Saturday January 17, 2015
The Call to Prayer has been an amazing way to awaken in the morning darkness. This enchanting sound has greeted me each day and beckoned me into a new set of adventures in a foreign land.
Today was primarily a road travel day with our delightful and daring driver Mr. Singh, his young sidekick Neetu, and our now beloved guide Adil. We've been rotating positions on the bus and it's fascinating how different the experience is sitting in the front window vs. the back of the bus. Leonard and I usually vie for the front seat, as we're both photographers and you can see more of the action up ahead. There are drawbacks, however, the main one being the reflection of the dashboard which prevents capturing a clear shot. And also if we're going fast, things come at you too quickly which requires an equally instant response. We've each tried different strategies to make this work, Leonard's favorite is to zoom in on something far away - but I find it too hard to focus. Sitting on the side of the bus only offers side views, which often go by much too quickly. We've both taken to just holding the camera up and snapping away never knowing for sure what we'll catch. It's an adventure after all!
Most of the landscape today was flat with little definition, bad air pollution, and what I'm calling a "post-apocalyptic" landscape: what appear to be burned out buildings (but they may also just be partially built buildings of cement that have been given up on); falling down buildings; piles of rubble and trash everywhere; bulls, pigs, and dogs (the one generic dog) rummaging through the garbage looking for food; small villages with groups of men sitting around drinking coffee; and colorfully dressed women in saris and bangles doing all kinds of heavy work!! Adil explained to us that this is completely normal in rural village life: the women are expected to get up early, make breakfast and get the kids dressed (and off to school if they're lucky). Then the man wakes up around 10:00, asks for his tea and expects breakfast. He may go off to town to hang out with his friends while the wife goes out to work in the fields or a job laboring at something. He comes back for lunch and expects her to be there to serve him, then the same pattern is repeated in the afternoon. She then is expected to make dinner and take care of the children. The pattern continues day after day. My goodness! What a life for these rural village women! This is why Poonam Kathuria's SWATI mission is so important to support: she is really offering these women a chance to break out of this cycle and create meaningful lives for themselves AND their families.
As we got closer to our destination, Ranthambhore, the landscape turned lush and green and we began to see mile upon mile of fields of canola (bright yellow flowers) and wheat (vibrant green). The harvest will be in February and March, before the heat of summer and the monsoon season kick in. What a pleasure to see this colorful landscape and know that these folks are more prosperous.
I've been fascinated by a few phenomena on the roads here aside from the highly decorated trucks: what appear to be really over-burdened loads on trucks. I can't believe they allow this! It looks so unsafe!
And then there are the cars and buses that are overflowing with people! We've seen numerous jeeps with guys hanging off the back and in this particular case we counted 22 people in total on and in this jeep! Also I've observed many buses with lots of people sitting on top of the bus! How do they stay on when it's cruising on the highway at high speeds?
We pulled off the small road onto an even smaller and extremely bumpy dirt road as we approached a white mecca that was to be our hotel for the next two days called Nahargarh Ranthambhore. This could have been Shangri La for all we knew. We passed this man hitched to a highly decorated camel on our way in, an exotic touch to this foreign landscape.
As we passed through the entry gate we were met with what may have well been our own Maharaja's palace! And this is a newly-built hotel with only 84 rooms. We were once again wowed and in love.
Dinner at the restaurant was the finest Indian buffet yet, and we were thrilled to not have to make any decisions about what to order. The spread included: Chicken hariyali tikka, Chicken kadai, Vegetable kebab, French spinach (delicious spinach puree), Okra masala, Vegetable jhalfreizi, Squash balls, Lentils (dahl, Green pea pulao, garlic and plain naan (we've come to love this!), and for dessert a homemade vanilla ice cream with banana toffee sauce. I would love to stay here for a week at least, just for the food!
To bed early tonight, as we're getting up very early for our tiger safari in the morning. Patricia wore her leopard outfit to dinner as a good luck omen that we would have a sighting! As we're winding down our last week in India, thank you again for following along on this grand adventure.
Mary Anne Erickson is an artist who has been documenting the demise of the American roadside culture for over 30 years in paintings and photography. Her work can be seen at vanishingroadside.com. She also blogs about great food and entertaining ideas at bluemountainbistro.com.
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