There is something to be said for allowing the day to unfold without expectation. Carly and I woke up at random times during the night due to jet lag but fought our body's confusion. At one point during the early morning hours, I heard the boys singing their prayers in what seemed to be beautiful harmony. The sound of their voices gave me permission to sleep for a few more hours until the time came for Carly and me to explore the city of Alwar.
In order to set the scene for the content that we are creating for the orphanage, we wanted to capture the city and the culture in which the boys live. We wanted to capture the life of Alwar, helping people understand the reality of day-to-day life. The only way to do this was from the back of Andy's motorcycle.
After squeezing onto Andy's motorcycle, we began our trek into the city. The sun was a solid 111 degrees and refused to break. The air burned our faces but it was worth it.The heat was so excruciating that the street dogs and cows were finding creative ways to seek shade. As we made our way through the city, Carly took video while Andy drove and while I tried to be like Carly and snap photos. I was not as successful as Carly, however.
We made a few errand pit stops before we finally landed in Hope Circus. The energy was electric and the streets were saturated with color. The smell of spices and sweets floated through the air and dirt weaved in and out through our sandals. We made our way across the street to the temple in Hope Circus, dodging rickshaws and motorcycles. A man sat on the temple steps with a collection of old umbrellas and trinkets. It looked as though he was deconstructing each umbrella. He paid no attention to us as we made our way to the top.
At the top of the temple we had a bird's eye view of the city. I watched as Carly captured the hustle and bustle with the the lens of her camera. She truly has a way of capturing life. She sees moments that no one else sees and has the uncanny ability to translate her vision through photos. It was amazing to watch the people continue to move even though the heat covered the city like a blanket. After we soaked in every sight and sound, Andy led us to Baba Thakur Das and Sons - a small but famous bakery in Alwar.
Andy couldn't wait to introduce us to his friend Ashish, who owns Baba Thakur, and his famous milk cake (kalakand). Ashish's grandfather was a sweet maker in Pakistan before moving to Alwar where he introduced his milk cake in 1947. As soon as we arrived, Ashish immediately invited us to the back of his shop to relax and sample treats. The smell of sugar, milk, saffron, and thyme filled the room and caressed our senses. Before I had time to think or blink, I was biting into the sweet milk cake made of only milk and sugar. A warm sensation began to spread throughout my cheeks because my tastebuds were overwhelmed with flavor. I kept my eyes closed for what seemed to be 5 minutes in order to hold on to the feeling of the first bite. Andy was not lying when he said Ashish's milk cake would blow our minds.
We stayed for a bit longer until we felt cool enough to make the trek back to the orphanage. We hopped onto the bike and pushed through the traffic and the wind storm. Before arriving to the orphanage, we made a pit stop at a fruit stand. The color of the fruit was brilliant and the owner was warm. His grandsons sat patiently with him in the shade. His face was calm and his spirit was gentle. I tried asking his name but couldn't quite hear over the hum of voices in the market. The photo of him haunts me in a good way. His eyes speak of love, family, and peace. By the looks of his vegetables and fruit, I could tell he was a blessed man.
We were all hot and tired by the time we arrived to the orphanage, but the day was well worth it. Although we barely scratched the surface of all that Alwar holds, we took away small gems that will stay with us for a lifetime.
Photos by Carly Mask