A Semester in India: Abhaneri
ABHANERI, India — After visiting the jungles of Ranthambore National Park early in the morning, we continued our journey through rural Rajasthan. Passing through a small village, our guide Som noticed several roadside milk sellers. We exited the bus, and Som detailed milk’s religious and delectable importance in India.
With deep connections to Hinduism and numerous Indian dairy products—notably sweets, India is the largest milk producer and consumer in the world. Preparing to deliver milk to various neighborhoods, the milkmen often awake at 4am. As Som was describing this critical part of daily life, we saw prospective milk buyers dipping their hands into the milk containers. According to Som, Indians have a refined touch for calculating the milk’s cream level — a critical price determinant — and discerning if the seller has diluted the milk with water. He added, “There’s a reason Indians boil their milk.”
Continuing our drive, we witnessed the booming development of India’s infrastructure. At a pace of 27 kilometers per day, Indian highway construction is on a torrent, and the (mostly) paved remote highway on which we transited displayed such development. We passed numerous road projects under construction, and despite it being Christmas, workers were at most of the construction sites.
We eventually arrived at our campsite located among farm fields not far from the small town of Abhaneri. The employees welcomed us with flower garlands which hold great significance in Indian culture. Marriages, pujas (worship), and welcoming guests all use garlands. During our drive, we even passed a brand-new building which was draped with garlands.
After settling in, Som gathered us to partake in an important Indian religious activity: cricket. We played a short game that turned into a quasi-home run derby in the campsite courtyard. As dusk fell on the surrounding farm fields, local villagers danced and performed folk songs unique to their village around the campfire.
We awoke early the next morning and made the short walk to visit the famous Chand Baori step well. On our way over, we passed several student groups, and they all eagerly practiced their English skills with us. In their separate groups, the boys walked together with their arms around one another while the girls held hands with one another.
King Chanda built the famous Chand Baori step well between 800 CE and 900 CE to provide a constant water supply to local villagers. With villagers congregating to gather their daily water, the step well also functioned as a socializing sphere. Chand Baori also bears a striking similarity to “The Pit” prison in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.
We explored adjacent markets and watched a pottery maker make kulhads — clay cups — that hold India’s most famous drink: chai masala. Kulhads are biodegradable, cheap to make, and add an “earthy aroma to the beverage.”
After getting on our bus, Som brought on a magician who was very eager to perform for us. Even my father who is skeptical of any magic tricks was greatly impressed by the young magician’s talent. Following the performance, we embarked for the city bearing the most famous gem of India.
The Rajasthani countryside holds a vibrant, rich culture. From neat, lush farm fields to semi-arid desert, from brightly colored sarees to pristine white kurtas, from ancient step wells to mud huts, rural Rajasthan is a microcosm of the diversity that makes India remarkable.
Next stop: Agra.