We’re sitting in Mr. Roop Singh’s kitchen, eating dinner. Dan and I are sitting on a blanket and eating alone, though there are a half dozen other people in the room. There are two dishes tonight. One contains ‘keer’, similar to green peas, in a rich turmeric sauce, and the other is ‘kumatia’ (a sort of mushroom) in a rich yellow curry. Both are incredibly delicious. Each is held in it’s own small stainless steel bowl, which in turn is on a large stainless steel tray.
The room is small, perhaps ten feet square, painted dark red. Near us, three women are sitting around a small fire cooking. The daughter and mother are making chapatti one at a time on a flat plate that sits directly over the fire. Occasionally the daughter will blow air into the fire using a steel tube.
The eldest, the grandmother, roasts peanuts a few at time. She lays down a small handful of in-shell peanuts, then pulls a few coals out from the fire to lay around the peanuts. After a little while she picks out the nuts, shells them, and drops them onto our plate. They are, of course, yummy.
When a chapatti is done, the women quickly lift it with their fingers and flip it onto our tray. They’re too hot to handle, so we have to wait a bit for them to cool. The chapatti are delicious, perfectly cooked with a slight char, lightly covered in melted butter. We eat at least a dozen.
In addition to the women, there are three children sitting around the fire, watching us eat. But Mr. Roop Singh is not sitting with us. As he explained apologetically, as the head of household, he must eat separately from the women. Since we expressed interest in watching the cooking, he is eating alone in the next room.
Today we drove from Jodhpur to Osian, a small village to the north, visiting a few temples along the way, including Maha Mandir. Osian contains a very large hindu temple which we visit for a while, trying to remember the various gods, some of which are aspects of others. For someone who hasn’t grown up with this faith, it’s all terribly confusing.
Afterwards we drove to the nearby village of Bhalasariya, where Mr. Singh’s family lives. The family lives in a compound walled in by buildings, granaries, and walls. The courtyard and floors are compressed cow dung and are very clean, and we took off our shoes before entering.
This may seem foreign or shocking to many westerners, but the floors were hard and stable, almost like tile. The women swept the floors frequently. They were decorated around the edges by floral designs painted in red and white.
We sat on a blanket in his courtyard and were served a delicious lunch. The highlight was a vegetable called ‘sangari‘, which grows on a tree by the same name. The sangari tree is the state tree of Rajasthan, and for good reason. The pods are very nutritious and when dried can be stored for a year. In addition the tree provides firewood and goats love to eat the leaves. Mr. Singh explained that the local people are very careful never to cut the trees down. Instead they simply trim branches off, never taking too much from any one tree.
Afterwards we drove around Bhalasariya. The roads were twin ruts in the soft sand, and the jeep was often sliding as much as driving along. Sometimes the road was a single car width between two fences, and other times it is a roughly-defined track across the sand. We come across a farm family mending the ‘wall’ around their field, constructed by stacking extremely spiny plants up to create an impassable barrier. The daughter veils her face as we approach.
The fields are filled with peacocks, which are wild here. In addition there are small short-horned gazelles and the blackbuck, and larger deer with magnificent antlers.
After dinner we retire to our room, a small round hut away from the family compound. The hut has two rope cots which are surprisingly comfortable. We sleep well, but every few hours a peacock somewhere will call, and almost immediately several dozen will reply, a short chorus of shrieking which makes for an amusing interruption to my dreams. There is also the distant barking of dogs, and once, the cry of a baby wanting to be fed. At dawn, a goat begins bleating almost directly into my left ear.
The next morning we eat breakfast, consisting of chai and wheat porridge, before heading out towards Jaisalmer. The scenery gets continuously drier, and sand dunes drift across the highway. We pass an accident where a bus and car destroyed one another. The car entire front of the car is flattened, and the bus is off to one side of the road, upright, but separated from its front wheels and axle, which are ten feet away. Mr. Singh spends 15 minutes telling me that he never drives too fast, because he believes that he will eventually get there anyhow, and it is better to get to the destination than not get there at all. I thank him for his caution, and ask him why he never wears a seat belt. He doesn’t need to, he says, because he prays every morning.
Along the way we pause at a crossroads truck stop for chai and chapatti. We also have ‘papad masalla’, a piece of papadum (crispbread) topped with what is basically a mixture of chopped onions, tomatoes, and chili peppers, what the mexicans would call ‘pico de gallo’. It’s delicious.
As I sit drinking my chai, I notice a boy standing to my right, staring at me. He’s beautiful and wrapped in a black shawl. I ask him if he wants me to take his picture, and he shakes his head eagerly. After I take his picture, he insists that I follow him to every business along that stretch of road, photographing the welders, auto mechanics, and even a vagrant along the way.
P.S. I’ve created a new gallery called ‘Rajasthanis‘. Take a look!