1967 - it was unusually quiet as we passed through the village. We found the Maharaja's palace.It wasn't tall, but set in vast grounds. Surrounded by high walls, you could just see the terracotta roof. The entrance was an enormous, closed wooden door, fortified with brass bolts. We heard peacocks nearby. No bell, clapper or cord to pull. I knocked 3 times. No sign of life.
Then I spotted a small opening at street level. Pushing with my foot, it moved (like a cat door). I crawled through on hands and knees. My partner was not amused, she wasn’t keen on entering in such a lowly fashion! However I got in and this prompted her to follow. We were in a long courtyard with a veranda, set with two bamboo “Peacock throne” chairs.
The place was deserted, but a table with fresh bouquet of exotic flowers indicated there must have been people around.“Hallo? Anybody there? Anybody home?”, I asked. “Hope we’re not intruding or trespassing” (which of course we were.) No reply. I was curious, where were the elephants? We entered a formal garden.
Some peacocks sat on the wall, while others strutted. A few peahens sat in the shade of an ancient Banyen tree. There were flowers and blossoms everywhere. The fragrance was almost overpowering. Fountains, one with a statue of Ganesh, the Elephant God. Another, Shiva Lingam. It was like a dream, and hard to believe we were actually standing in the garden of a Maharaja.
Beside the Banyen tree was a small temple with shrine. Suddenly we noticed a Sadhu. He had a long beard, was covered in grey ash, and was completely naked. He stood on one leg, perfectly still, holding a Trident. If it wasn’t for his deep, lively brown eyes, he could have been a statue. Trying not to disturb his peaceful state, we walked quietly in the other direction. Imagine the scene: two Westerners appear from nowhere (my partner was a tall blond Scandinavian). He noticed us of course, but took it all in without the slightest distraction, as if we didn’t exist. (We learned later he was the Maharaja’s holy man, or guru.)
There may have been elephants, but we didn’t go further into the premises. The only sign of life was the Sadhu, plus of course the abundance of plants, Banyen tree, and the peacocks. Not even a cat or dog. We went back through the ‘cat door’on our hands and knees.
Luckily our taxi driver was still there.Returning to the train station, I asked him “Is that usual, for there to be no one at the palace? And what about the ‘cat door’?” Nodding his head in that unique Indian manner, he replied, “Maybe you were being quietly observed. And the low door means visitors must enter in humility, and bow down before going into the Maharaja’s domain. As for the elephants, they’re there all right, at least half a dozen.”
Back at the station, we were amazed to discover we had only been gone for three hours. It seemed like a lifetime, or that we’d entered another world, which in fact we did. Six hours later we boarded the train, onward to Bombay. To be continued. Til next time, Henri