Sunday, 27 June 2010

Rajasthan - The London Connection

One of the reasons I live in London is because it is so multicultural and you can experience the whole world, just by walking down the street, or listening to a myriad of languages on the bus.  This is why I've decided to introduce a new feature to my blog called 'the London connection'.  With all of the places and cultures I'm learning about, I reckon there must be something in London that connects with this, so I want to find out what this connection is and have an experience related to the things I'm blogging about.

Today I went to visit the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a.k.a. the Neasden Temple in the North London Borough of Brent.  It's reputedly the biggest Hindu temple outside India and it's not so much a Rajasthan connection, as a Gujarati one, having been built by followers of Shri Swaminarayan, who are primarily Gujurati immigrants. 

It's a very beautiful building and no expense was spared on the Italian marble and Bulgarian limestone.  The marble was sent off to India, where figures were hand-carved into it by artisans and then returned to London and painstakingly put together by large numbers of volunteers.  The temple was opened in 1995. 

The setting for the temple is rather unusual, as it's right beside one of London's busiest roads and is surrounded by a mixture of lower-middle class suburbia and industrial estates!  Nevertheless, the atmosphere in the temple was one of calm and welcome.  There were lots of people there today, this being the weekend and the thirty degrees temperature outside was in keeping with any other visits I've ever made to a Hindu temple. 

I also walked around the exhibition called 'Understanding Hinduism' and learned about the life of the 18th century Shri Swaminarayan.  Swaminarayan was a precocious student and led an interesting life, including a seven-year journey across India, from his home near Ayodhya in Utter Pradesh, to the state of Gujarat where he finally settled.  Swaminarayan was a modern Hindu reformer and spent his life on social projects with the poorest people in his society.  He was also opposed to the practise of sati (self-immolation of widows on their husbands' funeral pyres) and called for reform of the dowry system, which was (and still is) the cause of so much poverty.  His charitable works are continued by the BAPS organisation and the exhibition ends with details of their various social programmes. 

Afterwards, of course, I was able to feast on delicious meat-free samosas and pakoras at the Shayona restaurant which is opposite the temple.  Time Out has named the Neasden Mandir as one of London's Seven wonders and I would definitely recommend a visit, if you live in the London area.

Image credits:

All photos were taken by me, however it's forbidden to take photos inside the Mandir, so you'll have to go see the wonderful architecture and Murtis for yourself. 

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Rajasthan - The Book is the Word

Most major world religions are defined by their most sacred book.  Both the Bible and the Qur'an have high profiles and are known the world over.  The most sacred Hindu collection of scriptures - the Vedas are probably less well-known, at least in the West and, like Hinduism itself, pretty obscure in their origins.  In fact, as I've hinted at in the title of this blog, the book is the word in Hinduism, meaning its a mainly oral tradition.  The sacred texts weren't always written down, but learned by devotees and passed from generation to generation. 

In the eyes (and ears) of believers, the Vedas are sruti, meaning 'that which is revealed' and have a divine source, rather than human authors.  Secular and non-Hindu scholars have been obsessed with dating these scriptures and slotting them into an appropriate historical context but, in many ways, the source is irrelevant to Hindu scholars, as the word is divine and beyond definition or historical concepts.

As in many other traditions (including Ireland), there was a great reverence for the pandit or bard, who would learn, not only the sacred texts, but also the mythology of Hinduism and tell stories to the villagers, as a form of entertainment and enlightenment, after a hard day working in the fields.  Just like the Celtic bard, Hindu pandits are not only versed in literature and the story-telling tradition, but are usually accomplished musicians, music being an easy way to encode human experiences for generations to come.  In a more formalised system called Sampradaya, the ancient Hindu scriptures were 'remembered' in this way.

