July 21, 2009
For a few months at the very beginning of my stint in India, I lived in a dilapidated fort. It was 45 minutes outside Jaipur and well worth the commute.
Had it not been for the cars in the courtyard, it could have been the 14th century. There wasn’t a noise, except chanting from the nearby temple, once in a while, late into the night. There wasn’t much electricity either, so evenings meant candles and early nights. Hot water was scarce too, and had to be brought in. But is there anything more pleasurable than a candlelit hot bath in a vast, old, cold, shabby house?
The fort, it is true, was in dire need of maintenance. But I did not mind its shabbiness. It meant I was left alone there, as no tourist, somehow, was willing to share with me the simple pleasures of rural life.
My bedroom was immense, with pillars and walls painted in delightful colors: pista green, banana yellow, poppy red. There were ottoman chairs and intricately carved sofas, all very much over the top, but certainly playing their part in the Indian fairytale.
I used to wake up at dawn and go horseriding. The cold bit through my bones, but soon I’d be panting under the effort. Sometimes I rode with the owner’s son, five-year old and cantering like there was no tomorrow, his feet not even reaching the stirrups. Or with his cousins, who’d make me cross the highway and push their strong Marwari horses to the brink of collapse. Crazy Rajput kids.
I had dogs there, two Bhutanese mastiffs who arrived from the Himalayas one morning, the tiniest balls of fur. Within a year they were as big as ponies. One is still there, too big for city life, and I wish I visited him more often but it simply breaks my heart.
It was a good, simple, enchanted life. I often miss it. But now the property has been done up.
And really, it will never be the same. Not with running hot water and satellite TV.