I don’t believe it is possible to welcome a new year with a new journey in a better way then flying across the world, stepping out of comfort zones, and diving head first down the rabbit hole. I am finding “Alice in Wonderland” to be a perennial India comparison. From the chain smoking biddis to the mesmerizing blue snaking pathways through old Mughal architecture and the technicolor vibrancy of life. It is as if I willingly tumbled down the rabbit hole back to an alternate reality.
This universe fills every waking moment and every sense. My nostrils smell the excruciating exhaust from autos and motorcycles, but is still able to detect the wasp of newly fried samosas and the perfume of freshly plucked roses waiting to be placed on an alter, any alter. My face is caressed by the desert sun and the curious tongue of a local cow. I see brilliant yellow saris delicately stepping over piles of steaming cow patties. Monkeys roam the rooftops and worn out female dogs bask in the shade. When I gaze upwards I rest my eyes upon fortresses and palaces that are hollow shades of Mughal glory years. Archways full of sinuous lines and sharp puncturing points. The color blue. The sky, the buildings, my eyes when I catch my reflection in a shard of glass embedded in the palace walls. I am mesmerized.
My second night in Bundi, Shawna and I stopped to listen to the music cascading down the steps to a Shiva temple. Without missing a beat in his playing of the dholak, an older Indian man motioned us up to join with a wobble of his beanie covered head. We looked at each other, shrugged and climbed the steps. We spent the next 45mins or so playing zils/cymbals and enjoying the kirtan. A painting of Shiva, lord of the dance, watching over our music making. We took prasad (blessed sweets, like communion) with the musicians at the conclusion of the evening. It felt like a blessing on our soon to come dance training. Perhaps Shiva is the patron of this dance trip.
Bundi is a relatively small slice of Indian life. Approx. 80,000 people, but the backpacker area feels cozy and it is easy to recognize familiar faces. I wander the market place with Melea and Shawna. Combing through fabric to take to the tailor and eagerly await beautiful flowing salawaar kameezs and Rajasthani dresses. Bangles. Glass bangles that bruise my knuckles as the woman selling them forcefully defies physics and manages to slide them over my hands.
And chai. *sigh* just saying the word gives my body the cue to settle a little bit further down into my seat and warm my belly. Melea and Thomas introduced me to Krishna, of Krishna’s Chai shop. The chai operation is done down in front near the street. Up a couple of steps there are plaster benches to sit and further into the inner sanctuary there is a Shiva shrine bespeckled in roses, marigolds, and red tikka powder. Krishna is a master. His chai is a work of art. A transcendental experience. The wall behind his burner states that he is also capable of making lemon tea and lassis, but why would you ask Da Vinci for a paint by numbers piece? Krishna’s formula is simple: for his winter chai, “ginger for the chest, black pepper for the sinuses, and clove for the mind.” (This explanation was accompanied by the gestures to chest, nose, and forehead). As a right of passage, Krishna taught me how to make his chai. Acacia is a lovely firefly sitting and preparing chai with Krishna every time we come. She shrewdly watches over my ministrations while Krishna takes an order. I boil milk over a single gas burner, squatting on a stone slab behind. I’m instructed to pour sugar and black tea into the pot. Then to crush black peppercorns and dried cloves on the stone slab with a round flat rock that sits comfortably in my hand. “Full power” is the effort I need to crush into powder. I gather the pulverized spices and toss them into the pot. With a clamp on the rim of the pot, I pick up the soon to be chai and slowly spin the milk around the bowl trying not to spill over the edge. Next is the ginger. Krishna motions me to cut off a chunk of ginger to pound into pulp. “Shanti, shanti” this time. The ginger is added and now I pick up the pot again to stir the magic potion. Listening to a divine clock, Krishna tells me when the chai is done and I strain it into another container. A couple of pours from cup to container to make it frothy and the chai is finished. Or is it just begun? I’m treated with a face splitting grin, a thumbs up, and a “bole (good) chai” with head wobble. It is delightful chai.
Our second to last day in Bundi, we spent the morning riding old steel frame single speed bicycles through town and out to the rice paddies. I’m in the back of the pack as we snake our way past blue walls, yellow windows, and green doors. Sitting properly upright on English inspired designs. We can’t help but speak in the Queen’s English at first. I was a bit apprehensive at the beginning. The last time I drove in India was a pink moped in Pushkar during my last trip. In comparison a bicycle is slower which is both good and bad. Potential crashes are less severe, but it is also harder to get out of the way of bigger more dominating vehicles. We shared the road with in order of right-away cows, motorcycles, buses, and trucks that liberally rely on their musical horns for echolocation. The ride was oddly peacefully. You seem to become deft to the horns. Dirt roads, potholes, new asphalt, and roadkill (a wild pig that Thomas warned “Don’t look!” for Acacia’s benefit). We sat and had a cold samosa and biscuit (cookie) picnic near a well in the middle of nowhere. I shared the last of my chocolate from my Christmas stocking. After, we returned without mishap and full of fresh air from the countryside.
Bundi was a vortex of Indian “shanti shanti” time. We left Bundi for Pushkar on Jan. 4th in a crammed van driven by two Indian friends who wanted to make a trip to Pushkar themselves. I look forward to returning to Bundi with time to spend.
Next up, the beginning of the Pushkar Odyssey. Filled with sore muscles and soaring heart.
Love to all.