Is Boxing Day a good day for starting an Opium habit?
The hotel serves a nice breakfast set in lovely surroundings, and we enjoy a slow start. The only downside is that the coffee is instant – not as bad as Nescafe, but still nowhere near a good espresso or drip filter coffee. Gives us something to look forward to at home in the cold I guess 🙂
Just outside our room is a big tree and to our amazement we saw two peacocks sitting in it! How such large birds get up there, I don’t know – it almost looked like someone put them there. Picture evidence to follow!
This hotel has a no-tips policy, which should be a great relief. Everywhere else in India, everyone expects a tip: porters, waiters, drivers, guides – basically everyone that does something for you. Knowing how much to tip and when to do it is hard, and is something we have to always be aware of, so the message from the hotel that we should pool all tips and put them in a box at checkout – for distribution to all staff – is great. However, it’s not entirely clear if the no-tips includes people who run tours, and the magician, and the people at the spa. Hmm, I’ll ask when we check out.
The only item on today’s agenda: A trip in a jeep to visit two native villages, to get a glimpse of how they live. As we are about to leave, Mr Prakash comes to see us off, so we got to see him out of uniform and in civvies – I hope he has a nice day off, although according to some of the other guests, the “drivers’ quarters” close to this hotel are pretty scummy and smelly, yuck.
Driving in a jeep across land in a desert is… dusty! The vegetation is sparse and the fields look very dry – they yield crop only during the wet monsoon months. We do see quite a bit of wildlife though. Since most of the population are vegetarians and hunting is forbidden, the wildlife does not fear humans very much, allowing us to get quite close even in a noisy jeep before they move off a bit. We found that the Indian Gazelle has a particularly funny bouncy way to run.
The first village is a Bishnu (sp?) one, which is very small and primitive. The compound consists of enough huts to house one family, all descended from the 75-year-old patron of the village, and their philosophy is strict adherence to 29 rules derived and extended from Hinduism to form some sort of ultra-eco-tribe. No meat or eggs allowed, everything must be reused, no electricity, no water pipeline, etc. In spite of this, the encampment was well kept and clean, and everyone look happy as they go about their routine – sorting wheat, making bricks, showering, mending a fence, playing, looking at nosy tourists…
It feels a bit weird to invade someone else’s privacy in that way, wading through their homes, taking photos of how they live and looking at what they do. Perhaps they are used to it; hopefully the tourism helps them with funds to buy what they need from the market on days where that is allowed.
The second village was very different; a sizeable Brahmin village that houses around 100 families. The houses here are not mud huts but are stone buildings, including temples, a few shops, etc. The highlight of the tour is surprising: The men of the village routinely take opium, and we are invited to hear about and watch the ritual.
Opium of course comes from poppies, and while most of the growing is done in Afghanistan, there are farms in India that have got special permission to grow small amounts as well, to enable the communities where opium use is part of the tradition.
The Brahma men do not smoke the opium, but instead dilute it with sugar and water, then after repeated filtration drink the resulting brew and enjoy the anaesthetising effects. One of the men we see is an addict, who needs the brew twice per day, but everyone else is a casual user – and women are allowed to partake only during festivals so are not likely to become addicted.
We are asked if we want to try a small amount too and are told it’s a very mild tourist-friendly version, so we agree to do so, as does the Swiss couple we are traveling with on this tour. The drink tastes a bit like thin, slightly bitter tea and it’s hard to know if the drink is the source of the slight drowsiness we feel later in the day or not. I don’t think it’s a habit we’ll try to get into 🙂
The rest of the day was spent relaxing and enjoying the grounds, and having a massage. I tried an Indian Champi, a form of scalp massage that involves lots of oils and drumming on the head – a very pleasant experience indeed that I hope to repeat before the trip is over.
Refreshed and relaxed, we’re off to Udhaipur tomorrow, where we’ll be staying at a very special hotel situated in a lake; that should be interesting! 🙂