Asia | India | Rajasthan – Buses and Birds
We took a very forgettable four day camel safari which got us as far as Phalodi, then bussed the next day to Jaisalmer, where five consecutive days just evaporated. We did little but wander the old town and the fort, shop for embroidery and make rum drinks on the roof. It’s easy to do this in Jaisalmer. We also watched fighter jets take off and land from an airbase 50 miles from the Pakistani border. We went to a wedding feast which was just really a big room where people walked in and ate and left. The bride and groom and their family sat on a floodlit platform near the hall’s entrance looking severe, bride a bit frightened, while guests greeted them and snapped their photo. I started drawing again, at the request of my Pratt admissions advisor who told me I needed to learn to draw by January.
Jodhpur was next, like Bundi again, but ten times as big, and largely painted blue. And a real town, with a huge market that thumps and rushes like nothing I’ve seen. We were there for Idd’ul Fitr, so festivity was in the air; a complete stranger wished us Idd Mubarak and gave us each huge flower garlands to wear. More kids threw things at us: this time it was during the day, a homemade cricket ball which hit me in the head hard enough to make me run after the kid and lift him a foot off the ground. He started screaming immediately, and all the adults who’d been sitting idly by while we were screamed at and struck suddenly rushed up around me, grabbing the child away. One of them asked what happened in English, and I told him. He simply said ‘Very sorry. Please go.’
When I told the hotel manager about this, he asked where it happened. I showed him on a map and he said, ‘Ah, these are Muslim areas. Muslims you know, they are very stupid. Have three, four wives, fifteen, sixteen children, so how they can raise them? Hindu children would never do this.’
Two days later we tried to go visit a Muslim man I’d met on the bus to Jaisalmer. He’d invited us for Idd, but when we finally got to his village his neighbors told us his family had decided to go out to their farm for the festival, a day’s travel away. The man who’d given us a (paid) lift to the village offered us a place to stay for the night. He fed us dry chapati crumbled into yogurt, and told us he’d never allow a Muslim into his house.
The next morning he insisted on giving us a free lift back to the highway to catch the bus to Jodhpur. We were dropped off on the side of the road, in the middle of the desert, no buildings in sight, and asked about twelve times in rapid succession for some gift. So we put on our packs and walked away down the highway. A bus did show up after half an hour or so and got us back to Jodhpur by noon.
Jill got a bus ticket, I got a train ticket, and we agreed to meet up for New Years in Goa.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park is arguably the finest bird sanctuary in the world. Every guide book Ive ever read says something like Even if you have no interest in birds, you should spend a day here. And they are absolutely correct. It reminded me a little of walking through the Butterfly Conservatory at the National History Museum in New York, where splashes of neon color flit their way around you, and circle your head, and make the whole world seem lovely, but at Keoladeo they are birds instead. Great big storks with pumpkin-orange legs, whole flocks of songbirds wheeling in bright blue ovals, and graceful herons quietly stalking lunch in ankle deep water, oblivious to the honeymooning Indian couples creaking by in bicycle rickshaws every three minutes, their driver/guide invariably slowing and pointing to the nearest hereon and saying This is grey heron, before moving on amid nods and grunts of knowing approval from his customers.
I never much liked life drawing, but the birds are good at holding still, and have the sort of simple, deliberate shapes usually reserved for buildings and cars, so I spent an hour or so sketching them and the Japanese tourist seated in front of me shooting photos with a zoom lens longer than his own forearm.