Our destination for this part of our trip was the city of Jaipur but after a long five hour drive from Delhi we turned off at the 2000 year old town of Khandela in the state of Rajasthan. From the moment we arrived at our accommodation, the divine and regal Castle Khandela, we were given the royal treatment. A small band of drummers welcomed us. We were presented with fresh flower garlands, our foreheads dabbed with orange saffron and, as we walked through the main gate of the hotel, red rose petals rained from the ramparts above. Castle Khandela is a royal destination redefined. It is still the home of Dr Raisal Singh, the eighth Raja of Khandela, if titles were still held, but he has turned the castle into a boutique fifteen bedroom hotel, most suitable for one or two night stopovers.
Dr Singh is greatly admired and respected in Khandela, because of his royal heritage, but also because he operates a free hospital for the poor which is attached to the rear of his hotel.
After settling into our room he suggested that we take a walk around the town with his assistant, the very handsome (and very happily married) Ravi. On our return the doctor was anxious to meet with us again and tell us all about his magnificent residence.
Khandela is a market town serving the nearby villages. It is quite unique compared to some other Indian villages. It is well organised, clean and very welcoming to visitors. Three major religions, Hindu, Muslim and Christian coexist harmoniously and industriously.
Our walk through the narrow streets of the town took us past busy tailors, chatty barber shops, handmade jewellery stalls and street food carts selling giant, crisp, golden samosas and an array of the most fascinating snack foods we have ever seen.
There were many tiny shops selling locally made colourful materials, cookware, and even a quaint local movie theatre. However, for us the most interesting aspect of Khandela was the daily street life.
We saw children carrying water jugs, as there is little to no running water in the town, sacred cows wandering aimlessly from shop to shop, carts being pulled by donkeys and camels, old men sitting in the street dressed in traditional white dhoti (a sarong warn by men) and farm women doing the daily shopping in their colourful red, orange and pink saris.
Ravi was amused at our complete astonishment as it was hard to believe we were still in 2018. This place immediately transported us to a bygone era.
We also explored the fresh vegetable market. The market is the centrepiece of the town, providing most of the necessities for about 80% of the locals who are vegetarian.
The vegetables brought from local farms were super fresh, colourful and plentiful. We discovered that only women shop in the market. This is still considered ‘women’s work’ in this antiquated village.
Further on we visited a number of small Hindu Temples and a local clay pot maker. We learnt how the pots were made from the raw, red earth of Rajasthan, quickly thrown on a potting wheel and fired in the open.
These beautiful pots, made largely for storing water, sold for as little $1 and were simply beautiful in both design and decoration.
We also visited a local school where we met the principal and some students studying together after hours. To our astonishment the school was very basic in its design, catering for three hundred children with fifteen teachers and four classrooms.
Here students are accommodated on cement floors with little to no furniture, but each room had a small chalkboard.
The last stop on our walking tour of Khandela was a personal invitation to visit Ravi’s home, where we were treated as honoured guests. He told us he was a middle class man and that he and his two brothers lived together.
Stepping into the house his elderly grandmother was resting on a small low bed in a dark room near the door. There were three large bedrooms in the house, one for each of the three families. The bedroom served as the family house for each separate family and each had access to a central courtyard, a communal kitchen and bathroom.
Although this was modest accommodation by our standards, the warmth and generosity of this happy family was more than obvious to us.
Ravi, his wife and two young children all slept in the one oversized bed, ate, watched TV and socialised in their one room private space, and sometimes all the families came together for a celebration. The women work in the house most of the day. Their time is divided between their own family and the extended family and everyone is well cared for. This brief encounter with everyday life in Khandela gave us enormous insight into the lives of these simple, hospitable and contented people.
Back at the hotel we were treated to a delicious home cooked Indian meal of rich spicy chicken curry, lentil dhal, fragrant steamed rice and a mixed vegetable curry. Dr Singh joined us and spoke about his plans for the Castle and how it was necessary to turn it into a hotel in order to maintain its upkeep. He also gave us some valuable information about the workings of his private hospital which was for the sole purpose of treating those who had little or no way to pay for treatment.
A valuable assistant like Ravi was skilled in both the dispensary work of the hospital as well as hotel management. Unfortunately, once Dr Singh is no longer able to continue his medical practice, the hospital will close. However, he does have two sons who are busy running the other family hotel in Jaipur and who will take over the run of the Khandela hotel when required.
Our time in the rural town of Khandela was too short but we are richer in understanding, wiser through insight and more appreciative of how simple necessities like running water should not be taken for granted. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to experience something so authentic and so inspiring, both culturally and spiritually.
If you find yourself on the road from Delhi to Jaipur and you turn off to a little town called Khandela, you will be delighted to find an absolute gem in the heart of the Indian wilderness. Stay at Castle Khandela for a truly royal night out.