Down on the farm

Just over the Rajasthan border I arrive at my farmstay. Ramesh, the caretaker, is waiting for me at the gate and lets me in. After we talk a little bit he tells me to ride ahead and he will catch up.

The ride in is absolutely gorgeous. It’s the golden hour and the light is perfect.

, I settle in to my room. Chai and cookies are brought in and I spend a little time catching up with Sage before it’s time for dinner.

Dinner is outstanding. It’s already dark and there are only candles available for light but it doesn’t matter. There are five massive dishes of food all for me. In each one are fresh vegetables grown on the farm: rice, fresh peas, spinach, potatoes, lentils each one better than the last. As I dig in, Poonam, the cook, brings fresh, picture perfect rotis, identically perfect in size and thickness, puffed a little from being put on the flame. She makes them faster than I can eat them and I leave the table absolutely stuffed.

I end up talking with Dinesh and another member of the staff. They don’t speak English but I know enough Hindi to get by. I think they think I’m a little crazy for biking as far as I did. Then we talk about the farm. They grow so many things there. Right now their winter crops are a lot like our regular crops: daikon radish, carrots, leafy greens like mustard and spinach. They want to know what the weather is like back home and what grows there. I’m glad to have spent some time learning to garden in Toronto so I can actually speak intelligently about it.

I lie on the bed and try to write an entry. I’m not sure what happened or how long it’s been but I’ve fallen asleep. A power cut has happened and the room is powered by battery backup. None of that matters to me, though, because there’s a more pressing need. I am absolutely chilled to the bone. Once the sun goes down the temperature drops quickly to about 10. Whenever my friends in India tell me “Oh my god it’s cold. It’s 10 degrees!” I would laugh. Back home that is lovely weather. But let me tell you, it’s only lovely if you have heat! It doesn’t really make sense here, though, for many people to spend money on heating as winters are short. By March the days will be getting nice and warm – and by June it may hit 50C here.

I put away the computer and spread out the heavy down comforter. I put on the toque I brought from home for this weather, and burrowed underneath the covers. It takes a couple of hours for my hands to thaw out but eventually I am toasty warm.

Jetlag wakes me at 1:30 AM and there are a number of different noises. I hear wild dogs that sound like coyotes in the distance, deep explosions likely from mining nearby (possibly illegal) and a nearby rooster who seems unsure what time it is. I read a little and manage to get back to sleep.

At 5:00 AM I am awake again and now there are more sounds. The rooster is still working on waking up the sun, but now a nearby Hindu temple is playing Bhajans (devotional music). Not to be outdone, a Masjid starts its call to morning prayer. A third voice that I can’t place joins the mix and then there is some more music. It is positively magical.

At 7:00, Dinesh comes with strong black coffee and cookies. This is a special treat for me here as in the northern part of India, chai is usually what is offered. Coffee is available but it’s almost always instant. Not this. This is delicious. I put on my shoes and take my hot coffee with me for a walk.

First to meet me out the door is this little one:

They follow me around for a bit of the rest of my walk. I walk down below my house and find a field of greens.

On the way I startle two peacocks that go running in to the bushes. I’m not fast enough to catch them in a photo though.

In further wanderings, I end up at another guesthouse on the land. Nobody’s staying there so I sit on their swing seat and enjoy the view.

Flowers are blooming and it’s so wonderful to see them again even though it really hasn’t been all that long since the last ones left Toronto.

On the site is a pool with a natural filter system installed. They use it for rainwater management and the overflow goes to irrigation.

I return for breakfast. Today there is puri sabzi. Puri are small, round chapatis (flatbreads) that are deep fried to be crispy and delicious. Sabzi means vegetables and today’s vegetable is potatoes. Along with those are chutney and homemade pickles – the latter, Dinesh tells me later, is made with fresh wild honey from a hive that set up residence in a tandoor oven outside.

After breakfast, I went for another walk. This time following the path that curves off to the right in the first photo in the series. I come to a sandy clearing with a number of trees in it. The trees are about 20 feet high and look like Mimosa trees we used to have in Missouri. However, they have little green fruits on them – sheets are under them and boxes of the fruit are already packed. I know these fruits from the trip Daegan and I took to India in 2018. These are Amla. They have a bit of an astringent / tart taste. However there is something magical about them. Eat some amla and then try something sour like a lemon. Suddenly, instead of puckering at the sweetness, you are tasting a fruit as sweet as an orange.

In the middle of the clearing is my friend the dog. Though they were my friend earlier in the day they were too busy sleeping in the warm sand to even notice me.

When I get back from my walk it is already time for lunch. Today there is more dal, a whole stuffed pepper and roasted eggplant along with salad. I eat more than I should yet again.

At this point the Airbnb host contacts me and apologizes. My room is double booked for a couple and she needs me to move. I’m OK with it, I have very little to move after all. However, when I actually make the move, I find I’ve been moved to a whole house. It is bigger than our apartment with a hot water heater. I come in, take a delightful hot bucket-bath and then, exhausted, fall in to one of the three beds in various rooms of the house.

When I wake it is getting close to dinner time. The guests have arrived and Dinesh makes a campfire. The four of us sit around the fire and talk. Poonam comes over to ask us about when we want dinner and one of the guests translates her Hindi for me. Then Dinesh starts telling about things at the farm – where the honey came from, where the various plants are – apparently there are even mango trees here. He describes the vegetables as “hi-fi” – they are very expensive organic veggies sold in Delhi. Again the guest translates for me at first and then Dinesh interrupts. “He speaks good Hindi – we’ve been talking today.” I smile and he continues. And then I laugh when he speaks faster and I lose the thread of the conversation. So much for feeling smug!

Poonam returns to say that dinner is ready. Now the thought of dinner has me worried. My stomach doesn’t feel so great. But to be polite I go and have a little. A little turns to more and soon I have a normal dinner again. In the end I realize there was nothing worrisome happening. I have just eaten far too much at every single meal since I arrived at this farm.

It’s quite dark by dinner time and the temperature is plummeting. I go back inside and huddle in a blanket tent with my book until I am ready for bed.

The next morning I am greeted by the same soundscape as the previous morning and I am happy to hear it. Coffee arrives and I start to feel a pang. I should have booked a few more days here. I could relax in the swing and read, soak up the sun and eat delicious food. But I also have other places to go. I go outside to breakfast and waiting for me are aloo parathas, my favourite chutney, and yogurt. While superficially aloo parathas might look like rotis, when you tear them you’ll immediately notice the difference. Inside are potatoes and a little onion. And let me tell you, if there is any better food for cycling than potatoes wrapped in bread, I have yet to find it.

Breakfast finished, I go back to my room, pack my bags and get ready to go. I’ll miss this place but it’s time to move on. There are new people and places to see.

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