The previous instalment of this story is Indian Summer: The Pink City.
We said goodbye to Jaipur the next morning over a glass of lassi, one of those delicious, refreshing surprises that India indiscriminately threw at us. Lassi is basically spiced yoghurt; it may be plain, sweetened or salted, and it’s definitely worth it to try all three. There might be tastier drinks to be had on a warm “winter” morning, but I’ve yet to encounter them. Our guide told us that every lassi vendor has his own recipe, often passed down through generations. It’s amazing to think that this simple, unassuming drink may have been around for as long as there was an Indian civilization.
Before we left, we took another walk through the Pink City and admired the Palace of the Winds. This palace is actually nothing more than a facade with numerous windows, lavishly decorated in the same Jaipur style. Its role was to allow the royal concubines to observe parades and city life without being seen. It is, if you wish, the world’s most expensive modesty veil.
And off we went, to Ranthambore. Or so we thought. Because Sunil, our faithful guide, had one more surprise in store for us. A few kilometres out of the city, in a valley flanked by granite walls, lays a temple of Hanuman, the Indian monkey god. A quiet, peaceful place, built of sandstone and inhabited not only by monks, but also by a tribe of friendly rhesus monkeys, this temple irradiates serenity.
I wish I could convey to you the simple beauty and tranquillity of this place. It was so far away from the organised chaos of Delhi and Jaipur that it seemed to be another world entirely. And in some ways, it was. The monkeys here were used to people walking about, sometimes feeding them peanuts and small bananas. They were not aggressive in the least, although after my experience with the langurs of Amber Palace, I was understandably circumspect. Mostly they walked around, slept or played near the pool, near the centre of the temple complex. A passing monk told us that they were mainly present because of the water; it was the only source within a few square kilometres. At night, panthers would come and drink from the pool, he added. We had to take him at his word; much too soon we were back in the Ferrary-badged Mahindra-Suzuki, driving through the countryside, headed for Ranthambore.
There, we were told, we’d find tigers.