Pressing the rewind button, I go back to the moment when I was packing my bag to leave for Udaipur. A transition from my hometown’s hustle-bustle to the serenity of this new city. I was going to join the India Fellowship program. The training kick-started with rigorous physical activity followed by a few days of understanding rural India. After a week, we reached our third module of ‘Rural Immersion’ where we were supposed to visit a village repeatedly for 4 days, observe how a rural community works and try to emphasize with them.
I vividly remember our first day in the village, when for the first time I traveled on a Bus top to reach Manaar. Not to forget the traumatic situation I created for the co- travelers who were awestruck on seeing a woman proposing the bus conductor to let her sit on the roof of the bus. The expression on conductor’s face was worth noticing. He was shocked as if I had asked him to donate his kidneys.
After reaching the destination, I took a stroll around Manaar, observing the irrigation system which transported water from the adjoining lake known as ‘Badi talaab’ to all the fields. Meanwhile, a man, fair in complexion, with bald head and hair gushing out from his ears, walked up to me and inquired about the intrusion in his village. After briefing him about my project, I excused myself and continued my exploration.
There was this young boy, Nishant* who was glued to his phone, listening songs. We started with small talk, followed by which, he offered to take me around the village, as a local guide.
“Here, we call it the Kashmir of Udaipur“, he said. On our way, he narrated the story of how Manaar got its name, the importance of lake as a water source for the entire city and its people. As we headed towards ‘Badi talaab’, we saw a lot of cattle herding, a few farmers harvesting the crops while other tilling the soil or looking at the progress of growth in fields. We met an old farmer who offered to visit his stable and take a look at his sugarcane farm. He must be in 80s. There was a sugarcane grinding machine which, as he told, was four generations old. He gave a glass of juice extracted from the sugarcane. It tasted drastically different from what I’ve had in the cities, the sweeter and colder version because of added sugar and ice cubes to increase the profit margin. This one was heavier and milder in taste. Such a difference between mixed and raw!
Finally, on reaching Badi talaab, it was mesmerizing to simply be under the vast blue sky, amidst strong winds, in front of the Aravalli range of mountains and water that had turned grey because of the reflection from the Sun. It was a memorable moment to be completely in nature. The view rightfully proved why Manaar is known as the Kashmir of Udaipur. Passing the dam, we reached a plain area where hundreds of tiny streams from the lake could be seen flowing into one broad stream. As I busied myself in clicking pictures of the surrounding beauty, Nishant pointed towards my feet where lied a skeleton of a cow. Instantly, I ran away, going as far as I could. He burst into laughter. After a while, finally agreeing to surrender myself, I walked up to the skeleton. That’s when Nishant decided to give out the information that tigers often come down from the hills to drink water from the stream and also sometimes, attack cattle. It was a major concern for the villagers.
After a brief introduction to the wildlife here, I started my journey back to the bus top as it was time to leave. Again, people and animals were engaged in their daily routine. On the way down, I interacted with a few women who were milking their cows and offered me to try my hands on them as well. I jumped on the opportunity immediately and learnt to do the motherly job quite efficiently. Soon after, we said goodbyes as it was time to catch the bus. As a parting gesture, I offered chocolates to Nishant. He accepted those after much hesitance. I boarded the overcrowded bus and said “see to soon” in my head, with a hope to come back to this hidden gem and further explore it with my little guide.
*Names changed to protect identity
Cover Image by Sriram Valluri, 2018 July Cohort.