We are progressing further into the lush zone as we leave Udaipur. We have a long drive and pass many large faggots of sticks with legs striding underneath, and there are rust coloured haystacks in the fields and many more shady trees.
Ganeshji takes us as far into the town of Jojawar as he can on the bus. We then get out and walk through the narrow streets and market stalls to find our last heritage hotel of the trip. Again, we receive a rolling drum welcome and bright cheerful garlands.
Each pair of guests receives a brass bell with a key attached at the end of a long chain. We follow our man into the grassy courtyard, past the marble swimming pool, up a narrow flight of stone steps, down a few steps, up a few more, turn left, through an archway, up a few more steps and down a verandah with swings suspended from the rafters at intervals, alternating with enchanting little nooks in the walls with pillows for quiet reading and contemplation.
Venturing out of this protected oasis later, I find a clutch of children eagerly awaiting me. The cry of ‘One pen, one pen!’ follows me down the street, although this is sometimes strangely varied with ‘One shampoo!’
This small market town is much less touristy, based on the fact that my emergence into the street caused conversations to stop and hang in the air and adults to stare. Well, if this is what being famous is like, you can have it. I may as well have sprouted some extra heads for the looks I was getting. I was reassured later by other group members that I am getting far more attention than them, being so tall and with red hair and being so white. Take a note Miss Jones: go back to your gene pool in Amsterdam if you want to blend in unnoticed.
I returned to our accommodation in time for the jeep trip to the local train station, the starting point for our taking in some mountain scenery on a local train route.
Like most jeeps it was jolty and rattly, but sitting in front, the dashboard had me smiling with amusement. The speedometer had us travelling at 0 km/hr until we hit a bump at 80 km/hr. The fuel gauge arrow was convinced it was a windscreen wiper. Then a loud shrill pipping noise broke out causing Judith to pronounce that we must have run out of fuel, but no, it was a more extraordinary event. Our driver had turned on his right indicator to show we were making a turn. A rare experience indeed, and probably done for the sole purpose of impressing us, which it did.
We unloaded at a desolate-looking brick building that said ‘Phulad’ in English and Hindi. In front of the ticket counter was a hand railing ingeniously made out of a section of bent track. As Rob dryly observed, ‘I hope they’ve finished using it.’
While I write this, a young boy is standing on the bench backing onto mine. He is staring at me with a serious intensity, so I smile at him in what I hope is an encouraging way. I don’t think he knows what to make of me as he just continues staring. The next time I look up I note with wry amusement that Serious Boy has become fascinated with Fay at the other end of the bench. She is bent over her camera inspecting some photos. Unbeknownst to her Serious Boy is behind her and leaning directly over her head to see what she is doing. I take this picture and show it to him, and he finally relents and cracks a self-conscious smile.
On the train, my roomie Alicia and I (I will call her Alice from now on, to save confusion) sit on a hard wooden slat bench opposite a young mother and her grubby pigtailed daughter. There is a bundled blanket next to her on the bench. My suspicions that this was harbouring a life form were later confirmed when a dark skinned baby wearing a lace-frilled dress, not inappropriate for a western christening, emerged. The child is also adorned with some heavy-duty silver rings with bobbly bells attached, which are in turn attached by means of some woven gold thread and string to the purple and gold bands and silver bangles around her chubby wrist. Having groggily woken up out of a sleep, she appeared quite discomfited at suddenly having all of us whities gawking at her.
During the trip the train stopped on the edge of a hill and our guide handed us some biscuits saying, ‘These are for the monkeys.’ I think Rob misunderstood his meaning, as he ate them himself. Minutes later, gangly, hairy arms with long black skinny fingers were reaching into the train. Shiny brown eyes shaded by bristles of grey hair darted around quickly scoping out the situation. The game of snatch and grab with these rhesus monkeys was over very quickly as we didn’t think to break the biscuits into smaller pieces, and they disappeared like lightning.
That excitement over, we settled in to watch the mountainous scenery and deep ravines pass us by.
The jeeps awaited our disembarkation and we started off on the narrow rutted road back to Jojawar. Before long, we stopped again and a cylindrical shaped hamper was unloaded from the other jeep. A coffee stop at a ‘wildlife viewing’ spot was the go.
English Judith, our keen bird watcher, was excited to observe a beautiful brown and white bird with a long russet tail, apparently a member of the cuckoo family.
Meanwhile I had wandered off across the road and discovered a genuine ostentation of peacocks, both male and female. Given that we have been making regular sightings of India’s national bird in the wild, the group has become somewhat enured to their startling beauty, but this didn’t stop me scrabbling through the bushes for some close up shots. Later when I noticed my battle scarred and bloody legs, I realised that that evil spiny acacia bush had struck again.