A stay in a haveli

My parents and I had been on the road for two days. For me it seemed like forever since we had left the buzzing metropolis New Delhi and since I had started to fulfill my long held dream: a roundtrip through North India.
In the late afternoon, the sun already sinking to the horizon we arrived in a small village where we should stay for the night. It was not one of the great tourist attractions. Quite the contrary, it was far away from the ordinary places the typical pale western tourist dressed in cargo shorts and tennis socks would visit. This one – horse town lay in the midst of a sparse dry and sandy brown landscape, where nothing more than a few half dead trees and brushwood was growing. It consisted of simple one room houses made of clay and corrugated sheet, each surrounded by high walls. With their beige and red brown colors the houses adapted the sparse environment perfectly, just like a chameleon.
Because the alleys were too narrow for our car, we had to walk the rest of the way to our hotel. Packed like camels with our heavy bags we dipsy-doodled in single file between big mud holes, the remains of the monsoon. At first no soul was in sight. However, from time to time a colorful Sari scampered behind the old rusty gates of the houses and you could feel countless pairs of eyes watching you furtively. After a few minutes we stood completely exhausted probably in front of the biggest building the tiny little village had to offer: our accommodation for the night. It was a haveli, an old Indian merchant´s house. Its splendidly decorated sandstone front was a gleaming golden in the light of the setting sun. Having passed the huge entrance gate I felt like being in a palace, a small version of the Red Fort of Delhi. The walls of the four floor high building were covered with elaborate paintings in vivid colors and decorated with different reliefs, mostly flowers and also elephant heads raising their nozzles to greet visitors.
A group of baggage porters wearing blood red turbans, long white shirts and snow white trousers welcomed us. Somehow they reminded me of palace guards who had forgotten their scimitars. The heavy scent of incense and freshly brewed chai tea filled the air. There was a cheerful rattling of drums and other local instruments. I was absolutely ravished by such a warm welcome.
I heard a friendly voice behind my back. “Room is ready, ma’am.” I turned around and looked into two deep black eyes embedded in a light brown face with regular features, framed by pitch black short hair. He was one of the palace guards and hardly older than me. Holding my bags already in his hands he disappeared in the courtyard of the little palace. I followed him quickly. Without saying a word he guided me through a labyrinth of staircases, corridors and galleries, past tiger skins, paintings and old photographs. We finally arrived at a dark brown, heavy looking wooden door. “Your room”, my hansom palace guard shortly said and opened the door. The room was as luxurious and magnificent as the whole haveli was. After I had shortly inspected my princess suite, my palace guard asked: “Just one bag? You’re alone?” I nodded. “Wanna see the roof?” he asked. I nodded again thinking this was part of the hotel tour. He took my hand, pulled me out of the room and guided me again through the labyrinth of corridors and stairs. Then we suddenly stood on the rooftop in the midst of the still warm air and evening sun. The view up there was amazing. The horizon of the barren bleak landscape had changed into a blood drenched sea of red shades, in which the sun was plunging in. “Beautiful, isn´t it?” my palace guard commented on the scene. He told me he lived in a small one room house on the outskirts of the settlement together with his four siblings and his parents. My princess suite for the night was bigger than this house. I suddenly felt bad about all the luxury I had admired an instant before. He asked for my name and I answered willingly. Then he said: “My name is Jahanire. Marry me and take me with you, please.” I stood there on the rooftop staring into deep black eyes full of hope and didn´t know what to say. He slowly leaned forward trying to kiss me. I ran away as if stung by an adder. After having passed the labyrinth I reached my room, got in and set on my opulently decorated wooden bed. I didn´t tell anyone what had happened.
Before we checked out the next day I met Jahanire again. His deep black eyes looked sad this time. “See you next time”, he said probably knowing his dream of taking him with me would never be fulfilled.

L Krug

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