Editor’s note: You may have heard the saying ‘the journey is the destination’, but some travellers actually put that philosophy into practice. Presenting, #FTravellers — on-the-road (or air/sea) dispatches from travel enthusiasts on long journeys.
The travellers we're now featuring are Ambika Vishwanath and Hoshner Reporter of The reDiscovery Project. Ambika and Hoshner are doing an in-depth journey through Rajasthan, and will be sharing their travel journals on Firstpost.
Text by Ambika Vishwanath | Photos by Hoshner Reporter
We stood outside the large carved wooden door trying to locate a bell. There was none, and the tiny knocker was no match for the thickness of the door. We couldn’t connect with the person who was hopefully somewhere beyond the other side of the door and the narrow gully was empty. Where were the usual chatty kids when you need them? ‘Should we head back to the main road and then call?’ asked Hoshner as we stared at the door, willing it to open.
And then it did, revealing behind a lovely young lady wearing a crisp white Kerala style sari and a big welcoming smile. Relieved that the homestay was real, we walked with Parvati past a somewhat dim corridor into an open-to-sky courtyard filled with flowers and greenery and onto our room. The old haveli located in the ancient village of Chittor, from which the famous Chittorghar fort gets its name, had low doorways, common to these parts, two courtyards and comfortable modern rooms done up in local sandstone and granite. Aptly named Padmini Haveli, the ancestral family home was owned by Parvati and her husband Sudhir and the only place to stay within the walls of the 7th-century Chittor Fort, which we were excited to explore. We settled in, looking forward to some homemade Rajasthani delicacies and being at ‘home’ for a couple of days. Dinner was winter mustard greens with loads of garlic, hot corn rotis, black gram dal, rice, homemade pickles and papad. Stuffed, we slept well, snuggled under our colourful red blankets.
The next day brought hot parathas for breakfast before we decided to explore the village, a tiny one with about a hundred homes, that once housed the people who would supply all necessary goods and services to the palace. Today it is a little forlorn, many houses lie empty. In the afternoon we set off to explore the fort with Parvati, an experienced guide who is also fluent in French, chatting about history, the changes in Rajasthani society, the influence of Jainism in the architecture and the controversy surrounding the recent Bollywood hit Padmavati. Traditional, modern and pragmatic, Parvati embodies the outlook of many people in smaller towns who understand the old ways and caste system that still dictates many aspects of their lives, but also see the value in change which is from within and sometimes struggle to find a balance. It was an enlightening conversation as we explored the massive fort, the 15th-century victory tower constructed to commemorate the Mewar King Rana Kumbha’s victory over Malwa and Gujarat, many temples and palace ruins and even the spot where Jauhar would have once taken place. A controversial subject, the old ritual saw royal women burning themselves alive rather than being captured by invading forces. Macabre, though many hail it as courageous.
After a couple of days of life in Chittor with Parvati, Sudhir and their wonderful family, we headed west crossing the Aravallis into the Marwar region, once the largest Rajput state. Contrary to popular belief, Rajasthan isn’t all just desert. The eastern part, sheltered by the Aravali range, believed to be the oldest hills in the world, is green with thick forest cover in parts. As you cross over into the western part it becomes a shrub desert, before turning into the famous sand dunes of the Thar. At the foothills of the Aravallis, we headed to the tiny village of Padampura, not easily found on the map, to spend a few days at the farm of a landed Rajput family. Surrounded by green fields of wheat, mustard, corn, millet, quinoa, ginger and seasonal vegetables, along with 12 horses, cows, buffaloes, assorted birds and a beautiful Alsatian, it was an authentic farm experience in the heart of Rajasthan. Once landed gentry only two steps away from the Jodhpur royalty, the family, like many across the country lost land and a certain level of prestige after independence and have found new means of income. One is leading amazing horse safaris across the state that last a week or ten days, as well as hosting travelers like us as a means to bridge cultures and create a greater understanding of Rajput life in collaboration with Culture Aangan, a boutique travel company striving to marry culture and conservation with rural tourism experiences around India. The farm is now run by two brothers, Pushpendra and Yogendra, both incredibly intelligent and aware, humble about their ancestry yet with the unmistakable Rajput pride. With his well-kept moustache and leather boots, Pushpendra rather looks the part as well!
Our few days at the farm, exploring the village of Padampura, hanging out with the Rabaris, the famous red-turbaned pastoral community that walk hundreds of kilometres every year in search of pastures for their herds, riding magnificent Marwari horses, understanding the changes that modernity and the internet have brought and gorging on the farm fresh food, was one of our best experiences. The mother of the house, possibly one of the best cooks I have come across, was constantly feeding us Rajasthani delicacies from Bathua leaves, the famed Laal Maans and Dal Batti to Haldi Sabzi, a vegetable dish made of fresh turmeric, with hot fresh rotis, all smothered in oodles of homemade ghee and love. The food was sublime and we ate plenty at every meal, accompanied by cool clear winter air, long walks around the farm and conversations with the family.
Evenings saw various local artists perform for us and the village, that would gather at the farm giving us a further insight into the different music of the region, almost always accompanied by a large dhol and ending in dancing. The Nath community, which usually sings at the run-up to Holi, consists mostly of women who sing and play various instruments, with more than a few drinks under their belt, while the village boys and men danced, and it was a night filled with much laughter and revelry.
Life in the village here is different from some of the others we have experienced around the country. There is a certain ‘rustic-ness’ in life here in Rajasthan, far removed from the bustling tourist hubs of Udaipur and Jodhpur, that offers a different insight into the state and these proud people. An insight that is far removed from the violent histories of the Rajput rulers yet influenced by these centres of power. After Padampura, we head to an even tinier village in the heart of the Bishnoi community, known for their commitment to saving animals and trees, but that’s a story for another day and another dispatch.
Read more from the series here.
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Updated Date: Mar 20, 2019 20:58:12 IST