It’s throwback Thursday once again. And this week’s cold weather sent me looking for a picture that conjures up a blast of heat. Digging through the pile, I found one that certainly brings back memories of searing sunshine — as well as visions of the 1,0001 Arabian nights.
Back in 1990, on my trip around the world, I stepped off the train in the city of Jaipur, India, not really knowing what to expect. This was India, all right, but something told me it wasn’t going to be like anything else I’d seen in this strange and amazing country. I was right: I had arrived in Rajasthan, the land of deserts, kings and castles, and a place where Ali Baba and the Seven Thieves would have felt right at home.
Downtown, I found merchants herding goats through the centre of town, while workmen delivered propane tanks on horse carts. Roadside vegetable stands offered exotic-looking mangoes and bunches of blood-red carrots. And in the city centre, the ghosts of ancient Moghul women peeked through the red stone latticework of the elegant Palace of the Winds.
There was a lot to see, and I could hardly wait. But I needed some transport. No worries: at dinner, my Irish friend Niall, whom I’d met on the train, offered the solution. Our magic carpet would be a tuk-tuk, one of those crazy, three-wheeled rockets that roar through the streets of every Indian city. And our driver would be a cocky, mustachioed young fellow he’d run into, named P.K. — “not Nelson Piquet, the race driver, but I drive very fast,” he told us, with a wicked smile.
He was not kidding. Over the next two days P.K. drove us around and about Jaipur with reckless abandon, gunning our oversized golf cart down the city’s dusty streets as terrified pedestrians dove out of the way. And every now and then he’d stop at a ragged doorway — literally a hole in the wall — and pull us inside so we could buy him a quart-sized bottle of the region’s murderously potent beer. Then, refreshed, he’d jump back behind the wheel.
It was a wild ride, and along the way we saw parts of Jaipur most tourists never see. But it wasn’t till our second day that we came upon the scene you see at the top of this post. On our way to the famous Amber Palace on the outskirts of town, we came to the ruins of an old temple. And as we stopped at the roadside to take some pictures, we looked back to see a camel caravan trudging toward us.
The dusty camels, the wooden carts, the weather-beaten men in turbans and white cotton robes — it was a picture that captured the exotic essence of Rajasthan. For a moment, the 1,001 Arabian Nights had come to life right in front of us. The photo I captured could have been taken 100 years before, or sketched on a dry piece of sheepskin 500 years before that. Except for the rubber wheels, nothing had changed at all.
We made it to the Amber Palace, where elephants carried us up the steep hill to see the splendour of an ancient rajah’s wealth, all white marble and mirrors and jewels. And before we left, Niall and P.K. posed siting on a stone wall outside the palace. I’ve never seen either of them since, but I’m glad I took this photo to remember them. And I’m glad that for that one moment, the Arabian Nights of Rajasthan came alive just for us.