Day 144: Mandawa, India. We had another quiet morning sitting on the terrace at the hotel and reading our books. Lil has just finished reading One Indian Girl, a novel by the acclaimed Indian author, Chetan Bhagat, which provides interesting insights into some of the challenges faced by Indian females. Not the best novel she’s read, but certainly thought provoking.
While we were sitting reading, three little boys appeared around the corner and smiled and waved at us. We waved back and they went away. Then they came back again, this time making the ‘money please’ gesture with their hands. We shook our heads, wondering who they were and why they were wandering around the hotel begging.
We called down to the hotel manager in the courtyard and he said “oh that will just be my daughters”. We were a little surprised that he seemed ok with the thought of his daughters asking us for money, but said nothing. We said nope, it’s three little boys, and he replied “ahh that’s the garbage boys”.
The three little kids go around the local hotels and collect any empty plastic and glass bottles, presumably getting a little money for each. They’d gone downstairs at this point, so we threw a bunch of empty plastic bottles over the balcony to them. We watched them wander off down the street with large sacks on their shoulders, wondering if they get to go to school, and what their life is like.
Around lunchtime, we heard some very loud music coming from a few streets away. Lil wandered out to see what happening and after a quick tour around the town, returned to report that there seemed to be some sort of celebration starting up. She had passed a small temple where dozens of people were crowded into a small space, worshipping around a central shrine, and further down the street a mobile sound system truck was parked and blaring modern Indian tunes.
The hotel manager said the celebrations are to mark the end of Navaratri, the nine day Hindu festival. From what we can tell the festival ended yesterday, but the celebrations were taking place today, though we’re still a bit sketchy on details.
We wandered into town to see what was happening, and at one point Lil turned around to say something to Jim. There was a big cow standing behind her, but no Jim. She waited a minute, and then Jim’s head popped out of a local shop. Turns out the big cow had tried to head butt him as he walked past so he’d run into a local shop to escape. A man sitting on the pavement outside said “cows very dangerous”.
The same cow eyed us up as we walked past later in the evening – an unmistakable and sinister looking beast. We gave it a very wide berth.
We also walked past a camel that was parked on the side of the street with its trailer, which made a grunting hissing noise at us. We scurried past for fear it decided to spit on us.
A bit further along the street, we could hear the festival procession arriving (to be honest the music was so loud you could probably have heard it arriving in the next state). Lots of locals were lining the pavements and doorways in anticipation, so we hopped up onto a doorstep to join them. A couple of local kids asked for a selfie, so we said yes, then took our own pic to add to our album of random strangers.
The festival procession was small but fun – another mobile sound system on a truck blaring out tunes with the young boys of the town following and dancing, and a tractor pulling a trailer shrine with god and goddess statues on the back. People stopped to say a prayer by the shrine, and the smaller children and girls climbed on the back to follow the procession.
The vehicles moved at snail’s pace with dozens of guys walking behind and alongside, covered in red powder paint and smearing it on others as they walked past. Each of the nine days of Navaratri is marked with a different colour, so we’re guessing today’s was red. The procession brought everything to a standstill, including a bus which was trying to make its way down the street. The bus driver sat and rolled his eyes, resigned to having to sit and wait for quite some time while the procession crawled past.
A guy has been pestering us to try his rooftop restaurant since we arrived in town. A little like the local guides, he pops up everywhere we walk – as does his father, who promotes the restaurant from the comfort of his motorbike as he whisks around the tiny streets hassling tourists. We decided to give the restaurant a go – we’d got him to promise us a good priced beer – and the little balcony upstairs (not quite a rooftop, but hey) turned out to be a decent place to watch the rest of the Navaratri procession, through the tangle of electric cables. (The ‘rest of the procession’ was just the same three vehicles doing another circuit of the town).
A couple of elderly men sat reading newspapers on a balcony opposite, completely oblivous to the festival celebrations taking place in the street below, and seeming unbothered by the skull-shaking noise. Perhaps they were deaf, or wearing earplugs.
As we walked back to the hotel after dinner, the festival and music was still kicking on, with people standing and singing under what looked like illuminated frilly lampshades.
Before bedtime, Lil headed out for another ‘feed the local dogs’ mission, dropping some bread around the local streets in places that hopefully dogs would find and the cows wouldn’t be able to get. The cows are like hoovers for both the edible and inedible. Lil would love to put down some proper food for the dogs but who knows if it’s even possible to buy it here. And given even a simple fruit purchase attracts a large group of locals to ‘watch the tourists buying things’, goodness knows what rumpus would break out if we asked for a can of Pedigree Chum.
Tomorrow we’ll head out for another walk around the town and catch up on some more reading. And doubtless we’ll spot some tired looking folk after their late night Navararti celebrations.