Today was mostly driving. We got up early and drove another five hours. We still did several things, though. They say the fun never stops on this tour. I’m lucky I can squeeze in an occasional hour to write.
First, we stopped the bus and took a photo of a camel cart driver who looked pretty interesting.
Next, we stopped for a bathroom break at a small gas station. To my amazement, a camel cart pulled up to the pump, and I got a photo to prove it.
This looked ridiculous and I told everyone, “Now you know that camels run on diesel, not petrol!” As I looked closer, the men were pumping gasoline into a tank that was loaded onto the cart.
While we were driving, I listened to music on my minidisc
player. I listened to a lot of music,
but something strange happened. I was
listening to the CD “Leftoverture” by
Next, we stopped at a seemingly random village and visited the people.
They showed us several aspects of their daily lives: their homes, their fodder cutting machine (to make food for the animals).
Unfortunately, these villagers weren’t used to visitors from the West and so we had to follow some rules. Kathy was allowed to take photos of anyone and anything, and she got several good shots.
However, because I’m a man, I was not permitted to take photos of the woman or girls unless I asked for permission. I was uncomfortable asking, so I didn’t take many.
We even saw their equivalent of a refrigerator. Actually, refrigeration is not needed since all meals are prepared the same day they are eaten, and there are never any leftovers.
One of the girls was holding tightly onto a small child,
but the girl looked very young. Some of
us thought the girl was the baby’s mother, and others thought she was the
baby’s sister. So back on the bus, we
asked Sujay when women in
Our guide, Sujay, for one, bucked the system and eloped with his wife against the wishes of their parents. This was twenty years ago when it was much less accepted! As a result, he has been ostracized by his family to this very day. When he visits his parents, he is made to eat in a separate room and do his own dishes like someone from the Untouchable caste. Still, he makes light of the subject and maintains a mirthful heart. He is a good man and I can’t believe that his mother would treat him so badly.
As we got on the bus, he said that while we were gone, some of the village people stuck their hands inside the bus door, which was left partly open by accident, and when they felt the unnatural coldness from the air-conditioning, they got scared and ran away. They were afraid of the bus then. We had a good laugh over that one.
As we drove across the countryside, Sujay told us more funny stories from being a tour guide. One time, he said, he was leading a group of tourists and they visited a village like we had done. This was many years ago, and the villages had seen tour busses go by on the roads, but never knew what was inside. So they were surprised to see the strange people come out to visit them. Now ordinarily, we ask lots of questions of Sujay, but also Sujay lets the village people ask questions about us because we are even more strange to them than they are to us.
So on this particular occasion, the villagers started asking him questions. Their first question was “How did the strangers get here?” Sujay told them the tourists had flown there. Immediately, the villagers walked behind the tourists and checked for the existence of wings! Having found none, they cast him a doubting frown. He tried to explain to the villagers that the strangers had gotten into huge metal machines and the machines had wings, and the machines flew them here over seven different seas.
Understandably, the villagers were quite skeptical about this answer too. It seemed even more improbable than flying with your own wings. They asked, “Can this be so?”
Sujay answered that the strangers had paid thousands of rupees to use the machine to fly here. They still didn’t believe him; they couldn’t imagine that much money being spent on such a thing. So they demanded an explanation.
Sujay made an analogy they could understand. He said, “How much do you villagers pay for your naan bread? The answer, of course, was “We don’t buy naan bread, we make it.”
Sujay said, “Okay, if you left the village and went into the town and bought some naan bread, how much would you pay?” They said, “Twenty hundredths of one rupee.”
Sujay told them that “If you travel to
The villagers’ second pressing question was, “Do the
tourists play cricket?” That tells you
how important the game of cricket is to the people of
Sujay also told us about talking to a woman in one village who he saw rolling miniature cigarettes. He asked the woman, “Does your village grow the tobacco or does someone bring it here?” She proceeded to tell him that there is a company that comes by every day with tobacco and paper and she has to make one thousand mini-cigarettes. If she doesn’t make a thousand, her wages are cut in half for the lot she gives them. What does she get for making a thousand mini-cigarettes? Only thirty rupees, which is less than one dollar. Closer to 75 cents. Sujay was moved almost to tears, and he tried after that point to quit smoking. But of course, that habit is very hard to get rid of.
Next we stopped at a small shop where some of the people had some tea or coffee. I didn’t have tea or coffee because I was busy shopping. I found a wonderful box, but they wanted 28 dollars, so I decided not to get it. I also found a very nice statue of Ganesha, the Elephant-faced god of the Hindus, but they wanted $165 for it too. It was beautiful, perfectly carved in white marble, but unfortunately, I wasn’t willing to pay that much. So in the end, I left with nothing. Well, it was kind of a “white elephant gift” anyway!
Finally, after five hours of driving, we reached the O.A.T. camp in rural Rajasthan. The bus couldn’t go down the small village roads to the camp, so we left the tour bus and took a jeep to the site.
This is like an oasis in the desert. The site is quiet and peaceful, a large patch of grass in the semi-desert, only a short distance from a lake. The scenery is beautiful with green grass and flowers.
