I’m stood watching a woman dance a traditional Rajasthani dance in a swirl of colour. She’s wearing a blue, heavily embroidered Rajasthani skirt, its gold sequins sparkling in the dim yellow lighting that’s casting a glow on the scene. She’s thrusting her hips to the beat of the drum much like an Arabian belly dancer, and for a moment I feel like I’m back in the UAE at a desert safari. Indian families are sat in a circle surrounding her, enjoying the rhythmic moves, and as I get into the spirit of the scene I catch the dancer’s eye and give her a quick smile in appreciation of her efforts.
In response, she motions me with her hand to come over, and I’m instantly filled with dread. I, deeply in observation mode, am in no mood to be gyrating my hips to a song that I’m not familiar with – I usually reserve my dance moves for occasions when I’m heavily intoxicated, and the only drink in sight right now is the very much virgin jaljeera. I quickly shake my head in disagreement, but she’s beckoning me again, the Rajasthani song playing in the background. All eyes are suddenly on me; I realise that my introverted self will have to be left on the shelf for the evening and I take to the stage.
Luckily, there is no time to feel self-conscious, as she immediately gets back into the rhythm, moving her hands in the way I’ve seen Bollywood dancers move, all grace and smiles and beauty. I realise she’s awaiting me to follow suit, and I suddenly feel ridiculous as I flap my arms around awkwardly. Then the hip movements begin again, and I attempt to copy her while also consciously trying to wipe out the image of dozens of eyes watching my every move. I do, however, catch a glimpse of Ankit taking my picture, all smiles.
I decide that’s my cue, I bow semi-gracefully, and run off stage.
A Trip To Old Rajasthan
We’re at Chokhi Dhani, a mock Rajasthani village that’s 20km from Jaipur. Its purpose is to take you on a journey through Rajasthani culture; elaborate moustaches, bulky red turbans, and silver anklets are very much the name of the game here. It’s a cross between a UAE desert safari and Global Village; throughout the complex there are various things to see and do, including traditional dancing, palmistry and, of course, shopping.
After embarrassing myself trying to dance, we decide to continue walking around to see what is on offer. As we meander across the sandy floor, we come across a magician who beckons us to take a seat. He only speaks in Hindi, but proceeds to make a number of things happen – one coin to turn into three, and a stone to turn into a coin.
Again, I’m beckoned to the stage (I’m assuming that the lack of any other foreign tourists pushed me very much into the limelight), and the magician magically makes coins fall from the bottom of my trousers. If only I could bloody manage that one.
The 33 Cent Fortune
We walk around some more and come across a square where there are palmists and astrologers sat telling people’s fortunes. A sign exclaiming ‘Parot Tarot’ catches my eye and I decide that we have to check it out. Ankit goes first; the fortune teller asks him his name, which he then repeats to the parrot as he lets it out of its tiny cage. The parrot wobbles over to an arrangement of red and green cards that are face down on the floor, picks a red one with its beak, hands it to the fortune teller, and heads back to the cage.
Ankit is then told his fortune, which is something along the lines of work hard, you will have a good future, and be careful of girls next year – ahem. Mine is also something similar and the whole thing is clearly a con, but at 33 cents who’s arguing?
At this point, I exclaim how much fun the whole place is. But as we continue to walk around I start to see a few things that upset me somewhat. For example, there is a girl who can not be any older than about seven years of age who is putting on a gymnastics show, bending her body into all sorts of impossible positions. The show is impressive, but I can’t help but wonder the conditions under which these children are working under – and the fact that they’re being made to work at all disturbs me.
Once I notice it in one place, I continue to see really young children working at the park – there is another girl who is dancing and who looks no older than five. While I know child labour is a common problem here in India, I suddenly feel that I’m somehow contributing to the whole thing by buying a ticket to this place.
I try to put my feelings aside for the rest of the evening. We look around the marketplace, which offers an array of Rajasthani crafts, clothes, shoes and bangles. We eat some of the best kulfi we’ve both ever tried; sadly, however, the traditional Rajasthani thali that was included in the price is disappointing. It’s all oil and little flavour, and I leave most of the dishes untouched. Ankit’s mum definitely cooks better than this!
A Colourful Memento
After seeing what else is on offer – elephant/camel rides, flame throwing, shooting, a puppet show and henna painting – we decide it is time to call it a night. Not before, however, we make utter fools of ourselves by dressing up in traditional Rajasthani clothes of a bygone era and having our picture taken. The result:
I personally think it rather suits us – don’t you?
All in all, I enjoyed the evening at Chokhi Thani. It’s a rather touristy thing to do (albeit local tourists – there was only a handful of foreigners in the whole park), but it’s a good way to spend an evening if you find yourself in Jaipur and have some spare time. You will, however, have to be prepared for the fact that there are loads of children working there and I think that had I known that this were the case I would have been apprehensive about visiting.
Chokhi Dhani is located approximately 20km away from Jaipur and can be reached by taxi for approximately $10 (return). Entry tickets (including a thali dinner) cost roughly $8.5 per adult. It’s advised you get there as soon as the place opens at 6pm in order to beat the queues and ensure entry. The park closes at 11pm.
For more information visit www.chokhidhani.com
Have you ever come across something that’s disturbed you during your travels?