Sunday, December 23, 2018

Ghanerao and beyond ...

At last we are in Ghanerao - and the Royal Castle is not quite as ‘royal’ as I anticipated, but is quaint and charmingly ramshackle. After being shown a large but slightly gloomy room, we select a tiny eyrie on the top floor - small bedroom, gigantic bathroom, and multiple views and terraces among the birds.  After relatively busy Jodhpur, we are looking forward to another good chill-out, punctuated by village walks. But on the first evening - pomegranate cocktails on the terrace, and another multi-dish dinner that does us in.
On the terrace, Ghanerao Royal Castle
Our huge bathroom!
Our tiny eyrie
Sitting area, Ghanerao Royal Castle
Ghanerao is a sizeable and relatively well-to-do looking village, and there are some historical structures that we would like to check out, including step-wells and a cemetery with cenotaphs in the form of chaatri. First, I have to seek out a small shoe stall that we spotted while driving through the village. It is being run by two young girls, who have no English, but finally manage to tell me that a pair of slippers will be 700rp ($14). I assume this is tourist price, but it seems reasonable. The slippers are stiff, embroidered but slightly smelly camel leather. The girls pull down almost every pair, but it’s difficult to find ones that fit! Especially as they are designed without left and right foot - the idea is that they will wear to the shape of your feet. A crowd gathers, and there is a good laugh every time I try a new pair. Finally I do purchase some, and decide that even if they never do quite wear in, it is worth it for the shopping experience.

We wander on and find a quite impressive step-well,  very depleted of water. It seems that these are not generally now in use, although it may be different after the monsoon. We see most water collected from street pumps, and we gather much of this is artesian (certainly the water in Ghanerao is the hardest we have encountered - I don’t dare to wash my hair!). Rajasthan has had a very poor monsoon this year and most places are in serious drought - Chris still has a cough from Diwali in Delhi, exacerbated by the dust everywhere. But Ghanerao no longer feels like desert country - it is surrounded by hills and jungle, and things seem a little damper and greener.

We have been told that today is a Muslim festival day, and we have seen decorations along some of the main street. At one spot that is beautifully decorated with hanging marigold garlands, a cow casually munches on the flowers. A woman emerges beating with a stick and yelling. ‘Get out, you mangy beast!’, or something of the sort. Muslims, we guess, don’t have to be nice to the holy cows. As we walk on we hear loud music approaching - it’s a parade! Men come first, then the reigning dignitaries on decorated vehicles, followed by women and children, all dressed in their finest, and some of the girls plastered in make-up. It’s colourful, lively and VERY loud.

Buying slippers, Ghanerao
Muslim festival, Ghanerao
Muslim festival, Ghanerao
Ghanerao has some upmarket neighbourhoods, but no shortage of crumbling old houses, wall paintings, doors and gates. The whole place is a palimpsest, and we happily wander taking photos and videos, and stopping for the occasional ’selfie’ with locals (their selfie, not ours).

At sunset, for atmosphere, and coolness, the chaatri park, which is weedy, neglected and atmospheric.
After the usual cocktails and dinner in the gorgeous dining pavilion (the set menu dinner is, as it has been in other heritage stays, fresh, authentic and delicious), we are ready as usual for an early night. But Ghanerao has a plethora of temples which seem to vie with each other for the loudest (amplified) devotional music each evening. For a little village it’s a noisy place! We have to keep the windows closed in order to sleep.

On the final day, an interesting walk with manager Kamal through a nearby tribal farming village where we visit farming families, and the school. He tells us on the way about his own background - educated village boy, went to university, has worked in upmarket hotels, but is in Ghanerao because it’s close to his home village. He doesn’t like working with the non-professional staff there! We think we know who he is talking about. It’s fascinating, but feels voyeuristic, to be traipsing around through homes in this village, so we take few photos and videos. People are very welcoming, but it does feel intrusive. Kamal waxes long about the clean and lovely lifestyle here, but we see quite extreme poverty and very hard work. We are told that no payment is made to the villagers for their hospitality, so we make a donation of exercise books and pencils to the village school, to appease our conscience.
Crumbling old wall - palimpsest
Ghanerao girls

Cenotaphs, Ghanerao
Tribal village farmer with garden

Her kitchen - mud floor, grinding stone, clay stove

The scenic route ...

The drive to Udaipur is with our Ghanerao driver Tara, via Ranakpur and Kumbhalgarh. On the map it is just a hop and skip between these places, by road, as usual, a different story: it will be an all day drive. It's a mountainous area and the route is circuitous and very picturesque, so different from the flat desert landscape in northern Rajasthan.

Ranakpur has an important Jain Temple, reportedly one of the richest in India, and it is certainly an impressive carved white marble edifice that looks like it’s made of icing sugar for a wedding of giants. As soon as we arrive, and I am overwhelmed by the sheer amount of marble carving, I realise I’ve actually been here before! My previous six-day trip to Rajasthan was so packed I had forgotten about this stop. There is constant pilgrimage to this very active temple, in the morning it is open only to pilgrims, and this afternoon it is busy with tour groups, including many westerners. But on our way out, we visit the ‘old temple’ in the complex, and there is ceremony happening there too, with not a tourist in site. The bevy of pilgrims who emerge after the ceremony are happy to be videoed and insist we join in their group photos. God these people are friendly!

Chris in Jain temple - like marble wedding cake
Friendly pilgrims at Ranakpur

Kumbhalgarh Fort is extolled by LP as ‘fantastic and remote’, but it is bustling with Indian family groups, and the whole area is in a state of development of large hotels and resorts. Tara explains that it is very popular with middle-class Gujarati families and businessmen, as it is not far away and they can drink alcohol - hadn’t realised that Gujarat is a ‘dry’ state. I love to see that these historical sites are so popular with indigenous tourists, but at the ticket box it’s clear why - entry is 40RP (80c) for locals, 600RP ($12) for foreigners.

At the Fort, I am in trouble - Chris does not appreciate the steep climb to the top. It’s mostly pretty rustic, and is certainly atmospheric with some great vantage points for views over the countryside, and has a fascinating history, although there is not much on-site information. There are dozens of temples, dating from 2nd C BC, in the Fort enclosure (the external wall of which is exceeded in length only by the Great Wall of China), but just a few are visible in the immediate grounds. Walking to the top and back again, we are constantly accosted by tourist seeking selfies. While it feels friendly to accede, I finally have to say no, it’s just too much! This would be a nice place to visit early in the morning, with time to spare for exploration.

In Udaipur at last, right on sunset, and it’s the usual gridlock in the old city. Don’t worry, we tell Tara, we’ll walk from here - but even that is a challenge with our wheelie bags!

Mountain scenery 
View from Kumbahalgarh

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