Hearth and home in Rajasthan


23 Sep 2018

The worst time to pop in on someone is, of course, right when they’re in the middle of preparing the family meal. The pot’s simmering; the kids, the goats and the goat-kids are raising a hungry ruckus, and those veggies ain’t gonna just dice and slice themselves. And then these outlander dudes roll up in big air-conditioned transports, a fearsome arsenal of photo-gear around their necks, and say, “Hello, may we come in and start taking photographs of you in your home?”

But hey, this is Rajasthan, India. A polite word with the land-owner, a few preparatory courtesies from your tour leader — “Hey, hasn’t Aarti grown! She was this high when I was here last year!” — and you’re a welcome guest. Your hosts will chat for a bit, then get on with the serious business of making supper happen for the brood.

For many Travelshooters private tour clients, the villages of India (and Rajasthan especially) are one of the highlights of their trip. In fact, some clients come solely to work the village contexts. Some come bearing backcloths, reflectors, striplights, calibration cards and very specific exhibition-display intentions. Others just turn up with a couple of cameras and “learn to be lucky”, trusting instinct, patience and creative reflexes to produce delightful photographic surprises. (Talking about reflectors: I can confirm absolutely that a fresh chapatti makes a great reflector at a pinch. See the photo gallery up top.)

I can confirm absolutely that a fresh chapatti makes a great reflector at a pinch.

Just getting to these remote villages is a delight. The Thar Desert is almost exactly the size of Nebraska. To reach the villages we prefer, you travel over hundreds of miles of tarmac and desert track, passing scrubby vegetation of acacia, khejri, gum arabic — and sudden inexplicable acres of wild desert melons just growing out of bone dry sand… fat, juicy, flourishing, astonishing and delicious to eat. You pass through abandoned settlements with advertisement-painted walls selling red oxide, cement, men’s underwear and shock absorbers. Kids in crisp uniforms rattle by in the back of camel carts, heading to or from school. Caravans of camels lumber dustily across the road, hundreds at a time, with what seems like one lone guy with a stick directing the migration.

Oftentimes, we stop and talk with the camel-herders. They’re interesting people, generous with their time and chat, gossip, grumbles. “Pushkar was poor last year for sales, the camel tax is too high to make it worthwhile (everyone cheats anyway), and what was the Government thinking, withdrawing 500- and 1,000 rupee notes from circulation just in time for this cash-only jamboree?”

And finally the villages are in sight, it’s supper-time, the sun’s low, golden and strong — we’re exactly on schedule. And we head in to find what’s being served up for our cameras.