Experiences like the Thar Desert are the reason you should travel.
THAR DESERT, INDIA
Pabu Ki Dhani means “Pabu’s small village”. It’s an Eco Farm accommodation which lies in the Great Thar Desert approximately 20 km (29km drive) northeast of Jaisalmer. It is more than a place to stay, it is an experience, a chance to share, cook, eat, play, ride camels and help with chores and come away with memories to last a lifetime. These experiences – the reasons we travel – stretch beyond their accommodations to a local potter and a weaver. Pabu and his French wife, Capucine, share a love story which drives them to make a better life for their own family, their ‘adopted’ children, and a few of the villagers with whom they share the hardships of eking out a living in this challenging desert environment.
Pabu Ki Dhani
Address: Pabu ki Dhani Village, Pohra, Baramsar Jaisalmer, Rajasthan 345001
Phone: 00919602534344 or 00919829552278
Travelin’Ted review for Trip Advisor
“FOR ALL THE REASONS WE TRAVEL”
“Pabu Ki Dhani” means “Pabu’s small village” which lies in the Great Thar Desert approximately 20 km (29km drive) northeast of Jaisalmer. It is more than a place to stay, it is an experience, with memories to last a lifetime; which will have you longing to return even just to know the next chapter in their story of survival. It starts as a love story between a French girl and a male descendant of the Bhil people; continues with the couple wanting to, and doing something about, making a better life for their ever extending family and others in tiny local villages. By staying at Pabu Ki Dhani, you become part of Pabu and Capucine’s story and come away richer for the experience.
Pabu Ki Dhani sits on a ridge overlooking a large, often dry, salt lake. There is a modest one level home with an almost equal in size patio extending towards the lake. The patio is the centre of activities especially in the evenings when meals are served from a large pot placed on a fire which is restoked for night time visits and song.
Fifty meters from the central patio is a group of traditional round huts (now counting 10) constructed on equally large patios. Each thatched roof hut has been hand built with a short door and two small shuttered windows to allow in cooling breezes. There are also two rectangular shaped huts which are able to accommodate more beds than the round ones.
Modest rope beds are covered with cotton stuffed padding and comforters to cuddle under when the desert air turns night-cold. More pads and pillows make a lounge area upon the floor below one of the windows. A little wall nook holds figures, made by a local potter, and a candle with matches. Looking up, the thatched roof is held aloft by a web of wooden poles and, as a sign of good fortune, small birds have made homes within the thatch. There are no drawers, pegs or hangers (so bring if needed). There are no electrical outlets or fans. Any electrical charging is limited to a small solar panel’s capabilities during the day, so don’t plan on endless use of modern conveniences.
There is one bathroom set slightly apart from the huts. It offers a western style toilet. A plastic tank holds water which is accessed by a tap. All water for Pabu Ki Dhani is trucked in at great expense and therefore is a precious commodity in this desert setting. Bathing can be accomplished by having water heated at the main house and brought to the bathroom in a bucket. The bather pours water over themselves, soaps down and then repeats the pouring process to rinse. Toilets are flushed only when needed, using water from the tank, and any paper used is collected separately. It’s an opportunity not only to learn, but to personally experience the day to day challenges faced by your host family and their neighbours. During our visit, there was no mirror in the bathroom; this may have changed but go prepared. Night time visits to the bathroom are a wonderful opportunity to stand and gaze at the millions of stars which sparkle in the clean desert air … so vivid (and seemingly close) it is tempting to reach out as if to touch them. It is a good idea to take a flashlight with you. While we were there the moon was full and bright enough to light the way to and from the bathroom. Sunrise is a special time to breathe in the still cool air and contemplate the day ahead and life in general.
Three times a day, simple desert meals, heavy on beans, bread and rice – light on meat, are prepared for the most part by the men of Pabu Ki Dhani over an outdoor cooking fire. The men welcome the chance to teach others how they make chapatti and desert stews.
The happy children (numbering five at the time of our stay), are a treasured part of staying at Pabu Ki Dhani. They may teach you how to wash dishes and cutlery in the sand, share with you their progress in being home schooled by Capucine (the heart of Pabu Ki Dhani) and help you to better understand the difference between want and need.
The experiences gain by staying at Pabu Ki Dhani stretch beyond their “small village” through offered daytrips to other villages to see a local potter and a weaver. Each of these artisans also has a story related to their life and craft. Camel outings may also be arranged directly from Pabu Ki Dhani whether you prefer a day trip to/from the villages or a shorter sunset ride. Availability of other activities such as visiting with nomadic desert tribes may be less predictable.
Pabu, Capucine, and the children along with extended family members are wonderful, enthusiastic and welcoming hosts; they open their home and hearts to those who want a unique experience and to learn of their lifestyle. We are thankful that, so far, they have managed to resist prompts to change to something with more “western comforts of home” … and, for all the reasons we like to travel, have kept it just the way it is – “Pabu Ki Dhani” – Pabu’s Small Village.
