Iceland, Mongolia, Siberia, Tibet, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iran, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Morocco, Algiers, Botswana, Bolivia, Paraguay, Antarctica. These are some places that I would love to visit one day but probably never will. During childhood and youth, certain places and people capture one's imagination for no reason other than a fleeting glimpse into their existence in something as mundane as a geography or history book. And then there is the National Geographic - the magazine and on TV which fortifies and feeds that imagination. As I grow older, I realize with some regret that the odds of my ever taking the plunge and packing my bags for a journey to one of the places I named are getting longer. The spirit is still strong but the flesh is getting ever more flaccid. More and more, I am reconciled to extracting vicarious pleasure of being transported to some incredible, hard to reach corners of the world by books such as this and this.
What I regret even more is that when I lived in India, I never bothered to head down to some of the fascinating travel destinations in and near India. The list is long and I console myself that because I travel to India frequently, at least some of those spots may be possible to fit into a future travel itinerary rather than the dream of ever seeing Tibet. Namit at Shunya's Notes has a report of his travels through the Rann of Kutch in western India, bordering Pakistan and the Arabian Sea. This is one of those god-forsaken places I wish I can one day visit. For me though, it is not so much the desolate salt marshes which hold the main attraction. But rather, I am very curious about the nomadic and semi-nomadic people who call this place home- particularly the Rabaris (see Namit's post for more details).
The title of the post alludes to the Painted People, which is not an entirely accurate description of the Rabaris. But they do tattoo themselves heavily. There are many myths and apocrypha surrounding the origin and customs of the Rabaris, which the insular community neither endorses nor denies. They are semi-nomadic people who have lived in these areas for ages with little changes in their day to day existence. Namit provides a glimpse into the lives of the inhabitants of this area as also the desolate lonely place they call home. He has posted some stunning pictures - be sure to check out all the links.
When I first read about the Rabaris, what struck me most was their artistic attempts at brightening up their barren surroundings. The colorful clothing (although Rabari women dress mostly in black, it is punctuated by colorful accessories), heavy silver jewelery and the tatoos to adorn the person. Also, the women decorate the door and window frames of their mud dwellings with colorful embroidery like designs (this practice is quite common among rural and tribal populations in many parts of India, styles varying from region to region). Many years later, I tried to recreate the image of a Rabari woman standing before a colorful doorway in a painting. I gave her deep blue clothing because the black of my brush looked too bleak. The resulting picture is not one of my most satisfactory efforts. I paid considerable attention and the doorway and window came out looking as I wished them to, but the woman's figure is wooden and puppet like - not at all the natural, relaxed look I had intended. In another major discrepancy with reality, I forgot to adorn her arms with heavy bracelets - a must for tribal women of the region. Despite my criticism of the painting, I am attaching it to this post for its relevance to the subject at hand.