Travelling in India is tough. You spend your time wishing you were tucked up in your own, comfortable bed in familiar surroundings, where you understand the street signs.
My partner, Luke, and I backpacked round the south of India, mainly by bus, during India’s cool season. To my mind, it was stinking hot. And to add to my discomfort, Luke thought it best to see the countryside on foot.
We left the Mini Taj and wandered along a dirt road: the dust hung in the air and coated the trees; the heat throbbed on the horizon. My look-good, Brazilian sandals were killing me, making it difficulty to keep up with my long-legged mate.
Reprieve came in the form of a green coconut. A skinny Indian with a dangerous-looking machete had called us over to his pile of coconuts on the side of the road, and in one slash topped the coconut revealing a creamy liquid. It was the best thing I’d tasted in ages.
After a rest, we continued assured the next village was not far. Soon I was limping badly. I could feel the grit in my sandals rubbing up and down my heels. Sweat ran down my legs and my head was thick with the heat.
Just when I thought I could walk no further we caught a glimpse of people through the dust haze. As we got closer the sight captivated us: to the left was a barren knoll golden in the afternoon sun. A line of long-limbed women clad in brilliant saris: indigo, lime, magenta, aqua, violet, walked elegantly along the top. On their heads they carried hand-woven baskets laden with cowpats.
At the top of the line, the women, one after the other, swung the baskets from their heads and tipped the contents into a pit. Beyond, barebacked men stirred something with long bamboo poles.
I pressed forward with my companion, my fatigue forgotten. At the entrance to the yard, an elderly Indian with a long, grey beard beckoned. As we approached he called out to a young man, who came forward and in perfect English asked us to follow.
Men were mixing clay and water. Every now and then they would add the cow dung left by the women. Nearby another pair was adding hay to get a good thick consistency. Others in the assembly line patted the clay mixture into rectangular, wooden moulds. Further along, young boys stacked the dried bricks onto a wooden cart.
We followed our guide to an enclosure where smoke curled out of every opening and disappeared into the dust haze. Inside smoke oozed out of a huge mound of dirt, dung, and fermenting grass cuttings. Our guide bent over and removed some earth to reveal a large hollow stacked with white clay bowls.
Off to the right in the shadow of a stone wall, a potter sat straddling a large wooden wheel lying on it side. His feet moved rhythmically against the wheel as his hands manipulated white clay in the centre of a wooden plate spinning on top of the wheel, and within seconds the clay took on the shape of a bowl. Nearby, identical bowls sat drying on a shelf. Grinning, the potter spoke to our guide, who, after recovering the primitive kiln, turned to Luke and asked if he would like to throw a pot.
Delighted, Luke settled himself at the wheel, listened to instructions from the potter and soon was forming the clay. Compared to the Indian potter his movements were awkward with no rhythm. Our hosts chuckled watching the lump get smaller and smaller as bits of the badly centred clay flew off in all directions. The result was a very small odd-shaped bowl.
We said our goodbyes, and walked to the edge of town where a stream ran through an open paddock. The setting sun was crimson, colouring the surrounding dust, salmon. Weary, we sat on a ridge overlooking the creek. All was silent except for the gurgling water.
After a time I became aware we were not alone. I turned and saw that men had seated themselves along the ridge next to Luke. They sat staring out towards the stream. Luke turned and smiled, and we continued to watch the fading light with our companions.
Those shared moments of utter peace and tranquillity are etched into my memory making India a unique travel experience.