What The Koli Tribe Of Purushwadi Has Taught Me

Purushwadi, a village that wakes up to the crowing of a rooster and sleeps soon after the sun has set, was my home last month. I had changed 4 modes of transport from Mumbai to get to this fully sustainable remote hamlet nestled in the Sahyadris. The people of this land are one of the most prosperous tribes in rural Maharashtra – Mahadev Koli. I did not know in the beginning how much I would learn from the simpletons of Purshwadi, but they overwhelmed me with their admirable lifestyle!

Age Is Only A Number (And Old Women Are Pro Farmers)

Advanced in age, this woman still begins her mornings tending to her field.

Advanced in age, this woman still begins her mornings tending to her field.

Every family in this village owns a small patch of land and almost everyone is a farmer. Children as young as 9 help their parents in the fields when their school is shut for summer. It is more common to see women working away on the farms as compared to men. They head to the fields at about 11 in the morning, after they have finished their housework, and return only after sunset. Their active lifestyle is perhaps the reason why they are so fit even in their golden years. It is not uncommon to find grandmothers toiling in the scorching sun.

Animals Are Not Playthings

Cattle are like extended family to the villagers of Purushwadi.

Cattle are like extended family to the villagers of Purushwadi.

I was moved by the compassion that the Koli tribe shows towards animals. Their cows and goats have plenty of open greens to feed on. Their sheds are cleaned and they are given a bath soon after sunrise. Happy cows also mean tastier milk! It must also be mentioned that each home owns cows, goats and hens for its daily supply of milk and eggs. The self-sufficiency of these people cannot be overstated.

Women Can Carry More Than Their Own Bodyweight

Hands of steel carry firewood to run the kitchen.

Hands of steel carry firewood to run the kitchen.

Purushwadi has not seen any of our fancy kitchen gadgets. There are no gas stoves or piped gas connections here. Firewood is used for fuel. It is not unusual to find women along the streets carrying bundles of firewood on their hike up their hilltop homes. What is particularly noteworthy is their superior physical strength that enables them to carry as much as 50 kilos (perhaps more than what they weigh) on their head.

Contentment Is More Precious Than Creature Comforts

The typical kitchen in Purushwadi homes.

The typical kitchen in Purushwadi homes.

I was astonished at how hard each woman works to run her home in this village. Not only do they wake up before anyone else in the household, but also sleep after everyone else has slept at night. Right from cleaning the house and the cowshed to cooking and serving meals to all to packing off their kids to school to tending to their fields to serving their families again to washing the dishes, and more… these women work like superheroes, saving the day for all. And they do all of this with such calm and poise! They ask for nothing in return, knowing somewhere within that their truest joy is in contentment.

Family Is A Gift, Not An Inconvenience

My guide, Balu's mother pounds rice to loosen the husk from the kernels as her granddaughter looks on.

My guide, Balu’s mother pounds rice to loosen the husk from the kernels as her granddaughter looks on.

During my short stay in Purushwadi, the women tried to teach me a lot of things – hulling rice, grinding it into fine flour, kneading a dough, making flat and round bhakris (roti made of rice flour). I proved to be a poor student, but they were patient and encouraging teachers. While all of this was happening, I observed how close-knit all the families are; also, how well the Koli tribe functions as a community. My guide, Balu, told me that his friend would work in his field for the day that he spent as my guide. And Balu would do the same for his friend when it is his turn to escort a visitor. They don’t compete against one another but work for each one’s benefit. The entire village is like a giant family. In stark contrast, most of us city-dwellers view family as an inconvenience that hinders our personal space and freedom. And despite all that we have, we are neither satisfied nor happy.

Authentic Organic Food Is In Little Villages

The ingredients for our meal are laid out.

The ingredients for our meal are laid out.

I would have all of my meals in a village home, and I’d have to walk past several fields of wheat, groundnuts, rice, amaranth and more. Gorak, a young village lad, explained to me how they decide to sow seeds based on what they would like to eat. They don’t do anything in excess. Everything is grown for the family, and only some wheat is stored for emergencies (which can be traded to other villages for money). He also told me that their land is blessed with fertile soil and they also now have proper irrigation, thanks to the dam which brings them the river-water. They don’t use any pesticide or insecticide, and this is where one can have the entire farm-to-plate experience of fully organic food.

