Mistakes make the BEST memories!
We were late leaving Jaisalmer that morning, but we really didn’t have a choice—not once we saw the Desert Festival that included a turban-winding contest for foreigners. Along with my two travel besties, Jaya and Janine, I clapped and cheered (and laughed) with the local crowd of families—each with their own immaculately-turbanned and impressively-mustachioed gentlemen—as our fellow foreigners proceeded to make complete fools of themselves.
So the morning was already gone when our driver pointed the car at the Sam desert in Rajasthan. Somewhere in all that sand was the camp where we’d be spending the night. We assumed that we’d be getting directions as we’d done on earlier India journeys—by IPS (India Pedestrian System). Every few miles, our driver would shout the name of our destination town to the nearest pedestrian/shopkeeper/entire family on motorbike/auto-rickshaw driver, and the smiling directions would be shouted back, along with helpful hand gestures.
At one earlier point I’d asked about a SatNav, and our driver responded with a flood of (presumably) Hindi that went on passionately for several minutes. At the end, Jaya turned to us. “He says he doesn’t like GPS.” She paused, and explained. “My mother used to say your map is in your mouth.” We must have looked blank. “You can just ask directions. People in India are very kind.”
Only…the road stretched ahead into a desert landscape remarkably devoid of any of those kind Indians. Jaya translated our driver’s muttered comments about missing our turnoff. She was trying to read a map when a palace loomed up with a helpful sign indicating that it was a hotel, and even better, a restaurant. Food! Toilets! But when we tried to enter, we were turned away with the information that the entire palace was booked for a wedding. Even the bathrooms were off-limits.
We returned to the road, concerns about directions taking a decided backseat to more pressing concerns about lunch and toilets. Luckily, just a few miles on we saw an unassuming sign announcing Devi Desert Resort.
We pulled in to find an new-looking complex of elegant bungalows with a gorgeous round restaurant. Just as we were seated, the co-owner came in. Laurie Kaslow turned out to be a fellow American, and we jumped at her offer of a tour. As she took us through the individual bungalows laid out like a beautiful village, she told us how she and her husband brought their dream of a hotel to life.
I begged her to share the story, and ask you to welcome her guest post.
Coffee, Chai, and Chance Meetings
Guest post by Laurie Kaslow
It was a random blue-sky day in February. Much like any other in the near- perfect weather of this time of year. Someone, I don’t remember who, came to tell me that there were “some western ladies” in our restaurant in the round. Hm… who might this be? I sauntered across sand and sun to find them seated in anticipation of a meal. Instead they got me.
This was to be my “official” meeting of Barb and company. The setting: the short story is that this is the site of my second career-a shift from thirty years as a trauma therapist in the States to builder, designer and now co-runner of a 10+ acre bungalow-style tourist accommodation situated on Sam Road headed west ending in Pakistan. We’re nestled between an Untouchable village ( yes, caste is alive and unfortunately well) and Rajput village. Have you guessed it yet?
We’re in India.
In the desert.
In a beautifully rural spot located exactly half way between the fabled Sam Sand Dunes ( and the last point anyone of western origin can travel to) and the fabulous sandstone-carved 12th century city of Jaisalmer.
For those unfamiliar (Carmen Santiago aside) Jaisalmer is essentially the end of the line of the well traveled tourist state of Rajasthan. One thousand kilometers left of Delhi—as the crow flies. A few hundred years behind the current trends. No Café Coffee Days (India’s Starbucks), no super Stop and Shop/Trader Joes, no stop on red, no uber, no no no! Just expanses of sand and sculptured lace-carved stone buildings and twisted alleys and cows and fabulous mustachioed turbaned men with ruby earrings, and the original Romany gypsies, and the street sweeping Jains and the adjarak attired Musselman, and the sparkling sari clad woman and much much more.
And how exactly did I land myself here? Another long story. Suffice it to say that in ’87 I made a promise to myself to take one of those, then popular, round the world tix. I imagined an initial stop in Italy to gawk at gaudy Gaudi but somehow ended up on a direct flight to India instead. My one year “sabbatical” turned into two and essentially the rest is a crazy ride of travel ventures big and small that have spanned these almost 30 years.
And the culmination of these “ventures”? My current life in the hospitality biz in the rough and tumble of the Thar Desert, ten thousand miles from my lush green home and hearth nestled in the sanctuary of the Blue Hills outside Boston. The leap (literal and figurative) to my present home is a long one. And I’ve mostly landed on my feet. Mostly.
