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Come, Walk with me

Come, Walk with me!

By Harpreet Kaur


Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2010 Harpreet Kaur



I dedicate this book to “The Rose” and my teacher and my dog Jack.

India is a fascinating country. For a person who is born and brought up here it may seem a mundane comment, but this is my viewpoint. Having lived in India for 40 years now, the different places and their people remain as fascinating as always. Traveling has been a passion with me since childhood and over the years I have collected my travel experiences and feelings in the form of this book.

- Harpreet Kaur

Book I

Rajasthan

A meandering soul

Recently, I traveled to Rajasthan for a wedding where I was part of the few special guests invited for the same. We traveled by Ranakpur Express from Mumbai to Rani in Pali district of Jodhpur. The journey was a good 15 hours, starting at 3pm we reached on the next day at 6am.

The entire train had baaratis (wedding attendees) spread over many compartments including ours. Although invitees, they took care of us royally, food was served when we were hungry, tea was served promptly and dinner was packed in foil boxes and served hot. Watching the stations go by is a favorite hobby of mine, reading names, linking them to history or any historical fact is you may call one weird habit that helps me to keep awake and interested in the journey that is to come ahead.

In fact, truth be told, I am not much of wedding go-er and yet the nuances, the planning, the customs and smallest details that have to be taken care of is very fascinating for me. I enjoy studying them, the way people react, their expressions during the entire process, the way they are dressed, what is being said and done, how many people get served well, who are ignored, sorry I do have quite a bit of an eye for these details.

After getting off at Rani, we were all loaded into jeeps and vans and taken to my uncle’s friend’s ancestral home in Khimel. Through the road that has been privately built by Kishore Khemavat, the road is shaded with green Neem (Azadirachta indica) trees on both sides along the entire road. Rani is also famous for the best girl’s public school here called Marudhar Mahila Vidya Sangh, a hostel cum school.

Khimel is equidistance between Jodhpur and Udaipur. As is the case with many villages and small towns here in Rajasthan, they lie empty for the entire year except during festivals and marriage ceremonies. Empty but beautiful homes that stand quietly waiting for their owners to come and occupy them, I felt sad, I love these homes, with umpteen parrots calling out in unison hanging from the balconies, wires, with water and food filled stands placed outside. The jeeps quietly swished on the road covered in sand and rolled to stop close to the homes that were decorated with torans, streamers and wedding tents. Hot tea waited for all those who alighted from the vehicles. As we sipped at the hot tea in the cold morning, everything felt calm and beautiful. My love for Rajasthan increased that day. I had found peace within my soul that goes missing in the agitating and whirlwind world of Mumbai.

We waited our turn to be greeted in the traditional manner, there were women dressed in tradition ghagra choli chunari with their faces covered, singing and greeting the wedding guests and visitors to their home. As we entered they sang even more loudly and the eldest bahu (daughter-in-law) of the house applied the tilak (red mark, considered auspicous) on our forehead and fed us gud (jaggery) and ghee (clarified butter), the shagun (welcome) for wedding guests that all guests will bring good luck to the home and the couple that was to be married.

We stepped in and sat enjoying the small ceremonies taking place; the dholi (drummer) walked in and started drumming, for the dulha (groom) who had been traveling with us. This was his ancestral home. We would be traveling to the girl’s village in Kishanpura, some kilometers away from Khimel but a part of Rani.

After the shagun, we all went to the rooms provided for us, showered and changed and were immediately invited for breakfast.  Me, as usual, till the jeep could arrive chose to stroll out and visit the ancient temples located close by. Here there are some rare old temples. One belonged to Dedadevi (mother goddess I think) that was closed but it is around 200 years old with the swambhu (self occurring) image covered with cloth from behind and a lion sitting on its paws outside with an eternal jyoti (lamp) burning in the courtyard; there was a Hanuman temple close by and a very very old Krishna temple. In the open courtyard was another small hanuman temple under a tree.

