Shake Your Wattie

Trip Start Jul 21, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  ,
Saturday, February 3, 2007

HALLELUJIAH (if that's how you spell it.. I haven't written it here before).
We have at last had our belief in human nature resussitated.  Ok ok, so in the last couple of days we may have been pestered by "guides" - following us to places of interest then demanding money from us or the proprietors, salesmen of all varietes, rickshaw touts, followed by scores of children (and pelted with rocks when our calculated lack of reaction to their taunts didn't meet with their approval), pinched and poked by beggars, and leered at by passers by, stepped through overflown sewers and picked flies out of our lassis... but we have met a couple of warm hearted normal people too!!!
Kindness Of Strangers has done a lot to put the brakes on our fast-diminishing zeal for exploring India and engaging with local people.  We met a nice young guy in a village (Fatehpur) who escorted us from one side to the other after serial misdirection from others and showed us onto our bus.  Not only did he fail to ask for a tip he looked reassuringly put out when we broke the habit of a lifetime and offered one with our thanks.  During the course of the same daylong 5 bus odessey we found ourselves stranded in a different village (Mandawar) without a bus, map, or any daylight - and were offered a lift by the owner of a restaurant we ate at - on the back of his motorcycle to catch up with another bus... where he gave instructions to another passenger to tell us where to get off and take the connecting bus to our base. Fantastic.  The day before, a shopkeeper beckoned us back to his shop to have a cup of coffee after he was seemingly embarrassed by the attention we were getting from other locals and rickshaw drivers.  And he didn't insist we buy anything.  Brilliant.  Small things like this add strength to our resolve to treat everyone with a clean slate and try not to appear too cynical or jaundiced in our approach based upon previous encounters...  This way you experience so much more (the good with the bad) and it would be a shame to miss out and avoid all situations following past shabby encounters.

Enough of this waffle and back to the story....
We left the rather hectic and draining surrounds of Jaipur for the Shekhawati region.. a much quieter semi-arid region between Jaipur and Delhi.  The region is dotted with villages (mostly devoid of tourists) which are littered with ancient merchants' havelis. I say ancient... Most of them date from the mid 19th century onwards, but the atmoshpere in the villages is bewitching and eerily reminiscent of deserted ghost towns.  It seems to the newcomer that these places must have been built in 1890, lived in for a few years, then the area plunged into intense civil war, relentless bloody street battles - destructively fought for the best part of 100yrs, after which some drifting nomads have decided to squat there until someone chucks them out... This wasn't the case at all. 
The fresco adorned havelis were built by merchant Marwaris whose wealth was amplified by trade with the British East India Company.  Whilst settling in coastal cities (mainly Mumbai), they built havelis for their families back home.  Until about 1947 these mansions were symbols of their success and homes for their families to live the high life.
Today most of these opulent havelis are crumbling relics.  Some are now home to many families, and continue to fall down around their ears.  The once vibrant paintings that adorned the walls are faded or defaced, and the dusty streets no longer bustle with activity and colour.  The whole area is almost a living/dying gallery of these grand houses and decaying frescoes.  Like the most extreme faded seaside glamour, though much grander to begin with and much much more decrepid in the end.  We visited a few restored properties which almost made it possible to imagine the luxury and beauty of these homes, the colourful paintings on every wall, the marble floors and ornate furnishings.  We visited one which was aquired by a french lady and recently refurbished.  It was amazing.  Tamsin left the place with even more notes than she'd have at the end of those programes that Alistair McCloud does.  There are a couple of picces for you to look at but the effect of the place was increased a thousandfold by the dusty streets within which it resided.

The few days spent here were a tonic to Jaipur (and Delhi before it), nice and relaxed and remote.  We fitted in plenty of bus travel which was an adventure as always.  Once you get outside of the main towns (and rickshaws become less commonplace), the only traffic is bus/lorry/buffalocart/camelcart/motorcycle -  so you can be sure when you round a blind corner on the wrong side of the road that more often than not it is a bus overtaking a lorry that will come in the other direction.

We did a good tour of the area.  Our original intention was to get a motorcycle and see it without the joys of public transport - however we decided to trust our fortune to buses as they are bigger and easier to 'miss' (see above).  We visited Nawalgah, Fatehpur, Sikar, Mandawa, Parsurampura (for those who remember the trouble we had in Nepal with Mnakamanannanna - Prrsrrrmmprrs was much the same - though we found that if you ignore all vowels you can generally be understood pr-sr-mp-r).. 10 busses in 4 days.  Thank heavens we're back in Jaipur now... off to catch the 23:50 train to Jaisalmer.. in for a relatively civilised 14hr commute!

take care y'all
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