Rajastan my love! I again recognize you!
Entering Rajastan is the beginning of bad roads. Every new province seems to introduce itself by a difference in their tarmac, an indication perhaps that there are more important subjects for a province than a road. Maybe it is to fence off newcomers, to chase them away, to make the entering difficult. Like a sickly mixture of liquid you order, even worse, you start to like those funky coloured drinks. Perhaps potholed, disguised roads are just a layer of what’s underneath the province they are laid upon. My bottom is in pain, the hard leather Brooks saddle not too comfortable anymore and often I have to stop and get off the bicycle to let the burning sore patches between my legs get some rest.
I am uplifted by the fact that I have reached Rajastan, and even tough I am just in the far most corner of the province I know it’s going to be good, as Rajastan is bordering Pakistan, like Gujarat, and perhaps therefor one of my favorite provinces. The fact that I have reached so far into India makes me happy too. I was expecting never to make it in time to Delhi, but it turns out I make it easily, and I am able to detour a little, and rest a lot.
Boldness or determination in facing great danger
That brings me to Chittorgarh. ‘City of Valour’ says the map. When I search the word ‘valour’ I decide to go there, as it suits me, this word. A huge fort arises from afar, one of the biggest in Asia. Yet, entering this city is not beautiful, there’s a lot of wind and the temperature is 48 degrees. By entering a room in a hotel without windows I drape my turban in the door opening so that the inside temperature won’t go over a 36 degrees. In the night time when the electricity falls out, I awake bathing in sweat, even my ears are drenched, and the bedding and sheets are soaked too. Overcome with sleep I stumble to the roof where I finally get some cool air. Fifteen minutes later the lodge owner comes and tells me the electricity has come back…
As if I am not often getting in the outside world, I set off to the fort without protecting myself against the sun. Red as a lobster I return, my feet, the back side below my neck and my head are red as the pinky nails of the Indian men. Not only red I return, in full amazement too: India keeps having this magic, this unexpected turn of the day where I am often just standing still like a monument, to watch in wonderment. This is India! I am fully in love with her!
White horses with a silvery lilac glow, more adorned with beauty than MyLittlePony’s are elegantly toddling up the fort, mostly to entertain sturdy Indian guys. Guys who fearfully have their photo made standing with each trembling leg on a separate horse, an old hunting rifle pointed in the air. Young men all wear a tiny dot in their earlobes while older men have precious golden earrings, outfitted with a huge mustache. These Rajastani men are tall and slender with a proud expression. The women are dressed fully traditional, even the young ones and I watch them as if they are a painting: noble noses, straight upright backbone, long legs under a long wide skirt, sharp jaw bones. These young women are beauties, ready to reproduce. Do their young husbands realize how a beauty they posses? Young fully traditional Rajastani, the fort is flooded with pilgrims, praying for something, offering puja for the Gods, and to me when they see me entering the temple. My diet is completed with coconut and pure ghee.
Strolling through this huge fort, a lot of questions come up, some are answered by a young but middle aged, fat looking businessman. ‘How must life have been to the people living here’ is always popping up in my mind when I wade through forts. A feeling I want to explore, and so I keep walking through the vastness on this ridge. For once it is quiet most of the time, I am often alone. Smells of flowers are overwhelming to such an extent that I stop in my track and glare slowly around me to see who’s spraying magic perfume around. I enjoy the cheeky squirrels, the bird-life and spontaneous contact of the people: ‘I am in doubt, what is your age?’ Another man cheerfully calls out ‘gooooood morrningg’ while it is 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Often I smile. Or, rarely there’s no smile engraved on my face. Another slightly troubled man sneakily whispers ‘I like you’ and hastily follows me without obviously haste, just to be close to me, to continue with ‘I love you’, and to undress himself fully at the contaminated waterlily pond. It is innocent. The man is disturbed. Someone who don’t speak English calls out to me ‘I love you’ and I think how typical it is we like to hear those words from the one we’re in love with, and here -and in USA- we hear them just like that! I smile again. I smile at how people are, at how people do and react of how they say something. The variation of people, and be able to stop walking and watch those people, soak them in, see them. Realize where I am, or just lóók at them, because you can do that in India. You can stop and stand, and look at something you like, even if that is a human being.
I feel understood when a newspaper-reporter shows his photos in which he try to portray the heat, his mission of today. I feel proud when I realize I can stand the heat way better than most middle-class Indians who are panting, sweating and whining. I feel embarrassed when everybody in a temple follows me, whispers of ‘Anglez’ coming from all corners and crevices. Long slim fingers pointing at me ‘see, an Anglez’, faces all turned to me, people streaming my direction. I feel happy when I see dogs together with water-buffalo’s in a pool. I feel endangered when those buffalo’s come waking slightly faster my direction. I feel honored by dogs mauled by humans who trust me and come to me to be touched. I am touched by the people their authentic products and the trust they have in it. I feel good to see that people still use antiquities originated from the fort. Guys come running wildly at me ‘Madam, where are you from?’ ‘Ah, Doljhand, Doljhand, Doljhand’ is screamed to his friend, as if they know very well where Doljhand is on the map of India. I smile. And I keep smiling.