The Krishna temple seemed over 800 years old. It had a huge fort like doorway with place to sit close built just inside the entrance. The entrance was barred with a stone barrier two feet high with a small stepping stone provided for one had to climb across it to get into the temple premise. It would soon be repaired. Inside was a courtyard with small rooms to each side but their roof had caved in. These rooms were used by pilgrims during festivals and straight ahead lay the temple. The main temple was a small square room with space enough to walk around it to perform the parikrama (circumbulation) and a huge brass bell hanging to one side. The temple, the only one of its kind, had huge tulsi (basil-Ocimum tenuiflorum) trees on both sides of the center temple, and is said to have been planted by the last ruler of Khimel aided by the Mehta’s of the region.

Close by is a beautiful stepped well also built by the Mehta’s, the business family according to many and according to others these were the last of the Chauhan rulers who changed their profession to survive and they took on the name of Mehta’s. They have built their samadhi close to the well. There are three chhattris here for four generation of Mehta’s.

This entire region of Rani, Khimel, in Pali, had once been under the domain of the Chauhan rulers. The well is huge, with water below; it is still a very cool place and regarded as the abode of the Mataji, whose temple is located close. Climb the limestone flight of stairs and the flat upper side deceives the visitor for then you climb down a flight of stairs and come up to a door cut in the limestone walls. Beautifully made, simple and yet elegant. Few design works at the edges will remind you of the elaborate work done on the vavs (stepped wells) in Gujarat. The well is quite deep and yet holds water, which is filled with coconuts and flowers at the moment and the water, is not drinkable. I found some beautiful peacock feathers just lying around and picked them as souvenirs for myself.

By the time we came out, our jeep was waiting for us to take us to take us for brunch, which included tea, farsan (mixed savouries), khaman (Gujrati breakfast item), upma (south Indian breakfast made of refined wheat grains) and mithai (sweetmeat). The initial wedding ceremonies were underway- a small havan (Vedic fire ritual) was being performed by the boy’s father’s brother and wife. They were dressed in traditional marriage clothes with shehra (flowers bedecking the man’s forehead) and goonghat (sari covering the face of the woman). After the havan the boy was brought out and the haldi (application of turmeric) ceremony was performed.

This is one interesting ceremony when the boy is given a chance to decamp from the wedding to take up sanyas (become a hermit) or step into a happy married life. He is dressed in all white and offers prayers till they stop and everyone steps in to cover him haldi, pulling his leg at the same time. The ceremony is diligently clicked by the official photographer, he does not take a chance and chooses not to miss any individual or person at the ceremony, for it could lead to heated arguments later. By the time they finish the groom has packed a small potla (bag) with clothes and food on a stick and is ready to run. As the application of the haldi ceremony gets over, he gets up quietly to make a run for it and everyone goads him, challenging him till he picks up the potla on a stick and runs to the nearest temple. Usually the dulha’s uncle brings him back, all ready for the wedding, dressed in the finest sherwani (traditional dress of Lucknow) and bejeweled pagdi (headdress). They would also apply mehndi to the groom after a little while. The major ceremony for the day was over.

He is brought back home an hour later by his uncle; the search party usually leaves following him after 30 minutes, with all pomp and ceremony. It had been a fun filled afternoon. We then went for lunch, which included Rajasthani fare dal (pulses), bati (ground pulses) and churma (crushed wheat sweet dish), papad (savoury), puri (fired wheat bread), rice, bhindi (okhra), chutney (side dish includes dips), all made in ghee. The groom joined us for lunch. I avoid wedding foods and yet this time around all the four days I was here I never suffered from heartburn, which I often get in Mumbai even after a small and light meal. According to the hosts it is due to the clean water and air that one finds it easy to digest food. But to allay our fears we walked back to our rooms located outside the Jain temple upashray (resthouse) across the dry riverbed. It was fun, we walked half kilometer on the riverbed imaging what it would be like when it was full and filled with water, how deep and cool it must be. It was a lasting impression, the dry river left in my mind. Dinner was equally good and had different dishes. All four days and the three meals a day, the menu was never repeated even once, except for tea and coffee.

