We take the offer of Mr. Singh, the Sikh driver of an auto-rickshaw, a small, noisy, three-wheeled motorized contraption with no doors, to take us around the narrow streets that are filled with cows, people, dogs, pigs, men in dirty white dhotis (sarong which is pulled up between the legs) pushing handcarts, seller stands and motorcyles piled high with the entire family, other auto-rickshaws and cars that travel ridiculously fast, narrowly missing each other…trusting cows just lie down right in the middle of it all.
We go nuts taking pictures…Bob, over here, over here…in the local market with picture-perfect fruit and vegetables sold by tribal (adivasi) women sellers in colorful saris. The women laugh and put their hands to their mouths when they see themselves on the screen of the digital camera. Once in awhile, a woman will decline a picture and we respect her desire.
Mr. Singh tells us that the “higher cultured” women who have knowledge of the Indian religious texts (vedas) will want to follow the dictum of the sacred texts that say your image should not be reproduced. But the women loved having their pictures taken and I suspect the truth is that the tribal women have their own beliefs that may or may not include the texts of the vedas.
However, I was really touched by one middle class Indian tourist family from the state of Gujurat who handed me their year-old baby to hold-as if they they thought it would be a blessing for the child. Bob took a picture of the child and the father and as we walked away we heard a man calling us from behind. We looked around to see him running up the hill in his brown slacks and blue shirt. He wanted us to send him a copy of the picture so after a few more pictures of the whole family we copied down his address-we will have another pen pal.
Shilpgram Cooperative & Cultural Center
We were the only tourists in the center that has displays of traditional houses from the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa and Mahashtra. We pass by musicians and dancers that, bored to death, happily perform only for us and laugh when they see themselves on Bob’s video screen.
For a breathtaking view of the entire valley, Mr. Singh’s rickshaw chugs up to the highest point in the foothills around the little valley to the Monsoon Palace built in the 1800′s by one of the Maharajas. The Palace is lit at night and from our hotel looks magical. But we don’t understand a word he says in his Indian accent as he describes the history of the palace!
Natraj Hotel Restaurant
For dinner Mr. Singh suggested we eat at the Natraj Hotel in the flat new part of the city. The word “new” is relative of course because it looks no different than the old city. The vegetarian restaurant full of men starved at the end of the work day serves a set-price thali (all you can eat) for 50 rupees or about $1.00.
Nine or ten barefoot waiters in dirty shirts and pants come around again and again with metal containers of potato masala, dahl (lentil soup), curd (yogurt), mattar paneer (peas and chunks of soft cheese in sauce), sabzi (curried vegetables), some other things I have forgotten or don�t know the name of, and chapatis and rice. The next day we are sick–the “GI’s” or locally known as the Delhi Delight.
Tea on the Hill at Sunset
As I am arranging to have some clothing repaired by old Mr. Basir Mohead at his tailor shop Mr. Singh happens along. We invite him to tea with us so we jump in his rickshaw and he takes us to the top of a quiet hill with a view of Lake Pachola where there are some picniking locals and a modest tea stall. While we drink our tea and are watch a soothing sunset, Mr. Singh remembers that the day before I had asked him where we could listen to some music and he offers to take us to his Sikh temple where a special pundit (chanter) that was booked a year in advance will be performing with tabla and drums.
At least 5 friendly greeters walk up and welcome us to the temple, give us little kerchiefs to cover our heads and take our shoes. Children stand around and stare and laugh-some attempting to walk up to us and talk but as soon as we make a move forward they pull back. The temple is jampacked, men on one side and women on the other, all sitting cross-legged knee to butt on the floor. I find a place in the back next to an older woman where I can lean up against the wall. I cannot get her to smile for the life of me. The music and voices were very soothing. I had hoped we could last until 11pm when about a thousand members of the temple would have a meal together that had been prepared earlier in the evening but between my loose stools and numb butt I decide at about 9:30 I have had enough and motion to Bob.
On the way out of the temple yard, Mr. Singh introduces us to his children, nieces and nephews who excitedly shake our hands and wish us goodbye. (The temple was full and many were listening to the music in the temple yard.) This close knit community has shared a very special evening with us.