Whenever I travel somewhere new, I try to spend some time away from the tourist trail, to see how the local people really live. In early 2018 I was escorting a group of tourists from the UK and Australia around India’s “Golden Triangle” of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. It was a fantastic itinerary taking in many places I love but had seen often over the years. This time, I decided to extend my stay for a couple of weeks at the end of the tour. I wanted to do some exploring of my own and to get a better understanding of rural life in India.
I hadn’t made any plans for my extra time, relishing the idea of being impulsive and making decisions on a whim. Whenever we tour in Asia we are always accompanied by a local guide for the duration of the trip. This time our guide had been a witty and charismatic man from Jodphur called Raju. We shared a similar outlook and sense of humour and had become quite close friends during our 12 days together. Hearing that I would be travelling alone, Raju kindly offered to spend a few days with me and to show me his home State of Rajasthan.
The Land of the Kings
We had seen a little of Rajasthan on the journey from Agra to Jaipur. The route passed through beautiful countryside and crossed small villages that gave a tantalising glimpse of traditional Indian village life. Rajasthan literally means “Land of the Kings” and it is littered with forts and palaces. Some are long forgotten and have fallen foul to the ravages of time while others have been lovingly restored into heritage hotels, wedding venues and leisure resorts. The countryside is dry and arid, but the colours are intense. Cherry-red turbans and saris in canary yellow and emerald green contrast strikingly against the dusty ground.
I couldn’t wait to experience more of Rajasthan. Not the forts and palaces you see in the guide books, but rural villages like the ones we had seen from our tour bus. I wanted to meet the people who live there, to hear the sounds and smell the smells of daily life. I explained this to Raju and, after a little thought, he said: “We should go to the village of Tordi Garh”.
Tordi is located about 60 miles south-west of Jaipur. We hired a small Honda City car and stocked up with water and snacks for the day. The roads were little more than dirt tracks in places, and the journey took nearly two and a half hours to complete. We drove past lakes and vast sand dunes broken by sparse patches of vegetation. The route took us through numerous villages where we saw camel carts and locals going about their daily chores. Every few miles, women sat by the side of the road in exquisite gowns forming dung into round patties which they would stack in the sun to dry. Raju told me that they would sell these to be used as fuel.
The Village of Tordi Garh
Eventually, we arrived in Tordi Garh. Like much of Rajasthan the village has a rich and colourful history. The Khangarot Clan ruled the territory after a regional chief was overthrown by Thakur Akhey Singh in the 16th Century. Many of the men who fought in the battle with Singh settled in the village. To celebrate the victory, an imposing fortress was built on a hilltop nearby.
Descendants of the Khangarot Clan still live in Tordi Garh today. The village sits in the shadows of the now crumbling fortress and daily life is simple and basic. Throwbacks to the grandeur of the past can still be found. A palace inhabited by direct descendants of Thakur Akhey Singh is the jewel in the village’s crown. Today, the family have converted a wing of their home into the Tordi Garh Heritage Hotel. Guests staying in the palace revel in its lavish history, ancestry and splendour.
A Snapshot of Rural Life
The streets of Tordi gave me the up-close experience of Indian rural life that I had been yearning. Cows wandered the narrow roads or sat nonchalantly in the dust outside colourfully painted buildings. In between the family homes and small workshops we saw numerous ornately decorated temples.
The village women worked diligently in their beautiful clothes. Some carried water effortlessly in vessels balanced on their heads while others worked in the fields or cared for the children at home.
It was striking that while the women busied themselves with the daily chores, the men were mostly chatting and drinking tea. Occasionally we came across potter squatting at his wheel and skillfully spinning a bowl or jug. It’s a dying craft in this part of Rajasthan, but one that dates back thousands of years. Mostly, however, the men sat and chatting and drinking tea. Raju told me this was typical of rural life in India.
We spent a little over four hours exploring Tordi before reluctantly deciding to say goodbye. I could happily have spent much longer in the village. How would life change in the evening as darkness started to fall? I imagined standing on the terrace of the Tordi Garh Hotel, its delicate arches bathed in golden light against the dark night sky. What noises would I hear coming from the sand dunes, the lakes and the vast open space all around? Unfortunately, that would have to wait for another time, and I would be happy to return.
Planning a Trip to India?
Joining an organised group tour can be a great way to start understanding Indian culture. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to know more about companies running group tours. If group travel is not for you, consider working with a personal travel planner to help you. You can read my article on why you might want to do this here. You can also check out the services I offer on this page.