Namaste! We're back! Be afraid - be very afraid, we took so many pictures during our stay in Gujarat you might be sick of the sight of India by the end of the week. Normally after being home for 24 hours I'd be halfway through the washing mountain by now but shortly after touching down at Birmingham airport yesterday morning we discovered that all of our luggage had gone missing. After filing reports and making numerous phone calls the airline now seems to think both bags are somewhere in Paris, Charles de Gaulle (apparently the airport is notorious for it) so I'm keeping everything crossed. I'm not too bothered about my skanky travelling wardrobe but I'd be devastated if our fiercely haggled for souvenirs from Gujarat and Mumbai are gone.
I can't quite believe that five weeks ago today we were on the way to India. Our journey took us from Birmingham to Paris, then from Paris to Mumbai and finally from Mumbai to Bhuj where our driver, Ramji (that's him posing with us in the top photo), was waiting at the airport to take us to the Devpur Homestay, our base in the Kutch region of Gujarat for the next seven days.
The first thing we noticed on our journey to Devpur were camels, although we'd seen (and ridden) them in North Africa we'd never encountered them in India. Pulling rickety wooden carts, roaming alone or in caravans, they added an exotic touch to the barren landscape. Our driver took us through dusty, makeshift towns bustling with men and women in astonishingly colourful tribal costumes and past fields of unidentifiable crops framed by sun-bleached hills crowned by crumbling fortresses bisected by ancient stone walls. Biblical-looking, bony, hump-backed Brahmani cattle competed for road space with lumbering jet black water buffalo and skittish dust-coloured pariah dogs.
An hour later, taking a sharp turn along yet another ramshackle dirt track, we spotted a familiar sight, the outer wall of Devpur Darbargadh, home to the Jadeja family for over a century. The house we'd fallen in love with months ago after reading an on-line Guardian article (HERE).
|My cheapo dress doesn't look too bad after an epic 27 hour journey, does it?|
After emailing each other for several months our host and owner of Devpur, Krutarthsinh (or K, as he signs off his emails), already felt like a friend and it was a joy to finally meet him. In India they say Atithi devo bhava meaning guest is like a god and we certainly were made to feel special, greeted with tilaka, marigold garlands and deliciously hot & sweet chai. The effects of twenty seven hours of continuous travel were obviously starting to show as after exchanging pleasantries K suggested we retire to our room to catch up on some sleep before lunch.
And what a room! Although we'd booked a budget option Devpur wasn't fully booked so K generously upgraded us to the Room Of 17 Pillars for our first few nights.
Originally a hangout for the men of the family, the Room of 17 Pillars was the grandest space in which we've stayed in India. With Belgian etched glass chandeliers, lilac walls lined with paintings, antique weapons and family photographs and fine wood furniture from the Raj era, despite the jet lag we were squealing with excitement. From the wonderful selection of Indian-themed books and National Geographic magazines to the Ayurvedic soap & black hair shampoo in the bathroom, the pristine white cotton sheets and traditional charpoy beds to the jar of biscuits, mineral water in glass bottles and alarm clock Devpur certainly lived up to its top rating on Trip Advisor.
After a wonderful pure veg lunch and a lazy afternoon we met up with K just before sunset to visit the family's organic mango farm, a couple of minutes walk from the house. The Jadejas export their mangoes as far afield as the UK.
The Jadeja family also have rooms to rent on the farm itself and they're stunning, something straight off the pages of a trendy interiors magazines, architect-designed and cleverly built using recycled materials and salvage. There's a communal area where drinks and breakfast can be taken and, in the evening, guests are invited to the main house to join the other residents for a sociable dinner taken on shared tables in the cosy mess hall.
The numerous star tortoises wandering around made us feel right at home.
For travellers on a budget there's also a glamping option with a couple of traditional canvas tents and a trendy open air bathroom.
Like many Indian families the Jadejas keep a cow for milk. She'd given birth to this calf four days before we arrived.
After a stroll around the farm we went off in search of Thums Up, India's own brand of cola, to have with our rum. Gujarat is a dry state but following advice we'd found on-line we bought Bacardi from the duty-free at Birmingham airport requesting that it was well-packed. After landing in Mumbai we collected our luggage, stashed our booze in our bag and, on arrival to Bhuj, bought a week-long liquor licence from the airport for 100 rupees (just over £1). Alcohol (and licences) can be bought from permit rooms in a couple of hotels in Bhuj but there aren't bars or liquor shops like you'll find throughout the rest of India.
The Kutch region suffered a devastating earthquake in 2001, killing over 20,000 people and destroying over 1.2 million homes. As a consequence there's hardly anywhere untouched by the damage, cracks in the buildings, mountains of rubble and lots of rebuilding and mending. Devpur village reminded us of the village in the film Lion, dusty, sun-baked and makeshift but the seemingly bleak surroundings certainly didn't impact on the demeanour of the residents. Westerners are a rarity in Kutch and the locals reacted to us like we were film stars, coming out of their houses to greet us with a bow and a namaste! Gangs of children followed us in packs keen to practice their already superb English, How are you? Welcome to India! From which country are you from? What is your name? The proprietor of the tiny hole in the wall shop where we bought our Thums Up was beyond excited, insisting on checking the date and the coldness of the bottle to ensure it was top notch.
|Bin day, Kutch style.|
First time visitors to India are often surprised that Muslims and Hindus live companionably side by side. Hijab clad women stroll arm in arm with ladies in saris while the Iman sits in the village square chatting to men with temple marks on their foreheads, down winding side lanes children in salwar kameez, turbans and Man United shirts play hockey and cricket while the call to prayer from the mosque is superseded by the drumming from the Hindu temple.
|Detail from a Hindu temple|
Devpur Homestay is also home to the co-educational White Eagles School founded by K's father, T. S. Mahipatsinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja. Its the only public, non-government aided school in Kutch. White Eagles has 350 pupils of whom 35 are boarders. The school day starts at 7.40 am and kids attend from Monday to Saturday.
After a stroll around the village - which took ages as we kept stopping to chat with the locals - we returned to sip rum on the balcony. An informal & delicious vegetarian dinner (although meat dishes can be arranged on request) is served at 8pm, shared on a communal tables with the other guests. Film makers and lawyers rub shoulders with architects and market traders (us!) and hail from all over the world, although the vast majority are domestic tourists from metropolitan India. Every Indian we spoke to despised Donald Trump and asked if we voted Brexit as they've yet to meet a Brit who had. We nodded in agreement over Trump and suggested that a Brexiteer probably wasn't the type of person who'd travel independently around India.
K is the perfect host, friendly and welcoming & not at all intrusive. He made an effort to sit with all his guests and share his extensive knowledge of Kutch (he's the Gujarat expert on Trip Advisor). On our first night we got together with a map and discussed what we wanted to see and between us we drew up a week long itinerary to make the most of our trip.
After another rum on the balcony (we had to take it slowly, our litre had to last the week) we set the alarm and turned in for the night. Our first day of our Kutch adventure started at 8am tomorrow.
Brace yourselves! The full set of Devpur Homestay & village photos can be found HERE.