We met our hotel guide/driver for a morning walk at Bhangarh Fort, a 16th century Mughal site which held 10,000 dwellings in a complex city of stone paved streets. There is a mystery associated with Bhangarg: after only one or two hundred years, the inhabitants all mysteriously left. Today the local people talk about black magic and curses, and they say the abandoned city is haunted.
As soon as we arrived at the fort and got out of our car, a big macaque jumped on the roof of our car and bounced aggressivelly. Our driver shooed him away and told us not to look at the monkeys in their eyes or they might attack us. The males have flaming red genitals and some have bright red faces, as well.
Just as we got to the entrance of the fort complex it started to sky darken, and it rained hard. We got back into the car hoping it would pass, but there was thunder and lightning, as well. Barry and I were ready to head back to the hotel, but the driver looked so disappointed. So we waited a bit, and soon enough the clouds passed. We walked along an ancient paved street and saw a woman a few hundred feet away who was trying to get a 6 foot long bundle of sticks on her head. An older woman, she was really struggling, so our guide approached and helped her balance it. With that, she started walking away at a fast pace.
Our guide pointed out that there were other women on the steep, rocky hillside who were up there gathering broken branches of dry wood. One woman was very high up the mountain and she was throwing wood down the hillside for someone else to gather. There was lots of chatter and laughter coming from the hill, and during the course of our stay we must have seen 20 young women balancing long bundles of firewood on their heads as they walked a mile or two to their homes.
On the way back to our hotel, I noticed a highly decorated cow with a painted grid on her back and colored horns. Our guide told us the villagers decorated their animals for Diwali, a big Hindu family holiday that had happened just the week before.
For the afternoon, Barry and I went on a camel ride from the hotel along the path to the settlement where we met those lovely children on our first day here. They called it the “Cow Dust Ride” because in the late afternoon the cattle start making their way home to be fed.
Our camels arrived on the lawn with brightly decorated, macrame’d blankets and tassels that hung so low they seemed to tickle their tummies. Both of our camels had to scratch with their big padded hooves after we mounted, but Barry’s camel kept kicking him in the foot. After a half mile or so, we dismounted and continued with a hotel driver in an open jeep. He drove us all around the area in a big circle, going from hamlet to hamlet. He encouraged me to take photos, and people were very friendly. We saw the women going about their chores - milking cows, sweeping, washing. We saw braids of tobacco hanging to dry and herds of goats coming home. One old woman was fiercely charging at a monkey with a ten foot pole to keep him out of her supplies. Old men were gathering to smoke their hookahs, and young women were peeking at us through their veils. All the children wanted their photos taken.
I think the hotel must support the local people here in many ways - the schools, some medical services, volunteering, interchanges with the children, maybe subsidies of some kind. Our guide pointed out a high school in the village that has an enrollment of 500 students. Everyone has some kind of cell phone, and I did notice a number of satellite dishes at most of the settlements we passed, which seemed to me just crumbling concrete shells. The monsoons must tear up every kind of structure or road almost as soon as it’s built. But the people are genuinely happy and content, apparently viewing us with passing curiosity as they follow the same rhythms and customs as generations before them.
Since it was our last night at the hotel, a special dinner was arranged. They set a table for two on the balcony above the restaurant. It was a beautiful evening, with a waxing moon, lights reflected in the pool, and musicians who seemed to play only for us. When we returned to our room, we found candles and a lovely floral arrangement on the patio floor.
Next morning we went on a walk with the chef in the kitchen garden. The hotel grows all their vegetables here. Everything is beautifully tended and guarded (from monkeys) even at night. Coriander, eggplant, tomatoes, radishes, more than I can name. We said our goodbyes to the hotel staff and made our way with Manik, first to Jaipur to pick up our next guide, and then to Pushkar for the camel fair. We had reservations to stay at the Green House hotel.