, purple or orange saris.
Rajasthan is camel country. Nomads herd these odd beasts from watering hole to market to fair. We see them loping single file along the side of the road, herding the gangly young ones, or perched precariously behind the one hump swaying with the beast's ungainly gait.
We stay in Haveli's - small architectural delights built by the flourishing business class when the Maharajas reigned the land and traded on the silk route.
Our destination is Jaisalmer, a fairytale fortress town on the full desert. From a distance it looks just like the sandcastles we built as children. There are forts at every stop in this part of India with fabulous carved gates big enough for the elephants to enter. They carried Royal families then, but now they carry tourists like us. While it is desert outside the walls, inside there are flowering trees and chattering green parrots. We visit Jain temples with lace marble domes that are symphonies in stone. On a busy street in Jaipur, we are staggered to see a Jain priest walking along in the crowd wearing a string purse around his shoulder, and nothing else. No one seemed to notice.
And then fabled Udaipur, where we stay at the Jagat Niwas on the lake overlooking the Lake Palace Hotel and watch the sun's orange ball sink beyond the hills. Pink light deepens to plum. I was here 18 years ago and then I remembered the sunset in Udaipur as the most beautiful I have ever seen. It still is. At dusk, the monkeys swing down from the temple to the Bhodi tree by our room where they curl in their young and settle down for the night as the light fades from plum to black velvet.
For a change of pace, we drive off to Ranthambhore to experience jungle in this national park and to look for tigers. We were lucky to see three, a mother strolling with her two cubs.
Back in Delhi, we stay one night before returning to Kathmandu. It's only an hour's flight. We find it hard to say goodbye to Bagwan at the airport and promise to return soon. Rajasthan has worked its magic on us. There's so much more to see and do next time.