The car bounced along the road and the landscape turned barren and dusty; I wondered what I was getting myself into. Always up for an adventure, I eagerly agreed to accompany my host into the Rajasthan desert for a special, annual full moon festival.
As we approached our destination, Kolayat, traffic came to a standstill. Everywhere vehicles were bumper to bumper, inching slowly forward. Colorfully dressed groups of determined villagers walking along the side of the road caught my attention. Excitement pulsed through me. Although I am uncomfortable in large crowds, a unique experience like this one was why I had traveled to this distant corner.. There wasn’t another foreigner in sight and everyone was smiling, including me.
The focus of this occasion is a dip during the full moon in the artificial lake that has the power to absolve one of all sins. In this distant corner of arid north-western Rajasthan, all sources of water are extremely rare.
Apart from its contradictory location, in the middle of the desert, the lake is unremarkable and murky but has miraculously never run dry. Fifty-two assorted stone steps or ghats lead down to the water’s edge where the pilgrims gather at auspicious times for the holy dip. India has hundreds of such places. This occasion honors Kapil Muni, a revered sage who according to legend attained salvation under a Peepal tree here and left his worldly body.
My host left me to wander, observe and photograph to my heart’s content. It was another uniquely Indian ambiance where the serious and spiritual and the festive and gay converge.
I quickly gave up on the idea of circling the lake because of the throngs of people everywhere. All sorts of scenic vignettes popped into view without having to go too far.
There were hundreds of holy people seeking donations, offering trinkets like prayer beads, lockets and charms. The mood was congenial without the usual persistent pressure to buy.
Naturally, my presence was cause for interest and amusement but all in a bemused and friendly way. Most people thrilled when my lens landed on them. They were enjoying the scenery as much as I was.