And so begins the tale of Devi Desert Resort and Retreat; “where the rustic meets the refined”. Devi being female goddess. And this area being one of those rare places (other than in India) that still worships FEMALE goddesses (read about the holiday Navaratri for an in-depth look at this phenom). “ Resort” my husbands word. (“Retreat”, mine.) A sometime playland for those escaping the teeming urban megacities of India, a respite from the road for weary travelers, a natural re-energizer for those seeking adventure or contemplation off the grid. Complete with all those creature comforts you want and expect.
In 2011, I relocated pretty much full time to our sandy acreage—much to my husband’s relief—to help move our dream into some semblance of reality. Three+ years of a 40-person mostly male, mostly village ( remember those two villages we are nestled between…) construction crew and ME. Did I mention non-English speaking?
I chronicled hilarity and heartache, incredulity and impatience in my informal “India musings” writings sent out to friends afar. I realized pretty quickly that “common sense isn’t common”, and the curse of the 3-W’s was upon me: western, white, and woman. Tools aren’t to be taken for granted (my kingdom for a Home Depot) and talk about getting lost in translation.
But never fail! Stick drawings in the sand, most often in the dark of night, will suffice. I learned the tricks of the trade in spades. I think I’ve spent more time in RIICO sites ( Rajasthan Industrial Development and Investment Corporation ….) than the tourist sites. I know where to buy secondhand kitchenware dismantled from aging cruise-liners (that’s another wild tale I chronicle in “Along a long trip to Alang”), and can talk Nushar heat resistant paint with the best of them. I’ve raised four generations of 30+ dogs. I’ve helped plant and then water over a thousand trees and vegetables (used in our on- site veg restaurant).
And I’ve assembled draped ceilings with over 400 recycled saris (bought from those wonderful old ladies on the sidewalks of Nai Sarak), hung tapestries, made beds, designed pool tile patterns, stained wood, washed dishes, and manned booking sites.
I’ve hosted a Modi state delegation (ugh- another story), adventure travel students, the destination wedding party for the daughter of the first (or second) richest man in India (Bajaj in case anyone knows…). And I’ve hauled buckets of water, driven our electric car (vehicles prohibited), turned out lights and AC’s and TVs (our gentle environmental reminders that guests somehow never attended to….), introduced “western” type foods to our amused Indian vegetarian chefs, recycled too many plastic water bottles to count (when will India get on the recycle wagon?), painted our first windmill (we’re trying to get off the fragile and unreliable grid), and tried to roast marshmallows.
Did I forget to mention sweeping?? I have swept, and swept, and swept , and once more for good measure, the endless sand that creeps into every crevasse especially when the tornado like “Tufan” funnel clouds arrive.
Sometimes I think I got so swept away by India that I came back as a sweeper. Must be that empathic therapy background creeping back in.
Oh yes. There was the ten-day Bhagavad Gita event and the naked baba who wandered into our on-site temple. And the Diwali lights that rivaled any Christmas display I’ve ever seen (and ended up lasting all year….). And the camel trek to our desert camp where the skies opened up in a fluke rain storm and the “Andee” (sand storms) raged and uprooted 20 foot trees and… Well. It’s the desert.
But we have withstood it all. And as we enter our second year of welcoming those from near and far, we promise you opportunities not often captured in more traditional travel. The desert is a mysterious and contemplative place; the birds alight our thatched roofs and the cows and goats and camels graze along our lands. The serious sunsets in this western part of this world are a photographer’s delight and the beauty of the surrounding lands and twelfth-century Jaisalmer hold so many adventures just waiting to unfold. My western (American) sensibilities have tried to blend with my husband’s Indian ones to bring a combined cultural approach that brings the best of both worlds to bear. A true labour of life and love.
Who would have thunk I’d spend this last third (I’m counting on nine decades!) of my life in such a venture? What’s better than meeting adventurers and travelers from all over who are stretching beyond their comfort zones to experience the new and old? And to be a part of making that happen for them.
And look, it landed me at the table with Barb. Not bad I’d say!
And by the way, we did finally have a pretty yummy meal, no?
NOTE from Barb: Laurie confirmed that we had indeed missed our turnoff—a mistake that led us to a wonderful lunch and a new friendship! She pointed us in the right direction, and also told us about the not-to-be-missed ghost village of Kuldhara. So yes, some mistakes ARE well worth repeating.
If you’d like to get in touch with Laurie, or book a magical stay at Devi Desert Resort (Retreat?—She’s just installed a pool!), you can reach her online at DeviDesert.com, phone (011) 91 707 341 5555, or email her directly at Lauriekaslow@gmail.com.
[I’ve never accepted any form of payment for anything related to this blog, and this post is no exception. We were truly stunned by the artistry and devotion that went into creation of Laurie’s resort, and I just wanted to share the experience and excitement of discovery and new friendship.]