I had a near perfect day last Friday. I boarded a plane with two girlfriends, one visiting from China, and we embarked on a three-day journey into the hills of Rajasthan. The skies were brilliant blue that day. It was Divali, the festival of lights and India’s biggest holiday. Divali marks the return of Ram to his home after 12 years of exile. Candles lined his route from the darkness of the forest from which he emerged to the horizon and his village – and so, on Divali, Indians celebrate with candles and strings of lights and lots of fireworks.
The blue sky highlighted even more the raging colors of tribal Rajasthan. If you have dived on the Great Barrier Reef, than you know the brilliance of the colors below the water – they simply don’t exist in the air above. I’m not sure the colors in the villages of the Aravalli exist beyond the borders of hill and desert.
So this day, with its brilliance in the sky, brilliance in the swaths of fabric wound around lithe bodies or entwined in turbans on the heads of leathery men, and brilliance in the warmth of girlfriendship – rejuvenated me.
We played chicken with sheep herders on winding roads, covered our bare bodies with dirty smocks to tour a stunningly carved Jain temple, lounged on cushioned marble beds like unsuspecting sacrificial lambs in a fiery sunset and dined by candle light at an ancient step well in the middle of an orchard. Can it get more perfect than that?
Saturday morning we indulged in laziness and read on open air daybeds outside of our room. Even the instant coffee served bedside tasted gourmet in this setting.
Later, we sat with village elders and shared poppy tea. It is tradition on Divali to visit your neighbors. In our village, we stayed in the feudal landowner’s property. Male elders representing the various factions of village life (farmers, herders, merchants, etc…) sat en masse in the courtyard of the guesthouse and shared a pipe, ate sweets and drank festive tea. It is tradition to sip the tea from the hand of one of the hosts. It was quite a ritual of brewing and sipping.
There were no women, of course, but us – and being adventuresome, we sipped…. and sipped. Everyone there was seemingly unfazed by our presence and our participation, but it still felt odd (mildly erotic?) to drink from the bare hand of a strange man.
We toured the village and paid our own respects along the way and bumped into sacred cows painted pink.
If you’re searching for the perfect blue, you just might find it in Rajasthan. And if you don’t find it, the search itself may be satisfaction.
Take a look:
Silliness and serenity:
And the photo that inspired the title of this blog – sans gothic window in the background, of course… but gothic none-the-less, for these villagers live much as they would have in the middle ages:
And you can’t send a girlfriend home without a henna party. Here’s a sampling of our tattoos. Viv’s feet: