When I was in Sawai Madophur to visit Ranthambhore national park and tiger reserve, my host Satish Jain of The Farm Villa, took me on a tour of the old city of Sawai Madophur — the city the tiger tourists never see — with a stop at his home village to meet his family. This is the India I love, away from the backpacking ghettos, tourist attractions and big-city sophisticates. Click here for photos from my day in the market and a video of children mobbing me in a village.
Family shopping together in the old city of Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan
Satish left me in the market and I walked along the narrow street between long rows of tiny stalls and shops sellling unique, locally made bangles that are a specialty of this region (yes, I bought a gorgeous set in deep maroon and turquoise studded with rhinestones), housewares, gold and silver jewellry, mounds of fruit and vegetables, a wide variety of cooked snacks, colourful fabric and much, much more. People reacted to me with mild curiosity only. They were friendly and restrained and it was altogether a very relaxing and enjoyable experience. With no one pestering me to try and buy something, I was able to really be there, experiencing the culture which remains largely unchanged — on the surface, anyway — despite the vast changes taking place in India’s metros.
Shopping for bangles in the old city of Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan
The longer I travel in India, the more interested I am in getting way, way off the beaten tourist track and experiencing the India largely untouched by tourism. This is where you will find the kindest, friendliest and warmest people you can imagine, and where you will get a sense of the traditional culture of India.
Making traditional snacks in the old city market, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasathan
It is a far more relaxing experience of India, despite the lack of sanitation and infrastructure. In these places, you often see open sewers running with unclean water along the side of the road — you have to step over them to get into houses and shops. I’ve seen wild pigs soaking in them (reason #138 for being vegetarian in India).
But you also see people who seem calm and content and who smile and laugh often and easily. As a former Gesalt therapist and certified yoga teacher, I notice people’s body language. Most Indian people have very relaxed bodies as compared to North Americans — and this includes people who have very little material wealth. It is through my own observation that material wealth does not make people happy. People in India who have very little — but who have enough (I am not talking about the destitute, beggars or street kids) — seem happier than many North Americans who are immeasurably wealthy by comparison.
Old city market tea shop in Sawai Madhopur
I ended my trip to the old city market by having tea in a very modest tea shop, owned by my host Satish’s uncle. Sorry to say the tea made my tummy rumble in a familiar and foreboding way — I am an expert in the ways of Delhi belly and took a Norflox tablet immediately. Within hours I was right as rain again, though chagrined that I did not take my own best advice: be very careful of the water in India!
Women buying gold jewelry in old city market, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan
After leaving the old city market, Satish took me on his motorbike to his village — where I was instantly mobbed by the village children. I felt like a celebrity, as the children screamed with delight. I guess I was the first foreigner to visit the village — which is only a few kilometres from a major tourist destination (Ranthambhore tiger reserve). Interesting experience … but I’m glad I’m not famous!