Lady in pink head covering in front of grass roof
Culture & tradition,  Just One Person,  Rajasthan

A warm welcome in the Thar Desert

Nothing makes you feel more welcome in a country than to be invited into someone’s home, however humble. And language is no barrier to connecting with a friendly hostess and her curious children.

As we drove through India’s Thar Desert on our way to Jaisalmer, I asked our driver, Mehar, if it would be possible to stop to photograph some of the small round grass-thatched houses that we saw either side of the road.

I had in mind a few shots from a distance with the zoom, if he felt that would not be resented. But when he spotted a suitable home and stopped the car he suggested that we walk over to it. Would they mind, we asked – not at all, he replied.

So we strolled among the succulents and a few low-growing gourds to be welcomed by two children near the entrance; it was festival time and there was no school.

Welcome

Their mother came out to join them and when Mehar asked if we could take photos, agreed willingly; and not just of the house, we could photograph her and the children too. An older brother came over to join us, then children from another nearby house came running. We were causing quite a stir!

Mehar explained how the hut outside the wall was for the cows; while inside there was a large sleeping hut, a slightly smaller cooking hut, and two little ones to store grain. The family also own a nearby stone house, which has electricity, but they prefer to use that only when the weather is cold and during the rainy season. The rest of the time these grass-roofed houses are cooler, and they are happy there.

On leaving we offered the mother some rupees in thanks, so she might buy some things for the children perhaps. But she didn’t want to take it, saying she was simply happy that we had visited. Mehar persuaded her though, helped by her small daughter who took the notes willingly!

Most of the children then followed us to the car, insisted on posing for more photos there, and then waved us off. Mehar told us that he had never stopped here before, so this was far from an everyday occurrence for them. It seemed to me that they enjoyed our visit as much as we did, and that made the experience all the more special.

We saw some amazing sights on our tour of Rajasthan that will stay with me forever, but so too will the people we met there, including this welcoming desert family.

I am posting as a contribution to ThatTravelLadyInHerShoes’ challenge to share images of ‘Just One Person From Around the World’.

I visited Rajasthan in 2015

26 Comments

  • slfinnell

    Meeting the ‘salt of the earth’ people keep us in perspective don’t you think? I feel like this was just as important to them as it was for you. A once in a lifetime meeting. Good for you to be spontaneous!

  • I. J. Khanewala

    Oh my! That must have been awesome. From the face covering on the lady it looks like she’s from a very traditional family. You were lucky that in spite of her background she was uninhibited enough to enter the frame.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      To be honest we found that women in most of the rural areas of Rajasthan dressed similarly – and almost all were happy to be photographed 🙂 I’ll ‘introduce’ you to another lady some time soon, in a future ‘Just one person …’ post!

  • Suzanne@PictureRetirement

    Sarah, this touched my heart. The world is an amazing place and the people in it are fundamentally all the same. We visited Fanning Island (no running water, no electricity) in the South Pacific a few years back and had a similar experience with the women and children of the island. The men were a bit stand-offish, I assumed out of pride. Beautiful photographs and wonderful contribution to ‘Just One Person…”

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Suzanne 🙂 I totally agree with your comment that people are fundamentally the same the world over – that’s certainly been what I’ve observed on our travels and I think it’s one of the most important thing that travelling teaches us. We met men elsewhere in Rajasthan, although fewer than women because they tend to be out of the house during the day, and they were just as friendly!

  • Away We Go

    Wow, this is quite the story! You really went “off-the-beaten-path”. It’s always so nice to meet such welcoming and thankful people, even when there is a language barrier!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you, Marlena & Kurt 🙂 They were certainly welcoming, but I’m not sure I’d describe them as thankful – we were the more grateful, because they welcomed us, as uninvited and unexpected guests, into their home and made time to talk to us 😀

  • katieshevlin62gmailcom

    That’s the first time I’ve seen an Indian woman with her face covered. Interesting. Must have been a special day for the people you photographed also. It was nice to hear about the different houses and what they were used for.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It’s usual practice here for women to cover their faces in the presence of men who aren’t family members, especially married women. In fact, Mehar told us that’s one way of working out if a woman is married or not. But the veils are so thin that their faces can usually be seen – it’s a custom rather than a form of purdah.

  • starship VT

    Your photos show what a lovely experience it was visiting this family! Your visit was obviously a treat for them as well on that beautiful day. If I saw photos of these huts alone, I would definitely have thought you were somewhere in Africa!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, I think they welcomed the break in their routine – certainly the children did 🙂 One thing we found all over Rajasthan was that people loved to be photographed. We rarely had to ask permission, and in some places (not here though) as soon as they saw our cameras they were asking us to photograph them!
      The huts are a bit like some African ones. I think with these materials it makes more sense to build round rather than square?

  • margaret21

    You have accessed some fabulous experiences. It’s interesting that you’ve managed to get so often ‘off the beaten track’. You can’t have special contacts everywhere, surely?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Haha, gosh no! This was a regular tour booked through a specialist agent, TransIndus. If we’re travelling in Europe we usually organise things ourselves but if we’re going further afield we tend to rely on working with a specialist to put the arrangements together for us, or we very occasionally take a group tour. This was originally going to be a group tour but we were the only two who booked it so TransIndus proposed that we could do the route with a car and driver rather than minibus if we were happy to pay a small supplement, which we were. So I guess I should say that it’s the tour companies who have the special contacts, not us 😆

      • margaret21

        Oh, well done you. We’ve always fought shy of tour companies thinking them a bit one-size-fits-all, even the more adventurous ones. you have proved that we are the losers by ignoring the specialists.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          I know not everyone likes to use them, and of course you pay for their services so they can make a trip more expensive (although they often have access to good deals which can balance that). But if you find a good specialist who’s willing to work with you to tailor the trip, they can be excellent 🙂

  • SandyL

    What an interesting visit. If you hadn’t stopped, I wonder if the guide would have thought to explain the differences between the houses? Little things like this are so mundane to someone living there, but so unusual to us.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I think he probably would. In truth Mehar wasn’t technically a guide, ‘just’ a driver, but he was full of interesting bits of information during our often long drives. We really enjoyed his company and learned a lot from him (more than from some guides!)

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