The village of Narlai in Rajasthan would be completely off the tourist track were it not for the hotel that has been created in the former hunting lodge of Jodhpur’s royal family. It is a small village which faces some of the same challenges as rural communities everywhere. Its population is declining as younger people drift away, tempted by big city life and its wider opportunities.
But its streets have thriving little shops, mainly catering only to locals; its farmers manage to feed their families and have produce over to sell; its people benefit from the opportunity to work for Rawla Narlai, the hotel on the edge of the village; and overall it has a more affluent (or more accurately perhaps, a less struggling) character than many similar places, probably largely due to the lodge. As well as providing work for many villagers, it works constructively with the community to ensure both lodge and locals benefit from its presence. For instance, every Monday morning the village elders are invited in for tea and a chat about village matters.
A walk in the village
One option when staying here is to take a walk in the village in the company of a member of the hotel staff, a local resident. Of course you are welcome to walk around on your own; but going with one of their own like this ensures an even warmer welcome from the locals.
During our walk we visited a couple of local shops and saw some of the village’s many temples.
But the highlight, or rather many highlights, of this walk were the large number of village people who greeted us, willingly posed for photos and generally made us feel very welcome here.
I was lagging behind our small group, taking loads of photos as always. All the locals seemed happy to be included, but when I wanted to photograph a particular person I would ask. And so it was with the lady pictured above and alongside. Everyone else had simply agreed, but her reaction puzzled me. She darted into her house, then peeped out and beckoned me over. Did she not want her neighbours to see her being photographed? Did she prefer the subdued light inside to the bright morning sunshine?
I went in and immediately all became clear. She was happy to pose for me but only if I included her goat in the shot! Of course I had no problem doing so and the featured photo above is the result. She’s another memorable person from around the world whom I’ve encountered on my travels.
Here’s a selection of the other photos I took of the friendly locals in Narlai:
Women’s dress in Rajasthan
In particular this walk gave me a great opportunity to photograph the colourful traditional dress of Rajasthan, thanks to the openness of the women we met and their willingness to pose for us. This is always very colourful. It consists of an ankle length skirt, a short top (this may just skim the waist or stop higher up, leaving the midriff bare) and a long piece of cloth known as a chunari. This protects them from the heat and is also often used to cover or partly cover the face.
I was told by our driver that it is the village daughters-in-law (those who have married into local families and come to live with their husband’s family, as is customary) who are expected to cover their faces, especially in the presence of older relatives, men and strangers. Having said that, many whom we met, here and elsewhere, seemed pretty relaxed about dropping the cloth to say hello, smile and pose for photos etc. I noticed that different colours seem popular in different villages. In some we had passed through the predominant shades were orange and yellow, or red and green, while here in Narlai it was pink, purple and reds for the most part.
The women’s adornments often include a large number of bangles worn on the upper arms. These are usually just of white plastic; But wealthier women wear metal, even sometimes gold, bangles.
Regardless of wealth though, it is traditional to wear an elaborate gold decoration in one side of the nose, a tradition that some here still follow even on a regular working day it seems. These nose rings are worn throughout India, with different styles popular in different region. In Rajasthan the most usually worn is the nathni, a large but delicate hoop connected to the hair with a thin chain. Some of the women in my photos above have a rather more elaborate version of this. I didn’t ask, but maybe it was a special occasion in their family (we met them in the same house).
So in the end this post features not ‘just’ one person but a whole village of them!
I visited Narlai in 2015