It was only the fourth day of my tour, and I already found myself in the third city of India’s infamous golden triangle.
Having explored an array of sites by foot and public transport, I was now in a fabric factory in Jaipur, learning how to do wooden block printing. Using only vegetable dyes and big stencil blocks, we were taught how to create our own colourful elephants. The inks came from coconut shells, sugar cane, mango leaf, saffron and turmeric. The fabric shop, Krishna Textiles, is also known for their excellent selection of high-quality clothing, so some members of the group took the opportunity to purchase tailor-made suits and sarees.
That evening, our group leader, Ash, took us around Jaipur one last time, on a walking tour of the Old City. India is known as the “Land of Spices”, and we certainly had the chance to explore a fusion of aromatic tastes and smells here, as we ambled around the spice markets. We marvelled at the huge quantities of sun-dried chillies, coriander, turmeric and chiwda (known as Bombay mix and eaten as a scrumptious snack; I bought some and enjoyed it very much). We sipped masala chai tea and sampled some of Ash’s favourite sweet food, malai kulfi, which is eggless ice cream flavoured with cardamom, dried milk solids, cream, sugar, lemon and nuts.
We were told that by the following year, Jaipur hoped to have no traffic in the Old City at night, and just cycle rickshaws, allowing tourists to explore. We were also informed that there are more than 1,000 Hindu Temples in the Old City alone.
The following morning, before leaving Jaipur, we were offered the opportunity to undertake a yoga class at sunrise, on the rooftop of our accommodation. Unfortunately many members of the group seemed to have contracted some form of food poisoning so couldn’t join in, but I was very fortunate to feel okay and was delighted to enjoy the session with one of my travel friends, and an excellent yoga instructor, Dharmender.
It was then time to leave our tranquil accommodation and the hustle and bustle of Jaipur, as we headed on the road once more to our next destination. This time, we drove for three hours in 4×4 Jeeps. Leaving the big city, we could tell that we were heading to a much more rural area, as the farther we drove, the less tarmac and fewer towns we encountered. Eventually, we arrived into the small, historic village of Tordi Sāgar.
We found ourselves parked outside a beautiful building, which was to be our home for the next day and night. Here, we were greeted very warmly by our hosts, who placed red bindis in between our eyebrows, where the sixth chakra is believed to be (in Hinduism, the chakras are areas in the body connected with spiritual powers). The bindi is said to retain energy, strengthen concentration and represent the third eye, so can be used to ward off bad luck.
We were later informed that this hotel, built in the 18th century, had been home to families of the King of Jaipur. Its beauty was still intact with its well-preserved mosaics, colourful glass windows, and original doors. Interestingly, the doors were about five and a half foot high so that those who visited the royal home had to bow respectfully as they entered (I could still fit without bowing though!).
We had a delicious local lunch of lentil soup and ladoos (wheat balls) at our new accommodation, and we were then given the chance to pay a small fee for traditional mehndi designs to be painted on our arms and hands by three very artistic women from the village.
Mehndi (or henna in Arabic) is a temporary tattoo made with dye from plants of the same name. Whilst I’ve been fortunate enough to have mehndi tattooed on me before, these designs were absolutely stunning and there was something more exquisite about having it done in India, the country which is believed to be its origin.
We then took a jeep safari ride around the village, to explore our new surroundings and learn about the local history and culture. There is a lot of farm land around Tordi Sāgar, and we saw mustard, wheat and coriander fields, as well as chickpea, fennel, green pea, carrot, tomato and cauliflower crops. We were told that all of the food served at our accommodation is taken from these fields and the water supply comes from an impressive dam, which is the largest in the state of Rajasthan, and supplies water to many bordering cities.
We then looked around the remains of an underground water well, which was built around 250 years ago, and used to supply the village with water, as well as housing two bathing areas, for men and women. We found that these were now home to some eels instead!
Learning more about the people of Tordi Sāgar was fascinating and I was particularly intrigued to hear from our guide that the women dress in bright colours, but that they avoid green and sandy brown, because these are the natural shades found in Rajasthan, and they want to stand out from nature.
Our tour ended with a hike up the sand dunes, which is always a challenging affair as the sand seems to fall back down as one ascends the slopes. It was a case of one step forward, three steps back. However, it was worth the trip to the top for the views of Tordi Sāgar, as the sun set over the peaceful village.
My group and I were certainly enjoying this welcome break from the bustling cities to which we had grown accustomed over the last week, and we sipped sweet masala chai tea and soaked up our serene surroundings.
We arrived back to our hotel for dinner, and it was a flavoursome mix, comprised of many of the vibrant vegetables we had seen growing in the village.
The following morning, after what I distinctly remember as being a dream-filled and refreshing sleep (perhaps caused by the change in surroundings), we toured the village around the hotel. We learnt more about the people of Tordi Sāgar and even had the chance to give some love to a small herd of adorable baby goats (kids)!
Just like the kids, the people we came across in the village were very friendly, and walking through the streets viewing their humble homes was a real eye opener. We were shown some with yellow signs above the doors, which indicated that they are below the poverty line. Despite this, they seemed happy here, and it was another stark reminder that while satisfaction is often measured in material wealth in the western world, here it was measured in family, friends, hard work and kindness. This is something that I strive to take into my own life, valuing my experiences and the people I love over physical possessions.
Our guide taught us about arranged marriages, the religions of India and the class systems here and it was intriguing learning about the varied cultural traditions and ways of life in this rural area of the country. The village also boasted views of the Aravalli Mountain Range, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world.
As we continued on our walking tour, we saw a Neem tree and were shown how the locals use its twigs to brush their teeth. In addition, we saw buildings made from concrete and cow dung, alongside a temple dedicated to Balarama, the god of agriculture and strength. The locals pray here when starting new farming ventures. We then walked in the Jain section of the village, home to followers of this ancient Indian religion.
Our walk around the village concluded with a visit to the local clay potter. He showed us his vast display of beautifully made pots which he sells in the local market, and he demonstrated how he designs his wares on his pottery wheel. We even had the chance to help him craft some pots ourselves. It was lucky he was there for guidance, otherwise I’m sure I would have ended up creating a pile of clay mush!
Later that day, we reluctantly waved goodbye to Tordi Sāgar, but as we drove to our next destination, I knew we were in for a treat. Known as The Rose Garden of Rajasthan, Pushkar is one of the oldest cities in the country.