India – Day Seven & Eight: Shahpura

Only two more places to visit on the first tour of my binary tours in India. Traveled from Udaipur to Shahpura on the bus – saw some wonderful things along the way…

One of the most amazing sights was The Statue of Belief. This newly erected statue is 351 feet tall and is the world’s tallest Lord Shiva. We didn’t have time to stop but it still was inspiring to see, even from a distance.

Here’s a very short video about it being constructed:

A fantastically colorful Ganesha by the side of the road. There are many statues and altars and religious iconography and art in general that you find in the most unexpected places.

If these chips were available at home I would be in big trouble. (Thankfully they aren’t – I checked the Indian grocery as soon as I got back…) DE-LICI-OUS!

Rohit told us this truck is carrying a load of CHICK PEAS! I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen chick peas except in a can (or dried.) To be honest, I didn’t actually know how they grew. Look at all the yumminess.

I LOVE this photo. I don’t think you can get more Indian. Dudes are riding in the back of an open truck, which is gorgeously decorated, all the while he’s waving and talking on his mobile. FABULOUS!

We arrived at Shahpura Bagh and couldn’t believe our eyes – it was so beautiful! Seriously, right out of a movie. And not just the way it looked either, the history of the place was filmworthy as well.

The owners of Shahpura Bagh are modern day Royals. They are the descendants of the Raja of Shahpura, dating back to the early 1600s. There are incredible family photos and paintings throughout the buildings – wonderful to look at. We got to hear many stories from our hosts.

Indian Royals, especially 20th/21st century ones, take their duties very seriously in terms of helping their subjects. In the case of Shahpura Bagh, back around 1900, there was a horrible famine and the Raja Nahar Singh (the Raja of Shahpura at that time) realized he had to do something to alleviate the suffering of his people. Legend has it that the Raja mortgaged his property and the family jewels to fund an incredibly ambitious project. Working with a British architect, Singh had an enormous tank constructed combined with several dams. The project took four years (and some assistance from the government toward the end) but when it was completed they were able to irrigate massive amounts of farmlands through a series of artificially created lakes which still exist today.

According to the current descendants of the Raja(s) of Shahpura, the lakes irrigate around 9000 acres of farmland. They were only intended to irrigate around 6000 acres but people have laid pipes illegally, which unfortunately can mean some lakes dry up sooner than they should.

Here’s a photo of a section of the veranda located on the main building. This is the building I was lucky enough to stay in.

The front entrance of the main building
Photo courtesy of Rohit Gehlot

Okay, the first photo below wasn’t my room but I had to take a photo of it because it was so gorgeous! It was Marianne and Daniele’s room. Magnifique! My room is the next photo, the very happy room – marigold (Marianne’s favorite color.)

A good part of Rajasthan is dry and sandy. The Thar Desert covers the northwest portion of the state. Because of this there is a lot of dust… everywhere. And no matter where we went, each and every morning you’d find people with small brooms made from grass or reeds sweeping up the grounds.

To me this seems like an incredibly tedious and thankless task and, like I said, it was not an uncommon sight. Our Indian tour guide Rohit said, if there is one thing that India does not have a shortage of it is man/people power. That is very true. And people in India are willing to do what we would call menial tasks. In the US you couldn’t even pay your kids to do this nowadays. #spoiled

This darling couple who helps maintain the grounds at Shahpura Bagh were delighted to have their photo taken. I showed it to them after I took it and they were very pleased.

My travel companions were thrilled to find out that there was someone who could lead a yoga class on site.

I know that a lot of people would have an issue with seeing a taxidermied tiger but not me. Here’s the thing – first, tigers are protected now. Second, when they used to kill tigers they were plentiful and they hunted for them in the same way that we, for example, have people go deer hunting. It was necessary for population control. And they would always made sure that there was a balance, never over hunting. Unfortunately people started coming from outside India to hunt them (along with elephants and other animals that are now endangered.) They wanted their skins and tusks and other parts – anything that was in demand and could be sold, much of it to the Chinese, who use these things for medicinal purposes.

Personally I thought it was fantastic to be able to see a tiger, well, at least half of a tiger. There is the historic aspect of looking at it – it’s over a hundred years old! And when would I actually ever be this close to a tiger? I remember seeing a stuffed tiger in the palace in Madras when I visited India back in 2001. I had the same sense of awe at seeing it. Actually more so because it was a full tiger so it seemed even more real.

This is the front room when you came into the building that housed the dining room, the salon, and more guest rooms. This was my view at every meal.

Like I said, right out of a movie. It was a little too cool to swim, though there were people sunbathing.

The architecture and art… sigh, so beautiful.

This is the exterior of the building that housed the dining room. If you entered the door in the middle you’d enter through the door that is open on the left in the interior photo above. We could have eaten outside if we wanted but I found it a little too cold in the morning.

The third best thing about being at Shahpura Bagh was the cooking (with the first best thing being the people and the second best thing being the estate itself). Because Shahpura Bagh has a farm, everything was incredibly fresh and they raised all the fruit and veg and produced all the dairy themselves. The yogurt was homemade, the muesli, fresh fruit. YUM. And of course I had to have as much masala chai as possible. Isn’t this tea cozy adorable. I loved all the linens here.

This is POHA. It’s a south Indian breakfast dish made from semolina and it’s delicious (as a person who doesn’t like sweet things in the morning I was all over this!)

Here’s a simple recipe for Poha if you want to try to make it yourself.

On our first full day in Shahpura there was a long excursion planned. Along with our new friends, a lovely couple from London whom we had met the evening before who were also staying on the estate, and one of the cohosts, we took three jeeps on a trip into the village.

