In pursuit of an “Off the beaten path” experience in the desert state I started digging on the Trip Advisor forums, is when I stumbled up on a post recommending HACRA Dhani in the Osian region to explore the essence of Rural Rajasthan.
With all guns blazing, in the wee hours of Dec 10th, we hit the road, with our eyes glued on the route surrounded by the desert land. A few hours on the road and Phew.., finally the sight of some biological beings, at a tea stall, somewhere between Pushkar and Jodhpur, was like seeing a flash of light at the end of the tunnel. A quick halt for tea and we yawned into slumber for the rest of the journey.
Enroute to HACRA, we stopped by to visit the ancient Sachiya Mata Temple. A flight of steps led us to the main sanctum of this majestic temple. The captivating sight of the temple complex and the view of the Thar desert and the Sand Dunes from the top was rewarding. We spent some time admiring its grand architecture, enamored by the intricate cravings and sculptures. The monument was an architectural splendor indeed.
A short drive further, Gemar Singh, our host, arrived in his jeep and we exchanged our customary hello, how are you and then a get set go… Eager to arrive to catch a glimpse of where we were heading, curiosity took the better of me.
We drove through narrow countryside unpaved roads surrounded by weeds and bushes that blossom in the desert, with one or two vehicles pass through, the houses which were far from one to another for as far as we could see. Occasionally to be greeted by a small hill of sand in the middle of the road was not a surprise. This minimalistic lifestyle is where a tiny civilization exists, I thought to myself. While the older village folks who crossed our path did not bother about us, the eyes of kids playing in the area lit up at the sight of a jeep carrying women who were visibly not locals. The kids would run behind the jeep and wave their hands, shouting “bye-bye”, making me feel as if am the Deepika Padukone of the Desert! 😀
Having interacted with Gemar on a call while planning this detour, I learnt that he was very well spoken. Rest of our conversations were over the email, and oh boy, he was prompt! In my head, I was puzzled at first, trying to put together an image of this man from a village, promising an authentic rural experience, speaks good English and uses tech for communication. Upon our usual chit-chat in his jeep I found out that he is in fact, a university graduate.
HACRA was set up by Gemar promoting a sustainable tourism model that is in interest of the tourist and benefits the community. The locals act as guides for village walks, those who own a camel, contribute by providing a sunset safari experience to the guests. The revenue that is generated is reinvested into village community.
Soon enough we arrived at Gemar’s Dhani to be greeted by his wife adorning a vibrant pink saree with her face half covered in a Ghonghat and all I could see was her appealing smile.
The Dhani (hamlet) is where he hosts visitors in the small yet beautiful cottages, a round thatched hut made with mud, straw and cow dung, locally called Jhumpa.
Our abode had two country made cots with mattresses and blankets, a metal pot for trash, sandstone slabs gutted in the wall and a side table. With no electricity and running water this was sure an adventurous stay that I was eagerly looking forward to.
Gemar showed us around the courtyard and also shared his plans of building more cottages to accommodate the soaring number of curious travelers. We also learnt about the flora and fauna of the area, and how it plays a major role in livelihood of the villagers.
So here we were, on a village excursion with no plans and no itinerary, making ourselves comfortable into the country made cane chairs (locally called Muda), sipping a cup of chai(tea) under the open sky, rejuvenating in the warmth of the soft winter sun, with the wind blowing gently and the leaves rustling as if whispering and inviting us to feel the beautiful nature. The goats and deers strolled around us not bothered, as if, we were folks of their breed.
Although a welcome change from our fast-paced and thinly scheduled city lives, the feeling of not knowing what to do next was unsettling at first. It is not very often that you get an opportunity to sit in a serene environment, without any worry about having to rush somewhere.
With nothing else to do, we chatted at leisure, catching up on life, discussing everything from soups to nuts. This was the first holiday ever, where I was aware of each passing moment, living it with every breath. With this awareness, also came a sense of gratitude, gratitude for all that we have, but in our fast-paced city life, we take for granted, because that is the normal. What is normal to us, is a luxury to many, and this realization was humbling.
After our delicious supper carefully cooked by Gemar’s wife, we set out for an hour-long walking expedition. I was heading to one of the most authentic and unforgettable experience for sure. We joined our host for the community walk (a relative of Gemar Singh) on a stroll through the village, learnt more about their way of life, the crops, their season and local farming practices. Words may not do enough justice, so here are some pictures of our experience:
What followed, was a ride on the Ship of the Desert. The Sunset Camel Safari!
My camel was a notorious fellow. I clumsily got onto the saddle, chanting “Ram Ram Ram” with the cameleer constantly petting the grumpy beast and Phew… there I was about 10 feet above the ground geared up for the bumpy ride. As the camels leisurely wandered around the pristine landscape, my soul basked in the desolate silence of these winding dunes. With the sapphire blue sky above, the shrubs, goats and antelopes in sight and the breeze brushing my face, it was like I had the world to myself.
Come sunset, I found myself gazing at the lustrous view of a fiery red orb of light slowly sinking beneath the horizon, and the threads of light lingering in the sky, mingling with the rolling clouds. The pure beauty beholded here overwhelmed me. There was a chill in the air now and we made our way back to Gemar’s Dhani.
Later that evening, we invited ourselves to help Gemar’s wife in the kitchen and also learn some ways of the Rajasthani Cooking. Our feast, was the local farm produce “Ker Sangri” which was appetizing and flavorsome. Moving out of our dinner hall, we gathered around the campfire to enjoy the winter chill while talking to Gemar and other guests at Hacra, but alas! It started drizzling and instead of lighting the campfire, we had to light the lamp in our jhumpa, and retire for the day.
The Morning Scene was breath-taking with grey fluffy clouds gliding across the pale blue sky. The sun awakened, promptly emerging through the hazy sky signaling the end of rain. The cloudy layer creates a pleasant blanket from the sun. The ground was damp and mossy like, watered by the rain and dew. The fresh air filled my lungs and I felt refreshed and exhilarated as I moved out of the Jhumpa.
Strolling outside, admiring the captivating view of the landscape, I see Gemar approaching our Jhumpa. He invited me to get some lessons from his wife in milking the goat. Excited, i leaped at the chance and headed straight to the hut. At first, his wife demonstrated the procedure and then I followed.
A while later, we were sipping a cup of tea made out of fresh milk with our yummy breakfast of porridge and fruits watching Gemar’s son and other kids play in the courtyard.
It was now time to sign-off from the place and proceed for our onward journey to Jaisalmer, with an ambition to return soon.
Beautiful scenes of nature, fresh air, hospitable people, and quiet life is the souvenir I was taking along with me as I bid adieu to this beautiful hamlet.
The Farm at HACRAThe Farm at HACRAWater StorageShepherds still tend SheepsShepherds still tend SheepsAnd CowsA Village HomeA Village HomeThe Chakki (Millet Grinder)The Chulla (Stove for Cooking)Millet(Bajra)Millet storage, made of cow dung & mud. Villagers store to feed animals or for the next yearA Farmer loading MilletKids still play OUTSIDE instead of gluing to smartphones or in front of the TVA Village local and also our guide for the community walkThe friendly localsThe LandscapeAnd the beautiful sunset