30-Aug-2003 -- While on a weekend trip to the heritage hotel at Neemrana, Rajasthan, Doug and I took the opportunity to drive a Qualis 4x4 off into the back country in search of a degree confluence. This one had been done before, but the rains in India this year have been intense, so the area is much greener than when the group last year (visit #1, ) photographed it.
We drove on National Highway 8 towards Jaipur, and turned into the village of Behror. Small town, but on a large highway, so there were lots of truck stops and little restaurants. Once you get into the middle of the village it's more of a crossroads with cows and vegetable stands. I learned my lesson from the Srinagar confluence, and knew the terminus of each road we'd take, as well as the major cities on each one. So we pulled up to the crossroads, rolled down the windows, and asked a group of men "which way to Chaudhri Ka Nangal?" Which, considering my pronunciation, it's amazing that it was understood by anyone. Doug knows way more Hindi than I do, so that came in handy. Everyone pointed us down the road (the same one, which is always encouraging) and we took off towards Chaudhri Ka Nangal. We got there and found that all the signs in the village read "Nangal Chowdury" which is odd. Like New York City being called "City of Yorke, New" on the maps.
The road from Behror to Chowdery is bumpy and small, but we made good time. Our destination was very close to the railroad tracks that run parallel to the Delhi-Jaipur highway, close to the town of Narnaul. If we were driving from Delhi straight to the confluence, I guess the highway to Narnaul via Rewari would be the best one. We left Neemrana around 11AM and arrived at the confluence around 1 or so. Two hours of driving with a couple of wrong turns. The best road out of Chowdery -- both times we went through it -- was the wrong one. We made it about a mile each time before I figured out that we needed to turn around and take the road less travelled. (i.e., the road to Khetri, NOT the road to Narnaul.) On the road from Chowdery to Maroli, we saw a black-winged kite on a telephone line. They're white and grey birds of prey, with small black bands on their shoulders, and red eyes.
The confluence itself is in a tiny, picturesque village called Maroli. We arrived there and kept driving straight towards the confluence. We got within a mile or a mile and a half before the road we were on dwindled to a water buffalo path. We parked near a well, in an area that seemed out-of-the-way enough that we wouldn't annoy the good people of Maroli. Then we headed out walking into the fields.
A few kids saw us park, and asked us what we were doing. We pointed off in the fields, and Doug started to explain something about satellites and longitude lines before we realized we'd be better off just saying we were going to walk in the fields and take photos. So off we went. The kids disappeared, but as I've learned from other trips into farm villages, they don't just go home. They go to their friend's houses and say "you'll never believe it! These weird guys in an SUV just pulled up and they're walking around in the fields! Let's get the whole group together and follow them!"
They catch up quickly, then slow down when they're about a hundred yards behind, and follow -- trying to figure out what's going on. After a while, one gets brave enough to catch all the way up and sort of ask why we're walking in the fields. We pointed off in the direction of the confluence and said "we want to go that way about 2 kilometers." They said the same thing that the taxi driver in Varanasi (25n 83e) told me. "Oh, you want to go climbing a hill? That hill's too far away. How about climbing this hill over here instead?" I saw an old building (A Moghul or Raj-era farmhouse from the looks of it) in the direction of the confluence, and about the same distance. So I told them we wanted to visit it. They accepted that, and started to lead us thought the fields. We zig-zagged on the raised irrigation paths between the fields, so we could never go in a straight line -- it was a series of zigs and zags that stretched our 2-kilometer walk into an hour's travel.
Plus, the monsoons have been torrential this year. The photos taken by the Devgun et.al. (in August of last year) show hard-packed red dirt. This year, it was a lush green valley of grain. The kids (who ranged in age from around 8 to 18) explained that the grains where what they made chapati from. Now, in Delhi, chapati is a tortilla-like flat bread made from wheat. I didn't know what this plant was, but it was not wheat. Turns out it was sorghum -- what the Maroli villagers called Jawar.
We made it to the old building where Doug tried again to explain the satellite thing. He made real progress with one of the older kids. Doug showed him our location on the GPS, and the location we were trying to get to. We rested a bit in the shade of the awning, took some photos, and then got back on our way. At which point the kids said something to the effect of "well, if you're headed that way, why not take the road instead of winding through these fields?"
"There's a road???" Argh. (Should have read Chander Devgun’s narrative more closely, as he mentions the road.) Well, the fields were lovely, but the kids showed us the way to the nice, paved blacktop 2-lane road that connected the nearby villages together. School buses were going up and down, taking kids in uniform home from school. We walked down this road, made excellent time, and arrived at the confluence point just as the grey monsoon clouds overhead started getting menacing. If we were going to have to walk back through the fields, we'd be getting soaked. But now that we found the road. . . we might make it back to the car fairly dry. We made a square around the CP, trying to find the closest point -- didn't want to tromp any more plants than was necessary. I said we were within 20 meters, and could call it a victory, but the kid helping Doug would have no part of that. If 28-76 was our goal, he was going to get us there.
I remained on the raised walkway at the edge of the field to take a picture of Doug and his friend zeroing in on the spot. Doug pulled his camera out of his pocket and handed it to me. Right after he headed into the field the youngest child tried to get my attention. This little kid handed my Doug's car keys, which had fallen out of his pocket when he got the camera out. What a great opportunity for a little fun at Doug's expense! Doug and his new friend found the exact spot. I wish I knew the guy's name -- he was about 16 years old, and so excited. He acted like it was the most fun he'd had in years. He kept looking at the GPS, and when it was exactly at the confluence spot, he was beaming with pride. I took some photos, then headed into the field to take a panoramic photo series from the CP.
We took photos from the CP and then got on the nice paved road for the walk back to the car. The rain started as we walked -- big fat drops of Haryana monsoon. It didn't really start to pour until later that afternoon, when we got back to the hotel, which was lucky. We walked with our new friends along the road to their village, where our car was parked. When we got close, they took us on a tour of the village. We met some of the village elders, including these two old mustachioed men who were playing a game like parcheesi. They were sitting on a stone bench, playing this game with pebbles and chalk -- a totally hand-made board game. We very nearly got photos of them playing this game, but the kids saw us pull out the cameras and ran up to get in the photo. One of the men was barely dressed, so he wanted to get his shirt on before we took any pictures. But then they posed for us, smoking a giant hookah. We passed large farmhouses full of villagers in bright clothing. All the houses had carved stone doorways and ancient wooden doors. The houses were large, and the doors and decorations were lovely. There were plenty of well-fed farm animals around (camels, water buffalo, dogs, cows, goats, sheep, etc.) The rains have been good to the livestock.
It was getting late, so we made our way to the car. We got the oldest kid’s name and address so we could mail copies of our photos back to them. While he was writing, everyone in the village came out to say goodbye. And a group of women in brightly colored saris started coming down the street singing. Later I was told that in that region, the people have a folk song for any event -- a birth, death, wedding, baby -- you name it, there's a special song for it. They were coming down the street singing, and making me wish I had brought my videocamera. They came to the car, not because it was their destination, but more like we had parked where they were planning on marching anyway, so we got to see them. They gathered around to find out what the rest of the people who were gathered around were watching.
And then we shook hands, and got in the car and drove off. Everyone said "come back soon." All together, we spent over an hour walking around -- then it was another 2-hour drive back. We stopped at Chowdery to take some more photos, and a passing cow shoved Doug into a mud puddle. The people he was photographing thought it was the funniest thing they'd seen in ages. But they hadn’t seen the look on his face when he thought he had lost the car keys in the middle of a sorghum field. That was priceless!