Now we have moved into southern Rajasthan, the scenery has altered from flat sparse horizons to mountainous and rocky, with verdant terraces of fledgling wheat crops and orderly regiments of sugar cane. Water is suddenly part of the scene and we stop to watch a man riding a bullock in circles. The animal’s effort drives a wheel of cans that lift water from a pond, to then pour it down the culverts surrounding the fields.
In all our driving I have been curious to note the absence of road kill, unlike in Australia where it is usually profuse. It’s either testimony to Indian driving skills and their inherent patience with animals on the road, or the sub-quality roads slowing down the drivers, or both perhaps.
Seeing the road from our driver Ganeshji’s point of view, India’s road rules make more sense. Drivers work around each other and pass wherever they can and people seem to know how to wait, which is more than you can say for western drivers most of the time. You drive wherever there is a gap, you sound your horn to indicate you are passing, to shoo an errant animal or when turning a sharp corner; you drive for all the dogs and cows who think they own the road and you create another lane on an as-needs basis. And it works. Watching Ganesh’s careful stolid driving makes everything look far less random and gives me more confidence as a pedestrian.
Shivani takes advantage of the long drives to make phone calls. She converses in a patois of Hindi, Rajasthani and English. ‘Hindi, hindi-hindi…Are you SERIOUS?!…Hindi rajastahani hindi.’
By this stage of our touring some of the group have succumbed to the inevitable unwellness. At breakfast, Canadian Rob admitted to his stomach feeling a little ‘available’ and others have started to monitor our stops on long drives more closely. Nevertheless we are all still looking forward to our New Year celebrations, which will coincide with our stop in Ranakpur.
Despite being in a fairly remote location, our hotel is putting on a huge buffet, bar and DJ. Given that we are the only western guests, this could be interesting.
Shivani is very keen for us to enjoy the festivities. ‘There will be lots of Punjabi music as well as Bollywood hits,’ she assures us. ‘Ladies, you must all come up to my room. I have some Indian clothes you can borrow for the night.’
Shivani then notices my single raised eyebrow. ‘Well, they should fit most of you,’ she says, patting my arm in a sisterly fashion.
At 9 pm I put on a dress and makeup for the first time in about three weeks and join the others outside in the grounds of the hotel. A fire is glowing in the centre of four long tables and pride of place is held by a portable glowing, flashing dance floor. A young boy and his sisters are out there already displaying their moves for the adults – the girls with their shy and delicate hand movements and the boy with his more aggressive rap style.
A favourite of Shivani’s comes on and she leads the group into the limelight. I should say at this point that dancing is hardly my forte. I need an awful amount of Regularly Used Medicine before I will even contemplate embarrassing epileptic giraffes. So I sit it out and watch the group dance to this hypnotic number that is all tribal beat and no music. Rob and John are the only men in our group but they do a great visual job of guarding the ladies as they are both about 6’ 3” and big to go with it. It was amusing to observe that as soon as they sat down, the Indian guys suddenly stormed the dance floor to launch their moves. Our big lads were clearly cramping their style.
At one point the DJ decided to put a few western numbers on such as Eye of the Tiger. I have to say, in comparison to the energy and speed of the Indian hits, the western music came across as dull and insipid. We were all glad when the DJ gave them a rest.
After loads of snacks had been consumed, dinner was finally served at around 10.30. I was not partaking, so I remained outside with American Sarah to watch the local Rajputs strut their stuff. And very good entertainment it was, too.
These lithe young men with their loose smart shirts, slick hair and sideburns made for very pleasing scenery…and this was before they took to the floor.
A few of the taller ones got up as a group, their bodies absorbing the beat immediately. They were all sexy hips and knees, elbows and arms in the air. Flashes of white teeth transmitted through the dark their enjoyment of the music and each other.
There were no mixed couples in evidence the whole evening, even though there were obviously married couples present. The women danced in a small clutch in the corner of the floor being very understated and minimal in their movements. It was definitely the job of the men to impress. An ostentation of peacocks came to mind.
As there was now only Sarah and myself, it wasn’t long before they started sidling up to us. My innate clumsiness aside, I didn’t think it would be a good look to dance with these lads with all the Indian girls off in their separate group. One guy had the very suave approach of pretending he couldn’t hear me, and kept getting closer and closer to my ear saying, ‘Pardon?’ I was finally onto this after the third pardon and sent him off with a laugh and a shove. I’m really quick, me. Another one made a few insistent overtures and when I stuck to no, he asked Sarah, and up she got.
Finally the others returned and the heat I thought, was off. It was 11.30 and they all threw themselves into the fray once more. I resisted their calls and gestures until finally big bald Rob came over to belly dance in front of me until, with tears of laughter in my eyes, I was shamed into giving in. Rob was immediately confronted with the Indian guys shaking his hand – he’s now been clearly identified as the group’s stud.
During the last song before midnight the floor was suddenly plunged into silence and darkness and we had male well-wishers pressing in on all sides. One of my erstwhile admirers clasped my hands politely wishing me a Happy New Year, but I later heard that 50-year-old Sarah was not treated so respectfully and had her nipples pinched for her trouble. Hmm. Playing hard to get paid off, it would seem.