There is some debate over which texts are to be considered sruti and the importance of scriptures varies from one part of India to another.  Generally, all four collections of Vedas are considered to be sruti, including the Atharvaveda which is a book of Hindu spells and charms.  The Upanishads are also considered to be sruti and these are secret scriptures that are only taught by a sage to his disciple.  Both the Vedas and the Upanishads were 'revealed' in Sanskrit.

All other scriptures and stories are considered to be smriti or 'handed down/remembered'.  These are the ones that pandits would have recited to entertain their community and include the great Hindu epics, such as the Mahabharata, Bhagavad-gita and Ramayana.  I'm sure the Mahabharata would have been a favourite of the kshatriya or warrior caste, as it deals with an ancient conflict between the Kauravas and Pandavas.  The Bhagavad-gita is considered to be part of the Mahabharata and tells about the life of Lord Krishna.  It's a book that was in my parents' house, as a child and perhaps raised my 'Hindu consciousness' somewhat, with its beautiful pictures and potent symbolism.  Most of all I want to read the Ramayana and perhaps I'll have time to do this, next time I blog about India.  It's a fairly classical story, dealing with the essential Hindu concept of dharma and I'll try to summarise as follows:

Boy (Rama) meets girl (Sita).  Boy is cheated out of his kingdom by wicked step-mother (Kaikeyi).  Boy, girl and boy's best friend (Lakhsmana) head off to the forest for a big adventure.  Girl gets kidnapped by bad guy (Ravana), who is also somewhat of a handsome rebel!  Boy enlists the help of the monkey-king (Hanuman), defeats bad guy, wins back girl and returns in triumph to reclaim his kingdom. 

All pretty standard stuff?  This is where it gets complicated!  Through a heavily symbolic ordeal by fire, Sita manages to convince Rama that she hasn't been violated by Ravana and is as virginal as the day he met her.  Rama believes her and affirms his love by taking her as his wife.  Unfortunately the people in his kingdom can't accept Sita's version of events and Rama banishes her once more to the forest, despite the fact that she is pregnant with twin boys.  It's a clear message of dharma (duty) above all else.  Despite being in love with Sita and going through so many ordeals to win her back, Rama has to sacrifice his love to keep peace in his kingdom.  There are many interesting variations on this theme - some of them painting Ravana as a hero, others telling the story from Sita's point of view. 

I'm following some people from India on Twitter and there's been a lot of chatter in the past few weeks about the new movie Raavan which, interestingly, interprets aspects of the Ramayana for a modern audience, although with more guns and car chases than the original, I would imagine!

Other smriti scriptures include the sutras and puranas.  The sutras are a collection of aphorisms and statements related to concepts such as dharma, yoga etc.  The puranas are mythological stories of Hindu gods, avatars and incarnations.

I often see people reading either the Bible or the Qur'an on my daily commute to work.  After learning about the sacred Hindu texts, I suddenly found myself being more aware of the existence of the vedas and, lo and behold, on my way to work I saw an Indian woman reading, what looked like, a sacred Hindu book.  Although I couldn't quite see the title of the book, I knew it was sacred by the gilded pages and the ornate lettering at the beginning of the chapter she was reading.  I was feeling quite pleased with myself and immensely clever, until the train arrived and she closed the book, revealing its title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix!  Ah well, I guess it's an epic of sorts!


The picture of Rama and Sita on the throne was taken from Wikimedia Commons.  It's in the public domain and copyright free.

The illustration from the Bhagavan Gita Chapter 18, Verse 78 was provided copyright free by flickruser ISKCON desire tree on behalf of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (more popularly known as the Hare Krishnas). 

I owe a lot of the research I did on this topic to a book called Hinduism:  A Very Short Introduction by Kim Knott.  I've used a book in this series before and I absolutely love these books, which are published by Oxford University Press and immensely readable, without losing the essence of a topic. 

Monday, 21 June 2010

Rajasthan - क्या आप हिंदी बोलते हैं?

It would surprise most people to know that a mere 41% of Indians speak Hindi as a first language. In a country as big as India, it's proved impossible to impose Hindi as a lingua franca amongst its 1 billion plus population and, ironically, English is most often used as the language of communication across India's language divide.

