I remember sitting in the window seat as we pulled out of New Delhi train station and realising that whilst I thought New Delhi was crazy, what we had seen the day before on street level was entirely separate from the side of Delhi I was about to witness. Street level New Delhi is the presentable front of a back door business. As the train pulled out of New Delhi the scene along the train line, behind the main city was shocking! Slums. Metre squared tarped homes, some fortunate enough to be constructed of wood panels, lined up next to one another running the length of the track, no more than 4 metres from the tracks themselves. The occupants spilled out of them, sitting on the small pebble and earthy hump leading up to the tracks. Others stood around aimlessly watching the train go past. In that moment I remember wondering what they were thinking. Them living there, watching people on the train headed somewhere..whilst they might not be headed anywhere. I don’t mean headed simply to another part of India, I mean the concept of progression in life. What must they be thinking watching the train pass taking passengers, all types of passengers forward, whilst they lived for the sake of living, here? I don’t know, I can’t even imagine. I was confronted. I didn’t expect to see that. It was something I had never seen before, and couldn’t have imagined. The further away from the city we pulled the fewer there were. But the slums still stretched on for kilometres and kilometres, before dry sparse sprawls of land took over, peppered by unattractive dilapidated buildings.
After a few hours on the train we got off at a station where the ten of us piled into 2 Four-Wheel-Drives – When I say piled I mean I was sitting with my back to the driver, my legs out stretched looking out the side and rear windows. For the next 2 hours we bumped along a narrow path into what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. We would occasionally pass through a very small village of about 8 or so houses clustered together and then it would be back to barren landscapes.
Finally we arrived at Tordi Garh, a villa at the base of a hill a-topped with a ruined castle. The villa still belongs to the land owning family of the area, and to this day continues to fulfil its duty as a feudal lordship over the surrounding little towns. We were welcomed by the children who placed flower chains around our necks and red dots on our foreheads. We were shown to our rooms along the second floor balcony each fitted with an enormous traditional padlock and key.
We then continued upstairs to the dining room for a traditional Indian lunch cooked by the family. The food was a delicious assortment including my soon to be favourite Mysore Pak, a pale desert, resembling a slice, that sort of tasted like sweet polenta.
We were given the afternoon to relax before setting out by camel and cart to drink tea on the sand dunes. We were led through the small town on our way to the dunes, where children called out to us and waved, following the cart up to the dunes on foot. From atop the dune we watched the sunset and drank traditional Indian milk tea, which for me who drinks a lot of tea, always without milk, was quite strange, but I embraced the cultural experience. The children climbed up the dunes and joined us, some playing naughts and crosses in the sand whilst the others continued to climb up and around us. Back at the villa that night we had dinner on the terrace whilst a local lady drew henna designs on all of us girls arm, leg or both. The children of the house and local ladies joined us telling us about their lives and the villa. We played musical chairs with the children and danced on the terrace with the locals. It was a fantastic evening!
In the morning we rose early to watch the sunrise from the castle ruins on top of the hill. Walking up it soon became apparent that although the sun was above the horizon we could not yet see it due to the low hanging curtain of smog that hung, like a layer of foam on a latte, between the horizon and the sky. Again we drank Indian milk tea at the castle ruins and watched the sun rise above the smog, taking photos and enjoying the view of the land below.
After breakfast we went for a walk through the village and were shown how the three different streets in the village represented very separate classes of people. The differences were incredibly apparent! The children smiled and waved as we passed, asking us to take photos of and with them. We also watched a local man making pottery and were given the chance to try it ourselves. Returning to the villa we piled back into the Four-Wheel-Drives and set off for Jaipur once again driving along a narrow strip of road dividing otherwise open swaths of land.