Bhenswara


After Ranakpur we spent the night at a resort in a town called Bhenswara. For anyone who's curious, it's not on the map. It's a tiny little town, and as far as I can tell, the resort is the only thing that would draw anyone from outside, except perhaps the post office.

The resort was run by one of the former nobles of the area. Before the formation of India, the principalities of Rajasthan were still nominally independent. As compensation for joining India, the princes (maharanas and maharajas) were given privileges, such as rent on their lands and freedom from customs duties. During her administration Indira Gandhi took those privileges away. What happened is that the nobles turned their palaces into resorts and started taking in tourists. This was one such place.

The draw of this particular resort was that it was in the middle of leopard country, and those who wanted to could get in the jeep and go leopard spotting. I chose to hang around instead, and took a walk around the town. There wasn't much to see, I'm afraid. We walked to the other end, where there was an entrance to a field, and a huge bull standing around. We met three men coming out of the field and said hello to them.

Communication was a bit limited. I tried to explain that we were walking around and taking a look at things. I pointed to my eye to give them an idea. One of the men gave me a quizzical look and pointed to his friend, who happened to have a blind eye. "No, no! Sorry, I didn't mean that. We're looking around." This was really embarrassing, though luckily, I did have a chance to correct things by making circles with my hand. Note To Self: practice sign language.

We ran into a few people on the road. One was a young kid who was studying in Bombay. Rather than the usual two Rajput earrings this kid had a single, MTV-style earring. He told us that he was back at home for the holidays, and added that he was studying for an MBA (though he never mentioned what year the MBA was due to start). There was a very nice young woman standing in front of a doorway. I cynically snapped a picture, since it seems that all the prize-winning photos in my Amateur Photographer magazine have to do with windows and doorways that people snap while on holiday. I remarked that she was very nice looking, and this smart-alec kid pointed out the fellow with the blind eye. "Yeah, he's goodlooking, too. Why don't you take his picture?" So much for the unspoiled life of the small town.

Later on we met the local kids, who were very happy for the novelty. "Where are you from?" they kept asking. We walked around with them. "What's your name?" I asked one of the kids. "Tomato," he said, and the other kids thought this was the funniest joke they'd ever heard. Funnier still, as we walked, one kid would kick me in the behind, push another kid behind me and then jump out of the way. The first 20 or 30 kicks in the behind were hilarious. The next 10 or 20 were still pretty humorous, especially as I chased them and slapped them on the head. But even so, even the funniest jokes need a rest, and it was getting dark and time to go in.

We sat down and had a drink, and met the owner's kids, who were back from boarding schools for the holidays. The owner's son, a ten-year-old little man, informed us that they went to the best school in India. The thirteen-year-old daughter was charming, and talked with the guests about history and just about everything else. These conversations went very well but for one thing there were grandparents present in the group.

In any discussion with grandparents (either your own or someone else's), the topic goes in one embarrassing direction, which is how brilliant and successful you are. Any attempt at modesty or truthfulness makes them more resolute to bring out the braggart. From her initial thoughts about a career in fashion, this poor little girl became a top designer. I had just finished talking with the 16-year-old nephew about school, how they always give you extra assignments over the holidays and still call them holidays. The grandparents then got him to say, to his embarrassment, that he was a professional polo player.

The kids excused themselves (and not a moment too soon), and we went on to dinner. We heard the ten-year-old little man from the kitchen yelling at the staff, and thought it wouldn't be long at all before he ran the family business. It was a nice dinner, and a good thing we didn't wait up for the leopard spotters, who got back very late. All through the evening the power kept going out. This may have been a very nice resort, but it was still in a remote area. Most of the local shepherds' houses didn't have power at all, so in fact, we were living in luxury itself.

The next morning we had breakfast, and the little man was present to shake everyone's hand and say that he hoped we had a nice stay. His father was in his office, and we were called in one by one, sitting on a chair in front of his desk as he totaled up each of the bills. He was wearing a striped, button-down shirt with a pair of solid silver, swastika cufflinks. I thought of looking for my own pair, but they might not go down so well in the West.