Women Are Good Leaders

A female goatherd takes her goats back home in the evening.

A female goatherd takes her goats back home in the evening.

The Kolis astounded me with their progressive mindsets which were quite unlike those I’ve come across in other Indian villages. They don’t prefer either gender over the other. Their aim is to have equal gender distribution. Women here don’t shy away from talking to men, nor do they cover their faces or heads (as is commonplace in most traditional households). The Koli women smartly take on roles that I have generally seen men perform – herding goats, lifting heavy objects, constructing huts, and more. Here, the leadership potential of women is fully harnessed. And that’s something even modern offices have failed to do.

Entertainment Is Not Drowning In A Sea Of Apps

I enjoy the Sahyadri mountains from Matha - Purushwadi's highest point.

I enjoy the Sahyadri mountains from Matha – Purushwadi’s highest point.

It was a blessing not to have any cellphone coverage in this village. I did not have a chance to waste my time on social media. Gorak took me to the highest point of Purushwadi when we hiked up for a nice sunset view. That’s when he told me how he loves to spend his free time. He hikes with his best friend. Gorak is only 25, and does not have the time-and-money-zapping addictions (of gaming or clubbing) of the city-boys of his age. The village indeed is beautiful, not only in how it appears but also in how it has shaped its people.

Education Is Only As Valuable As You Perceive

After a friendly chat with the students of Purushwadi's only school.

After a friendly chat with the students of Purushwadi’s only school.

One morning, I went to the only school of this village. On my way, I saw a little boy running towards the school, a notebook in hand. He was late, and did not want to miss his classes. A village kid can only study up to class-7 in this school and will have to travel to another village to study till class-10. If students wish to study further, they’ll have to go to the nearest town. A chat with one of the school teachers revealed how precious education is to all of them. Teachers travel all the way to the nearest town to access internet required to download educational videos for the students. The respect that these students have for their teachers is of another level altogether.

Did you expect that a rural Indian tribe could teach so much?

Write your answers as comments below! 🙂

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You too can experience Purushwadi intimately through Grassroutes Journeys.

Dudhsagar Plantation – A Homestay Hidden Away From Goa’s Beaches

Goa, a place synonymous with beach-life (to the casual traveller), has much more to offer those who seek something different. My friends reading this account will be flabbergasted when they learn that I did not see a single beach all through my recent trip to the ‘party capital of India’. What I saw instead was this:-

Acres Of Greens With No Sand Or Sea In Sight

Farmers prepare to work on the paddy fields

Farmers prepare to work on the paddy fields

If you are a fan of nature and forests and everything organic, get away from the coastline and drive into Sanvordem, and then further towards Kulem until you reach Karmane Village. There, where the road ends and the boundary of the Mollem National Park begins, you will find Dudhsagar Plantation – a farm-stay that is removed from the smoke of the cities and the noise of the parties. I had a chance to stay at one of the cottages here last month when monsoon was in full swing. This was perhaps the best way to begin my career as a full-time travel writer.

The Cottages At Dudhsagar Plantation

The property has 5 cottages with brick roofs which have 4 glass-patches to let light filter through in the mornings. There’s a nice sit-out area in the front porch of each cottage, with wooden lounging chairs to enjoy the view of the plantation. This eco-stay is basic, but comfortable. Every cottage is spacious and furnished with a double bed and a divan, besides shelves on a wall to store your things. The bathroom is well ventilated with grills, and the exposed brick and cement sections lend a rustic touch to it. The all-out in the room keeps mosquitoes away, but don’t be surprised if some harmless caterpillars, bugs or lizards stop by to say “hi”. 😉

Know Your Host

The Malkarnekar brothers - Ashok (right) runs the property

The Malkarnekar brothers – Ashok (right) runs the property

The plantation was started by the Malkarnekar family in 1985 and their home is built on the farm itself. Today, Ashok Malkarnekar, the eldest son, stays here and looks after the administrative bits of this home-stay. I was fortunate to be here when Ashok’s family and friends were around for a reunion, and we spent some good time chatting over chai and singing along with the guitarists in the house. The Malkarnekar siblings (2 brothers and a sister) are half German and half Goan, and fluent in Konkani, Hindi, German and English. They are all very friendly and warm. Throughout the duration of my stay at Dudhsagar Plantation, Ashok graciously showed me around the estate and took me to some interesting parts of Goa I’d never explored before.

