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Asia : India

Virgin Heart of India

by Anita Jain

Ditch the usual suspects. If you ‘Want REAL – Go RURAL’ in India. Anita Jain takes you to one of the most Royal corners of India in Rajasthan on a rural tour to Samode. Offering respite from the fast city life, this small village is all about connecting with locals, exploring the rural lifestyle and discovering the legendary corner of ‘Incredible India’

While visiting the Pink city of Rajasthan – Jaipur, I thought of exploring the rural side of Incredible India. I had options like Mandawa, Mehnsar, Fetehpur, Khuri, Chappar, etc for the rural experience. However, I opted for Samode, a small fairy-tale like village situated about 40 kms from Jaipur known for its cultural
heritage, historical monuments and one of the most romantic hotels –Samode Palace.

Rural Samode will offer you an experience of colourful Rajasthan along with the flavour of local lifestyle. One can have a hands-on experience in learning traditional cooking, making lac bangles, partaking in farming in local farms and even milking the cows. I was surprised to know that despite a prevalence of apparent poverty among the local people, they forge a bond of colourful, happy and proud community with their own way of gregariousness which is missing in today’s fast moving world.

Venturing on a car drive through a narrow road from Jaipur to Samode, I geared up to experience the diversity and charm of ‘Marwari’ hospitality. On my way, the sun was shining out over endless cornfields, the Aravali Hills rising up off the horizons above low hanging ground fog; winding white marble staircase snaking up hills to shrines perched high above the plains, drooping camels chewing light green fodder lazily and sari-clad ladies watch from passing by fields. The car shared road with camel carts, herds of goats and omnipresent cows. My car navigated around red-turbaned dhoti- wearing cyclists with often mobile phone pressed to their ears. The legendary Rajasthan has always fascinated me and now I was on my way to discover the roots of this royal state.

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Home away from home

Opting for a homestay to get ‘PURE’ rural experience is cheaper and suitable for families, groups, couples and even single lady travellers. At homestays in Samode, you can be assured of your safety as all the homestays are registered with the state tourism board. I stayed with Kumawat family comprising of six members (Raj Kumawat (father), Mrs.Kumawat and four kids namely Juicy, Frooti, Mango and Chiku…funny names but cute!).

The family conversed in local language among them but with me they spoke English. However, it was fun to learn their language and try to speak with them in bits and pieces like ‘Tharo naam kai hai?’ means ‘What’s your name?’ I never felt away from home because they treated me like a family member. Mrs.Kumawat prepared delicious food garnished with care, and I was served with food served right
from chuhla (a small stove made with bricks and mud) to my plate.I tried my hand at cooking Dal Batti – the staple food of Rajasthan which was an experience (do try the tasty desert called Malpua and
Gulab Jamun). Mind it, cooking in chuhla might prove to be rigorous experience, but still a memorable one.

Sleeping on the terrace (rooftop), gazing at the endless sky and countless stars is an experience of a lifetime while still makes me smile. The family members informed me not to leave any belongings on the terrace as the monkeys will take it away in morning before we wake up. Well, though it can be part of an adventures experience, never engage them – they are notoriously ruthless.

The beautiful Samode Palace was visible from the terrace and lit beautifully. The 500 year old structure is still much as the rulers might have known it centuries ago. With an excitement to visit one of the most romantic and charming hotel of India (Winner of Best Heritage hotel in India for five consecutive years till 2008), I ventured into my dreams roaming around in the royal courtyards of the palace.

The ‘Royal’ encounter

I started my day with a glass of hot milk and fresh bread baked out of earthen kilns. Starting my expedition with a local guide at 6 am, I headed straight for Samode Palace. The entrance of Samode Palace is as grand as the word ‘Palace’ suggests. Redefining ‘Royalty’, the structure is a fusion of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture. The jaw dropping frescoes in the Durbar hall and in the Sultan Mahal are said to be 250 years old. “Lord Krishna had 16000 girl friends and was the most romantic Hindu god,” said the manager of the hotel while showing me the exotic murals in Sheesh Mahal (palace
of mirrors) suite – the most romantic suite in India. With original mirror-work, mosaics and carved archways, this is the oldest room of the property with no natural light. Every room and suite in the
property has unique furnishing and antiques. The Manager further informed that the Palace has booked 40 royal weddings this year and is now becoming popular among international travellers from US and
Europe.

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Musical evenings

Unlike cities, rural India has a very different and traditional nightlife. The best way to enjoy evenings in Samode is opting for local Kalbeliya dance performance which is considered to be the most sensuous
dance forms of Rajasthan. In an evening bathe in the moonlight under the starry sky, listening to hypnotic and chanting rhythms by local musicians will rekindle the spirit in you. The peace and calm
of the gentle rustling leaves and wind and the star lit night ads an air of romanticism to this wonderful dance form. One can also try traditional hukka to further enhance the dance experience.

One of my evenings was spent sitting with the local ‘panchayat’ (group of older people) and listening to the tales of their struggle during the earlier days. Some of the tales were related to interesting
legends related to Samode dating back a century ago.

Samode, being my first encounter with rural India truly exceeded my expectations. The emblematic hospitality at homestay indeed made for a memorable holiday, far from what I have expected from the royal state of Rajasthan. Come on; experience a lifestyle still untouched by the hands of modernity. A life still veiled from electricity, where you might have to fetch your own pail of water…

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Box 1: Go Rural: Know Rural

– Always wash hands and drink packed bottled water. Do check
for ISO mark and seal on the bottle.

– Sunscreen lotions, hats, shades and mosquito repellent creams
are must carry while travelling to rural parts of India.

– Electricity is an issue in Samode. Remember to have enough
camera batteries with you for capturing your Kodak moments.

Box 2: Travel Planner

Transport facility to Samode is easily available in Jaipur or
Shekhawati.

For homestay options: Samode Gram Paryatan Vikas Samiti: +91
93521 86049
vtdcsamode@yahoo.in

MUST SEE: Mahar, a small village about 1.5 km from Samode with a history of over 1000 years can prove to be an engaging destination for
history buffs. Chamore – a town situated 10km from Samode for its bustling markets for shopaholics.

MUST DO: Shopping silver jewellery from Stonex Gems Work, buy lac bangles from local market, drinking tea at Yadav Tea stall, camel rides over the sand dunes and hot air ballooning over Samode Palace.

About the Author; Based out of the ‘Incredible’ part of the world, Anita Jain is writing travel features since five years on various destinations across the world. Prefers to explore the unusual facets of a destination, the author tries to propogate eco, rural, environmental and sustainable tourism and can be reached at rahi.jain@gmail.com