Sitting in a shady courtyard of the castle through the heat of the afternoon was like turning the clock back decades, if not centuries; it’s so easy to see how life must have been here for hundreds of years. We had a rest day based at this quiet retreat allowing us to explore the fort of Chittor and the palaces within its walls. During the late afternoon the group climbed aboard the Maharaja’s 1948 Ford charabanc for a tour of rural villages meeting local people and learning of the huge range of produce coming off the land. We were shown crops of Radish, Carrot, and plants of Ginger and Turmeric; I was particularly interested in how the Groundnuts were propagated having learnt about the disastrous ‘‘Groundnut Scheme’’ in Tanganyika during my school days. We then enjoyed an evening BBQ beside a lake where we relaxed as the sun set and the day cooled.
The following morning, Thursday 9 October, we left our peaceful haven travelling through provincial countryside heading for another harbour of Indian comfort. The landscape is mostly flat agriculturally farmed land with low surrounding hills and still patches of earth most beautifully managed and manicured to produce food for the local markets. We stopped to interact with farmers and labourers cutting crops of lentils and pulses which they thresh using small stationary harvesters before spreading the seeds evenly on tarpaulins to desiccate in the sunshine.
The friendly and peaceful town of Maheshwar holds important spiritual significance with many pilgrims drawn to its ancient ghats and temples along the holy Narmada River. Legend has it that the polluted Ganges assumes the form of a black cow and comes to the Narmada to bathe and cleanse itself in the holy waters; legend also claims the Narmada to be older than the Ganges. Our boutique accommodation in a restored fort overlooks the ghats where we took evening drinks and watched pilgrims bathing as well as local women washing piles of laundry.
In the morning, most left at a reasonable hour to allow themselves time to visit Ellora Caves on the outskirts of Aurangabad. The detail of the rock carving is simply astonishing. From as early as the second century BC through to perhaps 1000AD these caves were laboriously cut by generation after generation of monks and once you remove yourself from the mass of oppressive Indian tourists it is possible to view the work in detail and imagine the site as an important spiritual place more than a thousand years ago.
The final day of the event was no place for the late riser with nearly a full day’s drive ahead crossing the spectacular Western Ghats to Malshej Pass and descending into Bombay. I had left early to setup the ‘Finish’ banner and welcome each crew to the final flag drop in front of the Gateway of India at Apollo Bunder; being a Saturday, crowds of local people formed as we arrived giving the scene a more holiday atmosphere.
It was then time for a quick shower and change before our farewell gathering at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. We had a fun evening with a comedian from the ‘Bombay Comedy Club’ to remind us why India will always be special and Steve had selected and produced a slideshow of photographs of scenarios and landscapes from the preceding 30 days to jog our memories letting us reminisce on just how much we had experienced together.
On the following Monday morning all that was left to do before leaving India was deliver vehicles to the port for re-export and therefore fulfilling Carnet requirements. The task of escorting a menagerie of 4x4s through the sixty plus kilometres of urban sprawl from hotel to port without losing anyone was a challenge we somehow completed allowing us to finally relax for 24 hours before departing for home.
Back in my office writing words for the events closing stages makes the whole affair seem somewhat surreal and slightly other worldly, yet it’s still going-on over there today as it has for centuries and is likely to do so for many more.