Thursday, 3 March 2011

Opium and potatoes

One fine morning during our stay in India, we went on a day trip organised by the Govind hotel in Jodphur. The guy who owned the hotel was really nice and appreciated how hard it was to be a tourist in India. His hotel was the most spacious and bright place we stayed the entire month and although the hot water was a little sparse the haven of quiet the room provided was very much appreciated after the rabble of the streets!

The morning of the trip there was a power cut in the entire street and as we were meeting at 8am there was no natural light in our room, I was very glad I had brought a torch and we had to go out looking a bit rough and ready.

We met our driver and introduced ourselves to the two Australian lads we were tripping with. The guide spoke enough English to explain things as we drove out into the remote desert, but he could not understand us if we had an actual question so it was a bit like an audio guide- no interaction allowed. We stopped the car several times to look at wild deer and other bouncy and leggy animals. It was a gorgeous clear morning and the silence was our reward for getting up so early. We also visited the burial site of some 300+ villagers. He told us the sorry local tale (from hundreds if years before) of the deceased villagers plight to save the forest. The Maharaja had ordered the trees to be cut down and brought to the palace for use as building material. The people had protested and were beheaded as they clung to the trees and refused to allow such a tragedy against nature. Only after the men had decapitated so many men, women and children, did they decide it was probably not a good idea and the Maharaja told his men to leave the forest alone. The guide explained that the villagers still hold a high respect for nature and remember the villagers cause.

A view through a window of the new temple being built in the burial site area

This made us a little sad as we drove on to one of the traditional Bishnoi villages where this story is remembered. We met a woman and her 2 semi naked, unashamed and very inquisitive little sons. The woman looked up at us very warmly from her work to show us how she ground millet using a huge stone hand wheel. She used the millet flour to make chapatis which seemed to be the main part of their diet. Although the buildings were incredibly simple, they were very clean and the woman obviously took pride in her home. She showed us the kitchen which was just a small pile of stones with a pan on. Hardly even a room really! We sat on a straw mat while she prepared sweet chai.

Very much to our surprise, the tour guide randomly pulled out a big lump of opium. He explained that after a hard days work laboring, farming, mining or such like, the men and women of the village relaxed by munching on a nugget of this brown chalky substance. I was a little shocked when he added that opium is given to the little boys too if they have a stomach ache or tooth pain. He insisted that we try some of the ''opium'' which did not seem like something I should do in a foreign country if at all, ever. Especially, as I have to take a drugs test to get back to Korea. But I was also torn by the fact that this guy (in India) was offering me something which actually looked like a speck of dirt. I took a tiny grain and put it in my mouth, needless to say I felt absolutely nothing but the Australians joked with the guide that we were now hooked!

We drank our spiced and sweet chai which was made with milk and boiled on a fire fueled with cow dung. Presumably the dried pats came from the cow and calf tied up near by. When we had finished the woman led me into her one roomed house. She took of my glasses (I was not wearing contacts due to the power cut dressing limitations earlier on) and she proceeded to wrap me up in the traditional red dress over my normal clothes. I literally felt like an oaf next to this tiny woman as she promenaded me outside to stand in front of the boys. I was  completely blind without my glasses but she clearly felt they didn't go with the outfit. By this time another old man had come along and was putting his hat on Tom. So we all played dress up and it was all very surreal but we got some good pictures.

We spent the rest of the morning watching potters and printers make various local crafts which were then pushed  on us with a hard and guilt riddled sale. Of course we succumbed and bought  a number of items.

The best part of the day though was the second village we visited. We were taken into a terracotta hut which was filled with smoke. There was another tiny woman inside mixing millet flour and water to make dough. She asked me in a round about way using lots of gestures, if I was married and which of the three men if any were my husband. I explained they were all my friends. ;) We watched her expertly pat and flatten numerous dough balls into chapatis very quickly and as each one cooked on the dung fire, she placed them around the flames to keep warm.

We sat down in another hut, where we discovered delicious buttery bombay potatoes which were thinly sliced and spiced to perfection. There was also a sweet vegetable curry and a pile of the chapatis. It was really very good food for our surroundings but I had the feeling they had gone all out for us. We did feel very humbled and the children were peeking in at us as we ate. A village man joined us and asked us lots of questions about England and Australia. He wanted to know if it was possible for him to get a working visa in our countries which was a bit weird. I wondered if he was after a sponsor! He was however incredibly welcoming and ensured we ate until we were full.

It was really nice to see a bit of rural India, although I am sure there were elements of the usual tourist trail in our experience, as we were definitely expected to purchase from the people we met. What a seriously strange day!

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