Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Men and Gods of Rajasthan – travels in India.

This article was translated from the Italian orginal, available here

It’s the dawn of an August morning, the fresh morning breeze and the sky dotted with grey clouds announce the coming monsoon. We find ourselves travelling, leaving the capital, normally chaotic and congested, but at this hour still sleeping. The suburbs of Delhi are the symbol of the changes taking place in Indian Society. Entire quarters rise out of nothing, built with a futuristic architecture. Commercial centres appear, centres that even a few years ago would have been unimaginable. The economic boom has swept over the middle class but has left the poor ever poorer. And so even India, seemingly closed in its impenetrable fortress of ancient traditions, is giving way to the inexorable march of the consumer society.




We take the motorway for Jaipur, recently resurfaced, and head towards Rajasthan. It’s become an easy road to travel on now, no longer filled with hazards, and the trip proceeds smoothly. From Ajmer we head into the fields and hills, and enter into a pastoral world, a world apart. The road brings us to Pushkhar, the sacred city of Brahma, the God of creation. During the annual festival of the camels, held in November, the city comes alive. Here hundreds of thousands of people gather, most of them nomads, with their animals. It’s a big festival with circuses, street shows, singers and tricksters of all sorts. But now it’s all quiet. The heart of the sacred spaces at Pushkar is the lake, where, according to myth, Brahama celebrated a rite after having killed a demon. For this, the place is one of the big pilgrimage spots, in India, for devotees of Brahama. The lake is circled by numerous temples and ghat, that give access for the pilgrims to the water for ritual bathing. The best moment is the twighlight when the lake becomes calm and you can enjoy the beauty and sacred air of the place without being assaulted by the priests that, too insistently, offer their services. The trip continues to Jodhpur, formerly one of the most important kingdoms of Rajasthan. The city is dominated by the Meherangarh, the famouse medieval fort. We walk inside the walls of this imposing structure, fascinating and unnerving at the same time, unpenetrated by any invader. Entering the courtyard of the palace the contrast strikes us immediately between the solidity of the walls and the light elegance of the royal appartments. Rajasthan is the land of the raja, the kings, fierce, ruthless people but at the same time refined, cultured and romantic. Moving through the rooms of the palace, magnificently restored and preserved, one tries to imagine the life of the court, the colours, the smells, the sounds. Even today the influence of the feudal past weighs heavily on the present, the raja, even if considered by the Indian constitution as a normal citizen, in fact is still feared and respected by the people. At the same time the people are still tied to a rigid and restrictive social model that has at its base the caste system. Cases of dissension, particularly on the part of women, who are the principal victims, are repressed, often violently.

We leave Jodhpur turning ourselves south and enter into the countryside, visiting Luni and other villages. We follow a path into the middle of a semi-desert plain and, by and by, from out of nowhere appear human settlements. The poverty and backwardness of the living conditions are shocking but the people that take us into their homes are vibrant and hospitable. A camp of Bhishnoi strikes us in particular, a tribe that live in primitive conditions following strict rules of non-violence. We enter timidly into their village, fenced in by desert brush, the elders of the family show us how the settlement is organised, built around brush huts regularly rebuilt to get the best protection internally from the sun, from the rain, and from the elements. They’re strictly vegetarian, worshiping the divine in every natural manifestation, even with the trees that they’re obliged to protect, to the point where for wood they use only the naturally fallen branches. The Bhishnoi are the silent and respectful guardians of nature that, with their sacred beliefs, create where they live, real and authentic natural reserves. Here the extremes hit you. The primitive raport with nature, kept alive over millenia, one finds is in step with the most modern theories of ecology.

Rajasthan is predominantly dry, hard and often inhospitable, until in the south towards the borders with Gujarat it becomes a vast expanse of green: here lie the Aravalli Mountains. For those that arrive from the north, from the semi-desert, the view of the green hills is like a mirage. It seems impossible that in a place like this there could be an oasis like that of the Aravilli. This mountain chain is one of the oldest in the world, just like its inhabitants, the most nomadic and tribal who probably originally took refuge in this region from the Aryan invasion. Climbing quickly through fields, villages and farms the body and spirit are immediately restored. Nature, here is at the service of man, but with respect. The systems of cultivation and farming are backward and life is hard; it brings us back to what our fields and countryside must have been like a century ago. Notwithstanding that, in this region there isn’t the degradation and devestation that one often sees travelling in the rest of India. The highest point is Mount Abu, a place rich in history, myths and charm. The peak appear suddenly, shrouded in the clouds, out of an intense green from the path of the dense forest that surrounds it. It reminds me of Mt. Olympus. Here we meet Charles, a young local trekking guide, full of enthusiasm for his work and love for his land. He accompanies us showing us the area and giving us lots of interesting facts. Around Mt. Abu there are no villages, or human settlements becaust the terrain is too inaccesible and inhospitable. This natural characteristic of the area has created a place ideal for certain fauna that live undisturbed; it’s strange to discover that amongst the species that you find are the crocodile and the bear. Charles explains to us that in the naturally formed caves, found all around the mountain, you find Sanctuaries, that over the centuries have been lived in by asthetes and hermits. The strange thing is that, no matter where in the world, the places of hermits always have the same atmosphere.

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