“Once upon a time, in a distant, exotic country, lived remarkable horses. Horses with ears finely curved into two crescents. Horses born from the tears of the God Shiva and considered sacred animals. Only the members of Rajput families were allowed to ride them. Their courage in battle and commitment to the rider were legendary.” This is how a story from “One Thousand and One Nights” could begin. An unexpected invitation for a photo session from Mandawa Safaris made this fairy tale a reality. A fairy tale in which, thanks to the courtesy of my hosts, I was able to participate in. In February, when I usually go to the mountains searching for the snow, this year, I packed some T-Shirts and boarded a plane to India.
I must admit that starting this trip to the country with is so different from the European culture, I was accompanied not only by great joy and excitement, caused by a close encounter with the legendary Marwari horses, but also a slight uneasiness. In the end these fears proved to be quite unnecessary. Every time I go abroad and find myself among breeders and people who love horses, I feel at home after the first day, this was exactely how I felt upon my arrival to India.
Mandawa, lying in the Shekhawati region in the north-eastern part of Rajasthan is an ideal place for photoshooting. The hotel which towers above the town, built in 1755 by Thakur Nawal Singh Bahadur Ji of Nawalgarh, now converted into a hotel, stunning with richness of forms and colors, countless charming alleys, finely decorated arch doors, multicolored frescoes. If furthermore, you have at your disposal inherited by the maharajas from generations, horse jewellery, only at the castle, you can shoot on and on. However, equally attractive world of colorful havelis extends just behind the castle gate. Marwari horses posing in these abandoned, and still dazzling indestructible beauty, residences of the Rajput aristocracy, look like living works of art and their remarkable ears perfectly fit the arches of the local architecture.
But this is only a part of the attractive locations which can be used during the photo session. Near the stables there is a small oasis with a pond and palm trees, sand dunes and no less exotic, desert landscape all around. The diversity of the landscape and background for photographing can really make you feel dizzy.
Marwari, however, are not only extremely graceful models, but also, and perhaps above all, great saddle-horses. I had the opportunity to learn this the first day after arriving, during a one-day safari. Sure, fast, reliable, with a very comfortable gaits and iron tendons – they are the true sons of the desert, as indicates their name. The word “Marwar” is derived from the Sanskrit “Maruwat” and means desert terrain. This short safari allowed me to relax after a two-day journey, and get a bit of a taste of the real India, which has little in common with the sweet photos in guidebooks.
The safari led through areas of raw desert landscape and villages where our small group of 4 riders constantly aroused sincere interest. Both children and adults hatched in front of homes, smiled and waved to us shouting: Hi! How are you? Even the goats jumped on the hill to have a better look. At midday, when the heat made it impossible to ride, we stopped at a lunch point. But what a lunch point! A 4×4 car brought us a table, chairs, lunch, and even beds with sheets to relax! After finishing the meal with a dessert, I was drinking tea and the lyrics of Sting’s song “Tea in the Sahara” came to my mind.
If photographing horses is addictive than photographing them in India is 100% more addictive. India simply bombards you with colors, shapes and scents. Marwari horses are truly remarkable and meeting them remains in one’s memory for a long time. Just as the warmth and hospitality of Indians, always smiling and helpful. It’s not only good to work, but also to talk and joke with them. Two weeks have passed in no time. The time to say good-bye has come definitely to fast. However, a piece of my heart remained in India and I will certainly come back to this beautiful land of the Marwari horses.
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