Once upon a time...

Voices from past strike the drum, pounding out a faint tribal beat that intensifies along with the heat of the rising sun. Pages from the fairytale flutter open to precisely where it was left, amidst a luscious green hillside, underneath an ancient palace keeping stoic watch over the stirring town of Amnavad down below. From top to bottom, the palace’s only occupants are summoned by the breaking day and slowly the sleeping furry creatures begin emerging from beyond the magnificent curved entranceways and miniature portals to revel in the unfolding magic.

From behind the walls of the protective fort, clouds of twittering birds flock from treetop to treetop, flitting high above single-file parades of monkeys. Swaying to the music of existence, the agile primates outstretch long gangly arms, hoisting their hairy bodies onto dangling branches, swinging with primal grace from one to the next. Chipmunks in chase scale vertical walls scurrying in circles until tiring of the game. Far below, the pristine lake lays quietly, reflecting Amnavad’s poignant charm, invites grazing horses and robust water buffalos to wallow within her reserves. Birds by the dozen circle the water, taking rest on the step well in the center only to resume their soaring flight toward the awaiting white puffy clouds.

Along the dirt road into town, small temples await the faithful while a family of hogs submerges into the murky water of a narrow ditch in heat seeking refuge. Wooden vegetable carts covered with red onions, tiny green peppers, eggplant and giant club-shaped cucumbers roll on tall metal-rimmed wheels, propelled by vendors melodiously shouting at the top of their lungs of their fresh offerings. Passing with skillful balance, drivers navigating motorbikes, chained on either side with heavy brass vessels filled with diary, deliver their fresh milk and curd to the homes and restaurants preparing the morning meals.

In and out of town the only road, wide enough to accommodate one oxen pulled cart, is traveled by foot, bicycles, rickshaws, motorbikes and…oh yes, cows…lots and lots of cows. Big cows, little cows, black and white and brown cows with broken horns and baby calves doddering after their mothers in unsteady attempts to nurse. The bovine share a similar diet with the fuzzy snouted hogs, feeding on piles of fresh trash scattered intermittently throughout the streets, especially relishing scrumptious treats of chewy cardboard scraps.

Almost as abundant as the cows are dogs. Each dog nurses with a limp and has an innate fear of motorized vehicles…as well as red-faced monkeys. There are two types of monkeys in Amnavad and it’s the aforementioned red-faced variety that not only possess sticky fingers, but also have a wicked mean streak. Nothing is off limits; chairs, flip-flops, storybooks, hats and nuts - if they can wrap their mischievous hands around it, it’s fair game; and if it’s not edible, then quickly airborne.

Layered throughout the town in varying heights and permanence, faded pink, yellow and lavender structures merge one into the next, baring witness to the constant stream of life passing in their midst. The quick ringing of devotional bells offering homage and prayer to the Hindu Gods chime in varying tones and depth from doors, windows and gardens within. Leading the hunt into the town center, life-size murals adorn the walls with Rajas riding atop regal elephants pursuing dangerously elusive tigers. Followed by images of blue Krishnas, the wide-eyed maidens desirous of his love traipse blissfully behind coyly naïve to his romantically flitting nature.

Local women draped in bright saris balance laundry parcels, wood bundles and wide metal bowls upon their heads with perfect poise. Children, whooping and hollering, grip long metal wires with hooked ends in frantic chase after small tire rings rolling down the light slope of the road, while the older men grasp hands in gestures of brotherly alliance and support.

Adjacent businesses run the length of either side of the street. When shut for the night, appearing as closed garages, thick aluminum shields roll down in protective security from the elements, and of course, the monkeys. When opened, each window is a private portal granting access into the magical worlds of artists, jewelry makers, antique collectors, clothing sellers, and restaurateurs.

The occupation of earning a livelihood breathes steady streams of mischief through the streets of Amnavad. Intimately engaging work with personal, local men can be found spending as much time eking out a living as engrossed in visiting, gossip, and the circular passage of time. Unsuspecting visitors are tossed onto center stage of the magical town, acting out the starring roles in Amnavad’s infinite street circus. For a price, the games may be played; the larger the tag, the more intricate the ruse. But all cons are borne of inherent risk and monetary wagers are not the costliest of such schemes. Not in Amnavad. There are far more delightful methods of winning and losing in Amnavad, especially for those with a rich bag of tricks and copious amounts of time to plan their next move.

~ by Christine Fowle