I’m sure there’s a name for this but basically it’s a vehicle that is used to play music during an Indian wedding procession, where people are walking along the streets on their way to the wedding location.

My favorite photos are of the people just going about their day…

Again, taking their responsibility to their community seriously, the owners of Shahpura Bagh have set up a charitable trust which they contribute to and which they encourage their guests to contribute to as well. The money goes toward many social outreach programs, particularly in the areas of education and economic development. Below are some photos of the local government school that we visited that receives funding from the charitable trust. The kids were FANTASTIC! We arrived just as members of the class were reading sections of the day’s newspaper to the class and that was followed by a brief moment of medication before recess. (I believe the adorable girl in the grey hoodie is holding both nostrils closed. She couldn’t have been older than 4, maybe even 3 years-old.)

As usual, the girls flocked to the woman with the blonde hair!

Can you imagine having this location as a classroom? How could a person ever concentrate? I suppose if you’re there long enough eventually you’d get used to it.

Okay – here’s the poop (or should I say dung) on cows. Yes, they are sacred and yes they are everywhere. I can’t remember which of our Indian tour guides gave me this explanation. (Unfortunately the tours are starting to meld together, better get cracking on my blogging!) Anyway, whichever one it was, he explained it in the clearest way I’ve ever heard! He said that when we are babies we drink our mother’s milk but of course we can only do that for so long. Eventually we must move on to drinking the milk of cows, which essentially makes them like our second mothers. Cows also provide manure which is used for fuel. So, over the course of a cow’s life it will provide for it’s owner. All the cows seen on the street, each one has an owner. (Though according to this article from the Washington Post, there has been an increasing issue with abandoned and stray cows.) Cows live their lives being fed and protected by everyone around them. (Here’s an interesting article too about why cows have become so polarizing in India.)

Having said all that, this woman was NOT going to allow this cow into her home. No way, no how.

I am completely enamored with the Rajput street art.

Next we visited another school in one of the smaller villages. One of the kids was clearly not happy that there were strangers present – he cried (very loudly) the entire time he was there. His teacher tried diligently to calm him down but he finally ran off toward the main building. In the meantime the other children and the adults were very interested in us. The teacher wanted to show us the art projects the kids had been working on. We oooohed and aaaaaahed over their creations made out of clay. Then everyone started taking pictures of everyone else, including the teacher, who pulled out her own smartphone.

This is the mother and grandmother of the two girls in the photo below this one. The grandmother had the most magnificent silver jewelry. I was nearly drooling over it.

Aren’t these two of the most gorgeous children you’ve ever seen????

This guy clearly was used to having his photo taken. Very nice man.

This guy was also very obliging when it came to letting people take his photo. Rohit is a much better photographer than I am! Which is apparent in the two photos following this one, which he was shared with me.

Photo by Rohit Gehlot
Photo by Rohit Gehlot

After the school we visited one of the homes in the village. First is a short video of the interior of the house. As you can see, there’s not much too it. Basically you entire through the doors and there are three walls and a roof that house some of the storage and sleeping area. But there is no fourth wall, instead it is completely open to the rest of the living quarters that is one big open space. There you find the animal pens, the cooking area, and further back, more storage/sleeping areas. It’s truly indescribable to visit people living in such a place – all I could think about was how would they feel if they ever saw where I lived?

I think every house should have a “ghee niche”! (thanks for pointing this out Victoria.)

The one thing I was always surprised about is you could be in the most rural place, where people looked as though they had virtually nothing and then someone would pull out a smartphone. Here, the girl in the striped sweater had one. She was in her mid-teens and had dropped out of school because she didn’t like it. It broke my heart. She wasn’t doing anything with herself either, she’s just waiting to get married.

This family did have electricity.

These beds are popular not only because they are cheap and easy to make but because they are breathable. When it gets very hot the air still can go through them and it’s more comfortable.

A couple more girls waving and wanting to say hi! Aren’t they lovely?

This was exiting – another Banyan Tree! I don’t think I will ever be tired of see Banyan trees. This particular one is on the farm owned by the family who owns Shahpura Bagh. If I’m remembering correctly, I think it’s around 400 years old! (I think you can hear him say how old it is on the video below.)

This particular Banyan tree is also home to a zillion beehives which is AWESOME.

Here is Marianne to give a little perspective on how big the trunk is. Granted, Marianne is on the more petite side, but still, it’s massive.

Our wonderful co-host.

This is one of the many man-made lakes that was created by the Raja of Shahpura back in the beginning of the twentieth century.

And after a long day seeing so many fabulous things, and then a delicious dinner it was off to bed where I found the most delightful surprise! I’ve never used a hot water bottle before but I’ll tell you, they are DA BOMB and it was still a little warm even in the morning.

How would you like to rise and shine to this???

I got into having some of the home made yogurt over whatever cereal was on hand with the biggest pomegranate seeds I’ve ever seen. I also had to have a masala omelet whenever possible (which was most mornings…)

Okay, here’s the thing, there were peacocks everywhere! Now we were running around all excited about this but the first night we arrived we were talking with one of our hosts and she was explaining that they had so many peacock feathers just strewn around the grounds that they would collect them up, tie them up, and use them for dusting. Can you believe it?!? I was shocked! I told her that people would pay a pretty penny for peacock feathers in the states and she did know that but what were they to do, they just had so many of them. ARGH!

And, the same veranda that I took a photo of when I arrived, though from inside this time. I think that this was definitely one of my favorite places we went to – mostly because of the people and because it was sublimely relaxing.

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