Take A Spice Tour

(Picture courtesy: Ashok)

Every guest here can opt for an hour long guided tour of the spice garden. Spread over 50 acres, the plantation is a tropical paradise! Here, you will find a variety of trees and herbs – coconut, betel nut, starfruit, pepper, cinnamon and cashew, to name a few. Speaking of cashew, you can also learn how cashew feni is made through the fermentation process. A milder version of feni is the urak, which is distilled at an earlier stage. During my stay, I had their distinctive jungle juice – a cocktail they make with urak, limca and some “secret spices”. 😉

Jump Into The Family Well

Dive into the 15 feet natural well

Dive into the 15 feet deep natural well

Water babies will leap at the mention of a pool in a farmstay. Dudhsagar Plantation has something even better – a giant natural water well which is 15 feet deep! It was a lot of fun to swim here, the trees secluding us from the rest of the property. You might spot some friendly frogs and little fishes while you take a dip here. It is not uncommon either to sight snakes. (Yikes!!)

Relish Home-cooked Meals

A hearty Goan meal of pao, rice and curries with plenty of coconut

A hearty Goan meal of pao, rice and curries with plenty of coconut

I thoroughly savoured the freshly prepared meals at this homestay. The ingredients are locally sourced and mostly grown on the plantation itself. The food is completely organic as no pesticides or fertilizers are used for farming. Natural composting is practised here and manure is used for the plants. Ashok also showed me the nitrogen-fixing plants which absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and plug it back into the soil to improve its fertility. This reduces the need to add artificial fertilizers for the regular nitrogen-guzzling flora.

 

The food is generally vegetarian, but sometimes, the cook also prepares some fish or meat. You can have egg preparations for breakfast, and these are free range eggs from the domestic chickens on the farm. I had my fill of local vegan Goan curries which have a little bit of coconut in the form of its flesh-shavings or as coconut milk. They also use a lot of mushroom, which are my favourite! 🙂 I particularly loved the dishes for their mild flavours (I’m not a fan of spicy food) and judicious use of oil. Don’t forget to try their pineapple-banana butter, a house-speciality which I fell in love with! You will also like their homemade pickles and puranpoli.

Walk In The Rain

Take a romantic walk through the plantation under a cozy umbrella

Take a romantic walk through the plantation under a cozy umbrella

Dudhsagar Plantation is a nice place to spend an intimate weekend with your significant other. The property feels especially romantic in the monsoon (read: Lavasa – A Lyrical Journey in the Rains) when the raindrops rhythmically pelt on the brick roofs of the cottages and the thatched central dining gazebo. You may also want to want to laze in the swimming pool while you wait for the sun to set.

Swim In The Infinity Pool

The swimming pool which gets its water from the well

The swimming pool which gets its water from the well (Picture courtesy: Ashok)

Not all visitors like natural wells, so the plantation also has a modern-style swimming pool that looks out to the green foliage. Fortunately, the pool’s water comes from the well, and has no chlorine. The host is building a yoga-shala close to the pool, which will be ready in a few weeks. He has plans to build a large hut which can serve as a dormitory for budget travellers who wish to learn yoga. This place has the potential to be a tranquil yoga retreat. Can you imagine how relaxing it will be to practise yoga in the middle of nature!

Read, Nap Or Do Absolutely Nothing On The Veranda

Sit back and relax on the lounging chairs in your balcony

Sit back and relax on the lounging chairs in your balcony

Rejuvenating holidays are those where you don’t squeeze too many activities into your itinerary. The best way to spend your time at Dudhsagar Plantation is to read your favourite book or do a little bit of writing. The atmosphere is ripe with inspiration for those who find their joy in composing poems. Bring along a guitar and a mouth-organ, and make some soothing music if you are musically tilted. It really helps that internet connectivity is intermittent and slow here. You have another reason to tune out the world and tune in to your thoughts. The property has a wifi router installed at the common dining area, but that only worked for a few minutes during all the days I was there. No complaints, though. I quite enjoyed playing with the cute toddler (Ashok’s nephew) and the dogs (which guard the estate from trespassers and wild boars).