SIGHTSEEING IN THAR DESERT
Visit artisans in nearby villages, Kali Dunger Temple with a view of Thar desert, learn about crafts and music of tribes people, go on camel rides. Although not usually under ‘sightseeing’; memories of the desert will undoubtedly include its stillness, its beauty and having an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by those living in the desert and experiencing, first hand, some chores of daily life.
FOOD & DRINK IN THAR DESERT
To the palate of many Westerners, the highly flavourful, spiciness of Indian cuisine can be unagreeable. But even for those who prefer a blander diet, India is still doable.
India’s population has the lowest individual consumption of meat in the world and animal based ingredients, other than milk products and honey, are seldom used in traditional dishes. Ghee (clarified butter) is the traditional cooking medium. For the traveller who wants their animal protein most restaurants have meat options unless they advertise themselves as vegetarian. Most popular meats are chicken, lamb and goat as religious practices forbid beef products to Hindus and pork to Muslims. Finding truly fresh fish in Northern India may be challenging. In place of animal protein most of India turns to dhal (curried lentils or pulses). Yogurt and other dairy products also play a big part in providing protein.
If a steady diet of Indian spices and dhal are not appealing the traveller will find, on most menus, an oriental style noodle dish with influences from Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.
In Northern India, flat bread and rice are the staple starches. Bread, more commonly referred to as roti and chapati (the latter being a thinner unleavened, whole-wheat version) is often used as a vehicle to get food, such as dhal, from plate to mouth.
Vegetables are plentiful and inexpensive. Other than in American style hotels, salads are a rarity and the savvy traveller would be best to avoid anything which is not cooked or, in the case of fruit, peeled.
Vegetable pakoras are a popular finger food in India and can be ordered spicy or non-spicy. Made from chickpea flour and a variety of vegetables, then deep fried, pakoras are a tasty option for the non-spicy traveller and can be accompanied by yogurt or sweet & sour sauce for dipping.
For some excellent recommendations on restaurants consult a Lonely Planet guidebook – money well spent.
It is advisable for travellers in India to consume only bottled water. A nice change, when available, is bottled carbonated water. Buying water in large two litre bottles from a small vendor is usually the least expensive. With the proprietor watching, check the cap to ensure it is sealed.
Chai (tea) is a much consumed beverage often accompanied by heaps of sugar and generous pours of milk. Although tea is by far the most popular drink, coffee is gaining in acceptance.
Street stands offering fresh squeezed juices can seem tempting however lax hygiene practices – reusing cups which have been sloshed through a basin of tepid water – can ruin a vacation.
Lassi is a traditional drink of blended yogurt and water available ‘savory’ or ‘sweet’. The savory contains spices such as ground roasted cumin, whereas, sweet is made with sugar, honey or fruit. Sweet lemon, a variety of citrus, tastes more like orange to Western taste buds than lemon.
GETTING AROUND THAR DESERT
Train travel is a great way to experience India. Day travel will allow you to see the countryside as it whizzes (sometime plods) by. Night travel can get you to where you are going and provide an inexpensive place to sleep. If you have limited time in India it may be best to make reservations prior to leaving your home country.
Lonely Planet India
Note: There are very convincing scam artists at railway station entrances ready to ‘help‘ you by telling you the ticket office for foreigners has changed locations, after which they put you in a rickshaw and then hop in for the ride to their ‘travel office’ some distance away. The real foreign office was exactly where it should be, inside the railway station.
The motorized auto-rickshaw provides an exhilarating experience and offers a wonderful way to get around a city while affording some protection from the elements. The driver is supposed to use a meter but generally a bartering exchange is carried out before you get in … if the price is not agreed to BEFORE the cost at the end of the ride could be substantial. We were often able to squeeze four people and four backpacks into an auto-rickshaw.
Bicycle-rickshaws offer a slower paced view of a city and are good for short distances. They have limited protection from poor weather. The pedal-drivers work hard for their money.
Taxis are best for longer distances, wet weather conditions or for transporting over-luggaged tourists. Like the auto-rickshaws, taxis have meters which are seldom used. Before getting in, or putting luggage in the trunk, agree on the total cost to get to your destination.
Insisting on hiring another cab or rickshaw usually either “fixes” the meter or lowers the price. If your hotel offers to make transportation arrangements for you, it may be cheaper to decline and walk out to the street and flag down a rickshaw or taxi.
If you like your driver you can make arrangement to have him pick you up at another time and/or place; most often they will be there, particularly if you paid them fairly or tipped above the agreed price. For sightseeing you can arrange to be taken from place to place for the day at an agreed price payable at the conclusion of the day’s travels. Drivers may also be a good source of information as to where to go and what to see.