Beginning in 1500 BC, Alwar’s history has been woven into a colorful Rajasthani tapestry. It glitters as the princely state of Rajput, adorned with Delhi Sultans and garnished the Rulers of Jaipur. Throughout its history, Alwar has always sparkled like a deep blue sapphire in the red Rajasthan desert and today, the city of is full of hustle and bustle and features some fascinating destination locations. But for me it’s a portal back in time and therefore, a perfect place for riding and wandering.
Mrs. R (my wife) and I rolled down main street Alwar astride Mina (our motorcycle on some forgotten August friday afternoon. Heads turned and followed us as the guttural growls of Mina’s short pipes bounced off the walls of the obsolescent buildings lining the narrow streets. The shadows cast by the late afternoon sun cooled us as I slowly weaved my way though the merchants’ carts, various roaming animals and pedestrian traffic. Slowly we made our way to the rest house we were staying in for the night. It was hot, somewhere very near 50 degrees, as is quite often the case in Rajasthan, and above us was an angry mixture of black storm clouds and violet sky. The thick humidity wrapped around us like a wet blanket.
After a quick shower to remove the road grime we jumped in a Tuk Tuk and headed to the main market. We got out at the Clock Tower and browsed through the stalls and shops. After indulging in a sinful meal of garlic ginger tandoori chicken, we strolled to St. Andrews Church. This stunning piece of Christian architecture (circa 1158) leaps out of the Hindu dominated landscape and is definitely worth seeking out. I am often caught off guard by Christian artifacts or structures in India. Yet every time I see one, my heart warms knowing I live in a country that preaches tolerance, and for the most part, live it. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists…the list goes on and on. All free to celebrate their faith and customs and traditions that go along with it. This is a policy I wish my own country would strongly promote where it is now frowned upon to even say “Merry Christmas.”
But just outside the city where the magic really begins. That is where we were headed first thing the next morning. After a sinful amount of Paratha with mixed pickle and strawberry jam ( Don’t judge, I’m Canadian. Stop making that face and try it, you may like it) and several cups of Chai. Unfortunately we would be riding under the same nasty sky as the previous day, no worries. After packing the rain gear we headed towards the Aravalli Range to find the 15th century ruins of Bala Quila. Picking our way through the rugged streets and wandering about the narrow alleys of the village at the base of Bala Quila was absolutely enchanting. Curious children were peaking from behind mother’s legs and warm toothy grins surrounded us as we chugged our way through the sleepy ville. I often carry a satchel with sweets and chocolates for those little ones brave enough to speak to me. No takers today, I may have looked just a wee bit too disheveled! But these are the moments I cherish. One in particular I will always remember, was pulling over to the side of the road in Beeg to check the GPS. We were in the shade of a massive stepwell and a young lad, no more than twelve, ran up to stare at us and the bike. He spoke no english, but I shared a coke out of my saddlebag with him, and his smile was the only language I needed to understand. India at it’s best I always say, the India I love. The one you can only find on a motorcycle, off the highways. An India filled with warm genuine people who are free of the hubris and self important vanity you so often find in the large cities. In the village outside Alwar we smiled and waved all the way to the entrance of the fort. This is where your India savvy and street smarts need to kick in. These are the moments Mrs. R shines! Don’t be duped by the freelancer tour guides hanging around the gate. They tell you “Your motorcycle no allowed inside” and “Foreigners must be escorted”. They tell you how handsome you are, how amazing your bike is and take a picture with you, then they sell you on a jeep safari to the top of the mountain at an outrageous price. Ignore them,. Do just like Mrs. R do, march right though the middle of the vultures nest and go to the government ticket window! See the nice lady there and pay a very nominal entrance fee for you AND your motorcycle. Feel free to smile sweetly at the gate dwelling mercenaries as you ride into the park…I always do.
The bike ride up the side of this “baby mountain” was a tingle shot for the senses. On your right, a sheer rock face; on your left, a low crumbling stone wall and certain death…now that is bang for your buck! The sky was still angry, but the air was sweet and perfumed. As we ascended, the view grew more and more spectacular; the rock wall fell away slightly and wildlife started to appear here and there nibbling on the sparse vegetation sprouting from the stone. Eventually the mountain plateaued, then split and we continued our climb through the watch tower gate towards Bala Quila.
We reached the main gate of the fort and the silence was deafening after the steady rumble of the bike climbing the steep and narrow road. A single step through a half-door in the heavy wooden barricade spun me back centuries to the time of Rajputs and Kings. I stood silently amongst the murmurings of ghosts.
Over the next hour and under increasingly threatening skies, we climbed and explored, scaled and scouted every inch of this ancient relic. The crumbling walls held the time-worn whispers of a forgotten Queen, the deeply kept secrets of a bygone era. We cautiously sought them out, not wanting to disturb the memories, simply witness them. Teetering on the crumbling balcony of a royal bedchamber, I scanned the majestic valley below and again was overcome by the sheer beauty of it all. India at her finest. Chuckling, I told my princess bride that in most Western or European countries, the regality of it all would be trapped behind fifteen foot security fencing and safety barricades. In India we are left to fend for ourselves armed only with common sense.