Everyday was a fantastic experience in having Rajasthani cuisine - khakra (thin crust chapati) with ghee (clarified butter), moong dal (yellow pulse) sheera yummm!, bajri roti (maize bread) and lassoon (garlic) chutney, dal and hard bread made from various grains which is crushed and eaten as a meal, wow, they certainly have very creative food stuff here. Yes, I can well imagine with few varieties available, making use of what was locally available the women created beautiful and mouth licking food stuffs for their children and their husbands.

We slept peacefully that night, having the habit of getting up early and doing surya namaskar (yoga stance) is something I never give up. I was up at daybreak and took in the cold morning, the quiet surroundings, beautiful temples and green trees and bushes all around. It was a quiet morning, which is a rare sight for mumbai-ites. It is to be felt and seen for something like this to be known.

I stayed outside in the balcony taking in the atmosphere, watching the Sun’s rays hit the ground, and brighten up everything around. Yes, I loved it here, and I could live here forever, few people around, fewer problems, I could give up everyone and everything to be here in this land.

I could well imagine why the Rajputs loved their land so fiercely. It is a different world altogether, beautiful and harsh, fierce and yet kind. Unrelenting, it can kill just as easily as well as save him. They have loved it and defended it and yet the glory remains shut from outside world, few come to their ancestral homes now. They have moved on to big cities and to more money. Many have forgotten the charm and beauty of this place.

The glory of Rajasthan can be seen and felt in the smallest details the doorway of a home, or the temple built besides it or the heart-warming ceremonies during and after a wedding. During the time we had to ourselves we visited the famous Ranakpur temple (that’s another story) and the Sai Baba temple in Khimel and also shopped for traditional Rajasthani jutis, we bought close to a dozen of them.

The next day was equally exiting for everyone knew that was the wedding day and the scheduled wedding time was placed at 2am after midnight!!! We would take the baraat out only after four in afternoon and take along the wedding dress of the bride too. The fun part, there were to be two weddings that night both sisters were getting married on the same day and same time but to two distant cousins.

Oh! Man that would be a sight, a wedding in the dead of the night at 02:00 hours, never heard of it but the mahurat (auspicious time) was for that time and they were going to follow it to the T. We dressed casually for the journey, which was around 45 minutes to village Kishanpura. We traveled through small towns and through the hills. We halted at a school that was taken over by the baraati's for the evening and the night.

We waited for the milni (get together) to take place; the women of the bride’s household would come to greet the women of the grooms family. But the interesting part, there was going to no normal garland exchange etc., but they would lambast each other with bad words, choicest words and brickbats before hugging each other. A tradition from ancient times said to keep evil and bad feelings away, the women screamed on top of their lungs, singing, laughing and pulling each other’s legs. They went back home just as abruptly as they had come. Now the men of the family would take the baraat the groom into the village of the girl. Only the men travel in the baraat (this is due to the number of attacks on baraats during ancient and medieval times by dacoits for looting), the women would go there later to witness the events. They also took the wedding dresses of the brides and the jewelry that they would wear for the main wedding ceremony.

Kishanpura is a Chauhan thikana (place of residence and power) and the thakur was a Sonigara Chauhan too. A strict ruler, the groom could not enter the village until the mahurat time and would sit in the village chaupal (village center) office, under the tree until then. On enquiring I was informed an incident in the past had led to this rule so that no bad luck could befall this village. The mahurat (auspicious time) was stuck to, no mater how hot, cold the day was.

The thakurs would see everything but we never caught a glimpse of either him or the ladies of the house. According to the groom’s sister, her in-laws lived here, the thakurs were very strict rulers and nothing new could happen without their consent or knowledge weddings, building a new home, traveling outside, leaving the village etc.

