Friends of Orchha: staying in a homestay in Madhya Pradesh

IMG_2559.JPG

Situated over 1 km away from Orchha, the village of Ganj is home to the beautiful initiative created by Asha.  Friends of Orchha is a unique homestay in Madhya Pradesh, showcasing the beauty of rural life in Central India, with particular emphasis on the socio-economic progress of the villagers and the sustainability applied to their day-to-day lives.

Their English was limited, understandably so, and they rejoiced when I proclaimed that I spoke “tora Hindi” (little Hindi) only.

I arrived early evening at the Jhansi Junction railway station, having taken a sleeper bus from Mumbai to Bhopal.  Asha, the owner of the homestay, arranged for a friendly tuktuk driver to pick me up from the station, a 22 km ride away from the Ganj village.  He tried his best to point out the monuments and places of interest in both Jhansi and Orchha, though the night light was not working in his favour.

When I reached the village, I was warmly welcomed into Mitthla’s extended family, my hosts.  Their English was limited, understandably so, and they rejoiced when I proclaimed that I spoke “tora Hindi” (little Hindi) only.  As with many cultures, speaking a few words of their local language here and there was greatly appreciated.

IMG_2558.JPG

After taking a much-needed shower, dinner was served.  A simple and delicious fare of steamed white rice, chapati, dhal, and an aloo curry dish.  I specified “spicy” to the family, though it did not have the kick I was searching for.  Generous portions were handed out, with everyone offering me more of each.

I was a little anxious to see that I dined first, with the family eating after myself.  This may be part of the culture that the guest eats first, but it would have been nicer if I was to eat with the family, especially as the younger mothers and children retreated somewhere else to eat their dinner.

It was bedtime soon after, as I promised Manohar, the acting manager during my visit, a 7 am bike ride around Orchha.

The room

The room I was given was a single room, which was clean and basic.  An overhead fan and a stand-alone fan were both provided, as well as a towel and very clean linen.  This homestay was definitely cleaner than some of the hostels I have stayed at previously.

A mosquito net, a few electric points and a reading lamp was also present.  The toilet and showers were in a separate building, a mere seconds away from my room.  Both were very clean.  Whilst the showers and tap were fully-functional, water flow was not very fast.  As I visited during th drought season, I was very mindful of my water usage.

Speaking of water, there is a filtered drinking water tap in the village, promoting a zero waste travel experience.   This delighted me, as I found it very difficult to maintain my plastic water bottle waste whilst in Mumbai, my previous destination.  A re-usable plastic drinking water bottle was also provided in the room.

Beds were very comfortable, and the peaceful surroundings made for a good night’s sleep.

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

I started the second day bright and early for a bike ride around Orchha and the monuments with Manohar.  The roads were slightly rocky and trail-like and the road bikes I rented were surprisingly durable when a mountain bike would have been the better option.

After grabbing a few bananas for breakfast at the seasonal market, a ride in and around the Orchha wildlife sanctuary was on the cards.  The natural rock formation and streams around were incredible to see first thing in the morning.  It was 150 rupees to enter the park, which was valid for a whole day.

IMG_2556.JPG
Some wonderful fresco paintings at the Jehangir Mahal

It was breath-taking, and one of the places many would not associate with the image of India.  I was lucky enough to spot the beautiful bird, Indian roller, with its colourful exterior. We proceeded our tour around the Jehangir Mahal, Raj Mahal and the Lakshmi temple.

The morning activities ended just before midday, as the sunlight became too intense.  I had a siesta, before cycling back to Orchha for some fresh fruit for lunch.  I grabbed half a watermelon for 50 rupees and over a kilo gram of mangoes for 90 rupees… Yet another reason why being plant-based/eating vegan whilst travelling has been cheap!

IMG_3328.JPG

It was enlightening to hear these sentiments from a mother living in a village, someone who was looking for life elsewhere, and was not afraid to voice her opinions in favour of a modern, cosmopolitan lifestyle.

The afternoon’s activities included a much-needed yoga session in my room and a visit to the Friends of Orchha Youth Centre.  Upstairs, children were playing games and colouring books after their a day in school.  The popular Indian board game of carrom was present, of course.  The skill and rigour involved was certainly impressive.

