After days of threateningly ominous looking clouds hanging over Jaipur, the rain finally came and we were blessed with a full day of the “wet stuff” we Brits try desperately to avoid. As a result, I was soon to discover my little apartment was in desperate need of plastering as a number of small leaks sprung up to create my very own indoor water feature. The fun continued as I was sat on the toilet minding my own business when plaster from the roof began falling on my head, which I think even in India is a bad sign!
The rain did not dampen our spirits as I was due to go out with the camel vet, a very cool character called Dr. Swami. He was incredibly well educated and spoke brilliant English so conversation was easy and entertaining. Though it became clear that I would be the entertainment for most of the villagers while on the ambulatory clinic. When we pulled up in a lay-by at the side of the road ( a seemingly India appropriate place to host a veterinary clinic) a steadily growing crowd of people gathered until they were actually blocking the majority of the busy highway. I naively thought it was the camel vet causing all the fuss but Swami pointed out that it was in fact me! So I unwittingly became quite the pasty celebrity for the day and everyone wanted me to treat their camel (despite me knowing nothing about them except that in Hindi they are called Uuht). I managed to have a full conversation with one man in Hindi getting by with furious nodding and hand gestures alongside the few phrases I actually knew, which he seemed very impressed with and Dr Swami found hilarious. The camel owner was jabbering away at me and gesturing to his camels eye which even to my untrained eye I could see was very sore and I just kept nodding and saying Hann (which is yes in Hindi), Swami then passed me the eye drops and I popped them in the camel’s eye gave the fellow the rest of the bottle and he looked incredibly pleased, shook my hand and went on his way.
The villagers were very generous with their chai and I actually think I may have drunk my weight in it! Dr Swami said that my presence had a lot to do with the intense generosity of the villagers which I found myself feeling quite embarrassed about and felt a little guilty about not paying. Nonetheless, people kept bringing more out for me every time my cup was empty, Swami said I had clearly made a good impression! Camels, I discovered are funny things as unlike horses and donkeys they are never fully tame. Only the bulls are used for pulling the carts and during their mating season can be incredibly aggressive and dangerous. Not only can they kick with all 4 feet, they can swing their neck like a battering ram and they have terrifyingly sharp canines. Apparently, in breeding season the camel owners wear giant turbans so if the camels bite them, they bite the turban, not their heads which I think is pretty clever really!
The camel clinic was incredibly well run, they gave out halters in replacement of nose pegs for the younger camels or if nose pegs have to be used they gave small plastic ones which were much cleaner than the wooden ones commonly seen, they gave out reflectors for the back of carts to reduce road accidents at night and they gave monthly wormers and tick treatment, all for free. It was a very pro-active, preventative approach that I have to say I couldn’t fault, the camel team worked with the locals to give the best welfare for their camels and they were respected and trusted by the people. I feel this was definitely reflected in the fact that an average non-working camel lives 25 years while the working ones live to around 20 which are pretty good stats in the grand scheme of things.
That evening we went to Chokki Dhani, meaning ‘special village’. This was a fake Rhajastani village where tourists could go and experience different aspects of the state’s culture all in the same location. We took Ranjana, who seemed like she was long overdue a girl’s night after spending her days surrounded by the men from the compound who she wasn’t really allowed to socialise with. Her father kindly offered to take us/ chaperone us so we couldn’t sneak out clubbing instead and we met up with Ella and two of her housemates – a Spanish brother and sister who seemed to prefer their own company to ours. Chokki Dhnai itself was truly beautiful, there were numerous extravagantly painted huts, each with something going on in them, there were lanterns everywhere lighting the way and men and women swanning around dressed in traditional outfits, glittering from head to toe in extravagant jewellery. Fantastic smells wafted through the air from the numerous stalls of free tasters of Rhajastani fare and elephants and camels wandered past with their Mahouts carrying giggling tourists. The whole atmosphere was really something to behold. We first wandered over to a puppet show where a very punch and judy-esque performance ensued. However, then things did start to take a twist away from the usual when one of the puppeteers began balancing various things on his head, chin and in his mouth which we all found very impressive but I did find myself wondering how someone discovered they had such a useless but entertaining talent? Next, we went and watched some of the traditional Rhajastni dancing, we spent a large amount of time trying to figure out if one of the dancers was just a rather ugly woman or was in fact a man….. It turned out that in Rhajastani tradition men dressed up as women to dance (sounds a bit odd to me but who am I to judge how someone chooses to express themselves). Well, those fellas could certainly wiggle better than we all could, which was later proven when volunteers were asked to join them on stage and we all got up to have a dance. In the village centre was a large gong which was attracting a lot of tourist attention, men were showing off their brute strength all competing to make the biggest noise and hold the (genuinely rather heavy) hammer the highest above their heads. We all couldn’t resist and had a go too and laughably us girls put a lot of the men to shame!
Dinner was served in traditional Indian fashion; bare foot, on cushions on the ground. I have honestly never seen so much food in my life! We had a traditional Rhajastani Thali (basically tapas) where the waiters came around an extraordinary number of times piling your plates high with multiple styles of japhatti and naan, different curries and sauces (garlic chutney was an absolute favourite of mine I must add), finger food, pastries and rice. It was incredibly exciting to try it all and most of the food was absolutely delicious though admittedly there were a few things that did not suit the western pallet. First was curried water (it basically tasted like incredibly strong sea water with cumin thrown in) which was absolutely vile. Another unusual drink was chatch which was Buffalo buttermilk, this also had an interesting texture and to us, kind of tasted like slightly off milk but Ranjana swore would give you the best night sleep after drinking. The final clash of cultural palates came from a dish called citcheri which was basically a green vegetable dhal, which was all well and good, nothing unusual there until they came and dumped a table spoon of sugar on top, this texture was incredibly strange to us, as was the taste and it’s not one I think I could ever get on board with!
After a bit more wandering (or should I say waddling by this point) around with incredibly full stomachs, we came to the Bazaar which we thought would be extortionately priced (as many tourist traps are in the UK) but we were pleasantly surprised that it was really rather cheap! After picking up some bling which turned out to be a tremendously complicated process ( the man we gave our purchases to added them up under the supervision of another man who then took our money, we then had to march across the bazaar to a little hut where a man with a cash register sat and the whole adding up process started again with more counting and spectatorship, then we paid this man who gave us a receipt which had to be checked by another man and then FINALLY we were allowed to leave ) as everything in India seemed to take time and be incredibly long-winded, we finally got picked up by our chauffeur (Ranjana’s dad) and went home with a number of funny photos to commemorate our journey.
That evening as we crept back into the compound we went to get water from the dispenser (the only trusted source for the sensitive stomachs of the westerners) and literally nearly fell over a man who was spread out across the porch snoring his head off! I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the fact that Indians seem to be able to sleep anywhere and as many people wished to stay with their animals while they were treated, it was common place to see unidentified individuals snoozing around the compound first thing in the morning. This fellow though, was the first one I nearly tripped over!
Some photos in this post were taken by Beth Dixon 🙂