Things To Do Around Dudhsagar Plantation

Capturing River Kushavati at Usgalimal

Capturing River Kushavati at Usgalimal

If you are the restless type of traveller and cannot sit still, there’s plenty you can do around this place. I did the Tambdi Surla waterfall trek (close to the eponymous 12th century temple), peeped into a Portuguese villa, strolled atop the Salaulim dam and checked out 20-thousand-years old petroglyphs at Usgalimal. More on the activities in a separate blog post. 😉

Have you ever lived on a plantation?

Do you know of more non-touristy things to do in Goa?

Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

 

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Disclosure: I was hosted by Dudhsagar Plantation. However, all views are entirely my own.

Diu – The Discoverer’s Favourite

Chilled by the European winds, I wanted my next vacation to keep me warm. I was looking to get away from the noise and crowd of my city. I searched. And I found. Diu was so small, yet so empty – as if it had been waiting to just see me all this while.

Diu's music is in its waves

Diu’s music is in its waves

It’s Nothing Like Daman

I had previously been to Diu’s cousin – Daman (read: How Daman Delighted Me), and I thought this island would be a reminder of that trip. But I was wrong. Diu is more beautiful… in many different ways. Its beaches are cleaner, its streets are lined with a cycling lane (which unfortunately goes unused), and it rewards its admirers with unique places to eat and hide inside.

Ghoghla Beach - the largest one in Diu

Ghoghla Beach – the largest one in Diu

Ghoghla – The Morning Beach

Diu is no Goa. It’s not a wild, party place. It’s a place to nurse your hangover, and find peace amidst nature. Still, it is easy to rent a car, bike or scooty in this ‘Isle of Calm’. I did not find a place to rent a bicycle though. However, if you are a possessed walker or runner, you will enjoy exploring Diu just as much on foot.

My first evening here was spent watching the sun set over Nagoa Beach, close to my hotel – The Hoka Island Villa. The port wine I had that night gave me a nice sleep. This is why I surprised myself when I woke up early the next morning. My little white scooty urged me to cross the bridge and leave the little island.

I was on Ghoghla Beach. It was too early for the tourists to pour in. Too early for the sun to burn my skin. It was just perfect – my tripod agreed. I saw a little kid turn cartwheels on the sand. I stopped fiddling with my camera and ran to the sea, the breeze encouraging my hair to let go. I told myself that day that I would do a beach marathon someday. (And I am doing it this year! 🙂 )

Fortim do Mar - The Fortress of Panikota

Fortim do Mar – The Fortress of Panikota

A Fortress in the Sea

Fortim do Mar is visible from most of Diu’s coastline. It is hard to miss this seafort which seems to stand in the middle of nothing but water. I wonder sometimes if it is possible to rent this place to spend some quiet time with oneself. There’s a lighthouse there which perhaps offers a nice view of Diu from the top.

Baroque beauty - St. Paul's Church

Baroque beauty – St. Paul’s Church

What Portugal Left Behind

Visiting places of historical importance always unsettles me. A part of me wants to marvel at the wonders of the era bygone – the architectural ruins, the fusion cuisines, the stories and the ways of life. At the same time, another part of me fills up with rage at the masterminds of organised slavery. But time teaches us to move on. To forgive. To accept the good. And to make a promise not to repeat the bad.

St. Paul’s Church is a 17th century building, manifested in the Baroque style. One is reminded of Portugal when one observes the artfully decorated windows and doorways, the arched wooden doors and the murals on the ceiling. The church is still in operation, and you will find the 10 commandments framed against each pillar along the aisle.

Chakratirth Beach... guarded by a lighthouse?

Chakratirth Beach… guarded by a lighthouse?

Some Beaches Find You

As the day wore on, I saw people filling up the streets of Diu. I had to escape before my paradise of peace would vanish. So, I took another road and came across an amphitheatre with a sea-view. It was a viewing space for the grand performance by nature! The sea is so vast, it can help you forget all your troubles.

On the other side of the step-amphitheatre is the Chakratirth Beach, so named because of its semicircular shape. In between the two is an elevated perforated rocky patch. This is where I saw the sun go down again.

