Leaving Jaipur by bus, we travelled north-west to a region within Rajasthan called Shekhawati, and more specifically to a town called Nawalgarh.
The bus took three and a hailf hours, stopping in a few places to let people on and off. At a big place, we checked to make sure the bus was turning off to Nawalgarh, and a lovely lady helped us and told us it was. For the next hour she chatted to us about how she has been working in Mumbai, but is travelling back to her hometown to get married. I didn’t feel it was any of my business to ask whether or not she knew her husband-to-be, though mostly here they have met only three or four times before the big day itself. Interestingly, arranged marriages are much more successful in the long term than love matches seem to be.
On arrival in Nawalgarh we struggled to find a tuktuk. A few drove past us without anyone in them – a complete change from Delhi and Jaipur where you have to fight off tuktuk drivers looking for jobs! Eventually we found one and headed up to out accommodation.
Apani Dhani (means my home in the local dialect) Eco lodge is really lovely, peaceful and a great respite from the past week of cities. You enter through an arch into a courtyard with a circular thatched hut in the middle with chairs for relaxing. Around the courtyard are little huts, made from brick and earth and painted a terracotta type colour with mandalas in the wall. The roofs are thatched with pampas grass, apparently widely used in India for thatching, furniture making and many other things. The huts and central living area are surrounded by bright pink flowering trees (bougainvilleas) which are filled with little birds which are sweet in the day and hellishly noisy at night!!
We only had one complete day there which was one of the best days of this trip yet.
Rising out of our beds early in morning, just after sunrise, we had a light breakfast and waiting for the word. When we were told, we went to the gate for our ride. Our ride on a CAMEL CART!!
My Dad gave my foot a push up on to the cart, which had some cushions on it to make it a bit more comfy, then hopped up himself. There were two men with the camel, one was the camel man and the other a guide and the son of our host at the lodge. He told us that the camel was an eight year old girl and works pulling carts more than working in the fields as tractors are become more common in these rural parts.
We were taken through some villages, across common grazing grounds for caravans of camels travelling down from Afghanistan and on the Silk Road, and down small country lanes. We saw and learnt about the crops growing in the fields, local wildlife, and birds in India. I’m not usually a bird fan, but the birds here are really pretty and colourful so I took some photos of them. We also saw nilgai, the largest type of Asian antelope. We saw the male and female ones separately because the herds don’t mix.
We visited a brick works at the side of a farm and learnt about how the farmer makes bricks and sells them at the market. First, he puts the clay into a mould, the. Leaves them to dry in the sun for a month. Once the bricks are dry he makes a pyramid with four bricks and puts cold and wood underneath. He then makes a very thin layer of coal and sticks on top and puts more bricks, and so on until he has a dome about four metres high, leaving some small holes to light the fire in. The fire burns between each layer of bricks and gets very hot, creating a kiln like effect. The fire burns for 15 days to which the bricks are then cold, hard and strong. He sells them for 4 rupees each at the market – about 4p.
We also visited a farm for tea. We sat in the shade of a tree on a charpoy (string bed) drinking chai while the camel was tied up to the same tree and chewed the cud. The farm was owned by the camel guy’s uncle. After our chai we had a tour of the farm, seeing the food which they grow for the animals and the fuel which they make with cow dung and food waste and dry in the sun before storing it for burning suing the monsoon. There was a cow in the middle of the yard which was heavily pregnant and seemed to be in the early stages of labour by the heavy breathing sounds it was doing.
And so we made our way back through the lanes of the Nawalgarh countryside towards our lodge. On the way we passed motorbikes, tuktuks, cars and people walking. We passed two ladies in a narrow country lane who were carrying some green plants on their head. As they passed us the camel leant over and took a mouthful out of the ladies green stuff! Cheeky!
After a shower (or more like a jug and bucket) to rid myself of all the camel hair which had stuck itself to my suncream, and a light lunch I got both the palm of both hands hennaed by a lovely lady called Guyatri, the daughter in law of the lender of the lodge. The henna is homemade using the leaves of a henna hedge they have there. First the leaves are picked, then dried in the sun, then ground up and crushed into a paste with water.I had to wait for an hour for it to dry before I could scrape it off with a knife.
In the afternoon we were met by a hugely enthusiastic young guy called Dinesh who boasted the he was from one of the highest castes in India and that he was very clever and educated. Actually he was pretty funny and charming, just a bit over confident. He took us on a tour of the havelis in Nawalgarh town.
A haveli is a painted building, and there are many in Shekhawati region. The houses are usually owned, or had been owned by rich businessman working in textiles and other areas. The paintings depict vehicles, Hindu gods and people and are around two hundred years old. One building had 555 frescoes. The paintings are done using natural colours as paint: indigo for blue, turmeric for yellow and others. These materials aren’t as readily available as they used to be, meaning that the havelis can’t be restored to their former beauty.
The lady who did my henna had been late back from town because she’d been at a festival. It turned out the festival was Gungour, a festival celebrated in Rajasthan. It’s one of the most important festivals of people in Rajasthan. It celebrates the union between Lord Shiva and the goddess Parvati, which gives young girls and boys the chance to interact with each other. Newly married woman fast for the whole eighteen days of the festival and even unmarried women will only eat one meal a day in the hope of finding a good husband. We came across the final day of the festival in the middle of town during our Haveli walk. Dad and I climbed up some stairs onto a rooftop of a shop which looked right out across the whole thing. There was noon else up there but occasionally someone would look up and wave and smile. Everyone was very happy. Lots of music came from a man with a dinky little keyboard attached and another with some drums hooked up to a speaker system. Ladies and young girls were flooding toward one point in this square where there were two large dolls, one of Shiva and one of Parvati. There were so many beautiful colours and patterns of saris. I could’ve stayed there all day watching but eventually after quite a long time, the music got repetitive, and we couldn’t really see what was going on around the dolls, except that ladies and young girls were going up in turn to them. I think they were giving necklaces of flowers as an offering.
Elsewhere on our tour of the havelis we saw some huge water wells which were over 100 meters deep but completely dried up now. Water wells in Rajasthan (and maybe elsewhere in India, I don’t know) have four minarets around them so that they are obvious for people looking for water. We saw a Krishna temple and some more painted houses, a MASSIVE red and yellow wasp which will give you a fever if it stings you, and some cows fighting in the yard of the temple – a street dog got quite excited and bounced over but realised it was way out of its depth so bounced off again in the opposite direction.
Shekhawati region has so far been the most relaxing place we’ve visited, and better yet? We saw no other tourists!