Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mandawa's Alfresco Museum

The car journey from Delhi to Mandawa takes around six to seven hours. After enjoying an Indian-style breakfast in Delhi's motel, we embarked on a journey in a made in India ambassador vehicle. It looks very run down but has a comfy interior. It was to accompany us for the next eight days.

The driver is a Sikh born in 1969, sporting a small moustache and married with four daughters. He lives near the mountainous areas of Nepal and has been living alone here while working as a tour bus driver for a decade. Due to his good command of the English language, he is mostly in charge of escorting Malaysians and Singaporean tourists.

My wife and I had a great chat with him along the journey, and learnt a lot about India's culture.
This trip took us across nearly twenty towns. India is teeming with people; watching them take a bus ride is akin to watching an action movie, with people packed to the brim on the vehicles, some even on the roof of the vehicle or dangling at its side! I guess this is a road that developing nations have to take.

On the way, we passed the black granite quarry, the red brick factories, and large plains of tea plantations. Although the scenery was breathtaking, but dust flew everywhere, so we had to roll up the windows and enjoy the air-conditioning.

Halfway, we met a large group of people sitting in the middle of the road, protesting about the local government shutting down their water supply. They stopped all the passing vehicles and peered curiously at us. I would have thought that we would need two to three hours to wait for them to dissipate, but we were lucky to find a shortcut and escape through the mess.

Later on, we dined at a suburb restaurant under the blazing sun. The temperature was around 16 to 17 degrees Celsius, a little hot, replete with houseflies. The meal, however, only cost us five rupees and was quite decent. When we reached Mandawa, we stayed in a cultural relic hotel which was previously a castle built in 1927. We were given a grand suite, complete with sofa, bed, bathtub, a rickety-looking cupboard, but lacking in television set, hairdryer and bedroom.

Mandawa is an ancient city with a rich artistic flavour, having previously been teeming with the villas and summer palaces of the royalty. The interiors and exteriors of the buildings are covered with intricate wall paintings. My guide is a painter himself of 30 years of age. He told me that the place is an alfresco art center, and also a haven of wall paintings that attracts many art and historical building enthusiasts. Later on he brought me to his own art gallery. This area is indeed impressive. I was deeply attracted and took hundreds of pictures.

The past glories are still reminiscent, but the persons have departed. Many ancient dwellings are so dilapidated that one only costs around three hundred thousand US dollars. I was really tempted to own one for posterity. Later on we passed by a small market filled with shops. I bought a pair of handmade camel shoes at a cobbler's that cost me around S$10 that were a combination of beauty and quality. As they were too small for my feet, the cobbler made alterations on the spot, and that really hit the spot.

If Mandawa wants to restore its previous glory, it needs to inject new funding to re-plan the entire town so that it can attract people to spend more than ten hours to travel here from Delhi. The relics and art left me with a deep impression.

Evening, we were arranged to have buffet at our hotel. As dinner was set at 7.30pm, my wife and I decided to go enjoy an Indian traditional oil massage first. The massage therapist said he was a gynaecologist, and indeed his skills were fast and seasoned. The massage drained away all the day's tiredness. They charged a thousand rupees (around S$40), tips two hundred rupees (around S$8). I think it is a handsome trade.

We had a sumptuous North Indian meal while enjoying Indian traditional music performance under the garden tents. As I had done geomancy consultations for various Indian restaurants in Singapore before, I had accumulated some knowledge of India, plus the fact that I occasionally bring friends to lunch over Indian cuisine, this buffet was mouth-watering to me. Such atmosphere can only be enjoyed during visits to Singapore's Istana, and never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have such honour!

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