Washed by the sea, this shrine has its own story

Washed by the sea, this shrine has its own story

Myth or Mystery?

A 5 minute ride from Chakratirth brought me to the Gangeshwar Temple. This one is located underground. The legend goes that the 5 Pandavas (from the Indian epic Mahabharata) spent some time during their exile at this spot, worshiping Lord Shiva. Today, there are 5 shivalingas (one of Shiva’s manifestations) at the same spot. You can climb down the steps to watch the sea wash over the shivalingas at high tide, as if offering its own prayers to the Hindu God.

Naida Caves - where light plays hide and seek

Naida Caves – where light plays hide and seek

Caves that Will Haunt You

Diu is home to another kind of caves – this one, man-made. Naida Caves were formed due to the activities of the ruling Portuguese. They would cut away rocks from here and build monuments on the island. Nevertheless, these hollows and crevices are quite enchanting today. Climbers and creepers have wrapped some parts of the caves. Aerial roots have sheathed some other portions, almost turning this cave into a palace with many rooms. Moss has coloured some walls in shades of surreal green. Sunlight plays wonderful tricks on the human eye when it enters these caves through the rough openings and green canopies. It is poetic how destruction can also be beautiful.

Some pieces of history rest in a Gothic Church

Some pieces of history rest in a Gothic Church

The Abandoned Church

What is today known as Diu Museum, once used to be the Church of St. Thomas. Built in 1598, this Gothic white church was abandoned several years ago. It is not used for prayers anymore, but houses relics from the past – sculptures and scriptures carved in stone.

Diu has another old church which has been converted to a hospital now.

The Arabian Sea looks mesmerizing from Diu Fort

The Arabian Sea looks mesmerizing from Diu Fort

Diu Fort – Where Warriors Lived

I was saving the best for the last! 🙂 Diu Fort is a large complex that housed soldiers in the barracks, ammunition in underground chambers and canons at every gap in the walls of the mighty structure. This fort is perhaps the largest store of so many canons of different types. Somewhere in this enclosure is a lighthouse – the tallest one in Diu. At every nook and cranny, there is a viewpoint to see the infinite Arabian Sea softly making waves under the sun. Exploring the entire fort takes at least a couple of hours, so plan your day accordingly.

One of the canons which were used to smoke the enemies

One of the canons which were used to smoke the enemies

Diu is a small union territory in India, but it packs quite a punch! Have you been to similar quaint places that have surprised you with how much they can offer?

Eating, Shopping & Staying Smart in Jaipur

This is the concluding post of the Jaipur-series. You can read about my trip to Jaigarh and Amber also.

Food is an essential aspect of any trip that cannot be ignored. To truly taste the Rajasthani culture, one must taste its local cuisine. And to do this, my relatives and I headed to Chokhi Dhani. Chokhi Dhani means “good village” in Marwari, and true to its name, this theme-park exuded an earthy charm. The turbaned receptionist sprinkled rose-water on us, smeared a vermillion tilak on our foreheads and greeted us with “Ram Ram-sa!

It was a chilly evening but the warmth of the locals nullified the dip in the temperature. The scene was that of a small village-fair, with kathputli (puppet) shows, music & dance performances, mehendi (traditional tattoo) tents, food-stalls that served chai and pakodis, magic-shows and a series of game-stalls where one could try one’s hand at shooting, archery and umpteen other recreational activities. There was a special dandia-floor for people with twinkle-feet who could join the dandia (a dance in which a pair of sticks are used as props) & garba dancers. Further inside, the fair unfolded into an exhibition of local arts and crafts. Tourists could browse through and buy locally sourced garments, furniture, toys, leather-goods and gift items. Chokhi Dhani offers photoshoot opportunities in the local apparel, and also elephant, camel & horse-rides! I had my first camel-ride here, and felt my heart in my mouth as I struggled to balance myself on the wobbly seat several feet above the ground.

