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Rajasthan, India

John is a great fan of Sufi devotional music and had heard about the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) which features that genre plus interesting musicians from around the world. When Chandita and Feroze were in LA he mentioned RIFF to them and it turns out Chandita knows the organizer. She reached out to us with a two week India itinerary culminating at the festival and we had to go.

First stop, Jaipur and the stunning City Palace. It was a great place to start our trip and learn about the history of the Rajasthan region.

The Jantar Mantar, A UNESCO Heritage site, is an astronomical observation site built in the early 18th century featuring huge fixed instruments for calculating celestial movement.

Ranthambhore is famous for its tiger reserve. We Jeeped through the forests on three dawn and three dusk drives and enjoyed the lovely terrain and saw lots of interesting animals, but alas no tigers, just paw prints.

Monsoon season had just ended and it seems that the territorial tigers were busy re-marking their turf. So the tigers were illusive and I accidentally overwrote the file that had most of my photos from Ranthambhore. So had I seen any tigers I probably wouldn't have any photos to share.

After the safari we went to Kishangarh where we stayed at the Phool Mahal Palace, a heritage hotel.The experience was emblematic of India. The palace is situated on Gundalao Lake, next to the imposing Fort of Kishangarh, with lovely vistas. There is art throughout and many vestiges of its former grandeur.

Kishangarh’s city gates were a short way down the road. Enter the town and there is the reality of a small town in rural India--life is tough. We explored, poking our heads into what there was to see. Everyone was surprised to see us and very friendly.

We were in Kishangarh for Dussehra, a Hindu holiday marking the triumph of Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, over the 10-headed demon king Ravana, who abducted Rama’s wife, Sita. The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil and the final night is celebrated at the full moon with great fervor and fanfare. There are theatrical enactments of Rama’s life story and effigies of Ravana—often along with those of Meghnada (Ravana’s son) and Kumbhkarana (Ravana’s brother)—are stuffed with firecrackers and set ablaze at night in open fields. The celebration was quite the adventure in Kishangarh we were the only westerners among the huge assembly. What made it more fun were all the children wanting to practice their English with us.

We went to Ajmer to visit Ajmer Sharif Dargah, the shrine of the Muslim Sufi saint Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz. I was adopted by a guide who got me into the door of the shrine and explained the religious significance of the site. There were wonderful musicians playing, good intimations of the music we would experience at RIFF.

We also stopped at a Hindu Temple on Pushkar Lake, another lovely spot.

I should mention that while we were in India all our transport was via car and driver. Let me sing the praises of our driver. Imagine you are on a highway and suddenly there are a few cows sitting in the middle of the road, or a goat herd with a flock of 100 goats. Our driver smoothly navigated it all, unfazed and sometimes barely slowing. Watching the road was like an automobile ballet; I was never bored.

Our final stop was Jodphur, where the concert would be held. It was fun to explore the center of the old city.

Early one morning I took a walk a few blocks from our hotel.

The day prior to RIFF the organizers held an event for local school children presenting traditional Rajasthani music, dance and circus acts. While most of their parents had lived in the countryside, children growing up in the city might not have exposure to traditional culture and this was RIFFS way of giving back. The shows were designed for kids, but we enjoyed them just as much.

One of the acts was a puppet show. That afternoon we went to the Broom Museum outside of Jodphur and the puppet makers and musicians that accompanied the show were there. We enjoyed a private show and touring the museum.

The Rajisthan International Folk Festival was held in Jodphur Fort, on a majestically high plateau. The surrounding rock formations are the same red stone as the fort.

The fort is one of the best maintained in India and is beautiful.

Because of the heat the first concert of the day was pre sunrise with the light increasingly illuminating the musicians as they played. Our days were free and the music resumed with a moon-rise concert and then well into the night.They asked that photography be limited at the event, which I respected. It was about listening after all.

This was my third visit to India and what a great trip it was.