As if Time Stood Still: A journey through Rajasthan, India

Colorful, outrageous, romantic, and wild, Rajasthan, India will tantalize all of your senses. The only thing more vibrant than this country is its people. India Travel Expert Ken beautifully paints a picture of his most unforgettable experiences in Rajasthan, and the life changing people he met along the way.

DHIKOLA FORT EXPERIENCE

My many travels to India have included some amazing visits to various romantic forts and imposing palaces. I was not fully prepared for the stunning adventures that a visit to Dhikola Fort was going to offer me.

Jai Singh, is the warm and hospitable owner of the delightful family-run haveli, Shahpura Bagh in the Rajasthani countryside. During a brief stay, he had offered to take us on a visit to his fort in the little town of Dhikola, a 20-minute drive from tranquil Shahpura Bagh.

Located roughly halfway between Jaipur and Udaipur, Dhikola is a tiny dot on the map and one that people would normally miss or perhaps simply ignore. However, within a few seconds of driving into this spotlessly clean little village and from seemingly nowhere, a herd of happy-faced and excited kids came streaming out of myriad alleyways.

Within seconds, our car was surrounded by joyful laughter with kids bouncing around with excitement. Jai was the focus of their elation and you could see just how much they adore him.

After the excitement had calmed down, we walked into the fort, an imposing and crumbling 450-year old structure that has many centuries of history and stories to tell. It was late afternoon and the golden rays of sunshine lit up the cavernous rooms and spaces that made up this enormous fort. With some effort, we ascended a set of steep stairs onto the rooftop. Once there, the beautiful and expansive views of rural Rajasthan awaited us. Within moments, an old man dressed all in white and wearing a large red turban, appeared with a few tall glasses on a tray. This, we were soon to learn heralded the start of our sundowner (sunset) adult beverage Gin & Tonic Marathon!

Now finished with our Gins & Tonics, he invited us to walk with him to the opposite side of the fort and into a rampart. Once back up top, we found a lovely table set with flowers and candles where we were all to dine beneath the Rajasthani skies. It was quite surreal, like a scene out of a movie. I was expecting Harrison Ford to come leaping out of the shadows, acting out a scene in one of the Steven Spielberg series of adventure thrillers. We enjoyed a delicious multi-course dinner by lantern light, accompanied by an array of lovely wines. The ink black night skies were periodically streaked gold by meteors, adding an additional layer of enjoyment.

BISHNOI VILLAGE SAFARI

Crouched in the back of a small canvas-covered Jeep, we bounced along a dirt road into the depths of the Rajasthani countryside, a tail of dust flirting with our eyes. This was a familiar experience to me since, many years before I had enjoyed a similar adventure. Gazing out the back and mindlessly enjoying the motion of the vehicle, my eyes caught scenes which were to become more and more familiar. After a few seconds, I realized that I had been down this very same dirt track all those years before.

The Jeep pulled up to a gate beyond which was an old wizened man, dressed all in white and sporting a white turban and wearing those “familiar’ round thick-lensed glasses! With complete delight, I realized that he was the very same old grandpa whom I had had the pleasure of meeting those many years back. It seemed as though time had stood still, since I remembered him in exactly the same position. I reintroduced myself to him and with the help of our guide, I reminded him of my earlier visit years ago. I like to think that he remembered, but certainly did not hold it against him if he did not.

He graciously took us on a walking tour of his tiny village, comprising a few huts and storage barns. His whole family, including his colorfully dressed wife and their children and grandchildren, came out of their various homesteads to welcome and greet us. We were shown their thriving vegetable garden and the patch of wheat lazily swaying in the hot breezes, as well as the village cat that kept the vermin at bay.

It all felt so natural and wonderfully authentic. Not wanting to disturb their rhythms too much and feeling happily tranquil, we took our leave after having had a quite chance to peek into the lives of this wonderful and welcoming Bishnoi family. I promised the grandpa that I would return and his broad and gentle smile reassured me that I was going to be welcomed back.

FABRIC SELLING – JAIPUR-STYLE

The fabrics of India have always fascinated me. Each fabric has a magical and unique story to tell, suggesting the wearer’s Indian state of origin or residence. Fabrics also gives a glimpse into the lives of the wearer and what they potentially do for a living.

With this fascination in mind, we were taken to a well-known fabric house in Jaipur, famous for its history and centuries-old family ownership. Access to these hallowed halls of fabric was in itself an adventure, having to climb up a poorly lit, very narrow steep flight of extremely deep steps.

However, the effort was well worth it all, since we emerged, wide-eyed, into an Aladdin’s Cave of colorful fabrics stacked from floor to ceiling on all four walls. We felt like little kids let loose in a chocolate factory.

The focal point of the room was an enormous, well-worn Persian carpet. A few chairs and benches were placed in a simple U-shape on the carpet’s periphery. While making ourselves comfortable, a young man appeared from the shadows, silently took center-stage and introduced himself as the youngest son in the family. Within moments, he had us mesmerized with his performance. He started to tell us stories of the various fabrics and as he did so, he would swirl them around his shoulders with dramatic effect and then unfurl them onto the floor. This had us all dazzled in an instant.

He started with the most affordable, working his way towards the more expensive and rarer items, all of which we wanted of course. He turned out to be a masterful salesperson and had us eating out of his hands. Credit cards were soon flying like Frisbees around the room as the crowd tried desperately to secure the fabrics of their choice. It was an expensive and fun experience and one that I will never forget.

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