March 12th 2020
The bumf in the folder on the desk in my extremely comfortable room encouraged me to let my “…..eyes scale the scintillating view of the compelling peaks….”. but we were in cloud, which as the bumf also said we were at 11,000 feet was not surprising. There was not a lot for it, when waiting for the kettle to boil, than to check the i-Pad.
A 10th person had died of The Virus in the UK; Saudi Arabia was closing cinemas; Poland Greece and the Ukraine were closing schools; Michigan and Massachusetts had declared a State of Emergency; Politologue had won the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and apparently India and Kuwait had banned foreign visitors.
We had got in under the wire.
By the time we met for breakfast the cloud had burned off and we sat on an outside terrace in warm sun enjoying yet another indulgent breakfast. A chef stood disconsolately behind frying pans waiting for orders for dhosas and omelettes. We did our best to make it worth his while. It seemed that there were only two other guests in the Mahua Bagh Resort with its 37 cottages, pools, villas, play grounds and “…sprawling 11 acres”. Again we wondered what would happen to the few remaining staff without tourists.
Our bags were taken down to the village and we followed on foot. Was the clever person who first put wheels on luggage a porter? Somehow Monu had managed to reverse the bus and turn it round without falling over the edge. As we snaked towards it we passed a couple of rickety farmers’ huts. A woman, sitting on her hunkers, was washing gleaming cooking pans beside an empty can of Dulux – mysteriously – the huts, largely made of poles and reeds, looked as though they neither needed nor had ever had a coat of paint. Below her three generations were watching something up the valley. They were too occupied to respond to our “Namaste!”
Monu took a different route down the hills. Approaching one village we came across a road block manned by women. Divendra ducked down and lay on the floor of the bus. We were allowed through. When we teased him about his (lack of) bravery he explained that they would not try to extract payment from us if they didn’t spot someone in the bus who might speak their language and also have money.
We went on past green fields, gurgling irrigation channels and rushing streams. The villagers, if not prosperous, looked happy and well fed; livestock shone. It made us feel so good about the place that we remarked on it to each other.
We had at least 5 hours driving ahead of us to Dungarpur. Time depended on the traffic and construction work on a large section of the route that is being turned into motorway. India must lead the world with its investment in infrastructure; it appears to be happening everywhere in Rajasthan. Just as we were about to join the main route we came up behind a herd of camels that looked as though they were being driven onto it. At the last opportunity they turned off into what is left of a village.
The UK is madly irritating in many ways but, having adopted the US attitude to litigation, we do seem reasonably equipped to protect our interests. Driving along India’s road construction is depressing; heart wrenching. Earth movers drive straight lines through anything that gets in the way. Houses have been cut in half, their half window frames swing in the breeze; the cash booths of petrol stations have been left without forecourts or pumps; shops stand, without pavement or approach 20 feet above the new road levels; fields that had symmetry are now only part enclosed by hedges and trees cling-on drunkenly to hillsides with their roots exposed. In theory compensation is paid but the people, with loss of home or means of income, are unlikely even to dream of employing a sharp enough barrister to fight their cause. I imagine that compensation is never enough, Forget the social amputation of villages and families. What is going to happen to these people?
It was mental relief when Monu turned onto a lane that quickly became single track – room for the bus with intermittent passing places for anything we might meet. We meandered between scrub growing on flat land with occasional raised paths. It had been flooded but now was dried to a baked pan of mud, stitched with cracks and pocked with animal tracks. Divendra had promised us a surprise. As always he had been the master of expectation – or our lack of it. Monu swung the bus into the one and only Best Exotic Marigold Hotel……
…… “for the elderly and beautiful”. Of course we were entranced by that. We used the ‘toilet’ facilities used by Stars. Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup…. they all had been HERE. We wandered around before lunch. A few horses were corralled in the usual Rajasthani way and were munching contentedly on chaff. Those in charge chewed the fat in the shade.
As we sat down for yet another home-cooked and delicious meal a recording of THE film was projected onto a screen between two plate glass windows at the end of the dining room. A very well made mare and her foal watched us through one of the windows. It did feel rather like Shepperton waiting for the next film but we enjoyed a delicious lunch, excellent plumbing; it was fun and was the perfect antidote to the construction carnage we had driven past.
It also gave us the most apt ‘Thought for the Day’ –