The detour I have made coming here and now going fully eastwards for 170 kilometer is over a fat red caterpillar line on the map. It turns out to be one of the most quiet highways in India, way more quiet than most yellow, minor, roads in Mahdya Pradesh. From Chittogarh via Menal to Bundi is through a dry forest again. There are no lodges and no manned police stations, but a resort. I get a super -natural- cool 30 degrees room for one third of the price and am knocked out in a 13 hours sleep after an enormous delicious meal.
I pass granite mines and houses built up from tiny slices of granite left-overs. Those houses are artfully and precisely made. I wonder what would happen when I park my bicycle against it? Stone factories have fully working villages build around it, hairdressers operate on a heap of stones, people living in tents are watched quasi envious by me, while two neatly dressed sadhus walk past, asking for donations. I notice the unmarried Rajastani women are more open and spontaneous, and it seems I am passing only nomadic tribes or low class caste. Rajastani are still on the move with their camels, walking enormous distances with all they possess, dogs placed on top of camels. I could be one of them…
The Nature finally is able to catch me, it’s wideness, spaciousness and openness are completely quiet. It is silent at last! I am fully in awe, watch the silence with an almost forgotten observance. Passing through yet more abundance of flashy green agriculture where people are tending their fields precisely, I reach Bundi for the third time. The last 50 kilometers towards Bundi are on a terrible potholed, bumpy road. Past big stinking factories, smelly creeks full with poisonous looking drab and not so logic diversions.
With entering Bundi through a huge wooden arch, through a bustling bazaar and cycling between washed blue houses, I am back. Back in the same haveli, old traditional house with fresco’s on the walls, inside and outside. Bundi is on everyone’s itinerary but being it in the middle of the summer it is quiet. Being here on a bicycle change the whole scenery, never had I seen the fort in this full frame which only a bicycle allows. Since cycling my view on things has definitely changed: what I see now is one of the most beautiful forts ever! But I am not able to enjoy it for the first few days, I need to recover from terrible bad nights sleep where I can not recuperate from the tiredness and heat in the day. It’s about 50 degrees in daytime and just below 40 at nighttime. Most people sit in front of their watercoolers and who does come out does so between 6 and 10 in the morning, except me, of course…
Madam: ‘You are a bold woman, no fear!’
Me: ‘But it is not dangerous, and I don’t camp’
Madam: ‘No, camping is dangerous indeed, all those mosquito’s!’
The room I get to sleep in I get for a big discount, it is the same as a few years ago. ‘Are you sure you want this room,’ says the granddaughter, ‘it is very hot inside.’ The owners are still the same too, two old, bended Rajastani from a wealthy background. Their haveli was the house of a minister and so big that it takes the space of one third of the wall enclosing the big pond it is facing. The garden is still the same too, a wilderness of tropical trees with monkeys coming to eat the fresh young leafs. A few years back I sat outside to read, now it is too hot to sit outside. Each time the clock tells me it is 6 I hurry back to see the monkeys come to eat while the baby’s show their acrobatic accomplishments with an expression so strong I get a personal Animal Planet-show for free. The sound of patting foot-soles on hot marble slaps when the elderly monkeys jump past me make me feel I am right in a jungle and my loud laughing’s only get louder when I see the expression of grown-up monkeys jump wrongly.
For quite many years there is tourism here yet the people are old fashioned kind, good-natured, authentic. A homeless schizophrenic guy dressed in a synthetic blanket looks skittish to me and ask for chai. People around the chai-stall says to me he’s crazy ‘don’t give him chai’. Each evening father and son come with a cart of snacks -bhelpuri- wrapped in a dried leaves. Monkey-shit marks the iron gate latch. The evening falls with many cricket sounds and the sway of leaves. Wet cloths hung above the door opening and drapped on my body at night.
Although it is hot, by doing things slowly and by not wanting to see or do too much in a day, I manage. The locals are doing just the same, they do things before 8 o’clock and after 4 they’ll become active again. When I walk to the fort at 3 o’clock I get comments of hip young men hanging around who tell me it is too hot to do things. When I want to buy a ticket for the fort, I need to wake up the ticket salesman, who is a bit worried: ‘Do you have enough water with you? It is really a lot of walking! Are you sure you can do it?’ After cycling about 3000 kilometer in this heat, I have a slight faith I can: ‘But if I am not back at 7 than perhaps you should check whether I am still alive’ and I set off beyond the cracked wooden doors half hanging on their hinges. The palace I have seen at least 3 times, now I am off to the fort all the way up.
What is awaiting me is the total opposite of what I saw in Chittorgarh. Even more so, I come back twice to soak in the silence, the beauty of a slow collapsing fort on top of a hill. I enjoy the quietness and being surrounded by squirrels and monkeys, I have palaces for my own to wander through. I can do what ever I want. I can imagine I lived here, and I go through all the buildings still standing, I can stand on my head if I wanted so, and standing on each and every out-look to see what is ahead of me. I dream and I am far removed from the daily tiredness of heat and bad sleep. I am child in a real fort!