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Meeting a local family
200311-India-08-17_1
Decorating the god's armour

Madan and Rattan pick us up at our hotel at 9.30 to take us to drive to Ranakpur, a Jain temple approx. 90km north-west of Udaipur. It’ll be a full day visit. Madan keeps enquiring how I felt last night after the bang. “Strong eh?” and lots of hints that we should have had a wild night of passion. We get on very well with Madan and Rattan, the trip feels a bit like going out with friends rather than an organised tour. Leaving the town behind us (the usual cacophony of workshops, traffic and animals) and turn off onto a smaller road which climbs into the hills and fields. Very quickly we are in rural India. There are no workshops etc. lining the road now. Only when we pass through a small village we see large groups of people and shops. Otherwise it’s just fields. Women are working in the fields or walking along the road to/from the fields. Here and there we pass a well, being operated by a cow going round in circles (you get the idea, see pic).

We stop at a small group of buildings. There is a mud-built house, right next to a small school. Madan arranges for us to have a look inside the house. It’s a tribal home. Most of the family assemble. Inside it’s very dark and smells of animals. The cows share the house with the household. The first room is some kind of stable, followed by a room which is the living quarters. Unfortunately it’s too dark to take a picture, even with the flash. The animal smell is everywhere. The house/hut next to it is the same, but lets in a bit more light. Two girls, very shy, are inside. Rural life is harsh for women, who are under strict control of the men in the families. Madan says he can deliver the pictures I take of them as he passes this way regularly. Madan has introduced us as being “from across the seven seas” as England has no meaning for them. We also have a look into the school. Inside the single bare room, children are sitting quietly on the floor in three files. The teacher is not around and they are waiting for him. At Madan’s command the children stand and greet us, “namaste”. Then he tells them to sit down which they do promptly. We should have brought some sweets with us to hand out.

Then we drive on, stopping to buy a bag of sweets and a packet of bidis. The drive continues through fields, climbing all the time. Then we reach the wildlife protected area, a national park, within which the Ranakpur temple is located. There are leopards in the park but we won’t get to see them, they’re shy of humans. We do see black-faced monkeys in little groups (and not just in the national park, also on the walls and roofs of some villages we pass through). The landscape is hilly, dry and covered with trees and bushes. At one point we get a fantastic view of Ranakpur lying in the distance, only about 4kms away. To get there we have to descend some way.

The temple itself is surrounded by fences and a complex of buildings for Jain pilgrims who come to maintain the temple. It is a large building, open on all sides, and accessed through four gates, one on each side of the totally symmetrical building (three are now closed). The outside is richly decorated with statues and carvings everywhere. The whole temple is made of white marble. A gold-covered pole stands on top of the temple, with a coloured flag and bells (to scare away the birds should they perch on the pole). The pole guides and concentrates the divine light onto the deity located below. We are allowed to take pictures inside but not of the gods in the many niches around the temple. Inside the temple is a marvel. Intricate figures sculptured everywhere, on the columns, the ceiling, the arches. There are many light wells and windows. The whole place has a feeling of light and openness. Madan gives us a brief history and background (hopefully Ness has captured this!) and then we’re free to wander around for ourselves. The central section houses four principal statues, each facing a different direction. They resemble figures of Buddha but with open eyes. There is a smell of incense (sandalwood in oils?) that pervades the temple. A few visitors here and there, Indian and European, pilgrims and tourists. Gods are placed in niches going round the whole of the temple, 84 in total (Madan says, I didn’t count them!) They are made of either white or ochre/caramel-coloured stone, some are flanked by two smaller statues (same figure). A curious feature is the total symmetry of the layout. Stand between four pillars anywhere in the temple and you have a direct view of a god in each compass direction. Similarly, if you stand between any two pillars you see two gods. Madan, who has been waiting outside, then takes us to see the smaller temple, no longer in use (I think), which has more erotic figures carved on the outside. These for part of a whole series of carvings depicting daily life on the outside, a feature common to most temples.

