Rural living in Rajasthan: Chhotaram Prajapat’s Homestay
It was dusk when we reached Chhotaram Prajapat’s Homestay in the village of Salawas, 40 minutes from the bustling city of Jodhpur. Tumbling from the jeep we were met by Mumta, Chhotaram’s wife. She tied a kaval (red string bracelet which represents unity and protection) around our wrists and placed a bindi on our foreheads. Officially welcomed to the family, glasses of hot, sweet chai where pressed into our hands and we sat down on charpoi’s under the neem tree in the courtyard to enjoy them.
The Prajapat family are an enterprising bunch. For years they have been welcoming tourists to their home where they weave dhurrie, an important distinction being that unlike carpet rugs, they can be used as a wall hanging as well as floor covering.
Noticing that tourists were curious about their way of life, they set up a homestay to enable them to experience the local lifestyle. Our accommodation was a traditional circular mud hut decorated with painted flowers and murals. There was the additional luxury of an attached bathroom. Made of natural materials, the mud huts remain cool in the baking heat of the Rajasthani sun and warm during the cooler nights.
The temperature was dropping. We wrapped up and made our way to the family kitchen, a simple rectangular room, with mud walls and a open window and doorway. In the corner of the room an open fire gave out a tremendous and very welcome heat. Mumta was making millet chapatis with an expert hand, slapping the dough between her hands and shaping it into perfect circles.
She cooked them on the tawa (flat frying pan) over the flame and then charred them at the edge of the fire. We were encouraged to give it a go ourselves with minimal success.
As we sat on the floor of the kitchen to eat our meal we found ourselves joined by Chhotaram, his brothers Shambhu and Om, and his mother and father, who sported the most majestic moustache which he twirled at the ends.
Our chapati chef, another daughter-in-law and Chhotaram’s sister who was visiting, faded away, only to return later to eat what remained.
When we arose in the morning the women were hard at work preparing breakfast, cleaning and tending to the many children and we took an opportunity to get a better photo of Chhotaram’s father’s moustache.
The men were preparing for their day. For Chhotaram and Shambhu this meant conducting jeep tours for tourists, while the third brother, Om who is studying to be a nurse was going to take us on a village tour and to visit the homes of various craftsmen who lived and worked there. Chhotaram’s mother and father were heading to their farm on the outskirts of the village where they are building another homestay or guesthouse to escape the noise of the village – though while we were there, we thought it was very peaceful!
After a filling breakfast of paratha and fresh Buffalo curd and ‘Indian pancakes’ – paratha with lemon and sugar, we set off on our village tour. First was a visit to the block printer who demonstrated the technique used to print their various designs – not quite as impressive as what we had seen in Gujarat but an interesting process nonetheless.
Next was the potter’s house who was happy to show us his wheel in action. Using nothing but a stick and manpower, he spun the wheel which was balanced on a small stone and within moments had created an impressive little pot with a perfectly fitting lid.
We were invited to have a go ourselves which wasn’t entirely successful. Only Eliza managed to shape a pot but disaster struck when trying to get it off the wheel with thread.
And after a few more stops around the village and calls of ‘bye bye gora’ from the local children we headed back to the homestay for a lunch of millet chapatis, dhal and a bitter bean sabjee, traditional to this area.
We learnt that arranged marriages are the norm here and it is the job of the parents to choose a suitable partner for their children. The first time couples meet is after they had circled the fire seven times and the bride’s veil is lifted.
Veils are still very evident in the neighbourhood, and were worn almost continually by the young wives. Apparently this is a sign of respect to the elders of the household.
Patriarchy is a big part of Indian society and in clear operation here. Coming from the UK and as feminists, we found this particular aspect of our visit challenging. Read our post: Experiencing Indian Patriarchy.
However, throughout our stay, the Prajapat’s treated us as part of the family: we ate the food they ate, we sat with them and talked about the matters of the day. The generosity, friendliness and warm welcome they gave us was outstanding. It was a fascinating experience and one we would definitely recommend. We saw, we felt, a good slice of their world; the way they still adhere to their traditions; their way of life and how generations of families all live together.