Saturday, February 4, 2012

First Impressions of Chandelao

Our Accommodation
The main building of the Chandelao Garh
We are staying in the old fort of the village, the Chandelao Garh. The main building is a handsome stone structure built in the early 18th century by the Thakur of Chandelao, who in the feudal system of the kingdom of Rajasthan was a member of the family of the Maharajah. The central building is beautifully decorated red sandstone in the Mughal style. In the center is a little courtyard surrounded by a colonnade where we have our meals. The main building is surrounded by a large fortified wall, which has the less important structures built against it. We are in a modest-sized long, narrow, white-washed stone room which was once the crockery cupboard – they must have had a lot of crockery. We have two single beds – quite short – fitted with tall t-bars at each end to hold mosquito nets in the wet season. The beds are wooden planks with brick-hard 2-inch horsehair mattresses, and red embroidered covers. We thought they would be uncomfortable, but have quickly got used to them. We have a large private bathroom with shower. The hot water is entirely solar-heated, and it is very hot. We have 4 small windows fitted with wooden shutters and fly-screen, and no glass. Electricity is available but intermittent. It always seems to go out just when you need it and is available when you don't.
Our bedroom, with "firm" beds
The fort has now been converted into a hotel which is ranked #2 out of 77 in Jodhpur on the TripAdvisor web site. We eat in the hotel restaurant, and the food is wonderful. Breakfast is not very Indian, with home-made yogurt, cereal, fruit, juice, eggs, toast, chapatis and tea or coffee. Lunch and dinner are very Indian with rice, chapatis, 2 or 3 vegetable dishes and one meat or chicken dish. It is all self-serve, but the colorfully turbaned wait-staff are there to tell us what the dishes are and to bring us drinks and sweet desserts. We are fast becoming adept at eating with our fingers, and love the interesting flavors and unfamiliar vegetables. Because it is hotel with mostly western guests, the spiciness is often toned down, but there is usually a strong chutney or pickle available on the side. There is an abundance of dairy products available – butter, milk, yogurt and soft cheese – which suits Lin very well. It is easy to be a vegetarian here, but impossible to be a vegan -- everything is cooked in butter.
Praduman Singh
Our Host
Praduman Singh, a direct descendant of the Thakurs of Chandelao, came back to live here in 1996. His family had left the village after their land was mostly confiscated during the land reforms of the 1970s. He is also in charge of the Chandelao Vikas Sansthan (Development Organization) and hence the supervisor of our activities here. He is an interesting and dynamic individual who is devoted to improving the village and the lives of the locals. He is quite adept at raising money from international foundations, and with their help has restored the old fort and converted it into a hotel, developed a craft center for employment of village women (they traditionally have no sources of income), and has built water collection and storage structures. He seems quite happy for us to do what we like as long as it is overall reasonably helpful. He speaks excellent English as well as Marwari and Hindi, and is very good at charming the hotel guests. He looks equally at home in jeans and t-shirt or white dhoti, tunic and orange, red and yellow turban.
The Village
Collecting water at the lake
The village has about 1,800 inhabitants who belong to different castes. The predominant language is Marwari, which is related to Hindi but the two languages are more or less mutually unintelligible. The village has three schools, a store, a tailor's, a mobile phone store and four Hindu temples. A qualified nurse runs the store and a clinic at the back of the same building, from which he dispenses medicine and medical advice. Most people don't have running water in their home...we are lucky! We also have a filter on the kitchen tap where we can fill our bottles with drinking water...they carry large metal pots on their heads (no hands) and fill them at the two wells near the lake, one for the higher- and one for the lower-caste villagers. There is an infrequent bus service to Jodhpur, and drivers compete with cows, tractors, goats and pukpuks (highly decorated covered tricycles with a noisy lawnmower engine you start with a string). If something is blocking your way you sound your horn and drive on the wrong side of the road. Larger vehicles are given priority, but indicators can mean either you are pulling out or telling another driver to pass you, so the resulting confusion is never your fault.
The craft center is a tourist attraction where women work for an hourly rate with commission on individual items. They sew beaded, buttoned and sequined bags, shirts, cushion covers, scarves, shawls, necklaces and mats. Some sew garments on machines...non-electric and treadle-operated, of course...and others chain-stitch designs of peacocks and elephants with gold metal thread and colored yarns. Their work is displayed for sale in thatch-roofed, stone circular buildings. When a woman marries, she invariably leaves this village to go and live with her husband's family in a nearby village, so the skilled younger workers often need to be replaced. Some of the mothers bring their babies or pre-school kids to work with them, so there is a friendly family atmosphere in the center, though the manager, currently a young intern from Texas, can get frustrated at the slow pace of work. They have taught Lin how to do the chain-stitching (called ari tari), and are charmingly complimentary about her clumsy efforts.
Making chapatis in the hotel kitchen
So far this week she has been invited to a cup of chai at the tailor's house and the home of one of the ari tari workers, where she is asked to take their photos, and records their names, which they write in Hindi and she transcribes in English. Now she has started teaching at the local private school she is becoming well-known in the village, the “freak of the week”, and is followed by children trying out English words and asking her to take their photo. At first they giggled and kept asking her name, until the constant repetition triggered the realization that Linda sounds like a Marwari word we later learned means “poop”.
Weather and Environment
This region of Rajasthan is dry, semi-desert. The temperatures at present are between 75 F during the day and 50 F at night, though it feels much colder because of the low humidity. We usually don't take off our thick sweaters until lunch time. In the summer – May, June, July – temperatures regularly go up to 120 F. August and September are the only months with rain, when they get about 10 inches during the monsoon. The rest of the year it is dry. The locals are adept at dealing with these harsh conditions. The cows manage to live on tough desert grasses, and there are plenty of goats. There are tanks for collecting water, and a couple of large artificial lakes have been dug. Unfortunately, they are quite low at present as the past two monsoons were below average. If local water runs too low they can get more from a branch of the Indira Gandhi canal which brings water to this region from the Himalayan foothills. Because of the dry climate, the local vegetation is rather sparse, but dominated by invasive mesquite, which is a real spiky hazard when walking around the village. Mesquite spikes easily go through the sole of the average shoe – we have taken to wearing our thickest and strongest shoes. There are of course many cows, and the evidence of cows on the village streets – another hazard of walking in unsuitable shoes. The cowpats are dried and used as fuel for open fires, or smoothed onto floors and walls as a surprisingly odorless coating. There are many beautiful and colorful birds, parrots, bee-eaters, rollers, kingfishers, bulbuls and mynah birds – and wild peacocks are everywhere.
Enough about this lovely and interesting place....we'll write about what we are actually doing here in our next installment.
Please email if you have any questions or comments
Lin and Sandy

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