On the stretch from Udaipur to Ajmer, I had the pleasure of getting off of NH8 onto NH79, an equally good highway that passes by Chittorgarh and Bhilwara through some really pretty countryside. Again hilly and dotted with spectacular water bodies, I really enjoyed the drive. At one point where the scenery got particularly enjoyable, we stopped and took a break, breathing in the fresh air and reveling in the wonderful freedom of being out on the road.
At Ajmer, we stopped very briefly at our homestay. Badnor House is quite a neat little property, well located and convenient. Pretty too!
We headed for the Dargah Sharif the same evening. It just didn’t seem right to come to the city and not go. And it was quite the experience. Our host Sanjay set us up with Furkan bhai, a tall strapping gentleman who is a khadim (equivalent of a priest). Furkan bhai would take us through the dargah with businesslike gentleness. You cannot take cameras in, or the pictures would have spoken of the atmosphere of utter faith inside this famous Sufi shrine, the final resting place of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, who established the Chisti order in the Indian subcontinent in the 12th century. The Chisti order would go on to become one of the most important religious movements in the northern part of the subcontinent and the dargahs of his descendants like Salim Chisti and Nizamuddin Aulia are also living shrines in Fatehpur Sikri and Delhi, very much revered.
I’m not very religious, but I’ve come to believe religion and faith are perhaps two different things. At the Ajmer Sharif, I went in with little expectations, mostly curiosity. We entered through the magnificent, ornate main gate, past the hauz (water tank) called Victoria Tank that was dedicated to the shrine by Queen Mary, and past hundreds of devotees into a courtyard milling with people and the enchanting sounds of a sufi qawwali. Furkan bhai took the three of us into the sanctum and ushered us close to the enclosure, putting a green chadar (sheet) over us as he murmured the ritualistic passing of our wishes to the saint. Without explanation, I found myself weeping, uncontrollably. Rachna put her arms around me, Nupur sidled closer. All three of us were crying, in various degree. Next to us, pilgrims from Pakistan were also offering their prayers.
It was a defining, irrational, moving moment, after which I felt visibly relaxed. We made a cash donation to the shrine, we walked around, we tied a string around a jaali to make a wish, we saw the enormous cauldron in which something yummy was cooking away, we walked past many Mughal monuments built by Jehangir, Shahjahan, Akbar, others. And then we walked out, back into the street in a bit of a daze. Back to the real world, we went into a giggly, selfie-taking mode, then found a simple and delicious dal-roti meal at a local eatery before finding a ride back to our homestay.