November 14-15, 2011: Ranakpur
Bats, Bees and Black-Faced Monkeys
On our trip to India, our group was treated to a whole range of transportation options, from taxis, through tuk-tuks, to camels, to buses of various shapes and sizes, and later a train and a plane. This time, we travelled between cities by jeep. (A boat ride had been scheduled around the lake palaces of Udaipur but a wedding interfered. November is prime wedding season for Hindus in India; everywhere we went, it seemed, something was either closed or at least complicated by a wedding. A couple of members of our group took to wandering into wedding processions in the street when we came upon them, where they were welcomed by the families and guests and had a lovely time contributing to the celebrations. At the Taj Mahal a newly-wed Australian couple elaborately dressed as a raja and ranee were getting photos taken with their entourage – to the apparent amusement of visitors who looked to me to be far more deeply steeped in Hinduism than did the bride and groom.)
Travelling by jeep to the Ranakpur region, ninety minutes from Udaipur, allowed us the opportunity to stop along the highway to see a traditional farming enterprise. There, an irrigation system was powered by an elderly blind man, who sat cross-legged on a wagon behind two oxen, which he drove in a circle to raise water from a well. The water was then diverted to different fields as needed. The fields were cultivated by another pair of oxen that pulled a plough behind them.
En route to Ranakpur, we stopped a second time to observe about a hundred flying foxes folded and hanging like paper-wrapped fruit in trees above the highway, sleeping away the day (a real treat for me, as many of you will know). We gradually entered a hilly, jungle area and some of the most beautiful country I have seen in India. Monkeys sat on concrete abutments along the roadway, watching us go by, and we passed a “leopard crossing” sign.
Our accommodation near Ranakpur was at the Aranyawas Resort in the Aravalli Hills. There, instead of the blaring noise of street traffic, we were wakened in the morning by the sounds of monkeys galloping across our balconies and rooftops (they are not dainty, quiet creatures, it turns out). There were lots of langur monkeys in the area, and leopards have indeed been sighted (not by us) at the pool created by the human-made waterfall just below the resort. We all enjoyed the greenery, the calls of birds, the hoots of an alpha male monkey and the honks of geese—quite a contrast to the busy and noisy urban scenes that had surrounded all of our accommodation until now.
The Aranyawas facility was spotless and the food outstanding. Like everywhere we went in India, there were the occasional power outages and here, the water also suddenly went off one afternoon — just as I had finished massaging shampoo into my wet hair in the shower. I stood and waited, wondering what my options might be if it never came back on again (a dip in the leopard pool? Simply allowing my lathered self to dry, and moving on like that?) but after a few minutes I was hit by a blast of cold water and resumed my shower. I was used to cool showers by then, and because it is warm in India even in the winter (usually over 30C), I did not mind.
We took the same jeeps on a three- or four-hour excursion from the resort to see one of the major temples in the Jain religion. Jainism is a small religion, but small is relative in India—an estimated 4.2 million people are Jains (compare to estimated 827 million Hindus, 150 million Muslims, 37 million Buddhists, 27 million Christians, 19 million Sikhs, etc.) and the religion has many followers outside of India. It is believed by historians that Jainism grew from the same roots as Hinduism, and had its origins in the Indus Valley several centuries before the Common Era. The principles of Jainism are set out in detail in this Wikipedia entry, and some of the more noticeable practices of the Jains arises from their very comprehensive interpretation of the principle of non-violence. They make every effort to harm no living creature – which means of course that they are vegetarians (to an extreme in some cases, not eating certain vegetables if it will require killing the whole plant), and in some more rigorous communities, they wear no clothes and sweep the path in front of them before they walk in order to avoid harming any insects or even microbes.
Although the specific history of the temple is not known either, it is believed to have been built between the late 14th and mid-15th centuries. Made of a pale marble, it features 1440 individually carved columns – all different – and is constructed in such a way as to admit the most light possible to the interior of the building. It is an amazing sight, and I kept taking more and more pictures until I admitted to myself the impossibility of capturing it.
As I meandered about the temple, I met a couple of kids who were fascinated by my camera, so I took a photo of their small group and showed it to them in the view finder: they seemed surprised and pleased. I told them I would send them a copy of the photo if they sent me an email asking for it, and I wrote down the email address for them, but they spoke no English and had no internet so I doubt I’ll hear from them.
At one point I stuck my head out of the temple to look at the outside of it and discovered an absolutely enormous colony of wild bees. After I’d finished my tour of the temple, I wandered around outside the building and found that there were at least four bee colonies of similar size. Due to the beliefs of the Jains, I suppose these beehives are safe from destruction, but I would not want to be in the area if one of their number gets aggravated with a human. (I have since read on-line blogs from people who have, in fact, been stung and chased by bees here. We were fortunate — but then, we were careful not to go too close.)
We spent the next day relaxing by the pool at Aranyawas Resort, which was a good idea as it meant we were rested up before the amazing experience of taking a night train to Mumbai – a method of transportation that allowed none of us to get much sleep.
Picasa photos related to this blog post:
|Aranyawas, Ranakpur & a splendid Jain temple|