The village of Shahpura sits about halfway between Udaipur and Jaipur in the rural hills of Rajasthan. The streets are filled with vegetable markets and people selling everything from spices to shoes. There are men in amazing turbans (color palettes and tying techniques vary, we learned, according to their castes) and women balancing their baskets on their heads and their children on their hips.
We stayed in Shahpura for a few days this week, at an exquisite garden palace, a family home filled with portraits and photographs of the family who built it in the late nineteenth century, and who still run it. There is an immense organic garden that supports the kitchen, and the entire place is overrun by hundreds of chirping parakeets. The entire experience was straight out of Merchant Ivory.
As it happens everywhere we go in India, we were stared at when we went into town, and children raced up to Malcolm and Fiona to get a better look at them. Close to where we stayed, a group of children were playing in front of their house with their baby goat. One of them ran over to us and put it into Fiona’s arms. Then they gathered around her to have their photos taken.
Early one morning we took a jeep safari, which took us out of town to a farm about 12 kilometers away, where we drove through mango groves and saw baby owls. As we are learning here in India, every outing is an excuse to stop for tea: ours was served right under the mango trees.
We drove out in the jeep once again in the late afternoon to a 400-year old fort that’s been essentially abandoned for at least a decade. (The family who owned the place where we were staying sold it to the town for one rupee: they didn’t know what to do with it, so after a few years, they sold it back to the family for the same amount.) It was a spectacular place, over 90 meters across, with ramparts and internal courtyards and astonishing views of the surrounding countryside where we watched women in sarees walking their flocks of sheep and cows. Once again, we were served tea — hot and sweet masala chai — which we drank while we watched the setting sun. Magical.