Good reads for the monsoon 2020 #2 🗺

“We were the usual: nine-to-sixers, investment-makers, mall-goers, office-trippers and city-slickers. We were life-going-to-seeders.”…reads the opening para on the back cover of the book. Usual is common and common is boring; so what do they transform into?

The authors are the writer couple Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha. This is my third book by Devapriya Roy. “The Heat and Dust Project” – the broke couple’s guide to Bharath is a travelogue cum memoir by the couple.

The Heat and Dust Project - the broke couple's guide to Bharath, by Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha
The Heat and Dust Project – the broke couple’s guide to Bharath, by Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha

They ditch their jobs and home in Delhi and decide to backpack across the country on a budget of Rs. 500/- per day (the book was published in 2015 and the travel dates are recorded as 2010). Indians backpacking across India are usually students and not corporates. But here the couple have a book deal in hand about their travels and the journey begins with this end mind.

You need strong  motivation to travel by the local buses, the authors do not hide the fact Among the smells that stream in, the most prominent is a stench of urine. Over the months we will recognise this as the unifying trait of bus stands across the country.” And in the normal course, if you do travel in the local buses, you will definitely stay away from them when you decide go on a holiday. But then this was a project for them. In addition to the historic titbits there is also their personal flashbacks.

I picked the book because I know there will be interesting stories about the legends and myths of the historical places they visit. I love reading on the history of a place. I have not travelled across North India and this book seems a good way to begin. The authors though travel with the Lonely Planet guide.

Setting off from Delhi they first venture to Rajasthan starting with the capital Jaipur then onto Pushkar, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and last Barmer. They narrate the history of Jaipur tracing the lineage from the second son Kush of Ram and ending with the fact that the pink city “has been bestowed this uniform look by Maharaja Ram Singh, in 1876 to welcome the Prince of Wales and ever since the residents are bound by law to follow the colour scheme.”

The legend of Pushkar is fascinating and in Jodhpur, they become friends with an Israeli twins (Baghdadi Jews) who just completed their compulsory military service and before starting college they have decided to travel and India was on top of the list !? It’s the foreign tourists who are more into the backpacking mode of travel and don’t think the references to Renuka Shahane lookalike in the book will resonate with them.

“If you have not seen Jaisalmer, what have you seen?” reads the book. The magnificence of the fort is inescapable and so are the haunting stories of jauhar (self immolation) by the Rajput queens.  They make more Israeli friends in Jaisalmer. Last stop in Rajasthan is Barmer; it is not a town on the tourist circuit, it’s more an industrial town.

But despite the title the author’s are not presenting a travel guide to Rajasthan; they try to present vignettes of the dusty, dirty Bharath through conversations with the locals, the free roaming cows on the streets, camels on roads, the turban clad men, women who always shield their faces in public, preference for a male child, conversations which always start with enquiry of your caste. In spite of the old ways, there are signs of change, prosperity, entrepreneurship, parents who want education for both their girls and boys.

From Rajasthan, it’s a bus to Gujarat and then Uttar Pradesh; last stop Himachal Pradesh.  Among these four states I have only been to Himachal Pradesh so far touring the towns of  Dharamshala, and Dalhousie; they are charming hill stations 🏔!!

A memory from our Dharamshala trip
A memory from our Dharamshala trip

My aunt and uncle were on a group tour of Gujarat a few months back and through the photos they sent everyday in the family WhatsApp group; I too got a glimpse into the touristy places in the state. There is a lot to see they said; I was hoping to know a bit more about the history through this book.

In the book though, in Gujarat, we first travel to a town called Palanpur, home of the erstwhile diamond industry in India; though now Surat is the current diamond capital of the country. Next stop is the capital Ahmedabad where they detail a visit to the Sabramati Ashram. The history begins with the next stop Junagadh – the step wells, the Girnar mountain. The last stop in Gujarat is the seaside town of Somnath🛕.

In Uttar Pradesh, they begin with Mathura, then Govardhan and finally Barsana – the birthplace of Radha. Last travel stop is Dharamshala is Himachal Pradesh.

I have till date not heard of Barmer in Rajasthan, Palanpur or Junagadh in Gujarat or Barsana in UP. The author duo could have written more about the local food; the only mention is bajra roti in Barmer at a dinner with a local family; chickpeas in Gujarat and Aloo parathas. They could also have included some photographs of their journey. Devapriya is often described as carrying a camera everywhere📸.

But still, it feels like virtual back-packing tour of the above states from my home in Bangalore. I have to mention a superstition that I never knew existed – “In many parts of India there is this notion that one should never, like never ever, carry any of the following on journeys – jackfruit, pickles or very ripe bananas!?” And there is a perfect explanation for the same in the book😀.

Till next post, take care !!

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