There are currently 22 'official' languages in India. Official in inverted commas, because the Indian government prefers to use the term 'Languages of the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution'! I've noticed that the word 'schedule' is incredibly popular in India, especially when referring to things outside the Hindu mainstream!

Most of the scheduled languages, eg Bengali, Marathi and Gujarati, have millions of speakers. Other more recent additions, such as Bodo and Dogri, number their speakers in hundreds of thousands, rather than millions. Apart from the scheduled languages, there are approximately another 150 non-scheduled languages spoken in India. The Rajasthani language, which is spoken by an estimated 36 million people in India, is recognised at a regional level, but isn't one of the 22 national languages. I get the impression that the linguistic proximity of Rajasthani to Hindi has led to it being considered more of a dialect of Hindi, rather than a language in its own right, although this perception seems to be changing.

In my last blogpost I referred to the north/south divide in India between the Mughal/Sanskrit and the Dravidian/Tamil cultures. This divide is also borne out in the distribution of language families in India, with the northern part being Indo-European and the southern part Dravidian (about one third of India's population).

I remember travelling through India, passing linguistic boundaries from Delhi (Hindi/Urdu) to Bombay (Marathi) to Mysore/Bangalore (Kannada, a major Dravidian language and the administrative language of Karnataka). Not knowing any Indian language, I barely perceived the linguistic changes. Except when it came to the scripts, which became noticeably rounded, as I moved further south.

When I lived in Thailand, I learned to read and write in the Thai script, which belongs to the Brahmic 'alphabets' that originated in the Indian subcontinent. Due to the way these languages are written down, it's more accurate to describe them as abugidas, or alphasyllabic scripts. The main difference between an alphabet and an abugida is that an alphabet has separate letters for each consonant and vowel, whereas an abugida prioritises consonants and is written in a syllabic way. There is often a default vowel (like the Hindi schwa or 'eh' sound) which can be changed into other vowel sounds (eg Hindi 'oo' and 'ee') by adding diacritics, or marks below or above the main consonant.

The Brahmic or Indic scripts are the biggest group of abugida scripts, however this type of script does exist elsewhere in the world, notably in Ethiopia, Canada and even the ancient Irish Ogham script is deemed to be abugida - the name abugida comes from the first four sounds of the Ethiopian language Ge'ez. Learning to read/write in Thai meant looking at the writing system in a completely different way and actually made a lot of sense and was easier to learn than you might think.  It's also nowhere near as difficult as learning to read a logogram system, like the one used for Chinese.

Hindi is instantly recognisable by the straight line which runs across the top of each word, conveniently separating them. Thai was harder in this respect, as Thai sentences look like one big jumble of words with no spaces in between - kindoflikeifenglishwaswrittenlikethis!

In the south of India, the straight line disappears and the script becomes more cursive, apparantly related to the fact that early Dravidian scripts were first written on coconut shells, hence the difficulty of using straight lines. I'll never forget trying to catch a bus at Kohlapur station, finding myself surrounded by a bewildering array of signs in Marathi, any one of which could have been my intended destination of Mysore. I can't describe how powerless I felt, finding myself unexpectedly (and temporarily) illiterate. 

क्या मतलब मैं क्या जानते हो?

Image credits:

The image of the Kannada alphabet is from Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain. 

The image of 'aum' written in different Brahmic scripts is by flickuser tdietmut a.k.a. Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen, originally from Hamburg, but now living in Rotterdam.  Thanks Dietmut for sharing this image with us through the Creative Commons License. 

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Rajasthan - Hinduism and the Aryan Race

Unlike Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the origins of Hinduism are buried deep in the obscurity of time.  Known as the world's oldest continuous religion, people have been practising Hinduism in India for at least 7,000 years.  Hindu devotees refer to their belief system as Sanatana Dharma which means 'the eternal tradition'. 

