A Visit to the Village of Vardha

Waking up at the crack of dawn has recently afforded some great early morning drifting time.  Sunrise is the best time for feeling optimistic.  The temps are nice and there are considerably less people around.

The sun was coming up yesterday morning as I crossed the pedestrian bridge of Lake Pachola.  At the other side of the water crossing a disgruntled cow was trying to shake hay off of one of her hooves.

I was approached by three locals who motioned for me to stand up and off to the side with them as the angry bovine mammal passed.

One of the three good citizens was a retired gentleman named Chauhn, pronounced Cho-Han.  He didn’t come across as a hard-core sales guy.  He was so nonchalant about being a guide that it took me a few minutes to realize that he was just that.

I can take you on my motorcycle to villages 30 kilometers outside of the city.  This, the city, isn’t the real India.  You want to see the real India.  I can show you.  We’ll use the morning and be back for lunch.   After you can remunerate me as you like. It doesn’t have to be a lot.”

I thought: Sometimes Indian people surprise me with their advanced English vocabulary.  If I’m going to hire a guide, they need to speak good English to provide a proper value.  Remunerate.  Villages.  This can only be interesting.

I was sold on the spot.

Chauhn suggested that I go shower and have breakfast, and meet him in an hour.  I took this to mean that I should wear pants and shave so as to respect the villagers that we come across.

We met up at about 8:30, hopped on his bike and ventured out.

You don’t drive the bike like a maniac, like some people do.”

I am old.”

In no time we were out of the city amongst rolling hills of yellow, brown and green.

We stopped at Tiger Lake and saw natural mirrors reflecting slopes.

We stopped at a small general store so Chauhn could purchase incense.  The guide then walked across the street, burned a couple of sticks and prayed to his God for a few minutes.

I admired the perfectly warm morning temps while gazing at exotic hills not far from super-vintage palaces.  I thought:  I’m on the doorstep of the Middle East, where I’ve never been.

After cruising peacefully through sometimes desolate countryside, we reached the village of Vardha.

In tranquil Vardha, Chauhn spoke the local Muruwani tongue.  Most of the villagers are extremely poor and monolingual.  They don’t know Hindi, never mind English.  They conversed with Chauhn with what seemed like an air of respect while smiling and chatting casually.  I heard the occasional America come out.

He brought me to the small local store and then into a shabby clinic where two sick peasants were sitting outside on stone stools, waiting.  Chauhn explained that everyone in India gets 100% free care now.

He brought me into a couple of mud-based homes.  In one, they were preparing chapati or roti on a makeshift, stick-lit stove on the floor.

The kids seemed especially awed by seeing a foreigner.  The adults were super polite.

Chauhn brought me into another abode where people and animals shared a room.

It was explained that these people get by on very little.  They’re peasants who are able to eat only staple food that includes chapati with salt.  They’re afforded no fruits and just a few veggies.  They have mutton once a year on a special occasion.

We visited a small hut equipped with a grinder for maize and wheat that are used to make the ubiquitous chapati.  We saw water buffalos, goats and of course the ever present cows and stray dogs.

We then got back on the bike and came to dwellings that weren’t made of mud but of stone and brick.

We came across a traditional home.  The owner is a gold seller in the city 30 kilometers away.  While everyone’s house around it looked poor, this home, which would be middle class by U.S. standards, stood out.

Because yesterday was the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, the kids were home from school.  I counted seven of them, or were two of the seven Moms, a generation up?  They welcomed us in and were eager to show me around their home.

I thought: Indian hospitality is extending its kindness again.  They showed me their parents’ wedding album and then provided us with chai.

After saying goodbye to the wonderful family, my guide was intent on showing me the village of Dhar, about 10 kilometers away.  I thought: For me, one village visit is plenty for one day. But then I figured: Bonus village. OK.

We stopped and peeked in on a farm where men were sowing wheat for, yes, you guessed it: chapati.

We visited two more shabby little homes.  I was also taken inside a dark room and shown where perishable food is tucked inside a cool, dark wall.  There was no electricity.

A group of kids followed us.

At both villages I gazed and thought:  I know that the super poor exist all over the world, yet I still choose to live in a bubbleLike most people, I block the poverty out.

My thoughts are consumed by how I’ll be able to continue to fund traveling around my earth.  While I’m caught up in my single life, visas, future work,  finding places to bed down and thinking about eating my next exotic meal, they engage in the same hard toil and eat the same basic staples day in and day out.

I continued to think:  Hopefully, now, after seeing this existence first-hand, I’ve burst my bubble.

