The last week came with a long weekend. I took the time out to travel with friends to Ranthambore national park. We flew into Jaipur and drove for three hours. The weather was worse than I’d expected when I looked at the prediction the previous night. The afternoon temperature was 15 degrees Celsius and we drove through a thunderstorm. The Family remarked "If the weather does not change, we aren’t going to see any tigers." The Victor was very cheerfully replied, "We aren’t going to see them anyway."
We were on a four-lane divided highway, with a very monotonous vista of scrub land around us. The light was dull and we were deep in conversation about the merits of Ranthambore as a national park when suddenly we spotted camels on the horizon. Not one, but a whole herd of domesticated camels were on their way towards us. We knew we were in Rajasthan. The desert of thirty years ago is slowly giving way to agriculture as canals and irrigation systems reshape the land, but camels remain ubiquitous in the towns of Rajasthan.
Traffic rules do not seem to apply to camels. The bunch spilled over more than one lane as it travelled the wrong way down the highway. I had a quick glimpse of one of the camel drivers as we moved past the herd. I’m told that traditional social and caste divisions in Rajasthan can be read off from the way the turban is tied. I’m a non-starter in reading these signs.
We settled back for another couple of hours of monotony, with the heavy rain drumming on the car. But the camels had energized us. I had my camera in my hand and was looking around for more signs that we were driving through rural Rajasthan. Tractors overloaded with hay waiting on the side of the road are common all over India. There’s nothing about it which spells Rajasthan. But we also sped past congregations of men with large turbans and a very few women, with faces completely covered, which told us where we were. By late afternoon the weather cleared up, and we passed Sawai Madhopur station and turned into the road to the Ranthambore national park and our hotel.
Of course, camel carts shared the road with tractors and jeeps.