Although I’ve been in India for over a month now, I still feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface of this geographically huge and diverse country. I guess that means that I’ll have to come back in the future (what a shame!). However, when I first walked down the main street of Chanderi, I knew that I’d stumbled onto something special.
It’d been a fast paced few days beforehand – early mornings chasing tigers at Bandhavgarh National Park, days full of kinky temples and dancing peacock feathers at Khajuraho, and exploring the nooks of palaces at Osiyan. The touts and beggers had also been particularly aggressive in the last town with girls opening with the line, “What’s your name?” which immediately filled us with suspicion and caused us to shoot back, “Why?” before powerwalking out of their grasp. I was also followed half way back to my hotel by a little boy with an even smaller girl on his hip, who was continuously asking for money while barely pausing for breath. I stuck to what I’d been told – to not give children money – even though it made me feel well and truly evil. After weeks of that, it can grate on your soul a little bit and make you feel like a bit of a rubbish human being, not going to lie.
Some of the excitement of Diwali in Khajuraho
It’s because of this that I fell in love with Chanderi. Driving in, it just looked like any other village, but I soon found out that it’s the people that make it magic. Walking down the main street I was met with smiles and waves. We’d been told that the company I’m travelling with is the only one that goes there, so there was no tourism industry and hardly anyone spoke English which was part of the fun. Locals would chat away to me happily in Hindi, really not caring that I couldn’t understand a word of what they were telling me. Men would mime cricket to me when they heard that I was Australian, replying with two words which caused us all to laugh and wag our heads, “Ricky Ponting.” Kids followed us down the street, giggling all the way, and exploded into excited shouts when they all saw their faces in the screen of my camera. I was not once approached by a begger and was only ever charged what the locals would pay – the first time I didn’t have to fight to pay any less than five times the local price.
Super outgoing local kids
My friend and I also spent a peaceful hour in the home of a local muslim merchant where his children played cricket in the shaded courtyard while the rest of his family members worked the loom making beautiful silk saris. He never pressured us to buy anything and led us back to the main road and said goodbye with a happy smile and head wobble.
We ate dinner at the house of a self-made historian whose wife cooked some of the best Paneer Kaju that I’ve ever had. His niece – who’d spent the whole day decorating a bride in henna – covered our arms and legs in intricate dots and swirls in the blink of an eye before wiping her brown stained hands and going to bed for a well-deserved sleep.
I was also blown away by the huge amount of history that the unknown village possessed as I climbed to the fourth floor of a decaying library and sat on the roof of an 11th century mosque. Later that day we drank smoky masala chai by 6000 year old rock paintings and watched the (very clean) river flow down below us. There were supposedly crocodiles in there, but all we saw were rockodiles (yeah I did – love a quality dad joke).
We drove up to the fort just before we left town where I looked down on the zig-zagging streets, the women hanging out wet saris and the monkeys jumping across the rooftops. It’s oftentimes that the inconspicuous places contain something special. Chanderi was definitely one of those places and reminded me of everything that I love about India.