Jain reunion festival
Saturday, December 28 2019
location: room 112, Phool Mahal Palace, Kishangarh City, Rajasthan, India
Ever since we got to the Phool Mahal there has been yoga in the morning in the echoey banquet hall. I don't do yoga, so I've been enjoying my extra hour of me-time at the beginning of every day. This morning we would be traveling to our next palace, so one of the things I could do during the yoga hour was pack my bags, the contents of which were strewn all over our fancy room.
Once we were loaded into the bus, it took us southwestward past stoneyards too numerous to count and then across granite mountains, where settlement was sparse. Somewhere on the way to Ghanerao we stopped at the Mevar Hotel and "Resort," a nice lunch place catering to both Indians and tourists likely to buy things like carved marble elephants having a baby elephant visible inside through the outer laticework (there was a large giftshop). We were served roti, not rice, and two different curries, one built around cashews and the other featuring whole cloves of garlic. (That last one was exceptional, though it was also extremely oily.)
Eventually we arrived at the village of Ghanerao, whose medieval streets were too thin and bendy for our bus. So we left the bus and trudged through Ghanerao on foot. It was a beautiful place, with beautiful architecture and a bit less detritus piled up, though there were plenty of animals wandering the streets, particularly pigs. I saw one little kid with his pants around his knees pooping in the open sewer like it was no big deal. I imagine such offerings don't make it far down the gulch before being found and devoured by the pigs (some of whose lower faces are blackened by constant rooting in the sewers).
The place we were staying tonight was the Ghanerao Castle, which was even more rambling and beautiful than the Phool Mahal, though it also had that marvelous lived-in dissipation that comes when things built with honest materials begin to fall into ruin.
The room that Gretchen and I had been assigned was a grand hall of a space with a huge bed in the middle. Behind it was a sink, and the bathroom was split into two small rooms behind that, one for the toilet and one for the shower. I was pleased to discover that the geysers here looked to be twice the size of the ones at Phool Mahal. After dumping our stuff, we checked out the quirks and features of our room, which mostly consisted of exclusive access to a large roof that would've been nicer had it not been heavily sprinkled with pigeon droppings.
The others had generally cozier rooms that looked to be in somewhat better states of repair. All of them came with nooks, balconies, or other oddball "hangout areas" as I referred to them. Eventually a group of us climbed all the way up to the highest rooftop, arriving in time for the adhan from first a nearby mosque and then one further away. This place was amazing.
In a common area near the dining hall was an outdoor hangout area beneath a sheltering roof, and it had been furnished with cushions in the oriental style instead of chairs. We soon came to refer to this place as "the opium den," and it was always the first place occupied by members of our group looking for a place to do out-of-room downtime. There was terrace below that level that featured a swimming pool, but the water was so cold that only Connie (Kirstin's mother) made any use of it.
I joined Gretchen, her father, and our nephew on a sundown stroll through the narrow streets outside the castle. At some point a small traffic jam developed around a mother cow and her calf, and the mother briefly freaked out, sending us scattering. When we got back together, we found ourselves at the entrance to some sort of festival. It wasn't long before some officious-looking gentlemen appeared and insisted that we join the festival. We soon learned that this festival was a reunion of Jains from all over India who call Ghanerao their ancestral home. On learning we were vegans, they were delighted, saying nearly all the food at the festival suitable for vegans, and, as it happened, one of them actually was a vegan Jain who seemed delighted to meet other vegans in such alien form (our nephew isn't technically vegan, but he's been drinking the vegan Kool-Aid). We would soon be having dinner back at the castle, so I didn't want to each anything. But Gretchen and her father grabbed plates and received glops of the vegan food on offer. At that point I realized that this was my opportunity to taste what Indian food tastes like when there is no expectation that gringos will be eating it. So I sampled some of Gretchen's food. It was all delicious, and some of it was distinct from anything I'd ever had before (particularly a curry containing a thick noodle), but the spiciness was within the range of the food we'd been eating. Evidently Indian food at these relatively high latitudes just isn't all that spicy.
Our presence at the Jain reunion festival drew a throng of curious onlookers, and it wasn't long before they wanted to take selfies with us. Even the giggling group of curious tweenage girls wanted to take selfies, and the fact that they had smartphones suggested the attendees at this festival were fairly well-to-do.
Back at the castle, beer was served with our dinner, though the bottles of Carlsberg must've been very old because the beer had somehow lost much of its carbonation despite being sealed. When I wanted a second drink, I opted for rum. Rum is apparently a common hard booze in India due to the all the sugar cane. During the dinner briefing, Gretchen and I learned, too late (as it happened) that the bottle of water placed in our room shouldn't've been considered potable. I'd already used it to make a cup of cold kratom tea, and Gretchen had drunk some of the suspicious water as well.
Gretchen with a marble elephant at one of the village's Jain temples.
A cow in the village.
Me on the roof of the castle with the village below.
At the Jain Reunion Festival; photo taken by a local with my phone. From left: me, Gretchen's father, Gretchen, the Jain vegan, and my soon-to-be-vegan nephew.
Click to enlarge.
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