Chauhn said that we put about 100 kilometers on his motorbike.  On the way back he’d been insisting on more motorbike excursions for that evening and the next day.

There were other places he wanted to take me.  I agreed to the Monsoon Palace up on the hill overlooking Udaipur, where we’d end up meeting at 4:30pm to get up there before sunset.

It was about 12:30pm, time for Chauhn to go home for lunch, and time for his remuneration.  I felt like I was in an awkward position.  I’d wished that we’d agreed on a price.  I gave him 1,000 Rupees or $20.26.  That included the Monsoon Palace that evening for a total of six hours of guiding and well over 100 kilometers of wear and tear on his Honda.  He seemed very happy with that amount.  With the gas that I’d paid for earlier my total came out to almost $25.  I could have gotten away with paying him $12 or $15 but I didn’t want to shortchange him.  I felt like I should have given him more.

This type of excursion would have been impossible to do on my own. A price couldn’t be placed on the unique experience: going to a village where there are no tourists, seeing rural Rajastahni life firsthand,  drinking tea in a home and looking at a wedding album.

If you’re in Udaipur and would like to have a knowledgable, affordable and honest guide, Chauhn can be found hanging out just after sunrise on the Lake Pachola pedestrian bridge right next to Pappu’s Juices.  Or feel free to call him at 9461048916.

Here are a few more pics from the excursion with Chauhn:

ENJOY!

Elder and Kids Dhar Village

Kids in their home

Animals and people sharing quarters.

One room home with cot and clothes.

Village Pathway in Vardha, Rajastahn

Planting Wheat for Chapati, Dhar, Rajastahn

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4 responses to this post.

  1. I really enjoyed reading about what sounds like a magical, unplanned day. I don’t know about you, but sometimes as a traveler it is actually difficult to receive such genuine hospitality and service, for such a small price without feeling guilty. I vowed that when I go back to India, I will try and be more gracious, and accepting of such kindness.
    I’m sure the old man appreciated his ‘remuneration’ and maybe even enjoyed showing you a glimpse of village life.
    There must be a reason why some of us from the developed world want to learn from those who are poorer on a material level, but maybe not on a spiritual one? I’m not naive enough to think that poverty equals happiness, but maybe that being human equals both pain and happiness, no matter how much you have.
    I read something the other day about pity being the opposite of compassion, as it somehow denotes that we are different from others. Compassion, however, is acknowledging that we are all one. 🙂 Or something like that…
    Thanks again. Best article I have read in ages.

    Reply

    • SARAH: A thousand thanks for your generous words! The fact that we were on a motorcycle brings the price down and now I prefer that over a moto-rickshaw/tuk tuk. SE Asia and India has gotten me used to sitting on the back of motorbikes. When in Rome . . . Compared to what a couple of rickshaw drivers quoted me to have them for the whole day, I payed the guide well. But, considering how unique his tour was, I may have partially underpaid him. He could have used more remuneration for sure. He’s a retired private school teacher with no pension. Life is economically rough for the majority here as you know.

      As for the peasant villagers, they seem better off than many of the homeless I’ve seen in the states.

      I think we all need spirituality but when you live in a mud hut that wears profusely and leaks badly during monsoon season, and you’re forced to eat only staple food while working long hours seven days a week, enhanced spirituality must help.

      I personally believe that whatever you own owns you I didn’t coin that of course. Now I hardly own anything, some clothes and a bunch of little pieces of electronic equipment, some cosmetics and a few other knick-knacks, spirituality is much more important. 🙂

      Reply

  2. Posted by Al on November 8, 2011 at 14:25

    What a great experience. The people in the village seem to be poor and to lead a very simple life, but they appeared to be healthy and not lacking for food, clothing, shelter, freedom, or peace. It occurs to me that perhaps the worst thing about their lives is being passed by the information age, but is a simple life in itself such a bad thing?
    Maybe their lives are rich in a way we cannot see because we are too busy counting all the missing objects we think we need.

    Reply

    • AL: Good points made. In the U.S. and Europe, we don’t notice the digital divide so much; however, in most of the developing world it seems that the majority of people don’t use computers/Internet. The gap in India is ultra wide as they have some of the best technology education on earth. Every well-to-do male youngster I meet is studying computer, electronic or another breed of engineering. India is currently working on a tablet computer that’s slated to be on the market for $20 in a year or so. If it happens it’ll be revolutionary.

      A bigger concern about this über-poverty is the illiteracy. Personal growth potential is limited when a person can’t read and write. Many countries including India are improving their literacy rates but still have a long way to go.

      Reply

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