Experiencing the power of the Thar Desert
I long wanted to go to Jaisalmer — a fairytale town built around a romantic sand castle in the middle of the Thar Desert, on the far-flung western edge of India. I didn’t get there until my third trip to India, but it was worth the wait. Jaisalmer captured my imagination in so many ways, and the night I spent sleeping under the stars on the sand dunes was one of the peak experiences of my life. Impossible to describe the powerful, mystical sense of the desert: the sight of millions of pulsating diamond-like stars above, the timeless sound of camels gurgling us to sleep, the feel of a soft breeze and the scent of the cooking fire.
While I was in Jaisalmer last winter (2009) I met Capucine, a young French woman who had fallen in love with Jaisalmer, the desert and Pabu several years before. She and Pabu had a son together, Mohan, and were starting a business. I was captivated by their story, and how impossible it seemed, and yet how graceful and natural they made it look. I did get the sense that Capucine and Pabu could do anything together … and it seems they have.
Together, they recently opened Pabu ki Dhani, an eco farm in the desert about 40 kms outside of Jaisalmer. I asked Capucine, by email, about Pabu ki Dhani.
Preserving and celebrating the traditional culture
Mariellen: Where did the idea for Pabu ki Dhani come from and what are you attempting to do?
Capucine: We are trying very hard to help a lot of people who, like Pabu, belong to the bhils caste. They need to be able to eat properly, to send their children to school for education, and to have access to doctors and medications. In order to continue our support to the caste, Pabu and I need to earn a bit of money to live. Two years ago we tried to do agricultural work, but it did not rain since so we lost our investment. As we deeply love the desert, we both decided that it would be a good idea to give tourists a real experience of the Thar Desert life style. Pabukidhani means “the village of Pabu.”
M: What is available for visitors to Pabu ki Dhani?
C: By coming to stay with us at Pabu Ki Dhani, people can experience a simple desert life close to nature. They can learn to cook Indian food over an open fire, help take care of animals, observe the wild life of the desert and have dinner around a camp fire. We can organize camel excursions to visit the local village, teach people about local arts and crafts and introduce them to the traditional culture of this region, while respecting the environment and the desert tribes. Pabu is passionate about sharing his love of the traditions and culture from this Rajasthani desert: he will cook Indian meals and sing the desert songs that people have been singing forever. We have built five ecologically sound huts for people to stay in. They are very simple, clean and comfortable, with an amazing view of a desert lake.
M: What do you want visitors to Pabu ki Dhani to get out of their experience?
C: We would like the visitors to appreciate another way of seeing the desert, to respect nature and the people living there, to have real contact with the locals. Visitors will discover we have very little to live on, but we don’t need much to be happy. Desert people sing most of the day.
M: What do you want to get from this business — for yourselves or for the local culture in Jaisalmer-Rajasthan?
C: We would like to live decently from this business in order to help people around us in the desert and we would like to preserve nature, traditions and culture. Most of all, it would be great for the desert people to reconnect with their dignity: they are very poor and the only job available is breaking stones for others to build big hotels or houses.
M: Why should people visit Pabu ki Dhani?
C: Tourists who want to discover real desert tradition and culture, such as songs, legends and stories, should come to our place as the locals are very happy to share their knowledge with foreigners. It is also a peaceful place, great to meditate. And to have this constant blue sky with the most marvelous sunrise and sunset is enough reason alone to come and stay with us.
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