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November 16-20. We had the most beautiful guide in all India take us in a jeep over back roads and rough terrain for several hours to visit some desert villages. Twice as a teenager he won the “Prince of Jodhpur” competition. A blue eyed Indian. Who knew? He said it’s because of his Persian heritage.

We visited a herders’ village. All the men were away, taking the livestock, either camels or cattle, to sell them at the Pushkar Camel Fair. We were told they would go on foot and that they would be away for about twenty days. The village compound we visited was sparse, basic and neat, the women shy. We felt very much like tourists, as if we were intruding. In the towns everyone is friendly and wants to interact and have their photo taken. These women were far more reserved, and probably only tolerated our presence because of the money it brought in. I hope they didn’t mind too much. At least they probably appreciated the money. I wonder how I’d feel if I was paid for people to come and look at my home and way of life. I’d probably be okay with it if it weren’t too often. I don’t know how often this tour company takes people to see this village. It was interesting, but not comfortable.

All the women herders wear the wide bangles all up their upper arms. It’s a badge of their occupation. We saw some of these women in Mandore Gardens and they were very friendly.

We also visited a village of weavers. The weavers know all the designs by heart having learnt from childhood, the craft passed down from father to son for generations.

And a Bishnoi village. The Bishnois are an eco-friendly sect of Hinduism. We were shown a preparation ceremony for drinking opium. We were told outright opium is illegal but that most people living in the desert use it for the extra energy boost needed because their lives are so hard. Much like the people of the Andes chew on coca leaves and get a mild hit of cocaine to give them the energy to keep going.

We also went to a potter’s house. This man makes pots on a heavy wheel that he spins with a stick. He was incredibly skilled, adept, and quick at making pots.

Dinner preparation in the potter’s house.

It felt like a very touristy day. It was fun bouncing around in the jeep out in the desert, and rural areas of Rajasthan. We passed women gathering wood, and a girl herding goats, and a gypsy family with all their worldly belongings, including goats, piled onto their camel-drawn cart. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the lives of these people, and this was the only way we could do it, but I wish we’d had the time to do it in a way in which we’d been able to have a more authentic connection with the people, instead of just going into their villages and homes, having a look, taking some photos, and moving on to the next one. Like I said, interesting but not comfortable.

And then there was Mandore Gardens. What a contrast. So much fun, so much to see, and so many people to meet.

Mandore was the capital city of Marwar state before Rao Jodha had Mehrangarh Fort built, and moved the capital there, and named it Jodhpur after himself, as powerful men are wont to do. The ruined fort and palace of Mandore survive on the hilltop, and the gardens below have become a public park with fountains and the cenotaphs of Jodhpur’s maharajas.

As we entered the park everywhere we looked there were things to see. First things we encountered were:

this gentleman who makes his living charging people to weigh themselves on his scales. I love the om sign above his head.

this beautiful woman and her baby,

and many cenotaphs of the maharajas.

Then we found a whole long rock wall of relief carvings of Hindu deities and heroic men on horseback, each one different. We’d found the Hall of Heroes. We were barely ten minutes into the park and already we were astonished and delighted. And there was much more to come.

We kept walking and came to a temple, which I later discovered was a Jain temple. The interior has a huge wall of relief carvings covered in what looks like coloured shiny candy wrapper.

This shows only about one third of the wall.

There was what I can only describe as a shaman sitting in one corner. He didn’t look remotely like a Hindu priest. He was talking and gesticulating at a hundred miles an hour with great focus, intensity and passion, and people were gathered around listening intently. I’d love to know what he was saying, but just to watch him for ten minutes or so was entertainment in itself. Such passion!

Then we noticed that from time to time couples were coming out of the temple wearing gold masks and holding a scarf between them, and walking around a fire. This we discovered was part of a wedding ritual.

We walked on from the temple and up a level to a large open space with what are presumably some of the ruins of the lower levels of the fort at one end. There were about twenty people here, children and adults, all occupied with cooking. The men were cooking some kind of dough ball in ashy fires, while at the other end there were big pots over other fires. We stayed here a long time, photographing, talking in sign language, smiling and laughing, all of us having a wonderful time. I have no idea what they were doing. Perhaps it was related to the wedding rituals that were taking place just below. Perhaps they were visiting from their village and cooking lunch.

We went up even higher to see the view. On our way back out of the park we saw boys playing cricket, (any open space anywhere in India there’ll be boys playing cricket), and these lovely ladies.

The only reason I’m including this picture is so that I can write:
A literally littered shitty lily pond!

From Jodhpur we went to Pushkar for the camel fair, one of the most extraordinary experiences of our lives.

On a more personal note – we’re both well, and still enjoying all this travel. The pace in India was a bit intense. We packed in so much in our six weeks there, but we’ve since spent two weeks on a beach in Thailand to recover. We knew we needed to just stop for a while.

The last two days there were spent in concentrated and intense focus on arranging a seventeen-day trip to Myanmar to take place late February. It gets tense, hoping we’re booking the right places, making the right decisions. We knew we had to get on it because places were getting booked out. Everyone wants to go to Myanmar these days, and it’s the high season. Anyway that was a bit intense, but apart from that we just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

We are living a wonderful life, and we know that, but we still go through all the usual human stuff. Some days we’re tired. Some days the food we’ve eaten doesn’t sit right and it takes twenty-four hours to feel good again. Sometimes we feel just so filled up with sightseeing that all we want to do is stay home. Sometimes we’re irritable with ourselves, and/or each other. Sometimes it all feels like it’s a bit too much. We’re both very good at catching the mind trying to create discontent, and then choosing something other than that. At the same time sometimes we just feel the feelings. Sometimes we wonder or worry about the future. Sometimes we feel sad that we don’t have a home. It’s all just normal stuff. Wherever we go there we are. Just as we are.

Mostly we’re filled with gratitude and joy, and excitement in the discovery of the new and different. And a consciousness that we’re very lucky to have the life we have.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.