Date: 2 May
Location: the shaded terrace, Bhanwar Vila, the local Maharajah's palace-come-homestay, Karauli
Notable sightings: peacocks (I love peacocks); a swimming pool that looks like its been here since the late 1800s
This could easily have gone either way.
Either I was going to end up in a nineteenth century sweat box without a shower, in the middle of nowhere, with the company only of oversized lizards and banyan trees, being fed dubious dahl; or I was going to end up in a slightly diplapidated but yet regal old colonial home with sufficient amenities, still in the middle of nowhere, with the company only of peacocks and perhaps an overgrown rose garden, being served tea on the terrace. Signing up for a night in an Indian rural heritage house was a dicey move, something that the 5 hour bus ride from Jaipur to the village of Karuli on extremely bumpy roads gave me plenty of time to contemplate.
Pleased to report that, while it may be a little of the former and a little of the latter, it was a great decision. I'm sitting here taking tea on a terrace and feeling a little like a misplaced, underdressed Jane Austen heroine.
This afternoon one of the staff took me on a walk through the local village. Imagine, if you will, a countryside Indian village. Karauli is just that, come to life. Dusty streets are bordered by a foot-wide open sewers whose contents trickle down through the town and out its main gate, bridged by steps up to dinky little open-air stores and teeny tiny teetering houses painted blue and purple. Children, goats, pigs, buses, cows, flies and motorbikes run wild and clog the narrow streets. Everyone stops to watch the white girl with the big camera. This little village houses a mosque, a temple and 40,000 people. I'm fairly certain it does not house a single bathroom.
At the temple, my guide told me stories from Hindu mythology, of the three in the Trimurti: the creator, Brahma, the organiser, Vishnu, and the destroyer, Shiva; and of their millions of reincarnations ('avatars').
So I heard of how Parvati made her son Ganesh, whose father, Shiva, accidentally decapitated him and then replaced his head with next he saw – that of an elephant. Of clever Vishnu, who was forced into giving a demon protection against being killed by man or animal, at day or at night, on land or in the air – only to kill him the demon in his reincarnation as half-man half-lion, at sunset, while holding him in his lap. Of Brahma, allowing the all powerful Ganges to come down to earth in river form.
The village adventures also brought us to a firework shop. After dark, we set off fireworks from the roof of the manor and the village kids came running to the estate gates. It was superb.
Should also mention that I've long since said goodbye to my southern tour group (can we get a little huzzah?) and am meeting the northern tour group tomorrow. We can only pray to Shiva.