A welcome oasis in the Western Desert

Sometimes it’s necessary to make a change to the planned itinerary in order to take advantage of an invitation and so, when it turned out that the “Aunty” I thought I was scheduled to visit in Jodhpur actually lived in a village called Ramdevra some 150 kilometres away, modifications had to be made. Fortunately, this little centre of pilgrimage lies close to the railway line which connects Jodhpur to Jailsalmer (my next scheduled destination) but not so fortunate, however, was the fact that it was too late to get an alternative rail ticket.

Ramdevra is named after Baba Ramdevji, a fourteenth century saint of great piety. Now, I’m a little confused by such information as is available about the life of the gentleman in question because the Internet tells us that he took Samadhi (the path to enlightenment) at the age of 33 in 1384 and left his mortal body in 1459. By my reckoning that means he lived to the age of 108 which, while still theoretically possible, suggests that standards of health and hygiene in the region must have been much better during the middle ages.

For, while not necessarily being the filthiest place in India, Ramdevra certainly has a long way to go to achieve WHO safety standards. This is a great pity because there is no denying the genuine devotion of the many pilgrims who make the trip but, if several of Aunty’s relatives actually refuse to set foot in the place, all that devotional revenue must be going straight into the wrong pockets. It’s necessary to have an open minded and honest approach to India (and a very strong constitution) to be able to cope with a place like this but, once I’d ferreted out some extra strong insect repellent, I was able to relax and enjoy the hospitality of Aunty’s simple guest house.

My routine for three days mainly involved eating, resting, refusing even more food and attempting to capture the right kind of photographs for an even-handed photo essay of a place so unknown to foreigners that it doesn’t even have a Lonely Planet entry. In fact when Aunty was describing me to a relative by phone, I could make out that she had to explain that I wasn’t an NRI (non resident Indian) but a “white skin wallah”. So unlikely was my presence in this out of the way spot that I attracted very little attention beyond the occasional polite enquiry about my country of origin.

You will see from the pictures that the hospitality I was afforded was absolutely wonderful; it even went as far as the tactfully overlooking of the faux pas that I made one morning when I said I was going out for a pre-breakfast temple visit. I may have got some highly atmospheric pictures in the morning light but the tell-tale absence of a bindi mark on my forehead on my return proved that I had been a little remiss in my devotions.

When my visit was over I had to use my pre-existing night train ticket to complete the journey to Jaisalmer, final stop on my itinerary. This meant that I had to catch the train when it made a short halt at Ramdevra at 0245h, not a venture that I contemplated with ease. But Aunty and Uncle insisted on setting their alarm to accompany me and helped me to find the right compartment which Aunty wanted to climb inside and have a look at despite the shortness of the stop. As it happened the “Palace on Wheels” was resting up in a siding nearby, no doubt so that its five (or is it seven) star passengers could arrive in Jodhpur at a civilised hour the next morning. Each to her own.

 

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