Thursday, December 8, 2011

Narlai – Our Rajasthan Retreat

Kumbalgarh Fort
We made two major stops after leaving Udaipur: Kumbalgarh Fort and Ranakpur Temple.  Kumbalgarh Fort was the most impressive fort we have visited so far, probably because of its isolated location way up in the mountains, on a mountain top.  The fortress consists of about 25 miles of impregnable walls enclosing hundreds of temples and palaces.  We had no guide here, but we enjoyed wandering around the picturesque site on our own.
Ranakpur Temple

Our second stop was even better – the Jain temple at Ranakpur.  This white marble edifice is a forest of 1,444 pillars all carved with exquisite designs.  The ceilings were even better carved with a delicate, lacy look.  The head priest of the temple latched on to us right away and gave us a brief tour.  He also gave us a lengthy blessing that included the usual Indian wish for wealth and prosperity.  Of course, he was also concerned about his own prosperity and requested an immediate donation.  Anne convinced Frank that $2 for a blessing was a good thing since admission to the temple was free.  And besides, when will we ever have the opportunity to be blessed by a Jain priest? 
Anne’s favorite carvings were a ceiling design that combined the “om” symbol with a half moon, and a figure with one head and 5 bodies.  This sculpture represented the need to control the 5 senses before entering the temple.

Rawla Narlai

Our new hotel, Rawla Narlai is a little bit of heaven – totally luxurious with gorgeous gardens, a rooftop terrace, and a huge pool (perfect for swimming laps).  All situated at the base of a massive rock.  This rock became Frank’s nemesis because he really wanted to climb up to the large white elephant statue sitting tantalizingly on the summit, but we just didn’t have the energy or time.  That night, we ate a candlelit dinner on the roof terrace where waiters fell all over themselves taking care of us, and live music created an eerie-sounding background out there in the middle of nowhere.
Two staff members took a particular liking to us: Umaid and Lala (we are not making these names up).  I think we could have eaten breakfast all day long – they kept offering to bring us more toast, butter, and what about some more tea?  Frank tried to sign on to the netbook while Anne wandered around the gardens. 

Frank "turbanized" with the rock in the background

When Anne looked back, she saw Umaid holding up a cloth napkin trying to reduce the glare from the morning sun on Frank’s netbook.  Later, Frank walked up on the terrace to gaze at that rock above us, and of course, “the boys” were on him in a second.  Soon, Umaid and Lala had goaded Frank into trying on each of their turbans while they took pictures of him.  This is really too much!
The resort offered a complimentary outing to a nearby lake for afternoon tea.  This was a fun ride in an open jeep; it was like a mini-safari.  We saw numerous birds including a turquoise blue Kingfisher, and lots of peacocks in the wild!  The lake was very pretty, especially as the sun started to set, and our jeep driver supplied us with hot masala tea along with muffins and brownies for an added treat.  

Afternoon tea at the Lake Gora Dela
Our favorite Narlai activity was a 2-hour village tour with Lala as our guide.  Our tour began at a temple built inside the huge dome-shaped rock – the rocky mountain actually consists of layers of rock, and this temple was built into a crevice.  The temple contained a metal sculpture of a cobra, and Lala told us that during festivals the people bring in a live cobra, milk it, and drink the cobra milk!  Yuck!
Lala took us into several village homes giving us the opportunity for a closer look at village life.  We met a shoemaker, a seamstress, and a woman who was grinding wheat into flour for the village.  The most memorable home consisted of three rooms -- the middle room designated for the cow!  Lala also pointed out the nicely swept dirt floor that was a mixture of dirt and dried cow dung (these people sure love their dung!).
 Anne’s most memorable moment came when she got to join several local women who had congregated on the front steps of one of the homes.  These women were a trip!  They kept slapping Anne’s leg (hard) – like they couldn’t believe how hefty it was LOL. 

Anne with the women of Narlai
But the main focus of the conversation was on jewelry.  The older woman pointed to the younger woman’s necklace and said something in a stage whisper that Anne assumed must have been the price.  Anne acted suitably impressed, and before she knew it, the old lady had wrapped the necklace around Anne’s neck (and pulled it tight – almost like a garotte!).  Of course, Frank was having a ball taking pictures.  It really was an unforgettable experience.

Frank and the "Barber of Narlai"

As we strolled about town, Frank’s big moment came later when he spotted a tiny barber shop; really, it was just a small, outhouse-sized metal box on the edge of a busy street that was big enough for the barber to stand, a customer to sit, and some primitive barber tools.  From a distance, Frank carefully watched this “Edward Scissorhand operation” for a while, and decided it was a good time to cast fate to the wind, and get his hair cut.  This barber seemed to be a very meticulous gent, and Frank trusted his hair to this barber who also trimmed his beard and moustache, and topped it all off with a lengthy head massage -- all for $2.  Actually he only wanted $1 for his troubles, but Frank doubled it since the barber was so relatively inexpensive.  What a deal, and it was excellently executed, despite the fact that neither Frank nor the barber could communicate the exact nuances of the requested haircut!

Faces of India:

Shoemaker in Narlai

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