I was completely intrigued; I saw the home – palace/fort in the middle of the night and their family mataji (mother goddess) temple close by where no one except their family prayed. Huge walls and doorway kept strangers from looking in and yet I could feel we were being watched. They knew exactly what was going on. I felt as if I had walked back in time and the only thing missing were armed guards on the doorway dressed traditionally, torch lamp lighted streets and horses neighing in the stable and the soft steps of people going home quietly in the night.

The house palace was square by the looks of it but was completely fortified. High walls all around so no one could look in, small windows so that people from within could look out but would not be detected. It looked huge with many rooms, and a central courtyard, with the main room close by holding the portraits of their ancestors.

The doorway was so huge that if opened completely an elephant could walk through, built with wood in the old fortress gates style, it had studs all over to stop an elephant barging the door open, and a smaller chor (robber)darwaza (door), which is opened by the gatekeeper when required for just a single individual to enter.

The groom’s sister on seeing me very much interested promised me that if I make a plan to come again she would try and get more information on the thakurs and try for an appointment with the lady of the house. Oh, yes I would love that. And made a plan to return soon, but the plan fell through, as I did not have the time to go back, but someday I will go back.

We were given a small bungalow to ourselves to change and rest till mahurat time. But me, I was all hyper and could not sleep, my imagination was moving in leaps and bounds and my cousin suddenly felt a creepy sensation and thought she saw a pair of red eyes glaring at her from the empty bungalow balcony above. She got up and started to cry and although tired now we called our host to take us back to the school. We changed our clothes and left the bungalow.

We waited at the school till it was close to the baraat time, we walked ahead and reached the groom’s sister’s home and sat on the huge verandah. The baraat was lighted up, the women danced and then came the star of the show - the dancing horses. They set up a small stage on which the horses would dance, with the grooms sitting and holding on tight to maintain their balance. The horses danced and their anklets tinkled to the music for around 30 minutes, by this time one groom looked completely stiff and the other scared out of his wits. At the end of the ceremony the milni ceremony took place where the bride and grooms family met and poured turmeric water over each other haldi to signify the good shagun.

We went back in to the house and waited for our host to call us when the wedding began. Till that time, there was chaos in the brides home, lots of people, small place, etc.

The weddings in Rajasthan always take place within the home. A small havan is placed in the area designated, usually each home has a huge ventilation system built through all the floors so that during weddings the smoke can easily pass out  they say that this signifies that the house is not single, it is married (marriages have taken place or will take place there), and is considered lucky.

The chaur (wooden bedposts) were set up close to the havan kund on, which sat the bride and the groom to be married. I have to yet find out what it signifies. By the time the wedding mahurat arrived they had been sitting there for over two hours and had leg cramps and could barely move when it came to the pheras (rounds). The bride had to be held and helped to move around the kund. They also take four pheras with the priest reciting the mantras.

Immediately after the wedding we took a jeep and went back to Khimel as we had to reach Ahmedabad the next day. We did not see the baraat leave with the bride the next day afternoon or how the bride was greeted at her in laws; you can catch a glimpse of this a little in the movie Jodha Akbar. I have a hobby I usually read up extensively about the place and ceremonies I am going to and end up knowing much more than those involved.

Well, that was the wedding, but Kishanpura left a mark in my mind I will never forget it, and someday I will go back. On reaching Khimel, we hurriedly changed and packed our belongings got in the car again and went to Falna, where my uncle had some business to tend to. We rested that night in his friend’s place and the next morning at seven we caught a cab to Udaipur. (The journey between Falna and Udaipur is another story altogether.) We did not have enough time to sightsee as my cousin fell sick and had to be taken to a doctor and we also had to catch a bus to Ahmedabad.

The entire journey I sat alone next to a window wide-awake watching the world go by. My uncle and cousin slept through the entire journey. Tired and yet not tired, I felt cramped and uneasy in the crowded bus. People got on and were dropped along the entire route. The route that was touted to be just five hours took us over 12 and we reached Ahmedabad at nine pm. From there we would catch an onward bus for where we wanted to reach our destination.

On reaching home, we slept like logs. But this trip left a fantastic memory for me.

Yes, I am going back someday but purely to visit all the places again.

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