Asia » India » Rajasthan » Ranakpur - 7 March 2012
07.03.2012 - 08.03.2012 22 °C
Yesterday afternoon, my currently-single friend Pintu arrived unexpectedly early at the Aashiya Haveli. It was only to say he still had some shopping to do for his marriage clothes and would be back later. It was a brief but very happy reunion for us both.
Later did come – very much later!
It was not until nearly 10.30p.m. that we reached the home of his cousin Pradeep for drinks and snacks, followed by a midnight dinner of rice, chicken curry and a very tasty rabbit in spicy sauce, all kindly prepared by his wife, Meetu. His two energetic sons, five-year-old Mahi and Keshav, almost two-years-old, provided the entertainment!
Pradeep is a senior officer in the Rajasthan Administration Service (RAS), responsible for the beautification of Udaipur. His is a prestigious position that comes with a house, servants and a car with a flashing blue light on the roof. Pintu aspires to becoming an RAS officer, but it's a position which has so far eluded his best efforts in stringent competition exams. If at first (or second, or third) you don’t succeed, try, try and try again... I do so hope Pintu will be successful at his next attempt in a couple of months’ time.
On Tuesday morning, my car with driver (hired from Deepak Gupta of Exclusive India - email: firstname.lastname@example.org) arrived promptly at 9.30 and we went to collect Pintu from Pradeep’s house before continuing north to Sadri.
Two hours later, I renewed my acquaintance with Ranveer and Gajendra, Pintu’s charming parents, at their apartment on the outskirts of the town. His sister Purnima was there too, minus her husband of one year, Dilip, who I’ll meet for the first time when he arrives from their home in Jaipur during the next few days. A family friend-come-paid-helper, recently widowed, was also there with her two small children, Vishal and Karuna, both of whom delighted in asking for their photograph to be taken and then shyly running away.
I enjoyed a formal greeting of a traditional red tilak between the eyes and some sweetmeat being placed in my mouth by Gajendra. It was really good to see them all again and I was invited to return in the evening for dinner.
Meantime, we drove to the nearby Maharani Bagh Orchard Retreat, where I was to stay for the next eight or nine days. The hotel, owned by the royal family of Jodhpur, is managed by my dear friend and Pintu’s uncle, Khuman Singh. If you’ve read the previous blog and the much earlier explanatory one you’ll already know that it was in the gardens here that we first encountered the 13-year-old Lajpal, later to become known by his pet name of Pintu. Over the intervening 15 years, I’ve become firm friends with him and many members of his very large family. In consequence, I’ve also been privileged to be introduced to parts of Indian life seldom seen by visitors. I liken it to going backstage at the theatre. I’m no longer in the audience.
The Maharani Bagh is unlike any other hotel in this area. It was originally built as a place to which the maharani could retreat amid extensive, peaceful gardens. It only has 16 rooms, in comfortable, self-contained cottages of a high standard; the current maharani wishes to maintain its intimate style so, although there’s loads of space, its room capacity is never likely to be enlarged very much.
I really enjoyed its shaded terraces that looked out onto acre upon acre of green lawns and arid gardens beneath huge, mature trees and flowering shrubs like hibiscus, oleander and bougainvillea. Little striped chipmunks scurried around, a small flock of fluffy grey birds hopped rapidly among the undergrowth noisily flicking up fallen leaves in search of food, and a White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) perched obligingly in a tree near the outdoor dining room. The constant calls of an unseen myriad of other birds and the ringing of bells and ritual drumming at the tiny shrine near my room were usually the only things to disturb this tranquil scene.
On this visit, the powerful scent from flowers on hundreds of huge mango trees was overwhelming, almost intoxicating. I’d love to be here when the fruits appear in a few months’ time – although I’d probably have to share them with the giant fruit bats I noticed gliding between the trees at night.
There are newer, bigger, glitzy hotels nearby, but countless decades would have to pass before they could even begin to compete with the Maharani Bagh’s gardens and rustic charm. I think it’s about time I added a five-star Trip Advisor review of this outstanding place.
Wednesday was to be the start of Holi, the second most important festival after the new year Diwali celebrations. I’ve yet to fully understand its significance, but it seems to be a mixture of religious mythology and fun. This first day was devoted to devotions. Thursday was all about colour – powder in bright hues of red, yellow, green and blue liberally showered on anyone daft enough to be in the vicinity of a group of revellers. I’d brought some old clothes, just in case.
Wednesday started, as most days here, with an eight o’clock visit from the massage man, Keval, a small, rather grubby-looking, but very likeable man of indeterminate age. A full massage, front and back, from toes to scalp, lasting more than half an hour set me up for another lazy day and set me back 20 Rupees (about 26p). Each day, I deposited a further 100 Rupees (£1.30) with Khuman - the man would only have frittered it all away on booze, so Khuman accumulated the balance and gave it to Keval’s ageing mother.
Pintu arrived during the pummelling of my calf muscles, having walked – for exercise, not out of necessity - all the way from his home several kilometres away. After I’d showered and dressed, we drove back to his home for the first of his marriage ceremonies.
This one was the official invitation from his fiancée’s family to marry Rajshree. Pintu didn’t need to be there actually because the invitation was to his family, not personally to him. A pundit (priest) had journeyed all the way from Jaipur to offer the invitation, which he did to drumming and cymbals, followed by a short puja (prayer greeting) ceremony and discussion around a table. This was accompanied by a group of women from the neighbourhood, seated on the lounge floor, singing traditional marriage songs. It was all over and done with in less than half an hour. The invitation, of course, was duly accepted – it was a bit late to do anything else actually, but tradition had to be observed.
We had tea and coffee before I returned to the hotel. The pundit had lunch before returning to Jaipur. Apparently, this ceremony would normally have taken place the next day but it would then have been difficult for the pundit to get a bus for the long ride back to Jaipur because of Holi celebrations.
The rest of my day was spent lunching, dozing on the terrace and strolling around the gardens before enjoying Khuman’s hospitality for dinner in his own quarters at the edge of the hotel’s grounds. During the meal, after quite a few drinks all round, Khuman asked me to represent him at a Holi ceremony in the morning.
I was flattered – until he told me it would involve getting up at 4.00a.m.! You see, Khuman doesn’t do mornings!