We are surrounded by farmland, and we saw little kids walking their water buffalos in the pasture, and farmers tending the fields. It was serene compared to the hectic pace of the cities.
Although you can say we are camping, this is not
primitive at all. These “tents” are more
permanent and modern than the tents we used in
So it is not as fancy as the hotels, but it’s still fun to be out in the country. After exploring the place, Kathy and I went for a short walk outside the gates. We met with some more village children who were out walking their herd of water buffalos too.
Their English, although broken, was not too bad considering how far we are out in the countryside.
Next, we had a group camel ride.
It took a while to hoist all thirteen of us onto our respective camels, but then we were off. Immediately, the camel carrying Sujay started making noise and complaining verbally. It was very funny. It was as if this camel didn’t like Sujay and didn’t want to carry him. The camel complained most of the way.
We walked the camels into another nearby village that looked pretty primitive.
Then we got off and visited with the people. Again, we saw more children holding children.
They invited us in to see their homes, and it was quite different from American homes.
These people live simply, easily and happily. Afterward, we returned back to the camp on our respective camels. This time, Sujay was relegated to the back of a camel cart.
Back at the OAT camp, we sat on the lawn which they cultivated and watched some more musicians. There were dancing girls, a dancing boy who also did fire breathing, and a girl who balanced seven pots on her head this time. However, one of the pots was not quite right so after doing a very good job and impressing us all with her skills, the pots finally came crashing to the ground and everyone felt bad. She was so embarrassed that she refused to even face the group from then on.
Next, we got a quick cooking lesson, where we learned how to make mint chutney. Kathy learned how to cook a different kind of Indian bread.
Dinner followed the lesson, and after dinner, we asked Sujay all the questions Kathy and I had been saving up during the day: Here are all the questions we asked:
Question one: Since Hindus treat cows as special or even holy, we wanted to know this: when a cow dies, what happens to the body? Hindu people are always cremated, so are the cows treated specially? We had heard earlier that camels are buried when they die. Sujay answered that cows are taken to a field and left to rot because they are thereby fed to the animals: the dogs of the area, jackals, crows and other scavengers are fed. There is no special ceremony because they are already gone from their body once death occurs.
Question two: At every Indian dinner, there is always lots of rice, but we have only seen very dry desert-like conditions in India, and rice requires a lot of water to grow. So where does all the rice come from? Sujay said that they have huge areas from rice-growing in other parts of the country, especially to the South. They grow so much rice that they export it to other countries.
Question three: Kathy wanted to know if the color of the scarves worn by the women have some special significance. She was especially interested in the black scarfs, because wearing black in the United States is sometimes done after a funeral. Sujay said it really didn’t signify anything special; it was just up to whatever they want to wear.
Question four: Kathy wanted to know why so many homes had walls. We can understand walls around the fields that we saw, in order to keep animals out and preserve the crops. But why around the houses? Sujay basically said it was for the same reasons we did: mainly in towns, walls are built for privacy, and perhaps to protect the family from burglars.
Question five: Do the farmers share farm equipment? Sujay said yes, that farmers can get together and use one tractor, for example, to plow the fields of many farmers. The people cooperate very well with each other.
Question six: Why do the biggest trees on the side of the highway have red and white paint around them? Does it signify that the beautiful tree is protected by the government or something? Sujay said that this was just their version of “reflectors” for night driving so that people don’t crash their cars into the trees.
Question seven: When do the Hindus believe that life begins? At conception, at birth, somewhere in between, or perhaps even sometime after birth. We told Sujay this was a big controversy in the United States. Sujay said that they consider it to be “life” as soon as the woman finds out she is pregnant. It’s not a big issue for them.
Question eight: Yesterday, when we were returning to the hotel from the wildlife refuge, we saw a small group of people going to the temple in a strange way. They had coconuts, and they would lie on the ground on their bellies, stretch out their arms and place the coconut in front of them. Some of the men had wives who would bend over and help them place the coconuts. We asked Sujay to talk about this. He called this “Sash Dam Pernam,” and he said it was a kind of thanks and homage to the god or gods who answered a very special prayer. The people sometimes barter with the God (He always says The God) saying, “Please, God, if you grant me this one wish, I will do (something specific) for you.” Some people promise to do the Sash Dam Pernam. So they are basically crawling on their belly the entire distance from their home to the temple to pay homage and thanks to God.
After our questions were answered, we talked a bit about the role of women in Hindu society. In a way, it seems like the women are not treated fairly. For example, if a wife dies, the husband may get married again and life is good. But if a husband dies, she incurs the wrath of the whole village. Since the wife comes to live in the husband’s village, the village views the man’s death as being significant. Surely, it must be that the new woman to enter the village has brought some kind of curse which killed the husband. Therefore, she cannot remarry. Also, she is banished from the village and has to take her children and return to her father’s village, the place she grew up. Sounds pretty cruel to me.
In the past, there was an even more cruel outcome. When a man died, the wife was sometimes burned alive so he wouldn’t be without a wife in the afterlife. That practice was also banned by the federal government a long time ago, but even today a case of it still reaches the newspapers now and again.