The Fourth Tale from Karnataka and Rajasthan – Jaipur and Shekhawati

By Nick Goslett
The Maharaja's house
The Maharaja's house, Mandawa

Not much news this time. I have been somewhat laid low by a flu-like virus and have struggled a bit. A chubby Indian doctor who worked for the NHS for 10 years has just seen me and says it is nothing to worry about, take the penicillin I bought with me and it will get better. I hope so because the next 12 days will be hectic.

Anyway, the last missive was from Jaipur as is this one. I have no record of what I sent and the copies Philippa and Sylvia kindly sent me have vanished (the vagaries of gmail) so I hope I don’t repeat myself.I spent a happy day in the bazaars talking to the traders and finding out their tricks, such as if a Westerner pays way over the odds for some cloth in the textile bazaar, runners are sent out to all the adjacent shops to up their prices. All the shops are owned, the cost in the main Jaipur bazaars being about GBP 100,000 which is a lot.

I had two tabla lessons from a tall, elegant, charming man who runs a music school and the whole place was full of singing and chanting. He adamantly refused any payment. At one point whilst practising three lads sat down with me, took out their violins, played excruciatingly badly for a few minutes, packed up and left. The teaching method was totally different from that in Mysore which I found odd but who am I to question the Masters. After an hour sitting cross-legged I got up, just, and must have looked like a very old crone.

The Music School

That evening I was working with a wonderful person in the Business Centre arranging my next 8 buses and trains (not sure what I would have done without him!) when an Australian lady, blond and 58, suddenly burst into floods of tears. Being a knight in white armour I went over, looked after her and asked what the problem was – imagining a death in the family. Her travel agent had cocked up and her train to Delhi from Agra was arriving 30 minutes after her plane took off for China. Well, the guy and I eventually sorted her out (I doing most of the work) but she was still shaken so I said let’s go out and get something to eat; by then it was 8 pm and I was starving. She was so thankful to the other guy that she gave him a rug for which she had paid about GBP 120 which I thought bonkers because all he had done was book the train I pointed out! Well, we found a local restaurant (and luckily she only had soup) and I cannot say that I warmed to her and when the bill came and I started to apportion the costs (as travellers do) she said “You don’t expect me to pay, do you? I thought you had asked me out”! Why the hell would I do that if she was leaving the next morning? Anyway, I was expecting that she would offer to pay for me. I did pay, and a very frosty return journey ensued!I met a lovely English couple one morning and we nattered away for some time and they texted me from Samode that the lovely hotel they were in had hardly anyone it it so I would be able to bargain. I thought about it but decided to go instead to Shekhawati, an area famous for its havelis.

I found a lovely eco lodge (Apani Dhani) with the most charming and elegant owner (Ramesh) who lived there with his family of 10. The rooms are built around a central sitting and reading area covered with bougainvillea of different colours. Beautiful. The first afternoon I had a guide who walked me into town and showed me three havelis in increasing states of repair. In about 1870, the rich merchants from the big cities were persuaded to build houses in this area, each house being for about 40 members of the family (interestingly, without a loo). After they had been built, the stakes were raised and they tried to outdo each other with the quite wonderful fresco painting on every bit of wall, inside and out. I have to say that it is quite tragic that after 130 years I would say that 90% of the havelis are falling to pieces and have no chance of repair. But that’s India; anything at all old just rots and in general all the towns I pass through are falling to pieces as well though there is a tremendous amount of building work going on.

Haveli IV

I had been hoping to meet some like minded tourists but out of luck: an elderly French couple who spoke no English had booked in for 10 days. The first morning they refused to take any advice from our host, set off at 9 am to find the havelis by themselves, apparently found one haveli by the afternoon and by the evening she could no longer walk at all! Ramesh spoke English, French and German fluently and was the first Indian to take part in the World Gliding Championships and has flown solo over the Alps twice. He was just completing a 15-person yoga hall and I wished him luck … but they don’t know where the tourists have gone and are worried. For the guide on my first day I was his first client for three weeks. The French love it there but hardly any Brits go.

The next day I took an auto-rickshaw out to another town with a wonderful fort-cum-home still owned by a relative of the maharajah who had built it in 1760. Luckily he and his wife were there for me to question because my “guide” spoke no English and for the entrance fee of 20p one could hardly expect a handout. He also runs a stud farm for Marwari horses which are long distance champions and have very funny ears: In the afternoon, Ramesh’s son gave me an excellent cooking lesson. His young lovely wife kept bringing in parts of the course and I was saddened by how miserable she looked. I purchased a curry cook book in almost illegible fancy script but with mouth-watering recipes.

Haveli III

Feeling rather poorly I decided to return to Jaipur early (lesson: don’t just ask when the local train leaves; ask when it gets there! Fours hours with no food, going through scrub countryside stopping at non-descript towns was a nightmare!) and anyway that gave me a chance to try out some photochromatic, varifocal almost-wrap-around glasses I had ordered which had not turned up on time but which I could be given at the bus station on my way from Shekhawati to Pushkar. I had left a GBP 20 deposit and has 45 to go. Well, thank God I did: I went to the shop, tried them on and could not read any of the letters up on the wall and couldn’t read any of the close writing. He assured me that after a few days my brain would get used to them. He said it would be like the first time I get varifocals. Big mistake on his part! I got used to my varifocals in a few seconds. After various ludicrous offers and assurances that all was as it should be, I told him to keep the 20 and stormed out. Phone calls followed but by then I was feeling so tired and shitty that I was very short with him .. and rather enjoyed it.Now I am embarking on a whistlestop tour round Rajasthan: Pushkar; Ranthambore for two three hour safaris (I am assured that there are no tigers in Rajasthan any more); Bundi; Udaipur; Jodhpur; Jaisalmer for a camel overnight trip into the desert, and Mumbai.

Love and kisses to you all..


The lovely Apani Dhani


My haveli guide

Haveli owners tried to outdo each other

Haveli II

Cooking lesson

A musician

A Marwari horse

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