In the most beautiful garden I've ever seen, the emerald feathers of a squawking parrot catch my eyes as I lift them from my notepad. I'm in India, in a place called Samode Bagh...
About 40km from Jaipur, I can finally breathe again.
"People come here to escape the craziness", the manager tells me, proudly. He's just given me my room for an extra nine hours, free of charge, because I tell him I can't bear to go back any sooner than I have to. He nods knowingly as he lifts a mobile phone to his turban and informs housekeeping. He’s seen it all before.
I arrived at Samode Bagh two days previously, having paid a man with a Toyota to take me to this promised land. It was like heaven. Samode Bagh is a garden paradise situated 4 km from its sister, Samode Palace. It sits on 20 acres of gorgeous grounds and boasts an assortment of air-conditioned tents, furnished with luxuries including carpeted floors, hot and cold water (bliss after some places in the city) and a private front porch. The garden is roughly 3 blocks long and features fountains, waterfalls, songbirds and the odd, roaming bovine, and it’s safely surrounded by a 15 foot high stone wall.
I’m snapping my camera every ten seconds. I did the same in Jaipur, only the photos were slightly more chaotic there. All the colours of the rainbow blurred into roadside stalls of fresh fruit and vegetables. The eyes of bewildered cattle shone next to wrinkled men making shoes, right next to piles of drying cowpats. Founded in 1727, the shimmering, pink stucco capital of Rajasthan is now home to over five million busy people. It felt as though they were all on the same street as me.
Back in Samode Bagh, life slows down. There's no Internet connection here. Most of the staff live next door in a camp of concrete huts, surrounded by milking cows. At dinnertime, I sit on the lawn before a roaring fire. I spoon my chicken masala into my mouth and sip my Kingfisher beer happily, as a trio of musicians paint the night with Bollywood colours - classics, so we're told, although most of us wouldn't know. Our tent is a warm and cosy retreat when the warmth of the fire dies down. We’re told that in Samode we’re living a recreated Victorian and traditional Rajasthani life, as we would have done back in the 16th century. Suits me fine, I think, as I snuggle under the blanket, looking up at the gold pattern printing on the muslin ceiling.
Flicking through the photos on my camera, I realise that the Hathroi Fort at sunset looks even more beautiful than I noticed on the day, set against the hazy hills. And the smiles of local children as they run around the ruins are genuine, though I looked at their world with cynicism and fear at the time. I’m safe in this emerald paradise. I’m grateful for the structured, safe existence I call my own at home. But in retrospect nothing beats the welcome embrace of this garden.