Day 5: Man’s best friend, and the ugly face of Human Greed
We woke up to our last day in Rajor valley, the crisp morning air lending a refreshing bite to the daily drudgery of our morning ablutions. Sonu, the local canine companion and all round cutie pie, dropped by for his usual session of cuddle and scratch with the mandatory segue into stealing my breakfast. When Sonu, first appeared one morn, Lakshmi warned us that he was rather moody. But he was just a great big muffin who followed us around everywhere.
Today’s plan was to wrap up our final two villages and head back to Jaipur by 4pm. As I sat there scratching Sonu’s ear and eating from the same plate, I had no idea what little gems of excitement lay ahead for us.
The village of Kraska, our destination for the day, lay deep within the mountains of Sariska. As our convoy rolled out of the valley we were blocked by yet another barricade –the sixth or seventh mob driven barricade we faced on this trip. Bikes barred our way, preventing us from going any further. We heard the same old brouhaha and accusations of inter clan favoritism and the incessant noise of greed. Hurtful not because of the demands; I’ve talked earlier about how tough things are here, but the brutish manner in which the demands were made. Amidst the yelling and at one point, fisticuffs, we finally made our way.
It wasn’t the pleasantest of goodbyes.
Stranded in the jungle
The excitement, however, did not end there. Upon reaching the reserve we found that our permission orders to access the reserve hadn’t come in. After a long wait for the red tape to unwind, we finally made our way in.
No sooner had we traversed a mere 3 kilometres of jungle, when Ratanji’s vehicle shuddered to a grinding halt. Yes, boys and girls we were now smack dab in the middle of a tiger reserve,STRANDED WITHOUT GAS!
As one jeep was sent back almost 10 kilometres to get fuel, we took the time out to explore the jungle. Ratanji regaled us with tales of close calls with wild animals, while we wandered off uphill into the thickly wooded jungle. Definitely not a recommended move but I guess we were braver than we were smart. About two hours later we are on our way again and walked right into… a flat tire.
Finally, we arrived at Kraska at around 4pm, way past our scheduled time. Night falls fast in this part of the world and as the darkness closed in,the sounds of the jungle changed. The chattering of man faded as a faint animal musk wafted through the air cutting through the howls and wails of the jungle’s denizens. We had to make our way through nonexistent pathways down a sheer mountain cliff in the dark, and had a long way to go, barely avoiding one or two hairy mishaps when we almost drove off the cliff, and even had a close call with a (fortunately for us) well fed tiger that peered curiously at us from the bushes.
With only one village down and one more to go we decided to halt for the night in the Sariska reserve guesthouse.
Beautifully nestled within the reserve, what the Sariska reserve guesthouse lacked in creature comforts and good food, it made up for in the sheer natural beauty of its surroundings…and some, err, sorely missed creature comforts. After almost a week of living with no electricity and easily available hot water, the guest house was practically princely quarters for us. A hot bath and a hot meal later, we settled down to take stock and then drifted into a dreamless sleep.
Day 6: One last stop, the legend of Pandu Pol, and saying Goodbye until we meet again
At the crack of dawn, I crawled out of bed, threw on a jacket and made my way onto the courtyard. The icy air filled my lungs, and I found myself wandering down a mist filled road.
The morning beckoned and my heart answered.Caught up in the rat race, we tend to forget what true happiness is. This trip was an eye opener for me. Another day another valley beats another day another dollar, I’d say.
Slowly, but surely, sunshine squeezed past the hazy morning mist and warmed my tired body and happy soul. We would head off into the reserve in an hour. But for that moment, my spirit rested.
A quick drive and we were setting up our final presentation. This last village was a delight. The people were friendly, accommodating, and hospitable. We were surrounded by some of the most adorable grubby faced little tykes who found us fascinating for some reason.
Two hours later, we wrapped up.Just one more stop to make before we would be back in ‘civilization’.
