From Jaisalmer, we headed onwards to Jodhpur. The magnificence of the fort of Jodhpur was dazzling, but my memories of Jodhpur, interestingly,are dominated by a very different experience. To the extent, that I will park my experience of the fort, and head straight on to where we went next.
After the tour of fort (which is for another post) we headed from Jodhpur to a homestay “The Chhotaram Prajapat homestay” in the tiny village of Salawas. In fact Mr. Chhottaram (I will refer to him as C) himself came to escort us to his village, which was well over 20 kms from Jodhpur. The air was getting progressively chilly as it was nearing dusk when we left Jodhpur and as the jeep finally turned into the small homestay entrance,we were quite eager to see what it would entail. C’s mother put the traditional tika on us before we entered the threshold and then we stepped onto a different world.
There were small mud huts to stay,which was built by C himself, and were also equipped with nice clean western bathrooms. The rooms were basic and rustic as one would expect, but were also comfortable enough for the village sounds to lull you into slumber. There was a central courtyard where some welcoming charpoys lay under the undulating branches of a tree, enough to seduce one to catch a leisurely nap.
All the meals were made over a slow fire on the earthen chulha and took at least 4-5 hours. Food was served on small wooden tables on the floor and we ate with the family a meal consisting of delicious hot bhakri and the very flavorful sabzi of Ker Sangri.
What was slated to be just an overnight stay for us, changed into a 2-night stay.We hurriedly shuffled our dates, as we realized what a treasure we would have missed had we proceeded to Jaipur as per our original plan. As it turned out, it proved to be one of the main highlights of our Rajasthan trip.
The sounds of the village stirred us awake as we awoke to the rhythmic milking of the cow and crowing of the roosters. C’s brother came to take us on a jeep ride to the village. As he drove, he narrated several tales of how people lived, of which one was about a religious group of people called Bishnois. Bishnoi stands for ‘Bish’ (20) + ‘Noi’ (9) – 29 rules which are staunchly followed.One of them states that every person should have a bath very early before sunrise and apparently the rule is strict enough to include small children and infants. Among the other rules, there was also one which shunned them from cutting trees.And what followed was a legendary tale about a Bishnoi woman, who hugged a Khejri tree , refusing to let go, when the erstwhile rule Maharaja Abhay Singh’s soldiers came for cutting wood. She died in the process and so did 362 other Bishnois who were hacked to death. The King was deeply saddened and declared the cutting of the trees illegal.
Another transgression to the Bishnois holy beliefs, which has recently made for a lot of news, was the killing of the Black buck by actor Salman Khan. Black bucks are considered to be the reincarnation of their Guru, Jambaji and a Bishnoi would die to save them.We were taken to the very place where the incident apparently happened and we also had the good fortune of spotting some handsome Black bucks.
We visited the potters and the traditional dyers, where we were shown the process of creating beautiful pots and also the method of creating the traditional block printed Rajasthani prints.
We then proceeded to the house of the village headman, where we had a chance to observe their daily life.The old man sat on his charpoy under a tree observing life as it went by. The cattle was tied outside and the harvest laid out in the sun, ready for threshing. Time seemed to have slowed down and it passed at a meandering pace, a far cry from the frantic bustling of our city lives.
And then we noticed this curious looking thing right in the center of a room, and we were told it was the “Khad” – an appliance used to filter opium. Supposedly the Khad is not something one can buy, but is only passed from one family to the other,purely as a symbol of status and importance that the family was accorded in the village. As we listened with growing fascination, we realized the importance of opium in these far flung villages in Rajasthan. Be it a marriage or a death, no ceremony is complete without serving opium. It’s considered an insult to refuse the offer of an opium and prospective brides or grooms could well find themselves unfit for marriage, if their guests weren’t served opium.We were informed that 1 Kg of opium costed nearly 4 Lakh Rs. and it was jaw dropping to think of what such expenses could entail for the poor villagers.
Rajasthan,probably on account of its strategic location in the trade route, was exposed from the very early times to opium ,an important trade commodity.Its usage has been traced back to the 16th and 17th century where it was commonly used as a drug and later progressed to being used as a narcotic drug during the 19th century. The drug in the form of a drink called Kasumba was quite popular among the Rajputs and also the Mughals.
Our own cup was full with all these rich experiences, but one still remained. That of the sighting of some visitors from distant lands – the magnificent Demoiselle Cranes !
After a day well spent, it was time for us to leave the hamlet of Salawas behind, but along with the memories of magnificent forts, the jungle and the desert, this amazing rural experience will also be etched in our minds.