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Archive for February, 2009

Having reached the most sought after destination for international tourists (viz. Rajasthan), we (Suresh Jayram) and I thought we should also do what the international tourists do!! Yes, of course the Desert Trek or the Desert Safari. Desert Trek sounded better and definitely less intimidating than the Desert Safari choreographed for the hordes of tourists who visit Rajasthan. We fortunately bumped into Rajendra the soft spoken owner of Shivam Guest House, the budget hotel in Jodhpur. He described Nayan Sukh the modest desert dweller from Osian. Nayan will be waiting for you in the bus stop, he said. Suresh and I were anxious to be clear about his identity. What if we were horded off by some unknown strangers. Before long, we were met by a young cheerful looking kid. I am Nayan Sukh’s brother he said. His opening lines were well rehearsed and he introduced us to the concept of a holiday in the desert. If we were going to stay with him, there would be no problem I thought. Rakesh looked clean and above all bright and not unhappy. In a few minutes our jeep was pacing over the desert sands only to be met by Nayan Sukh conducting 2 camels at the same time. The ship of the desert were all ready to receive their urban visitors. Suresh rode with Nayan and my camel was guided by this enchanting brat of a kid. 

It was quite a daunting effort to sit on the camel on their knees to enable our mounting their humped back. We managed it and tried to look brave and optimistic. After all it was holiday time. The swaying movement of the camels was less threatening than the speeding motor bikes on the Delhi streets. Suresh was relieved to be away from Bangalore’s traffic jams. We survived the 2 hours ride only to be met with a host of colorful huts. The main house cemented and with the traditional swastika on its front was Gangaram’s house. He lived there with his wife, daughter-in law, 4 sons and an elderly mother. It had a courtyard where the men sat and were served by the women who covered their faces with the sari end. There was a small little room for dining. The rear rooms were where the women and children slept. 

Suresh and I were given the red hut in front. It was a small room with Chattais and a cow dung polished floor. The family showed us around and we didnt see any toilet around. We were told that there were none and the whole desert was there for the pleasure of defecating and urinating in!! Thank God that we had our hand sanitizers and toilet papers! It was like the shooting of Reshma and Shera – sand sand everywhere. There was a nip in the air and we wistfully stared around and revelled in the sights. Peacocks prancing up and down. The camels with their patient demeanor enjoing the desert air. We sighed, took a deep breath and went to sleep within minutes. 

The food that the humble family served us could beat any five star hotel hollow. More than the food, the loving hands that served us made us aware of what we had lost back home where we would dine standing up before rushing off for work. We heard Gangaram speaking of the Bishnoi principles of serving food to the visitors. He said that guests were supreme in the ethos of the followers of Jamboji. He also said that they never harmed any living being. Suresh and I hung our head in shame. We could not but recollect that it was within miles of the Gangaram household that Salman Khan and his friends ventured to shoot the innocent Chinkara. When we did get a glance of these brilliant creatures roaming free in the countryside, our hearts bled thinking of man’s arrogance and violent temperament. Am I proud of the Bishnois? How simply they lead a sustainable existence! Are they ever invited for any of the Sustainable conferences in cities. They are not corporate I guess. Before leaving for their work of tending to camels and driving tourists on them, they sit in front of the camel’s enclosure and silently pray. They always seek their consent and happiness before using them for their trade. They recylce every drop of water. They use the camel dung for their cultivation. They use organic material for building their homes. 

Their dwelling place is less than 100kms from their erstwhile rulers, the royal family of Jodhpur. Hobnobbing with the hoi poloi of the world, the fortunate kings and their sons have forgotten about these hard working villagers. They have no water, no electricity, no roads and no support whatsoever. The family and their neighbours are totally unaware of the benefits available to them through the various Government schemes. They have no access to reasonable medical care. They are not assured of livelihood for the entire year. They have no access to schooling within a reasonable distance. Yet how well they have done for themselves. They bought four camels for a lakh each. They have managed to put up 6 huts. They also had tie ups with tourist agents who sent them foreign guests who paid more. 

As we ate the food in the shining steel plates, we asked Gangaram more about the family. He explained that all the children were married. The oldest was 22 and the youngest 8 years old!!!!! India shining again. He also reassured us that sati or the terrible practice of a woman jumping into her husband’s pyre only happened sometimes – but happened it did! My word – it was a cathartic experience to be told the gruelling details of the real India. 

Who will help the down trodden and the unfortunate in our country? What is the use of millions of tourists visiting a place, if part of the revenue is not ploughed back into development? Isnt it cruel to children to be married off? Does Rakesh know that he is being deprived of education in the process of helping his brother run the tourist business? We went there to have some photo memories but came out a bit wiser and more conscious about the actual plight of the millions of Indians below the poverty line.

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