5 Nov 2013
A leisurely start today – some with more yoga – I sat on my porch watching the sun come up over the lake while I waited for the hot water to be turned on at 7.00. I had had a rat visit overnight and eat my soap leaving droppings for me in return!
Breakfast at 8.00am and then our jeeps await. The owner of the tent camp (who we met yesterday) also owns a castle about ½ an hour away where we will be spending the night. We head off on a ‘village safari’ – first to the village of Balcha which is a purely agricultural village almost untouched by modern times but it does have electricity and running water. It had a great feel and was very clean. We were greeted with cow-poo art!. Yesterday (day after Diwali) is when they pay respects to the cow gods. The cows are decorated and little shrines of vaguely human figures made of poo decorated with corn are everywhere. The people are very friendly and we spend a wonderful hour or so walking around and meeting people. Whilst it seemed strange and intrusive for us, we were even welcomed into a house. The children are very happy to pose for pictures.
Next stop was out to the fields where they were growing an amazing array of crops – turmeric, chillies, tomato, egg plant, sweet potato, marrow…. In the village we had seen corn and garlic being dried, along with lentils. There were guava and mango trees, and even a tree full of what looked like gooseberries – and owls. We also learned that they are legal growers of opium poppies – these will be planted next month.
On the way we also passed through another village of about 20-30 houses which belonged to previously nomadic Cankar tribespeople (essentially gypsies who had lived in the forest and stolen things from villages). The government had given them land (&$$?) to settle. But other people won’t live nearby because sometimes they still steal. We see their grave sites – although they are also Hindu they are thought to originate from Mongolia and rather than cremating and putting ashes in a holy river, they put them in graves. The graves have holes in them and we hear that they come to the graves with moonshine liquor and share it with relatives living and dead.
Next stop the castle – a grand entrance and welcome with rose garlands, a drum roll and a red dot on our forehead. Our rooms are magnificent – Pat and I have rooms on the top floor with our own huge marble sitting area complete with window seat that had reclining couches and we have wonderful views all round. We decide we are primary wives rather than concubines. I have the red silk bedroom and my bathroom has a door that opens out onto the roof (as does the king’s nearby). Pat has the blue silk bedroom and her bathroom has a secret door opening into the stairwell. Both rooms have exquisitely painted domed ceilings above the beds. Although we have free time after lunch, Pat and I spend the afternoon entertaining as everyone comes up to view our rooms. We discover that there are more stairs up to the roof where there are magnificent views and of course the top of the domes.
Several of us have booked massages and I watch Isabelle having henna painting done. Others lounge by the pool. Naveen offers a bike ride at 5.00 but has no takers. Five of us walk out into the village and have and amazing experience. As we finish our walk and are about to head back to the castle a young woman greets us in perfect English. She invites us into her home – she has 8 sisters and 2 brothers. All except 1 of the sisters are visiting for Diwali with their children as well. Her father is 80 and mother 70 and both still work in the fields. Chand is the only one that speaks English and has taught herself from a book. She is 23 and was married. When she was pregnant with her little boy, her husband decided he didn’t like her anymore and started playing around. He accused her of being unfaithful and that the child was not his. She has moved back home with her parents – he has never seen the child. She cooks for a neighbour and makes 200 rupees ($4) a month.
They offer us chai and sweets from Diwali even though they eat only one meal a day themselves. A 12yr old niece does henna painting for us. When we offer to pay Chand says only if we want to – if we are happy she is happy. We each pay 200 rupees – less than what Isabelle paid at the castle. This is 4 months’ wages! Even though Chand shows us operation scars (from a caesarean and then complications) and is clearly not well, she is not openly asking for money. When we ask she says her operation cost 10,000 rupees.
We have a lovely time talking with the whole extended family (with Chand translating). We all head back to the castle and put together a package of all our unwanted toiletries, medicines and snacks and take them back to the family. We are all trying to work out how we can help more but she has told us that she is of the lowest cast and cannot get a job at the castle even though she is right on the doorstep and can speak English. We wonder whether a micro loan would enable her to get over that hurdle. Later Naveen tells me that it is only because ‘royals’ own the castle, she could get work at any ordinary hotel (but there aren’t any there).
Back at the castle we have drinks and nibbles with the now very familiar local music and then a buffet dinner by the pool and a bottle of wine. The owner Navinda Singh (who is a prince) joins us, resplendent with moustache, turban, jodhpurs and boots. (Employees really do touch his boots).
It is Marcia’s birthday – she has joined another group but her guide surprises her (and us) by ringing Naveen and asking him to pass the phone to us. Eke, Brian, Sue, Martin and I all have a good chat to Marcia sharing our different experiences and we sing her happy birthday.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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