The village-home-style dining experience was the main attraction of the night for me. We sat on flat cushions spread on the floor and were served on leaf-plates and bowls and an earthen tumbler. The men who served the dishes egged us to eat more – “Khao, khao! Aur khao! Kitne duble patle ho gaye ho!” (Eat up! Eat up! You’ve worn thin!) The food was a sumptuous Rajasthani fare of bajre-ki-roti (millet flat-bread), makke-di-roti (corn flat-bread), soybean-chat, pudina-chutney, gatte-ki-subzi (gram-flour curry), daal-baati-churma (lentils, wheat-ball roll & sweet), halwa, sarson-da-saag (mustard-leaves veggie), mithi khichdi (sweet mashed rice) and salad (mostly lettuce). And everything was smothered in desi-ghee (clarified butter). I stopped only when my stomach threatened to burst open my jacket 😛

My trip to the Pink City ended with more shopping on my last day there. And you must know that returning empty-handed from a place like Jaipur is nothing but foolishness. So I’ll save you some embarrassment with some shopping tips.

Shopping in Jaipur – What, Where & Why :-

  • Colourful jootis & batuas (small handbags) from street-side shops, because of the unique designs & the slimming effect they have on the feet.
  • Cotton kurtas with Rajasthani cuts and prints (especially bandhani) from the bazaars or exclusive boutiques, for the comfort they provide in the summers. The bazaar-kurtas start from as low as 80 Rupees and the shopkeepers insist the cheap ones are of excellent quality when you ask to see something more expensive! 😀
  • Finished jewellery of German silver, precious and semiprecious stones, because of the workmanship of the jewellers and the intricate designs on the ornaments. Remember to collect the authenticity-certificate if you buy (semi)/precious stones.
  • Soft blankets/comforters/quilts from Bapu Bazaar, because these are light, wrinkle-free, washable & the softest blankets in India.
  • Wood, lac, mirror and painted-glass artefacts (pen-stands, wall-hangings, key-chains, coasters, show-pieces & even ornaments) for giveaways to your friends & family back home. Remember to pack lac-items well; they are fragile.
  • Multani-mitti-pressed saree, for its soft, off-white look.

Travel-tips that others won’t share with you (specific to Jaipur):-

  • Plan your heritage-site trips well and start early as most forts/palaces close for visitors by 5 or 6 in the evening.
  • Elephant rides can be availed in the early mornings and late evenings only as it gets too hot for the animals to walk about in the afternoons.
  • Hire a full-day cab so you can leave your shopping bags inside and travel freely.
  • Wear sneakers when you hit the road. Resist the temptation to wear short flowing skirts and stilettos to sites where you’ll have to walk for miles and ascend many steps. (Just to give you an idea, it’s very hard to walk on cobbled streets even with good quality sports-shoes.) Remember: It’s always a choice between glamorous photos and memorable experiences.
  • Pack some food and water for the road with you. Energy-bars go a long way in satiating a growling stomach when you can’t find a restaurant in sight – these are compact, weather-proof, & pack a punch! Remember to buy bottled water whenever you can. Once inside a fort, the vastness and the glaring sun can leave you parched in no time.
  • Take a leak wherever you find a restroom, irrespective of whether you need to. (In India, you can never tell when or where the next loo will be.)
  • Hire guides. They’re worth their weight in gold. They are also good photographers and excellent for you if you’re a solo-traveller, because you can’t always bug strangers (fellow tourists) to retake your pictures til they get the perfect shot.
  • Carry scarves. You’ll need these both in the summers & the winters and to add a dash of colour to your outfit. (Rajasthan is so vibrant, it can make any colour look drab!)
  • Don’t be shy to loosen your purse-strings a little. Every experience is worth every penny it commands.

Please share your Jaipur-experiences with me and write to me about all the things you’d like me to talk about.

Beyond Jaipur – Jaigarh & Amer

After an eventful first day in Jaipur, I was all set to explore the outskirts. Day-2 was going to be a big one, and I packed a lot of munchies in my handbag to keep me fuelled for the long walks that the enormous palaces would demand. I remembered to wear my new dangler-earrings that I’d bought the previous day.

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The now familiar sights passed me by as we drove past Hawa Mahal and Jal Mahal. Then the scene began to change and I reached Kanak Vrindavan, a beautiful garden at the valley of the Nahargarh Hills. This garden has an elevated stage to the immediate right of the entrance, where tourists have the opportunity to dress up in the full Rajasthani attire of lehenga-choli (ankle-length skirt & blouse) and a veil that rests on a cone on the head. I strongly recommend every visitor to get their pictures taken in the traditional Rajasthani get-up right after entering the garden. That way, you can bide your time by strolling through the garden while your photo develops. Here, you will also find trinket-sellers you can buy mementos from. I couldn’t resist the urge to buy some key-chains, bangles, earrings and necklaces.

