Ganesha’s Gift

Part One:

It was “locals day” at Ranthambore Fort and as the temperature bounced high above 40 degrees a flood of saris of different colours mantled the temple to Ganesha. Accompanied by Grey Langur and a peppering of flies we meandered the fifth century steps and took shelter beneath the twist of tarp and thatch that rooved the wooden stalls outside the temple. The devotees slowly migrated through the thickness of the heat to the long line leading through the faded pink temple arches.

We purchased our offerings of laddoos, modaks and incense. As sweat droplets swelled on our brows, I looked to the locals waiting in the heat for their turn to gain favour from the god who removes obstacles. Obviously Ganesha has granted us his favour prematurely as Sawai grabs at my wrist and leads McGee and I straight past the line up to a hidden entrance behind the stalls.

“It’s working already” I whispered to McGee. She gave me a look to behave.

We took our shoes off and washed our hands and feet before entering the temple antechamber. We approached the shrine, decorated with garlands of orange and yellow flowers across drapings of red folded cloth. We reverently made our way to the shrine where a holy man accepted our offerings in turn, placing them systemically beside some picture frames of Lord Ganesha and some ornate silver jars.

The holy man then returned some of our offerings to us so that we may worship elsewhere in the fort. I looked at the remnants left in my bowl and asked him what they were. He motioned back that it was a food offering by raising his hand to his mouth. I nodded politely and turned to McGee. She however, seeing the holy man’s gesture thought he wanted us to eat Ganesha’s offering and was already munching down on a laddoo ball.

Asia mat karo! The holy men beckon McGee to stop eating Ganesha’s gift.

Part Two:

We were anxious to leave our tented farm stay accommodation on the border of Ranthambore National Park. Not because our glamping experience was negative. It was anything but. Our hosts at Maa Ashapura had treated us to viewings of Tiger, Leopard, Nilgai and Hyena up close in the wild; we rode horseback under the stars; and we were guests of the manager and his friends for dinner at the incredible Aman-I-Khas. But our train back to Jaipur was leaving soon, we still had over an hour to get there and inexplicably the EFTPOS machine wouldn’t accept any of our cards to settle our bill.

“You had to go and upset Ganesha didn’t you.” I winked at McGee

We still have time. We had drawn cash from the ATM in the village before, we will quickly detour and be back en route in no time. We dash to the village but the ATM machine was blanking out and needed to be rebooted. This was not a promising sign.

“Ganesha, the remover of obstacles! Why couldn’t you have picked a fight with one of the other gods? Maybe eaten some of Shiva’s bananas or Krishna’s gourds?”

We were back on the road but desperately behind schedule. Our driver suggested it was unlikely we would make our train, a point assisted by the fact that he was the most conservative driver in the whole of India. Unlike anyone else in the entire country he was sure to keep to his lane and resisted honking his horn, even when a number of camels set up shop in the middle of the road or when the seemingly endless parade of cows and pigs blocked our path.

“We are really feeling Ganesha’s wrath here babe, can you please make up with him or something?”

“Careful” she replied “Ganesha may turn on you if you get too cheeky.”

We crawled into the station car park, McGee and I on tenterhooks in the back. Gave our hurried thanks and tips to our driver, grabbed our backpacks and raced up the ramp, across the footbridge, skidding into the first carriage of our train as the doors closed.

It seemed there was some obstacle delaying our train out of the station. As the train pulled away we thanked Ganesha for this gift.

Part Three:

A day later we entered the Marriott at Goa. It was to be a treat to mark the end of our journey through India. We were at the swim up bar for less than an hour when we had made friends with the best man of a wedding being held at the resort. The families of the bride and groom were well to do and had hired out the whole resort… except it seems for our room.

Typical of Indian hospitality we were of course invited to join the festivities, an invitation we gratefully accepted. That night we made our way across the footbridge, down the red carpet and through the luminous canopy of linen to a beach full of tables laid in white tablecloths aglow with fairy lights and oil candles.

Photographers and Indian high society mingled and posed and my best travel runners were now feeling rather conspicuous as we were introduced from table to table by the bridal party, drinking Kingfishers and partaking in incidental rounds of prawn canapé roulette. It was about three in the morning when we cut away from the dance floor glow sticks and Bollywood lessons and made our way back to our room.

McGee rose late the next morning, rolling towards me to ask if I was ready for breakfast. “I can’t.” I whimpered. “I have had Delhi-Belly all night, I can’t be away from the bathroom for more than a few minutes.” I lay back on the bed, exhausted, the sheets sticking damp against my clammy skin. The fan providing no relief as I simultaneously burn up and shiver. “I’m going to need to stay here babe, I can’t go anywhere” I squeak. “There is absolutely nothing stopping this diarrhoea.” My eyes widen and we look at each other.

“Ganesha?”

Crown of Palaces

The sun is dipping behind a stretch of cloud, cooling the air to a temperature more inviting of indolence than traipsing one of the seven wonders.

We waited in line with the monkeys, venerated the soft blue of the background framed by the cylindrical minarets, took the view from Princess Diana’s seat, roamed the antechambers and paraded the monument lawns…… and now we sit.

The hum of insects hang on the breeze replacing the no longer audible car horns. The white marble changes hue and the intricate inscriptions demanding reverence. A dreamy languor descends as we soak in the splendour, hand in hand. Resting our tired feet and watching the people go by.

A group of Polish girls are taking turns at being photographed. One by one they all strike the same poses. First they present with one leg bent and a hand on the hip which makes them look sort of like a lame dog. Then they turn around for the bum pose. Facing away from the camera, then hand on hip they glance back over their shoulder towards the camera. Finally the very structured stroll across the Taj Mahal’s marble plinth. This pose comes complete with false starts and specific casual hand gestures.

A group of Chinese girls and boys join the Polish girls at the monument’s base. The poses of Chinese tourists have a uniformity that seems to change through the years. There was a time about twenty years ago when Chinese tourists all seemed to stand straight, arms straight down their side. Then about fifteen years ago, presumably because slide shows back home became too monotonous the same pose but side on with a look across the shoulder seemed to be all the rage. Then about a decade ago this pose seemed to give way to the enduring V for victory sign. Hip kicked one way, shoulders the other and the peace sign held up near the side of their head.

Tourists are now encumbered by the selfie stick. Not wanting to miss a moment where the selfie is required, the selfie stick is now permanently attached to their phones. Some of the boys text with their selfie stick laying awkwardly; out of place on their shoulders. They stop texting long enough to pose for a group selfie. The congregation rotating turns, each vying  to use their own phones to capture the moment.

A young man with a Canadian badge on his back pack spends the best part of his next hour trying to take the perfect shot of his girlfriend. She dances and leaps across the promenade. He adjusts the shutters and sends her back to her starting position to repeat. Holding her up when an unsuspecting tourist stumbles into the scene.

A French couple take turns at sitting and staring into the distance. A beautiful reflective moment broken as they jump up and rush back to the camera to see if their partner perfectly captured the serenity. They didn’t. Back they run to sit again with their legs folded and to reset their far off gaze.

We surreptitiously approach these sites of monumental importance and for a brief moment immortalise ourselves in the shadow of their significance. Perhaps to remember how it was when travelled to sites of social consequence, perhaps to remember how it should have been. Maybe to deceive our future selves or others about our time there.

I raise my camera to the air. High enough so as to reduce the double chins but whilst still getting the onion shaped dome into the shot. I cheekily cut my wife’s head out of the picture. We reset as she stretches up to kiss my cheek.

Click.

Perfect.

I guess we all want to be immortal.