More than any other religion, there is a real mystery surrounding the most sacred Hindu body of scriptures, the Vedas, hinting at their possible divine nature.  The Vedas are genuinely believed to be shruti or 'that which is revealed' (by the Brahman, or God-source), rather than texts that were created by man.  These scriptures have been passed down orally from generation to generation and are so highly revered that access to the Vedas is restricted to men and only those of one of the higher 'twice-born' castes. 

Hindu extremists believe that Hinduism is the sole property of an enlightened (read superior) Aryan race. Arya is the Sanskrit word for 'noble'.  They revere Sanskrit as the language of the sacred texts and believe that other 'Indian' religions, such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, are merely aspects of Hinduism, not religions in their own right. 

The connections with an Aryan race are interesting and, I believe, quite telling, given a lack of historical documentation of migration to the Indian sub-continent.  What seems to be clear is that a lot of the lower castes, tribal peoples and dalits (traditionally referred to by the horrible moniker 'untouchables') made up the original inhabitants of India.  It's reflected today in the racial make-up, different language families and local traditions of the southern part of India.  It would seem that the Aryan people came from the north and brought with them, the Indo-European languages, aspects of their religion and symbolism. 

Desperate to justify their control of India in the 19th century, British orientalists came up with the Aryan theory, linking the Brahmins and upper castes of India with their new Aryan masters from Europe.  In many ways, our modern associations with the Aryan race stem from this period and 21st century Hindu extremists are, often unwittingly, propogating a 19th century myth.  The organisation Arya samaj dates from this time.  Nazi Germany, quite famously, capitalised on the concept of a superior Aryan race and adopting the Hindu Swastika as their own symbol.  India's relationship with Nazi Germany was a complicated one and I was really surprised to find out that some Indians still admire Adolf Hitler. 

The use of the swastika is also quite controversial and this symbol, more specifically the Nazi Hakenkreuz, has been banned in many countries around the world, quite rightly so in places like Germany where it can only ever cause great offence.  Before it's adoption by the Nazis however, the swastika was a symbol of good luck, traditionally worn on the lapels of early aviators, it was also widely used in the Buddhist world, in Nordic Europe (a version of this symbol is still used on the flag of the Finnish airforce) and even by Native American tribes.  China of the 1920's and 30's had a flourishing 'Red Swastika' society, a counterpart to our modern day Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. 

Moderate Hindus obviously don't hold supremacist ideas on the origins of the Aryan race, but see Hinduism as an amalgamation of different traditions.  Even talking about Hinduism as a religion is a very Western way of looking at things.  I guess 'a system of beliefs' would be more appropriate, as it would seem that Hindu beliefs have adapted to local circumstances and are more a collection of religious beliefs originating from a common source, with reference to a specific set of scriptures (although this too has many variations and many religious texts are written in languages other than Sanskrit). 

To most Westerners, Hinduism is a confusing array of gods and goddesses, wildly polytheistic and frightening in some of its practices.  Early European travellers were horrified by the traditions they witnessed, such as satu or ritual burning of widows on their husbands' pyre.  Despite all of this, I think there are aspects of Hinduism that a 19th century British coloniser would have found incredibly familiar.  The concepts of varna (position in society, or class) and dharma (duty) are things that were important to contemporary British society, so I can understand how comfortable the British felt with Hinduism (on the whole). 

As for an Aryan race, well - if there ever was such a thing, then it belongs in the history books and has little relevance to a Viking-Roman-Celtic-Slavic Europe or a Persian-Mughal-Dravidian India. 

