Saturday, December 8, 2018

Shekhawati - driving and dancing

See the whole Photo gallery here


is in a miasma of dust and pollution. The roads vary from multi-laned highways to one-laned potholed backstreets, and in the 'old cities' tiny laneways that barely fit a rickshaw, let alone a car. Major routes between towns may be just one potholed lane filled with wandering cattle. But the rules remain the same - the largest vehicle rules. Horns are the main instrument of communication: 'I am here, let me through!' Indicators are rarely used, and seat belts generally not operational - it is hardly surprising that India has a poor road safety record. As a pedestrian, one is at the lower end of the pecking order, pedestrian crossings are completely ignored. The method of crossing a large road is similar to what we have found elsewhere, eg in Vietnam: wait until the traffic is mostly composed of motorcycles, then walk into the stream and let them flow around you. But some of them are so aggressive! It's not for the faint-hearted, and on a few occasions we are assisted by sympathetic locals. In the middle of all this are wallahs with handcarts, families on motorcycles (she with trailing sari and babe in arms), young children on bicycles, and a variety of pedestrians - madness!
On the road ...

Delhi to Shekhawati

To save money we organise our own driver to Bagar in the Shekhawati district. He is the son of a driver/guide we met yesterday, but today he has decided on a longer backroad (Google says it is faster) so the price goes up ...
Off we go, 24yo Nazim eager to tell us what a great driver he is, how much he loves driving, and that his father has warned him to 'Go slow! They are seniors!'. He doesn't go very slow, and loves to careen across 6 lanes while checking out Google maps on his phone.
For the first couple of hours getting out of smoggy Delhi, through a hellish landscape of industry and construction rubble, the smoke and dust get worse. Could we please have windows closed and AC on? Oh sorry, no, that will use too much fuel, we haven't paid for that!
As the journey continues, Nazim becomes more and more irritated.
This is longer than he thought! The roads are bad! (it is true, but it was he who selected this route).
The tolls are very expensive! (he argues with each toll collector).
Why do you want to go there? There is nothing there!!
Do we want to stop for lunch, he asks?  No, not really (we would like this drive to be over with!).
Nazim gets even more agitated. It turns out that he has had no breakfast and is starving. But we are happy for you to stop for lunch! No, I can only stop if you are also going to eat.  OK! We will stop and eat!
Finally, only 20 min from our destination we find a restaurant that is 'clean' enough for him. We order a couple of stuffed parathas - they are delicious! Nazim, on the other side of the restaurant, orders a table full of food. When we meet him outside, he is once again agitated - What's the problem now? You didn't pay! But we did pay ... You didn't pay for me!!
We move on and soon, with relief, reach our destination. Nazim is happy to accept our 6000 rp, plus 200 ($4) for his lunch. He is in a much better temper now, and so are we.

Piramal Haveli and front garden
Gold Room at Piramal Haveli
The Piramal Haveli is a gorgeous, early 20th C, crumbly and characterful building, originally a merchant’s house. Now inherited by two brothers, one half is used as accommodation, the other sadly left to crumble. There are two courtyards, large front garden with trees, flowers and lawn; back garden with dust and peacocks. We seem to be the only guests (there are 8 guest rooms). We book for dinner then go for a walk in the largish village - donkeys, camels, sari-clad women peeking from beneath their veils, school kids - everyone smiling and happy to see us, seems we are the only tourists in the village!
Dinner, with strong Kingfisher beer that charming Ajay (assistant manager?) has procured for us, is a delicious veg thali, and we are comprehensively stuffed.

We are here for a rest after a tiring four days in Delhi, so morning walk after a large (yummy!) breakfast, skip lunch, afternoon walk to local temple - a new construction on a large rubble-filled ground, not so attractive, but the sunset colours are lovely and so are the local people. Can’t for the life of us work out where to buy beer, but we do find some cold juice for our vodka cocktails on the porch. Ajay is cooking tonight, and the food is even better! Baby eggplant curry, and a green bean curry are wonderful.

Friendly locals in Bagar village
Ajay serving breakfast in the main courtyard
For our final day we hire a driver for a tour of the region - to Jhunjhunu, Nawalgarh and Dundlod for various temples and havelis. At the Rani Sati temple in Jhunjhunu (controversial, as it celebrates an act of Sati, or widow-burning) we are invited by a teenage girl to accompany her middle-class family from Mumbai. Here on their holidays they can see we are out of our depth! The main temple is spectacular, and kitsch, as only a Hindu temple can be - and there is beautiful puja (ceremony) happening involving fingerpainting with henna and water before the main shrine. But no photos :( Then to Modi Haveli, which we find after walking up and down the marketplace a couple of times. There are painted walls everywhere! But only a few of the dozens (hundreds?) of old painted havelis are open to enter.

Next is Dundlod, a village near Nawalgarh, where we visit the dusty old fort. Just a few rooms open and it’s as if they haven’t changed (or been dusted) since the family moved out a few decades ago - the spooky sense of a habitat left almost undisturbed. They have no change for our 100rp note (a common plight in India!). Nearby, the Satanaryan temple, around a century old, it is also dusty and somewhat decrepit, and we wake the temple guardian from his nap. Showing us around takes two minutes, it is tiny, and I offer him a 100rp note for his trouble. But it is torn and he can’t accept it! (another common plight), so I replace with a new one. Then - Goenka Haveli, quite impressive, and the guide is a dab hand at taking photos. He gets another 100rp note. Finally Nawalgarh, and the Havelis here are really amazing, as they are not only very intact, but also set up as museums to assist in understanding the history and lifestyles of these families. Morarka Haveli Museum, and Podar Haveli Museum are the ‘must-do’ locations in this area, the second in particular is amazingly restored, has a fabulous guide, and multiple museum rooms of more or less interest - silverware, ceramics, marble sculpture, regional wedding garb, regional painting styles, models of forts and palaces … and much, much more. We cannot see it all, but leave feeling very satisfied.

Sacred kitsch at Rani Sati Temple
Spectacular Poddar Haveli, Nawalgarh
Back at Bagar, Raju, the PH manager, says that there’s a festival tonight at the new temple, so we go for a walk. When we arrive the Bollywood Disco Van (that we have heard around the streets on other evenings) is in full swing with women dancing around. They immediately grab me and drag me in to dance. It’s fun! Until I look around and see that I am the centre of a large circle of people with phones out, recording my performance! OMG. I am dragged here and there for dances and selfies until I manage to drag myself away - let’s get outta here!
I decide that Hindu is probably, at least superficially, the most fun religion - they love to sing and dance, and the temples are all decorated as if for Christmas!

Checking out in the morning we tell Raju that we visited the temple. ‘Yes, I already heard that you were dancing!’ he says. ‘That’s why I have to leave town now’, I lament. Ajay chuckles.

Dancing at the temple, Bagar
Chris and friends, Bagar village

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