A Retreat From The City
I was staying in the beautiful jewel of Rajasthan, Udaipur.
Palaces that seem to float on picturesque Lake Pichola. Ancient temples and forts. It’s the quintessential romantic Indian fantasy. It’s of course a top wedding destination in India. They still have a Maharaja here, his nickname is Shriji.
But it still can be a hectic place with it’s share of narrows streets with frantic traffic, aggressive shopkeepers, touts. It has it’s share of “that busy India”. So after five days I needed a break.
I had researched some hiking areas and found a reliable Inn that arranges day hikes just a short tuk tuk ride outside of the city. I contacted the owner Piers and he arranged a driver to pick me up at my guesthouse the next morning.
Through the narrow streets of Udaipur over a bridge on Lake Pichola we drive as best a tuk tuk can ride through rough country roads.
The Little Tuk Tuk That Could
Driving along I can see the Monsoon Palace on a distant hill. Once owned by the Maharajah of Udaipur it is now owned and maintained by the state.
As we drive the tuk tuk’s engine seemed to get louder. We heard a scraping sound and finally a loud thud. Had we been hit by something, or had we hit something? We pulled over and about a 100 meters behind was a smoking and tired looking exhaust pipe. We go back and retrieve the exhaust. For the next few kilometers I am riding in the loudest tuk tuk in all of India with a smouldering metal pipe under my feet. We managed to sputter up the last hill before our destination.
Finally we arrive at the inn and I am greeted by Piers who settles me in at the communal breakfast table. I joined some overnight guests who are researchers from Norway. We have a nice chat over some coffee, bread and homemade jam.
The Start Of The Hike
Piers then introduced me to Lakshman a young local Indian man who is from a nearby village. He will be my guide. Another man that works at the inn Padam, also joined us. A slightly chubby Nepalese man who according to Piers needs some exercise. Lakshman grinned and chuckled at the thought.
We set out for a five hour hike through Rajasthani brush, rocky hills, and dusty roads under the heat of the desert sun.
Leaving the inn we came across a cow with painted horns. “Painted for Diwali”, Lakshman said. We are already ten days past Diwali. I guess this cow doesn’t realize it will be a reminder of glorious celebrations for awhile.
Local Guide-Great Relationships
We arrive at our first village, Nai. Because Lakshman is known to everyone here photographs were a breeze. No one looking for baksheesh, tips. Very friendly, obliging, genuine. The children are an absolute joy. So pure in their curiosity. So wonderful.
It really helps to have a local guide who belongs to the village. Piers and other outfitters and guesthouse operators are smart when they hire people from the region. Not only is it beneficial to keep the money in the community the trust the local guide has with the villages is priceless. There is comfort and respect. A bond and a family relationship.
Because I’m with Lakshman there’s instant acceptance.
We start heading up a switchback over a hill and down into the next community. Padam is doing his best to move up the steep hill. Lakshman was definitely having some fun pushing his friend. Padam smiles the whole time. A Nepalese sensibility for sure.
We come across a group of women working in the hills. Their bright saris pop out of the dry grass like colorful lanterns.
I asked Lakshman if I could take pictures. “Yes, Yes, go” he said waving his hand as if it’s ridiculous that I’m asking him.
The women clearly work hard and by no means have a soft life. They are kind, shy but approachable. I was thinking that I really can’t get much closer to everyday tribal life in Rajasthan than here right now.
After some pictures and a short break we moved on. Laksham asked me my preference for sites. I told him that I would like to see more village life.
Village Contact And Etiquette
We’d been hiking for just over three hours now. Padam was holding up well, smiling as the sweat poured down from his Nepali topi hat. Laksham ran to a nearby store to get me some more water before we head to our last village stop.
Most guidebooks will instruct you not to give out money, pens, or candy to local children wherever you are in the developing world.
People mean well by giving handouts but it’s so wrong. As tempting as it is you are conditioning children to expect free things from foreigners and setting a dangerous pattern for their future. Giving is great. To the right people. An elder in a village or the local school are great places to show generosity. Let the local elders or teachers be the heroes of the village. This sets a great tone and example for children.
These villages outside of Udaipur have been kept pure and never was I asked by children or adults for anything.
Our last stop was so memorable. I met some teachers from the local school and we had a nice exchange about their students. I was curious about when they start to learn English. Right away I was told.
The children were so happy to see an outsider. I also met some very sweet girls that were so shy and giggled and covered their faces when I motioned them for a picture. I didn’t realize at the time what a powerful experience that was.
I didn’t see any tribal dances with villagers in costume or ritual performances on this hike. It was just everyday life in rural Rajasthan. How amazing is that?
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