Image credits:

The image of the Indian swastika is by flickruser Ujwala Prabhu who is an artist, orginally from Kolkata, she now lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  Thanks Ujwala for sharing your artwork on

The image of Lord Shiva was taken in Bangalore by flickruser Deepak Gupta, an industrial engineer who is originally from Delhi but now lives in West Lafayette in the US (I must admit, I don't know where that is!)  You find out more about Deepak at his userpage on Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Rajasthan - Daal Baati

I've made a lot of Indian dishes in the past and I absolutely adore Indian food, however when it came to making a traditional Rajasthani dish, I was surprised at how difficult it actually was!  Perhaps I didn't have the best recipe in the world - certainly measuring things in cupfuls isn't terribly scientific (a lot depends on the size of your cup!).  Nevertheless, I managed to get my hands on some ingredients I've not really used before and it was fun to try something completely different.

I also wanted to make a vegetarian dish, as most people in India live on a mainly vegetarian diet.  I found a recipe for Daal Baati on a website for traditional Indian food.  Daal is, well, beans cooked in a spicy masala.  Baati are wholewheat dumplings, that didn't quite turn out as I expected. 

I started with the Baati, mixing together wholewheat flour with ghee, a type of Indian butter which has the most amazing yellow colour, which hopefully you can see in my photos.  I couldn't find curds, but I substituted with cottage cheese. 

I rolled the dough into small 'lemon sized' balls and put them in the oven for about 30 minutes.  The recipe didn't specify exact quantities or time in the oven, so that might have resulted in the dough balls being a little bit harder than I expected.  They tasted okay, but were like rocks by the following morning.

Making the daal was a lot easier.  I was surprised to find that a traditional ingredient in a lot of Rajasthani dishes is rajma beans, or as we call them, red kidney beans!  Of course, red kidney beans were first brought to India from the Americas, but they've really caught on in India and are a staple for many people.  I also steeped black gram or black beans (a reminder of all the black beans we ate in Cuba!).  I fried the onion until it was practically carmelised, then added tomatoes and spices, the beans, some cream and more ghee, finally adding sliced chillis as a garnish. 

I was much happier with the way the daal turned out and it was really tasty.  I think I will try another Indian dish before I finish blogging about Rajasthan.  Perhaps I'll do one with meat next time :-)

Image credits

All photos of the food were taken by me. 

Monday, 14 June 2010

Rajasthan - Dor

I've just come back from work trips to Bruges and Toulouse, this being the busiest time of the year for me, which has meant that I've had no time for blogging and very little opportunity to learn about Rajasthan!  I've had a day off today though and it gave me the chance to watch the film Dor (String), directed by Nagesh Kukunoor and set, mostly, in Rajasthan.

It's a really beautiful movie.  Not Bollywood, but rather a very tender drama concerning the lives of two Indian women.  One of them is a very strong-willed and independent woman called Zeenat from Himachal Pradesh.  The character is played by the beautiful Gul Panag, a former Miss India and incredibly talented actress.  The second woman is a young and naive Hindu girl from Rajasthan called Meera, played by Ayesha Takia, who has married into a strict and repressive Rajput family that has seen better times.

The husbands of both women move to Saudi Arabia to work and send much-needed cash back home.  The two men become friends (not shown in the movie), but an accident happens and the Hindu man, Meera's husband, falls from an apartment window and is killed.  Zeenat's husband is accused of the murder and sentenced to death.  The only way that Zeenat can save her husband, under Saudi law, is by tracking down the victim's widow, Meera and convincing her to sign a reprieve. 

The movie then follows Zeenat's journey to Rajasthan, where she is befriended by a bahuroopiya, or conman, played by one of the director's favourite actors, Shreyas Talpade.  Although he initially takes advantage of her, the bahuroopiya feels sorry for Zeenat and eventually agrees to help her find Meera.  Although she is rejected by her family, Zeenat manages to form a friendship with Meera, under false pretences, leading to an inevitable revelation of her real purpose and Meera's difficult decision as to whether or not she should save the man who killed her husband. 

