The next day dawned bright and sunny and an impromptu smile came as I lazed on my bed. It was my second day in the weaver’s village of Salawas and it felt great to wake up to the smell of neem and sound of roosters crowing. Buffaloes lowed and a tin bucket made continuous splashes as it got relentlessly dipped in the family well. Days start early in the villages and Mamta, Chotaram’s young wife was already up and about finishing her morning chores. She woke up before sunrise, prepped herself in a nice dress and jewelry like a lovely village belle, got the breakfast going, children prepared for school, and was busily lassoing a calf to milk the mother. Buffalo milk is much revered for its high nutritional value in the western part of India and in olden times, was given to nourish motherless human babies. Mamta was a 23 years old college graduate who spoke passable English, wove carpets, cooked great food, and reared her two children while doing the lion‘s share of the household duties. She had dreams of working in an office in Mumbai and waited with stars in her eyes for her husband to leave the village in search for urban employment.

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A dreamer in Salawas

A dream like that was not uncommon and the metros of India are heavily burdened by mass waves of rural migrants looking for better opportunities. Most of the times, this migration is due to lack of farmer-friendly facilities in the villages, abject poverty, and often to chase the golden dream in the city. Incidentally, Mamta clearly belonged to the third group of dreamers as her family in Salawas was one of the wealthier ones in the entire region. They had land which was arable, gold stashed up in the bank, savings, a car, and college education. Yet, she dreamed of a life at a place she had never lived in and it made me think of the timeless adage, “Grass is always green on the other side”.  We, both were in a kind of the same boat. There I was, a burnt out city professional, seeking stress-free time in her village home and she, who had all of that, wanted my exciting rat race in the urban jungle.

A Bishnoi woman from Salawas

Rural woman of Rajasthan

In and around Salawas

All these bewildering thoughts buzzed in my head as I took a long hot shower and after a quick breakfast of poha (rice flakes cooked with onions and spices) with tea, left with Chotaram to explore the region. We went for a tour of the neighbouring villages in his jeep and it was a tough, hot drive from Salawas. The sun which was already high in a cloudless sky was blazing and the air became abrasively hot. We drove on a bumpy road through an arid land, leaving trails of billowing dust behind us. Thorny acacia and flowering rohida trees added some greenery to the dryness and black bucks could be seen between them. It was the land of the much-poached cheetal deer and black bucks, and some years ago a movie star made headlines for getting caught while hunting these lovely animals. The area was also teeming with camels and beautiful birds like peacocks, kingfishers, and storks roamed free. In between patches of dry vegetation and arid dusty fields, small potters‘ villages appeared and mounds of earthen pots drying in the sun marked their presence.

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The social impact of rural tourism

Everywhere, we went strings of children and hangers-on, trailed us asking for money and it was one of the impacts of the fast-growing rural tourism. As more and more solace seeking urban travelers and foreign tourists flock to the villages, their footsteps drastically change the environment of the villages. While the infrastructure often changes for the better {though that was not the case in Salawas village in Rajasthan), the social impact remains a controversial one. Latest studies have revealed how rural tourism most of the time fails to deliver the promised economic benefits and job creation, while the loss of local societal structure and dilution of culture are guaranteed. Add to this the over-zealous well-intended economic help in forms of giving money or unmonitored aid, and the commercial health of the village is knocked off balance. I wondered how these begging children behaved before visitors started coming over and wondered if they knew the concept of easy money at that time.

Dry landscape near Salawas

A dry arid land

Rediscovering my roots in Salawas

Such unpleasant thoughts and a hot sun followed us back to Chotaram‘s Homestay, where, on Mamta‘s suggestion I doused myself with buckets of icy cold well water to cool down. The water refreshed me and I sat down for a rustic lunch under the massive neem tree. Chappatis, bowls of black-eyed peas, fresh curd and cabbage stir-fry consisted of the simple meal and I ate heartily as hens clucked at my feet. The buffalo lowed softly, his brass bell jangling every time he jerked his head to ward off flies and a faint earthy smell rose, as Mamta splashed water on the mud walls of the kitchen. Salawas village was quiet in the afternoon stupor and it felt nice to be there. There was once a very wise man, who said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” It seemed perfectly apt for the traveler that I was, on that journey. The huge gap between the urban and rural India made the travel very eye-opening and I was finally seeing “home” in a whole new way. Discovering one‘s roots has never felt better and till today, I am glad that I made that journey alone.

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A lovely rural homestay in Salawas village

Simple pleasures of Salawas

Footnote on Salawas

Stay over at Salawas Homestay for a beautiful Rajasthan rural tourism experience. It is located close to Jodhpur and offers a relaxing stay in the countryside despite having the Blue City at its fingertips. The homestay offers several day experiences including a visit to a Bishnoi village, camel safari and a local music and dance show. I follow Responsible Tourism and to understand our impact on the social environment, do read a Cambridge Scholars thesis on Rural Tourism.

Check out the Painted mansions of the Shekhawati series of MandawaFatehpur, and Nawalgarh

Salawas Homestay near Jodhpur

This is Chotaram Prajapat Homestay

Camels at Salawas village

In the dusty arid village of Salawas.

A Salawas woman walking to get water

It is a land of

Camel at Salawas village

Free roaming camels,

Deer runs free at Salawas

Sambhar and cheetal deer,

Wildbird spotting can be done at Salawas

Exotic birds,

Peacocks can be found at Salawas

And beautiful peacocks.

Kingfisher flies over Salawas village

Despite the aridity,

A flowering tree at Salawas

Nature blooms in brilliant colours there

A village woman of Salawas

As if competing with

A woman walking towards Salawas village

The vibrant local culture.

Women carrying firewood in Rajasthan

Life is hard,

A village woman of Salawas

Starkly basic,

Farm animals near Salawas

Earthy and animal bound there.

A Salawas couple in traditional clothes

For us urban dwellers

Women waiting for bus in Rajasthan

Salawas may seem

An old woman of Salawas

Like another planet;

Men in turban of Salawas

Bold, beautiful,

Camel wool balls kept for weaving in Salawas

And unbelievably rustic,

An old man in Salawas

Like your grandfather‘s smile.