The Lucky Gulab Jamun Shop of Bandhavgarh

Today was my last day at the Tigergarh resort in Bandhavgarh. I decided to take things leisurely after a slow and quiet breakfast of fry eggs, toast and fruits. We decided to go for a drive through the villages near the forest to capture the life of the villagers as they go about their day. It does become hot in the afternoon as temperatures soar above 36 degrees. I took shots of women folks walking on the roadside carrying water in their pitches as the others tried to keep their little ones in check. You had motorcycles, bicycles and rickshaws being used as the local mode of transport. However, it was the houses of the villagers that fascinated me. Most of them were made out of mud, cow dung, sticks, branches and wood. Toasted clay bricks were used to make the roof waterproof. There were small cigarette shops as dogs sniffed around the villagers who were busy having their tea. It was hot, dusty and slow. Everything was in slow motion at a relaxed pace. We were even driving that way as Gagan took me through the small village to get me a real feel of the village life in Bandhavgarh. Some had unique ways of sleeping and had made beds out of tree branches and bamboo sticks that perched high above the ground so that they could sleep and guard their farms at night from tigers and poachers. Women folks fetched sticks and wood to cook a meal and used wells and ponds to fetch water. Most villagers wore lungi and shirts or vests. Some roamed around bare-chested mostly carrying long staffs or sticks with them to scare away animals.

There was a local higher secondary school where the kids went to study. It had its own toilets, which did not function due to lack of water pipes. There was a local temple with a statue of Ma Durga and Shiva being worshipped as the pandit recited the arti. Most houses had a courtyard where the whole family could sit in the evening and watch the forest. Food grains and cow dungs were left to dry here as most farmers grew their own food produce. Most of them kept cattle and goats and had dogs to guard them.

There was a cluster of huts and mud houses deep inside the village. These were the lowest cast of villagers – the untouchables, the people who did the most menial work in the village. These were removed from the rest of the villagers. Now, these people even kept pigs and farmed them to be later slaughtered for meat. Most of the villagers on the farm were vegetarians.

Our main attraction today was the Lucky Gulab Jamun Shop. This was a famous tourist spot where hot sweet gulab jamun was served with rich cream all for Rs 20 each. They made a sale of Rs 1500 every day. Not bad for a villager. Even with a profit of Rs 500, it was a good income in this place. The entire family lived behind the shop as the mother slaved over a mud oven cooking warm gulab jamun. There were wooden benches kept in the mud hut. The roof was held aloft with thick bamboo. On top was a thatched roof made out of hay and brown grass. The owner’s son played with his mobile phone. The young are well versed in internet and mobile technology. The gulab jamun was a mouthful and after paying for them, we decided to drive up to Tala, the village nearby to get some Classic cigarettes, which I was craving for. Mostly, only chota Gold Flake is smoked in this area.

There are about 40 medium sized 10 to 12 room resorts in this area each competing for a handful of animal and wildlife lovers. The competition is stiff but Gagan has a well-mannered and trained staff. The chef and the other helpers have been with him for a long time and can look after the entire resort on their own. With two Gypsy jeeps and a Scorpio, our man has a fine automobile collection. Add to that his pet Dalmatian dog. Gagan is no less than an olden day zamindar himself ruling the Bandhavgarh villages and forest like a tiger.

Taj also has a luxury jungle resort here and most people rely on TripAdvisor or to get customers and room bookings. A handful of trusted travel and tour operators in Delhi also keep sending some traffic, but here, the agent commission is around 15% to 20% most of the time. I, for one, had learnt a lot about the forest and how to run a resort.

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