The ride ahead was uphill as we rose over the Aravali mountain range. After an hour-long drive, I reached Jaigarh Fort that was built to protect the Amber Fort. By then, it was lunchtime and I was beginning to feel hungry (despite the incessant munching on chocolate-filled cookies all through the ride). But Jaigarh knew how to trick my mind – the parking area was right next to the National Handloom Expo shamiana! My hunger for food vanished into thin air as my hunger for shopping surfaced. Jaipur is famous for its many precious and semiprecious stone-jewellery. Mirror-studded wall-hangings and pen-stands carved in wood make for good gift-items. I spent 45 minutes roaming through the expo area and brought back a pair of bright coloured Rajasthani jootis, a set of coasters with traditional Rajasthani glass-paintings, some ornaments and a silk-blend saree for my mum, which had been softened by placing it flat under a layer of Multani mud (commonly used for facials).

After my mini shopping spree, I walked into the restaurant next door and ordered a biriyani with vegetable koftas. Eating solo can be boring, but not if you are a good observer and silent listener, which I am. I watched as a couple of foreign tourists pored over the menu and summoned the waiter. I expected a difficult conversation full of broken English & Hindi, but was pleasantly amused when the male diner ordered for a plate of butter chicken and a few naans in fluent Hindi and also added his dietary preference for good measure.

I began touring the Jaigarh Palace complex by walking up to the enclosure that guarded Jaivan, the colossal cannon on wheels. The guide informed me about its claim-to-fame and helped take some pictures of me. Once inside the Jaigarh Palace, I took another guide to hear the stories of the olden times as I sauntered through all the courtyards and gardens and also saw a puppet-show. There is an underground passage that connects the Jaigarh Fort to the Amer Fort, but it takes an hour on foot to reach the entry-point to that subterranean tunnel. The only other way to get there was to take an electric car on hire, which I did. The buggy-driver, who also was my next guide, drove slowly and carefully down the cobblestoned slopes as he told me about the centuries old history of the tunnel which incidentally had been opened to tourists only a month before. My real task began once I reached the passage. It was well-lit at first as I was walking through a roofless stretch, but the tunnel got dark an narrow when I went further inside. Many explorers who were returning said that it gets very scary with hardly any lights and none that I met had actually finished the stretch. My guide had told me I had 40 minutes to navigate through the tunnel and get back before the buggy-service stopped. I stepped up my speed and the tunnel got lonelier as the screeching of bats echoed off the walls. I felt unsure about my decision to continue despite my boldness when I saw a group of strong young men return without going any further than I had. If I carried on, I’d be all alone in a deserted tunnel. I thought hard and let safety score over spunk. I jogged back to my buggy and a smiling driver-cum-guide.

I took my cousin’s car to the Amer Fort and Palace area as the tunnel-route yielded me no joy. I looked in wonder at the reflection of the Amber Fort on the Maota Lake. I only had 30 minutes before the complex would close for sight seeing, I read from my ticket and looked sad. This is when one of the guides said he would work his contacts and get me to stay for an hour. I was skeptic due to the high price that he quoted and decided to walk it alone. But he followed me and warned that it would take me atleast 2 hours to fully see the palace and I would not learn of the significance of any room I saw. I resigned and let him lead the way. I was glad I did that! The entire premise is expansive and extremely beautiful, and only a seasoned tour-guide can show you around all the places and tell you all the stories. He took me through the courtyards, the offices, the cooking-area, the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) that has mirrors from Italy and coloured glass from Belgium, the underground living quarters of all the queens and the kitchen garden. It took us an entire hour even with my speed! The guide said it was a good idea for me to wear sneakers as we were able to run around, unlike other people who turned up in fancy shoes. He was a fantastic guide who did a fast-forward version of the storytelling (on my insistence) he’d normally reserve for regular tourists. He went on to advise me against travelling alone (I always take these pieces of advice with a pinch of salt 😉 ).

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