A Rustic Interlude in Rajasthan

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.

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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.

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The Handsome Dude !

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 !

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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.

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Footloose in the hinterlands of Goa

Goa.

The sun, sands and the sea? Nah. Not by a long shot.

Those were the images on our mind as well till we glimpsed a different Goa. A rustic and virgin Goa. A Goa that promised to be more alluring than its famous alter-ego. We booked our vacation through India Untravelled and got a chance to stay at one of the most amazing locations ever.

Our homestay “Cancio’s House” was located deep in the hinterlands of North Goa – in the tiny village of Aldona located on the banks of the Mapusa river. “Cancio’s House” also known locally as the Amaral’s house is a 500+ year old Goan-Portugese property owned by the beautiful family of Roberto Amaral, his graceful mom Maria, his wife Raquel, their three lovely kids – Harrison, Antonio and Rafael, their two beautiful dogs – Donut and Jess and the cat which has adopted them – Floss Boy.

Cancio's House, Aldona
Cancio’s House, Aldona

The Amarals
The Amarals

The house, which is believed to have been built in the pre-Portugese period, has undergone several restorations over generations but still retains its old world charm with lovely rooms overlooking a central courtyard. We listened avidly as Roberto recounted his rich family history in the charming dining room where black and white photos of his ancestors line the walls, lace curtains adorn the windows and the lilting strains of music floats in the background.The house is surrounded by dense foliage consisting of native trees, shrubs and creepers inhabited by a plethora of creatures.

Malabar Pied Hornbill
Malabar Pied Hornbill
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Roberto and Raquel welcome their guests warmly not only into their homes but also their hearts. I was overwhelmed by their amazing hospitality in spite of them being in the midst of a personal tragedy. My 9 year old was elated to have found such endearing friends and dogs to play with and had to be literally dragged out for any outings! As Roberto regaled us with his inexhaustible supply of anecdotes, Raquel served us wholesome home cooked meals. Her home-made chocolate brownies and jams are something to die for. We tasted several locally made breads like the Katro (Butterfly bread), Poi (Wheat flour based bread) and even had the good fortune to taste the Bol (A traditional goan bread made for distribution during marriages). Roberto took us to visit a local bakery where we had the opportunity to see the breads being freshly made. Piping hot Pois’ straight from the wood fired earthen oven tasted heavenly!

Raquel's delicious spread
Raquel’s delicious spread

Bread straight from the oven !
Bread straight from the oven !
The Traditional Bol
The Traditional Bol

Aldona is a biker’s delight as the narrow but incredibly well maintained roads crisscross the entire village. We rode past lush fields, small water bodies, local churches, old Portugese styled homes and through some interesting stretches that led nowhere. It’s a place where one can keep driving forever. We did stop at times to listen to the call of the Red Wattled Lapwing or to gaze at the beauty which a serendipitous turn on the road would reveal. We stopped by an old stone bridge with wooden sluice gates (Teen Mansher) to see an angler gathering his spoils for the day. Around 4 Km from Aldona are the ruins of the old Corjuem Fort built around 1705.A military fortress used for the defense of Portugese India, the ramparts of the fort were an excellent place to watch the sun set over Aldona.

Aldona
Aldona

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A serendipitous turn
A serendipitous turn

Teen Mansher
Teen Mansher

Corjuem Fort
Corjuem Fort

Amidst the small hamlet, the white washed walls of St.Thomas Church rises imposingly. A 400-year old church, its ornately decorated biblical murals were captivating as I attended the mass with Roberto and Raquel on All Soul’s Day.

St. Thomas Church
St. Thomas Church

'Aiz-Maka-Falea-Tuka' - Today Me Tomorrow You : Inscription on the cemetry
‘Aiz-Maka-Falea-Tuka’ – Today Me Tomorrow You : Inscription on the cemetry

The adjoining villages of Aldona boast of some breathtaking lakes and waterfalls. Mayem lake, around 10 kms from Aldona and located among sleepy villages, is a sparkling and serene water body enveloped by lush vegetation. As our boat glided in the crystal clear waters, we seemed suspended in a tranquil space as the greens above merged with their shimmering green reflections.
The Arvalem Waterfalls around 20 kms from Aldona, is located near the village of Sanquelim. Located in a small cove nestled amidst dense vegetation, the waterfall is pristine as the white foam cascades down the sheer rock cliff.
Adjacent to the waterfall, the monolithic structure of the ancient rock cut cave of Arvalem, which dates back to the 5th-6th century, stands striking with its laterite stones. As one absorbs the stillness of the chambers inside, one can almost travel back in time.

Mayem Lake
Mayem Lake

Arvalem Waterfalls
Arvalem Waterfalls

Arvalem Caves
Arvalem Caves

One cool morning before sun rise, we set off for Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. As we floated in the estuarine mangrove habitat located along the Mandovi river, we spotted several types of Kingfishers, Egrets, Redshanks, Cormorants, Brahmini Kites, Sandpipers and the more rarely seen Lesser Adjutant Storks.

Birding along the mangroves of the Mandovi
Birding along the mangroves of the Mandovi

And at long last, we did go to a beach ! Morjim beach – one of the lesser known and hence, lesser populated beaches in Goa, it also serves as the nesting site for the Olive ridley sea turtles.

Morjim Beach
Morjim Beach

My post cannot be deemed complete if I were to omit mentioning one of the most endearing aspects of staying in Aldona. And that is the people of Aldona. Extremely amiable and helpful, simple and unassuming, they unreservedly share their laughter and tears. Our cab driver, Deepak, a happy-go-lucky man was an archetypical Goan as he chattered loquaciously and prevailed on us to have home-cooked snacks with his family. Happy and contented with all that life had to offer and his uncomplicated way of looking at life, he could have given a run to many of the so-called-successful but stressed out folks. Maya Angelou’s words came back to me – “We need much less than we think we need.”

Deepak
Deepak

Au Revoir Aldona ! We leave a part of us with you and take breathtakingly beautiful memories back home.