We arrived in the village of Jojawar, Rajasthan on the day of a local festival in honour of Lord Shiva's birthday. The main street of the village had been painted red, symbolizing joy. Women were dressed in their brightest saris, their colours vibrant against the backdrop of dusty streets.
Trucks and buses crammed with people who had come in from the surrounding villages maneuvered through the crowds. Being obvious foreigners, we received lots of curious stares, with smiles returned when offered. Children called out their proudly English 'hellos' along with smiles and waves.
We stayed at the Rawla Jojawar, a heritage property that harkens back to India's colonial period. It's still owned and operated by the original family who commanded the area on behalf of the Maharaja of Jodhpur.
Three floors of palatial rooms are arranged around spacious courtyards featuring gardens, fountains, and even a vintage car. In the rooms and passageways, yellowed portraits of past generations hang on the walls, primarily serious-looking mustachioed men in turbans.
We were welcomed with a shower of marigold petals and cool, wet cloths to refresh ourselves after the long bus journey. I could get used to such royal treatment!
A tasty demonstration
Together with the hotel chef, our multi-talented guide Sam gave us a cooking demonstration and tasting of some traditional Rajasthani dishes. They prepared it all with a portable stove-top in one of the shaded courtyards. We tried a spiced lentil dish, another with chickpea flour dumplings in a curry sauce, and fried chicken in a lightly-spiced batter. It was all richly delicious, as was the saffron flavoured liqueur I sipped while watching the proceedings.
My favourite part of our time in Jojawar was a jeep ride into the countryside to visit the surrounding rural communities. Almost everyone -- men, women, and especially children - waved and smiled as we passed by. The children just loved getting their picture taken and then looking at the digital images afterwards. We were able to peek inside a few houses, and we learned a little about how various spices and other crops are grown and harvested.
One girl motioned to me to come into her house to see their 'machine', which turned out to be a vintage sewing machine with a manual foot pedal. It was the only substantial piece of furniture in the spotless one-room home. A boy held out a clenched fist to give me something. When I extended my palm, he opened his fingers to give me a handful of seeds, coupled with a mischievous grin. It was just the sweetest gift.
The land we drove through is owned by the same family who owns the hotel. The farming families are either employed by the owner or rent land from him. Sam said that the sense of community is strong.
Our last stop was at a Hindu temple, where the priest and a few other men were sitting on the steps, smoking and chatting. Inside the temple were dozens of painted plaster horses. They were left by pilgrims who had once prayed there with a wish or request, and then came back to dedicate a horse once their wish was fulfilled.
Before loading us back into the jeeps, our drivers pulled out a picnic basket and served us hot tea and biscuits. Yet another of sweet surprise.
How to tie a turban
One last #cultural treat was Sam's turban-tying demonstration. He started with a piece of brightly coloured starched cotton that he reported was nine metres long. He carefully wrapped, tucked and smoothed until he ended up with a perfectly sculpted shape, leaving about half a metre of fabric trailing down in the back.
Sam explained that this was a festive style for wearing to weddings and parties, as opposed to the simpler everyday turbans we saw men wearing on the streets. To complete the princely look, he even slipped on a beautiful long brocade jacket, cutting a very dashing figure. It was a fitting end to a royally good stay in rural Rajasthan.
Related: Read about my emotional visit to Varanasi.