Having heard a bit about an unusual guesthouse owned Badal Singh, I was keen to visit him and spend a few days. Badal was known to live with a set of ethics that is much different than what most of Jaisalmer’s tourism industry follows. He would not work with travel agents, doesn’t try to squeeze the visitors of their last rupee, and would not bend the rules to get more business.
Badal lived in a small village called Khuri, an hour’s drive from Jaisalmer. He worked at one of the first ever guesthouses to open in the village, and eventually started on his own by building a few rooms within the compound walls of his house. When he threw open his house to visitors, he did not start off like everyone by enrolling with travel agents or posting signs all over the village. Instead, he simply posted a small sign that read ‘Badal House’, and waited for guests to come. “I did not want to call is a ‘guesthouse’,” he told me during one of our conversations.
Living with his limited means and being content with it, he was not keen to maximize his business potential and make more money. Instead, he focused on making his few guests feel at home, treated them like part of the family, spent time talking to them and telling them of his way of life. He would serve the guests the same food they prepared for the family instead of pampering them with a menu that had no personal touch. He would often tell me – “I get enough money to make a comfortable living, why should I ask for more?”
Good things get eventually discovered. And internet helps accelerate the discovery. Word spread of this unique guesthouse owner whom tourists could trust in, and go back feeling good. Some tourists started coming to Khuri just to stay at ‘Badal House’, and many who had Khuri in their itinerary would simply walk in to Badal House instead of contemplating on their options. He entered into Lonely Planet’s listings a few years back, which nearly ensured continuous flow of visitors. But Badal remained the same person despite all that, renting out his rooms for little money and treating his guests with the same geniality.
His simplicity was evident the very first time I saw him. He is a tall man with gray hair, a big mustache, and an ever present smile on his face. His prominent laugh lines divulged an easy going persona. He spoke with a slow but confident voice and kept his smile as he talked, expressing himself easily, without any inhibitions or apprehensions of speaking to an unfamiliar person.
Badal House is a bunch of rooms randomly constructed inside a small compound. One of the rooms serves as a kitchen, another a store room and another a bed room. A few rooms built along the edge of the compound serve the guests. An open area in the middle works as sit out and dining area, allowing visitors to sit in sun and while away the time.
It was lunch time when I arrived at Badal House, and a few guests had already gathered around a table. I was the only Indian at the house that day. There was an enthusiastic Croat living in Ireland, an Australian who had fallen sick with stomach trouble, and an enthusiastic Polish woman. A French couple had gone to the desert for an overnight camel safari, and were to return that evening. Most of the conversations through the day were naturally centered around travel as people spoke about their experiences of travelling in India and rest of the world.
While I was done listening to travel stories, I spent time talking to Badal and watched him at work. His livelihood came from his animals – a camel, a few goats and cows. He treated his animals not very different from the way he treated his own children. As we squatted and talked on the veranda of the house, he would frequently get out briefly to attend to the needs of his animals. When a pair of his goats arrived at home after grazing, he got up, let in one of them into the compound and got a dish full of water for the other. “One of them likes the water leftover after washing the dishes,” he explained me, “it likes the taste of remains of food. So I let it in. The other one prefers fresh water.” He knew the habits of his cows too, understood their preferences and attended to them with love and care.
Inside the compound, he had a pair of small goats born only a week ago, confined into a basket and struggling to break free. “I would like to let them roam free,” he said, “but dogs can pose a problem. They will have to wait till they grow a little older.”
He often spoke in length about his philosophies of keeping his business low-key, and unwillingness to expand and cater to demanding tourists. “Some tourists want beer and chicken, and their food has to be made to order. I don’t have any assistants or supplies to cater all these. So I tell them I can’t provide them,” he would say, “I already make enough money to make a good living. I do not need much.”
In the two days I spent with Badal, I never once saw him worried, upset of angry. He always remained cheerful, a nature that seems comes with a goodwill for all, an uncomplicated life and limited expectations and ambitions.
Continued at Sand dunes of Khuri