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Story: “So vast is India, and so uniquely resilient and deeply rooted are her intertwined social and religious institutions, that all foreign intruders are sooner or later either shaken off or absorbed,” wrote William Dalrymple in White Mughals.

As I walk through Rajasthan, a street barber shaves his customer’s beard attentively. No need for a shop, his bag is hung on the wall and his tools are laid out. The bearded man smiles at me in the reflection of the misshapen mirror.

Later I see a woman clad top-to-toe in silver jewellery playing a game using chalk and stones. People gather to watch her play against her opponent.

A chaiwala sells tea to passers-by. I buy a cup for 10 rupees – it is the sweetest and most delicious tea I have ever tasted. Our language barrier meant that all we could do was smile at one another, but that was all we needed. He laughed, then I did, then he laughed harder.

I walk towards the infamous ghats of Varanasi. A sadhu – a holy man – is reclining peacefully on the banks of the Ganges, the most sacred river for Hindus, his body smeared with ash.


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