Heading back, we stop at a small weaving “shop”. This is the outlet from a village 5kms into the hills, not accessible by road. The villagers have set up a small shop by the road to demonstrate their weaving technique and sell to tourist. We buy a small rug for us at home [now in our bedroom in Croydon] [2010-08-18, now in our study in North Berwick], more out of obligation than anything else, but it’s good to know that it benefits the villagers directly.

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Sunset over Udaipur, magic.
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Back at the lassi stall

We stopped for lunch (maybe this was before we reached the temple?) at one of the usual tourist venues and had lunch on the lawn outside. Dal, veggies, rice, chicken and chappatis, and custard for desert. The drive back took us back the same route and seemed to last a long time. Along the way there were several “photo opportunities” of views, local life, people and animals. Mid/late afternoon we stopped for “tea”, well, I tried a salt lassi this time (sweet is better). Glad that Madan voluntarily joined us. We’re getting on very well with him and he keeps repeating how we’re not the usual type of tourists but keen to see India itself, not just its monuments. We’re glad to give anything a shot. Also picking up a few words of Hindi, although very basic stuff, including a couple of swear words, e.g. gandu – poof!

We stop at the school we dropped in at on the way up, and, with the teacher’s permission, hand out sweets to the kids. We arrive back in Udaipur late afternoon. Madan had first suggested dinner with typical Rajasthani dancing – yawn! But then he suggests we come with him to a wedding he has been invited to, much better! First we drop in at a miniature painting shop (preceded by the usual demonstration and cup of tea) Good opportunity to buy presents, plus we buy a larger painting for ourselves. A quick change at the hotel and we’re ready to go out again. It’s too early for the wedding so we go back to the lassi stall in the market. First I have a bottle of sweet milk with almonds and other stuff. Ness is abstaining. Delhi belly has hit, probably due to the custard earlier or something, and it’s touch and go for Ness, but she seems ok for now. Madan and I have a bang lassi, this time a full lump of dope, not just half as I had yesterday. The little boy whose picture we took yesterday is here again and we have our picture taken with him and his friend. Funny how none of the bystanders seem to know how to operate the camera. It takes a weathered-looking man who volunteers to do it.

Then we drive to the party lawn where the wedding reception takes place. Not many people there yet but there is steady trickle of people arriving. Inside the gate there is a large lawn with food stands all around the edge, and a few stands in the centre of the lawn, with an ice sculpture. A large podium with two thrones is prepared for the wedding couple. Around 3,000 guests are expected. Madan introduces me to several people, most speak only the tiniest bit of English so communication is difficult. The bang lassi is beginning to take effect now. Ness pays a visit to the ladies and this together with the sight of Madan and me eating is enough so Ness decides to head back to the hotel while I’ll stay out with Madan for a bit longer. Madan sees Ness to the car and then rejoins me. We go from stall to stall and chat with a few people. The notable exception to the otherwise friendly and welcoming Indians, families of the couple, is an Indian congressman for who I might as well have been air! Madan is beginning to feel stoned too now. In my spaced out state the proceedings have a surreal quality. My speech seems very slow and I’m wondering whether I’m making any sense. Before long we decide to head back. Madan’s wife and son were going to come too but haven’t arrived. I expect he probably called to say “don’t come” since we’re both stoned, but may be wrong. I promise to send him a medium-sized fleece like mine. [Note: bought it but still haven’t sent it – MUST DO!] [2005 – finally done!] We have a bit of trouble finding Rattan and the car. Again, everything seems to happen in slow-motion for me. The drive back is hilarious. We’re all laughing and I can’t figure out why, whether Madan and Rattan are laughing at my stupid grin, whatever. He is gone completely now, like me.

Ness is writing her diary and watching a film when I get back to our room in the hotel. I slowly get into bed and watch a bit of the film. “Rambo”, it’s more than I can handle in my state. Hard to explain but somehow impressions take on a different erm… perspective. The violent nature of the film is too much and I nod off during a commercial break. Another fantastic day!