In all my travel stories, I haven’t spoken much about the people I met, unless they did something so ridiculous that I couldn’t help but comment on them. I have met some horrible people- rude, misleading, opportunistic- but I have met a lot of wonderful people as well- the ticket checker at Hospet bus stand who kept an eye out for my mom and me when our bus was delayed to almost midnight, our wonderful driver at Mysore who got us backdoor entry to the front of the temple queues, the security guard we chatted with at Elephanta. I met a lot of nice, turbaned men at Mehrangarh, men who welcomed you with a smile and a khamagani (hello or namaste in Rajasthani) and were willing to tell you the history of a particular spot even if they weren’t your official guide.
I’m not sure if the band that welcomed us when we entered is a regular fixture or a Diwali special (we visited the fort on Diwali day), but they struck up some jolly tunes that livened up that misty morning. I was so captivated by their music that I failed to notice that most of the other tourists had already made a beeline for the lifts, so though I was one of the first people to enter, I was among the last people in the queue (of course, more joined in a few minutes). The pigeons that nestled in the nooks and crannies were less appreciative listeners though, fluttering around when the band began playing and subsequently flying away toward another part of the fort.
This man was sitting in the Phool Mahal, to ensure that visitors did not get carried away in their admiration for the gold filigreed pillars and jump the cordon. He was quite the fount of information, telling us about one king’s two dozen mistresses and why the houses in the city are painted blue- apparently the upper castes began to do so to differentiate their homes from the lower caste houses, and with time, everyone jumped on to that train. I wish I remembered the man’s name; he was one of the sweetest, most talkative people I have met on my travels.
I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but every person in Rajasthan seems to know a bit of Bengali. Two musicians sang a lovely Bengali folk song for us as we walked past them, on our way down to the fort gate. It was one of the lesser-heard Baul songs, and the singer sang it so well, with correct pronunciation and inflection, that we were left amazed. I wonder how many languages the man knows, for I heard him singing a French song (at least I think it was French) for a couple who came after us.
The ordinary people of Rajasthan may not be too flashy or sophisticated; they are conservative and a bit rustic in their outlook, but the warmth with which they welcome visitors is touching. Though we were often confused, I did not encounter a rude word or a surly face anywhere. People gave you correct directions and auto drivers did not lead you on a wild-goose chase around the city. I hope the increase influx of tourists and the pulls of commerce do not warp the inherent niceness of the people.