As the youth centre got crowded and stuffy, another villager, Kiran invited me to her lovely home, where she proudly boasted of her daughters’ ambition, intelligent and creativity; Khushi, her eldest, had painted a couple of Hindi gods throughout the years, which were displayed all over the room.

She explained that many people in the village, the women in particular, kept prodding her about the absence of a son in her family, thought to bring good luck.  She explained that her daughters will have a bright future ahead due to their hard-work and talents, and that she wishes a life beyond the village for them.  It seems as though many women around were willing to settle for village life whilst Kiran sought for a brighter future for her daughters in the city.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
Lunch with Mitthla’s family

It was enlightening to hear these sentiments from a mother living in a village, someone who was looking for life elsewhere, and was not afraid to voice her opinions in favour of a modern, cosmopolitan lifestyle.

Whilst my ticket for the sanctuary was valid until dusk, I chose to skip the sunset view it promised as it was a cloudy evening.  Instead, I spent the early hours of the evening with my host family – watching their day-to-day duties and observing how dinner was cooked.  The chapatis were to die-for!

IMG_2557.JPG
Interiors at the Lakshmi Temple, the nearest attraction to the Ganj village

My final day at the village began with a quick breakfast of two ripe mangoes from Orchha’s market and some packing.  Mitthla’s family were cooking their breakfast: some curry and a pile of fresh chapatis, creating aromas to die-for and miss.

A quick bike ride into Orchha meant a glimpse into the busy, everyday life in the small town of Madhya Pradesh: families scrambling to get their pots as water is being delivered, vendors setting their stalls up ready for the new trading day, and adults squeezing into a tiny tuktuk with bags full of vegetables and necessities from an early market shop.

Alas, at lunchtime, my last home-cooked meal was lovingly prepared for me: dhal, steamed rice, a heap of chapatis and the tastiest, mildly-spiced jackfruit curry.  It quickly turned into my favourite Indian dish ever.

IMG_2563.JPG
Jackfruit (kathal, in Hindi) curry with the usual thali offerings

It may be giving tourists and travellers a false expectation of Indian life – in terms of the exteriors and facilities available – but the sense of community still exists, and continues to be the driving force to development and progression.

Madhya Pradesh, an Indian state I never thought was anything special, but it was where I was showed the true warmth of the country.  Bhopal and Jhansi both looked like friendly, hassle-free cities, and the people of Orchha and the Ganj village have been nothing but hospitable, helpful and friendly.

I have heard of criticism of ‘artificial’ villages supposedly catered for voyeuristic tourists.  Their concerns are understandable: why pay money for an inauthentic experience?  Asha’s initiative differs, however, as villagers are taught, encouraged and supported.  It may be giving tourists and travellers a false expectation of Indian life – in terms of the exteriors and facilities available – but the sense of community still exists, and continues to be the driving force to development and progression.

I hope Friends of Orchha will flourish as it deserves to – an immersive stay which opens doors to both tourists and villagers, to appreciate the beauty of Madhya Pradesh and the people living in it.

The lowdown

  • Jhansi Junction is the nearest major railway station.  It’s 300 R to be picked-up by an arranged tuktuk (who was the nicest guy) and 350 R in the evening.
  • For a single room, it was 650 R/night if staying for one evening only; otherwise, it was 600 R/night.
  • Hiring a bicycle is highly recommended.  Take a bicycle tour around Orchha and you’re free to use it for the rest of the day (50 R/day for bike hire) where you can explore other parts of the town and run random errands.
  • 5 R charge per litre of mineral water refill.  So bring a bottle.
  • There is a charge to use wi-fi.  It was the perfect time to update my travel journal and read my book!
  • Learn some basic Hindi.  The manual provided inside the cottage proved very helpful.

To book yourselves a place in Friends of Orchha, visit the website, and e-mail Asha with any enquiries you may have.

To follow my travelling adventures, follow me on Instagram (here too), Twitter and add me on Snapchat (julianduiza).

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Friends of Orchha: staying in a homestay in Madhya Pradesh

  1. YUM! Indian food is my absolute favorite. There are so many places in India I have yet to visit, and I have yet to explore Madhya Pradesh. It’s definitely less explored by tourists, which makes reading posts like this so great when I stumble upon them. Great post! xx

    http://laurensomewhere.com

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s