Weaving tales

Weaving tales

They are not your garden variety of conmen. No sir. Of course, they flatter to deceive. But there’s an aura about them that makes them rather irresistible as they spin yarns in the guise of history. At least to yours truly, who steadfastly refuses to recognise a trap, even when it wears the tag of ‘tour guide’!

Knowledgeable, these tourist guides may not be. But maverick they most certainly are. Like Roshan Lal, the wizened and weather-beaten man, who embroidered the monochromes of a desert landscape into a torrid tapestry with his silver tongue. Trailing me as I trailed the setting sun’s rays across ‘Saheliyon Ki Bari’ (The queens’ gardens) on an evening in Udaipur, he kept up a steady stream of awful poetry! “Raja, Rani gayein upar/ Ab rehte hain yahan kabootar” he said, with a wry smile, knowing he had me hooked!

Willingly suspending disbelief, I listened to his tales about barren queens and their penchant for innumerable scented baths that necessitated the creation of a garden and a jacuzzi just for them.

As we skirted pigeon droppings and concentrated on the perfectly-designed fountains, Roshan Lal effortlessly segued from stories of history to sagas of Bollywood, counting off the number of potboilers shot at this lush garden! “Rani bhi ayein thi yahan,” he said... and from his dreamy expression, I gathered it was Hindi film hottie Rani Mukherjee he meant and not the regal Rani in residence at the Shambu Niwas palace!

Such is the spell of the maverick guide that most folk are happy to trade the audio tour kit, now popular at palace-fort-gallery-garden spots across the country, for the magic of the real, human version that promises to “show them India like no one else can”. And such show-and-tell often involves fantastic tales of drama and intrigue even when none exist, either in plaques or tomes!

Mohit Sharma, my eleven-year-old self-appointed ‘panda’ (priest) cum guide, at the Ranakpur temple near Kumbalgarh was one such small wonder. Lisping his way through stories of “1500 artisans who worked day and night for 63 years without food or water to build this temple” he went weaving through the 100 plus marble pillars of the magnificent temple, pausing only to devise a  game. “Start here and count the pillars.

See if you get the number right,” he challenged, and as we - a motely group of excitement-starved tourists -- did his bidding, he sat down for a well-deserved break that lasted 20 minutes of the 30-minute paid for temple tour!

Which makes me wonder, are there any ‘official’ guides out there? Wait, don’t answer that yet. Or you will disabuse me of my faith in these hyperbole-spouting heroes who can effortlessly put the spring back into many a tired tourist’s step!

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