A visit to the Pandu Pol Hanuman Temple…
Standing proud amidst the thick unyielding forest, this temple was built by an ardent devotee of Lord Hanuman – Nirbhaya Dassji Maharaj. It’s simple delicately pink outer structure and humble sanctum belied a rich mythological and historical importance.
As it so happened, the head priest of the temple was from the village we had visited. Invited by him, and having heard tales of the legends attached to the place, we had to go.
After an audience with the priest, we trekked deeper into the forest across streams and boulders to see the legendary Pandu Pol, or Gate of the Pandavas.
Legend has it that the Pandavas spent a portion of their exile, living incognito here. To be more specific, in the vicinity of a beautiful emerald pond flanked on one side by an iron bridge…a pond made even more beautiful by the glistening waterfall cascading into it.
The sheer side of the mountain rose up to a huge rocky arch; a gaping passage right in the middle of the mountain. For years, people here have used to use this archway to traverse between villages (not an easy task due to the almost vertical elevation and the near lack of footholds, something this blogger found out the hard way)
Impressive view though this was, it was the story of how this 30 ft. wide hole in the mountain came to be that really made it fascinating.
The locals say that during their stay here, the Pandavas got to know that emissaries of the Kauravas were in the citadel investigating a rumour that they were hiding in the area.
As the Pandavas escaped into the forest, they were faced by the unyielding mountain range blocking their way. To the fore stepped the mighty Bheem, and with one fell swoop of his mighty mace, he split the mountain in half.
The story goes that at the top of this mountain, Bheem received a lesson in humility from none other than Lord Hanuman – the Monkey God.
As Bheem scouted the path he had just opened, ahead of his brothers, he came across an old monkey napping under a tree with its long tail sprawled right across the path.
With the arrogance typically to him, Bheem ordered the monkey to get out of his way. The old monkey just gave him a kind smile and said,“You are big and strong my son and I am old and feeble , I can barely move, please feel free to move my tail out of your path.”
With a smirk, Bheem walked up to the tail, grabbed hold of it with his powerful hands ,and pulled…
…..nothing…The tail didn’t budge an inch.
A furious and perturbed Bheem glared at the monkey, only to be greeted by another kind smile.
Humiliated and angry, Bheem once again hunkered down, grabbed hold of the tail and gave a mighty heave. He pulled and pulled, every muscle and sinew shredding under the strain.
Yet the tail did not budge…
Finally in exhausted defeat he crashed to his knees and with hands folded in humility addressed the monkey, “You are no ordinary monkey, please reveal your true form to me and accept my apologies.”
The monkey placed his hands on Bheem’s shoulders and revealed himself to be Lord Hanuman (I know you saw that coming, let me just get through the story anyway, will you!).
Bheem bowed and earnestly begged the Lord’s forgiveness. Hanuman raised him gently to his feet and told him why he needed to teach him this lesson. He talked of the difficulties that the Pandavas would face in the future, and of the coming of a great war. He praised Bheem for his loyalty and his great strength of body and spirit, but said that in light of the events to come, he would need to be stronger than ever and that meant losing all his weaknesses. Pride was Bheem’s greatest failing and had to be torn out from the roots.
The humbled Bheem then received an embrace from Hanuman…an embrace which increased his strength a thousandfold and made his already strong physique well-nigh indestructible.
Or so the story goes.
God! I love these tales…
Enthralled by the stories we heard, and captivated by the beauty of our surroundings, we spent a few idyllic hours there, our souls at peace, our hearts and minds reluctant to make the move we would inevitably have to…
…All too soon, our journey was over.
6 days of living in the lap of Mother Nature drew to a close as we made our way back to Jaipur. We tried small talk, discussed having a fancy dinner that night, spoke about taking in the sights and sounds of Amber fort and the Jauhari bazaar…
…But a part of us remained behind in the valley. A part that will always call out to us, always hoping that it’s plaintive yearn will be answered.
We settled into our fancy hotel busy lying to ourselves about how great it was to be back. Only our hearts listened…. listened for that call.
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