I love novels and movies that contain mirrored episodes and this movie is full of them.  When Zeenat is shown, a highly independent woman, repairing her the outside of her house in Himachal Pradesh, a mirrored scene shows Meera being locked away inside a sprawling haveli in Rajasthan.  If Himal Pradesh is everything cool and green about the mountains, then Rajasthan is the scorching heat of the desert.  There is a balance of happiness and despair, Urdu and Hindi, a determined and brave Muslim woman and a repressed, frightened Hindu girl.  The overarching message is that only women can bring all of India's contradictions together.  The men are responsible for the conflict in the movie.  The women are the ones who can bring back some kind of peace.

Although well received by critics, Dor didn't do terribly well at the Indian box office.  It's a shame really, as I think more people should have the chance to see this touching and insightful film.

Image credits:

The photo of the blue buildings of Jodhpur is by freelance photographer and flickruser ~FreeBirD®~ a.k.a. Mani Babbar, who's from London.  You can see more of his photos at

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Rajasthan - Desert Places

It's quite apt that the first book I found about Rajasthan was written by Queenslander Robyn Davidson!  Davidson is an interesting character in her own right.  She travelled across Australia with camels in her early 20's, she was friends with Bruce Chatwyn (of The Songlines fame) and Salman Rushdie.  Davidson has a long connection with India, particularly Rajasthan and dreamed for years of going on a migration with one of the Rabari/Raika tribes that traditionally criss-cross the Rajasthani deserts with their herds of camels.

It's a strange book in many ways and Davidson admits herself that it's very much a book about failure.  She manages to do bits and pieces of migration with Rabari tribes but, the reality is that life has changed so much for nomads in the modern-era that this type of migration is rare, fraught with danger and closed to foreigners.  Her book reminded me of two other ones - Louise Waugh's Hearing Birds Fly which I read when I was learning about Mongolia and Ffyona Campbell's book about walking through Africa on foot.  The main question that comes to mind is - why?  Why would you want to put yourself through such hardship, when your presence is obviously upsetting the natural rhythm and balance of life of the communities you're passing through?  It seems to be something that women travel writers do and I wonder if that's because women are much braver than men in many ways, or perhaps there is a deeper committment to really understanding the communities these women adopt.  I admire all of them for doing it and I think Davidson made great personal sacrifices to understand a tribe and way of life that the rest of the world has very much forgotten about.

She makes some really interesting observations about the nomadic way of life and talks about the 'traditional' nomads as people who feel at home anywhere.  Davidson and many other Westerners are like modern nomads, people who feel at home nowhere and need to travel to find a sense of identity.  I can really relate to this, as I've spent a large part of my adult life living abroad, even now, this blog is a yearning for a more nomadic way of life.  One of the reasons I live in London (and Davidson also lived here for many years) is because it's one of those cities where the whole world is living.  You don't need to travel in London to experience a wide variety of cultures and that's what I love about living here.

The Rabari lost their traditional routes into the Sindh after the partition of India and Pakistan, so they starting migrating to Utter Pradesh, grazing their camels (often nowadays, sheep) on land that is already overpopulated, bringing them into conflict with settled communities.  Ecological change and a massive human population have put a strain on this part of India that throws the nomadic tribes into competition for pastures.  Efforts to improve the ecological situation by growing new forests has cut the nomads off from large areas of (what was) free grazing land and they find themselves negotiating a passage between angry famers and corrupt officials. 

Davidson also talks a lot about the position of women in Indian society.  She points out the fact that women traditionally carry all of the family's wealth, in the form of gold bracelets and anklets.  The woman herself becomes like a possession - by protecting her, the man is protecting his property, so the woman becomes property by extension.  She highlights the different attitude Indian women have to menopause.  Whilst, for a Western woman, it can be an incredibly traumatic experience, a loss of power and the start of a woman's decline - for India women the end of child-bearing is a relief and menopause marks the beginning of a woman's ascendancy in terms of power. 