On the way out, I hit the kill switch and we coasted down the mountain to the main gate in blissful serenity. The occasional call of a peacock or scream of a monkey would break the still air, the odd deer would lift his head to observe us as we whispered past. It’s difficult to explain, the connection I have to these moments. The realization you are treading where Kings once ruled. Where wars were waged and armies fought. Were a civilization once laughed and loved, sang and created art, where babies were born, children were taught, men forged a life for their families and the aged passed on. No need of media or fast food or fashion tips. Just life as it was. In these moments, surrounded by it ‘s memories, you can feel that life, as if the past has a pulse, and all you have to do to tap into it, is listen.
The plan now was to devour some lunch at The Dadhikar Fort, a location we had heard about purely by chance. A waiter or desk clerk, I don’t rightly recall, but someone had put us on the trail of this mystery fortress. Weaving down narrow semi-paved roads, picking our way through hills and valleys we wandered on. While finding our way, a small miscue afforded me the opportunity to play with some water buffaloes….embrace the detours after all!
We were well into the countryside now, mountains in the distance, surrounded by patches of jungle and wetlands. We stopped briefly to breathe…just breathe the air. To enjoy the stillness and just basically be, to feel our heartbeats in silence. We smiled lovingly at each other, Mrs. R and I lost in the moment of tranquillity. Unfortunately, that’s when I spotted them. There was a herd of buffaloes having a bath in a small pond just off the side of the road a wee bit farther on. I immediately saw the potential of the situation and reckoned that Me, My Mina and those Buffaloes would make a stupendous National Geographic Magazine cover! I dug into the saddle bags while bestowing upon the princess bride the (honorary) title of official Wandering Hippy photographer and finding my prize tossed her the Nikon. Leaping aboard my mechanical steed Mina (Not unlike The Lone Ranger leaping onto Silver) I roared off to the impending photo-op! Not realizing as I screamed up to the side of the pond, I mean not thinking for a second that the bike would startle them…then they would stampede….because that’s what they do…apparently…when startled. It just didn’t occur to me. How I missed that fact after just moment prior, I myself was reveling in the blissful silence is a complete mystery and most likely never to be solved by mortal man.
I am well versed in water buffalo behavior now though! The (kindly?) old shepherd explained all to me. Very loudly…in Hindi…while pointing his staff at the sky. He was presumably warning me about the impending inclement weather. As I watched him run after and try to calm his herd, it dawned on me that it may have been a somewhat ill fated plan. Right from the start to be honest. It is possible I may not have thought it through completely….’Kind sir, please switch off your motorcycle as it is upsetting my livestock’…..I’m positive that is what he was saying. Mrs. R staunchly refused to translate.
After a red faced apology to the shepherd we got back on track and headed off for a lovely lunch at Dadhikar Fort. This fort has been transformed into a luxurious hotel. While it looks to be a comfortable place to stay, it is obvious they have gone to great lengths to ensure your experience is that of a medieval time. Taking advantage of the public areas, we snapped some pictures, took in the views and then settled on the restaurant terrace for cucumber and cheese sandwiches, the British influence alive and well in Rajasthan.
After lunch, just as I was nibbling the last bit of cheese, I started to consider rolling out on Mina. With a wary eye on the sky it was duly noted the monsoon season was finally about to make an appearance. It’s not like we hadn’t been warned all day! We scrambled like B-52 Bomber pilots and straddled Mina under full alert. We scurried down off the mountain like a couple of goats and made it back to the main (dirt path) road. Now, if you’re familiar with the term microburst, you know what happened to us next. If mercifully you are not, try to imagine being completely dry one moment and then soaked to the skin less than ten seconds later. I was unable to see more than a few yards beyond the front tire. With fogging goggles and hastily donned rain jackets, we crept forward very slowly.
That is when we happened upon what can only be described as a sea of mud. A large, lovely, frothing sea of mud. It had taken up residence square in the middle of our path, where the road used to be. Mrs. R was patting my hip frantically, this is our signal to stop the bike. I went right ahead and ignored that signal and decided to “power through it” like a man. Like a man blasting through a sea of mud with his princess bride. What a scene! Yes siree bob, power and acceleration cure most of life’s lil problems! I am thoroughly convinced the “need for speed” theory would have prevailed here as well…if not for the submerged rock. Rock did I say? I meant boulder. It unsympathetically caught my leg guard on the low right side. Yield it did not, instead loudly proclaiming “None Shall Pass”. The impact caused by the unstoppable force (my ego) meeting the immovable object (the rock of Gibraltar) launched my dearest love, promptly and very gracefully into the air. She did look stunning. Her flailing arms and oversized rain jacket spread out like the wings of a falcon as she soared through the heavens! She even screeched like one! I myself came to a full and immediate stop. After my princess bride had extricated herself from the gooey earth I thoroughly critiqued her landing techniques. I think I included the term “a bit rough” and “try to stay upright.” She instantly returned the favor by enlightening me with five or six colorfully phrased paragraphs, spoken at an astounding decibel level for such a small woman, exactly how she felt about my motorcycling skills.
Well, it took a bit of grunting and fidgeting, all under the very sour scrutiny of Mrs. R, to get Mina free. I fell several times during the removal of the bike from soup lake and it did cost me a new securing bracket for Mina’s leg guard. So after a boat load of apologies her scorn turned to laughter and we embraced the detour after all. As we pulled back into Alwar, caked in mud, soaking wet, bruised and a bit battered with Mina’s leg guard dangling and scraping on the road…..we were both grinning like Cheshire Cats.