When globetrotting, more than ever should we seek the roads less travelled. To feel something raw, real – the local experience…
On my last day in romantic city of lakes Udaipur in Rajasthan, Northeast India, the eccentric, free-spirited Jitu, owner of family-run Pleasure Guesthouse, invited me to journey through the countryside to visit a small, poor village – a frequent trip he takes with or without tag-alongs. I had only recovered from food poisoning (there went my title of having a stomach of the Gods. Oh, India) and was eager to just find great coffee and relax in one of the city’s many rooftop cafes amidst lavish palaces, also satisfied with ticking off the sights I wanted to see. Albeit hesitant, I joined in.
I jumped onto a motorcycle with the thick glass-wearing Rasta and his friend (three passengers, when in Asia) and off we went, along the way grabbing bags of biscuits for the families, our stopover lunch, and… beer? Thinking this’d be a more serious venture in helping the needy, “Really, Jitu?”
“You’re allowed to have fun too!” he claimed.
We zoomed through Udaipur’s tight arty alleyways into a rather uninspiring landscape of far from pretty dry hills with twisting roads covered in trash – nothing the tourist destination is known for.
But then the far from prettiness slowly unravelled with the hissing of cicadas, taking us through stretching golden farms and bustling small towns. Ahhh, local life! Women with gold-rimmed, scarlet red saris floating in the wind as they trek across desert-like fields – a sight one simply can never forget.
The hills evolved to mountains and before I knew it, we’re chugging up to reach a sweeping view of a crackling countryside that I almost didn’t see if I instead chose the expensive coffee at the hipster café. These light shades of timber – from the never-ending succession of mountains to the dirt gravel tracks and village shacks surrounded by stone walls were enough to shut me up and mentally savour during a stopover as I sipped Jitu’s great idea of a beer.
I’ll never forget our conversations on that lookout point, it’s as if we had been mates for years.
Riding up the driveway to meeting the people of Peepliya, dozens of happy kids came running at us yelling “biscuit man, biscuit man!”. They paused, standing shyly when I hopped off the bike. You could tell they’re a big fan of Jitu, but judging by Jitu’s face I think he’s a bigger fan of them. I saw a woman – a beautiful face I can only make up underneath shiny silk (she’s married) – smiling as I handed her some biscuits and squeezed her child’s cheeks.
“There are so many children!” I said.
Jitu laughs, “There’s not much to do out here…”
A hilarious character I encountered, I call Grandpa, a face with so many lines of life. Planted onto the ground smoking ganja, he kindly offers his pipe for me to try. “Wait! Let me put on a nice shirt for you!” I read from his body language, as he peels himself from stoney comfort into his dusty hut, reappearing with a bright pink button-up.
Enjoy Part 1 of my photo diary, and don’t forget to check out Part 2. Warning: Part 1 contains minor nudity and drug use.
Details on how you can partake on this authentic India experience and lend a helping hand while travelling to Udaipur, as well as must-read tips and what to expect, is at the bottom of the page.
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These full day (up to 7 hours) unofficial tours to Peepliya cost anywhere between 600-1400 Rupees per person, depending on whether you jump on Jitu’s motorcycle, have your own motorcycle to follow him or travel in a tuk tuk with a group. This includes purchasing biscuits to gift the children, lunch, a small donation to the family and transportation. Negotiate the price before leaving.
I call this an “unofficial tour” because this isn’t a formally registered tour. See this as a day out with a mate – Jitu – and becoming acquainted with new friends – the locals! The itinerary and cost of these “tours” can be negotiated. On previous occasions, Jitu has even organised group sleepovers due to guests’ request as they adored spending time with the village people so much. It’s up to you whether you’d like to experience it solo like myself or perhaps enjoy the ride with your fellow travellers from the guesthouse.
Pleasure Guesthouse is a basic family-run accommodation in central Udaipur, a minute walk from Jagdish Temple, 500m from the City Palance and a 10-minute walk from a beautiful sunset on a mountain peak. Expect budget, no-frills facilities (squat toilet) but a colourful courtyard and rooftop overlooking the city skyline to meet people. The main point of difference is the eccentric man Jitu himself, a keen bean in ensuring you’re having a good time.
The road less travelled to Peepliya, no more than 1 hour from Udaipur.
HOW TO BOOK
- When staying at Pleasure Guesthouse, agree the price before receiving services and partaking in activities such as these tours, cooking classes, laundry, food and drinks. Remember to check your final bill in detail. I had zero issues but when speaking to other guests, although we all had a great time, some were disappointed about little transparency in costs. Please don’t take this to heart – Jitu and his family are lovely, just avoid problems by making sure you know what you’re getting yourself into (you’ll learn how to better deal with this sort of stuff the more you travel in India).
- Think how else you can help contribute to the village. You can bring children’s toys, books or stationery. Or perhaps you can come up with a new way for future guests to contribute. We can’t save the world individually, but collectively we can make a difference.
- Don’t give a large cash donation to the families. The goal of this journey is to not have travellers give the poor free money. We don’t want them becoming used to it, but rather search for different ways to enrich their lives – in this instance, their health.
WHAT TO EXPECT
- A rewarding heart-warming experience with locals. These village people are incredibly friendly and Jitu will do his best to help translate conversations for you. Open up and play with the children, ask questions, learn about their culture. Discover a different meaning to life fulfilment.
- Unforgettable landscapes… and sights that might be shocking. If seeing a man get a little high on a pipe or a few unclothed children running about isn’t your thing, then maybe have a think about joining. But I assure you this is a respectful community that will welcome you with open arms. Hey, an authentic experience awaits.
- D&Ms with one of the most interesting characters you’ll ever meet. Some of my most memorable conversations to date were with Jitu on his rooftop.