She struggles a lot with the child marriages that are prevalent in the this part of India, but she comes to the conclusion that it is important not to be too judgemental of other people's cultures.  It's okay to criticise your own culture, but you need to be careful when criticising someone else's culture, especially when you don't understand it.  Something that comes out strongly in the book and really reminded me of my 'relationship' with Russian culture, is the fact that she comes to hate India, then love it, then hate it again.  Learning to hate aspects of another culture is really the beginning of a process of understanding that culture.  After all, if you didn't love or hate a culture, you wouldn't really feel part of it.  I guess, everyone who lives in another culture needs to find a sense of balance.  Sadly, some ex-pats get obsessed with the things they hate about the new culture and, consequently, romanticise their home culture in a way that is unrealistic. 

She also deals with the age-old issue of tradition versus modernisation.  Coming from the West, where people generally have a sense of loss of traditions and an complex attitude towards the changes being brought about by globalisation, we often go to places like India and come to the conclusion that a traditional way of life is what people there need.  In good faith, we don't want people in other parts of the world to be overwhelmed by the consumerism of the West, drowned in concrete, plastic, Coca-Cola and McDonald's.  What Davidson reminds her readers, and a point that I think is good to keep perspective, is that we don't have the right to tell other cultures whether or not they should 'modernise' and embrace Western consumerism.  A lot of our consumerism in the West is tied up with comfort and it's only right that other people should have comfort in their lives.  I think we can see the spiritual destruction that mass consumerism causes, but it's something we need to deal with in our own cultures, we've interfered in other people's cultures far too much in the past and this is what created the current situation in the first place.  It's a difficult issue and one that causes much debate, but I generally agree with Davidson's point of view. 

Another big theme for Davidson is the issue of language.  She really suffers at her inability to communicate with the Rabari people she eventually travels with.  It doesn't matter whether you're a polyglot who speaks seven or eight world languages - suddenly finding yourself in a Rabari tribe with limited Hindi and no idea which local language (Marwari, Gorwari or Dingle) is the best to learn, puts you right back at square one.  She misses conversation in English, probably more than any other 'comfort' in her entire journey.  She also spends a large part of her time in neighbouring Gujarat.  I didn't really understand why she suddenly went to Gujarat, when it seemed as though she had just managed to set herself up with a proper migration (after many failed attempts) back in Rajasthan.

An interesting comparison with Ffyona Campbell's book about Africa, was the shame of being stoned by villagers and children.  Campbell also mentions this, as she was walking through Congo.  Like Campbell, Davidson realises that the children are throwing stones at her, not because they want to hurt her, but more because she is a 'white ghost' - they've probably never seen a foreigner before and they want to see if she is real, to hit her with a stone and see if there is any kind of reaction.  I remember a Peace Corps volunteer, who was African-American and had been sent to a little village somewhere in Uzbekistan.  She also got stoned by the local children, probably for similar reasons.  I imagine it was quite a shock for the locals, never having seen a black person before, to suddenly see this woman walking through their village.  I guess someone has to be the first!

There was so much in Davidson's book and I took reams of notes, so to summarise - I also learned about Andrew Wyeth's landscape paintings, Amarkot, the Raos, professional geneologists who record the births, deaths and marriages of Rabari clans in large books weighing several kilos.  I learned about etiquette behind monetary gifts, the differences between the Rabari of Rajasthan and the Raika of Gujarat.  I learned about the people of the Kutch and how they look towards the sea, rather than the desert, for their world view.  I learnt that all Rabari marriages in Gujarat take place on Khrishna's birthday, the 2nd of September.  I learned about the horrors of Guinea worm and the latent anger in India cultures.  I learned about dacoits and the Bhil tribes of the Aravalli mountains.  I learned lots of new words, such as chillum, punkah, lathi, jhonpa, charpoi, gundah, badmaash, unth wallah, lucerne, jaggery, pannikins, shagun, sarpanchs and dotterels!

Image credits

The image of the book cover is from

I absolutely love the image of the camel shadows, which is by flickruser Peter Davis who is from Seattle.  Thanks Peter for sharing this with the world using the Creative Commons License.  You can see more of Peter's photos at