We had barely met our tour leader when he suggested staying in a heritage listed hotel for a night. It was Day 1 of our 28 day tour of India and Nepal and he wanted to give us plenty of time to think about it. It was an option for Day 18 to replace the scheduled hotel in Khajuraho. Instead we would stay at the Hammeer Garhi Heritage Resort in a village called Basari for only an extra $10US each. Surprisingly for a group of seven the decision was immediate and unanimous: ‘Yes!’
This was the best decision of the tour.
We arrived in Basari early afternoon on Day 18 and were welcomed at Hammeer Garhi Heritage Resort with a free drink. It was love at first sight with its elegantly curving front steps, ornately decorated doorway and spacious green front garden. We were soon to discover that everything about it was spacious: the entry, passages, courtyard, balconies, bedrooms and bathrooms – with baths, the first baths we had seen. We were asked to select our evening meal and then shown to our rooms. Ours had a semi circular balcony with a ceiling fan, a four poster bed, and most mod cons.
Once we had settled in we were taken on a village tour. Basari is the village that formed around the resort when it was first built in the 17th century, and in a lot of respects it has not changed much. The caste system is still very much in evidence with lines on the street denoting the different caste areas and significant differences in the types of houses and amenities in each. Water comes from hand pumps or wells, and the houses have ancient roofs and walls without windows. We were told this is because they get 40 plus temperatures here during the summer and the thick walls provide insulation.
Drying cow dung sat in piles on the ground at regular intervals. This very renewable resource is used in a variety of ways: as a paint for the walls, for heating stoves and for fuelling small fires in summer to keep away the mosquitoes. Our guide Bishal demonstrated the difference between a fresh cow pat and a dried one by picking it up and threatening to bite it.
The people were very welcoming as we walked through the village, showing us their homes and allowing us to get a sense of how they live. Farming is obviously their primary source of sustenance as there were fields full of crops, cows, goats and boars. A priest invited us into his home and showed off his cute grandson who handed one of us a flower. There were small makeshift shrines everywhere and incense smoke wafted in the air.
As we continued walking we saw a lady working a hand water pump while several giggling girls collected the water. I spied two young children playing on a roof while at another house a few boys were stoking a fire in their front yard. We came across a group of children playing cricket in a field. As an Aussie this was a sore point for me as India had beaten us at cricket in the World Cup the day before. As soon as the children saw us they came running. Swarming around our group they showed the natural curiosity of youth, and in surprisingly good English started asking us questions. Elizabeth and I, being school teachers, starting asking questions back, mostly about education. We found out that they had finished their exams and were now on holiday. India runs on a different calendar from us and their new year (2071) was coming up shortly.
More children joined us as we stopped to watch a man making baskets. An older boy let Elizabeth ride his bike. When we finished our walk a cricket bat was produced and we were suddenly involved in a semi serious cricket game, locals versus foreigners, each of us having a go at batting.
All too soon we were ushered away. Hammeer Garhi Resort owns a modern mini palace in the middle of the local lake. We were supposed to be there for sunset and time was running away from us. We hopped into paddle boats, paddled to the palace and over delicious chai tea watched the remnants of a glorious sunset.
During dinner staff produced an ipod, connected it to speakers and a variety of music filled the air. Before we had even finished eating we were dancing and the staff joined in with some unique Bollywoodesque moves. Eventually we all disappeared, one by one, collapsing exhausted into bed. A magical day and a magical night and a view of India we will not soon forget.