To experience the true essence of the culture and traditions of India one must travel into the rustic corners of the country. Rajasthan in the northwest of India is a state that is recognized for its quaint villages, rich heritage, ancient architecture, and culinary delights.
One such gem, Kotri is located between the desert regions and the Aravalli mountain ranges in Rajasthan. Kotri is a charming little village consisting of 1200 villagers and stands testimony to the bygone era. Set in the heart of this village is my home, Kotri Raola. Essentially Raola refers to a fort or castle that was the residence of the main noble ruling family in each village of Rajasthan. It was built in the 18th century and to date holds its original structure.
The Raola was converted into a heritage homestay by my grandfather Late Thakur Saheb Mahendra Singh Rathore in 1990. He was an enthusiastic horseman, an avid breeder of Marwari Horses, and a passionate cook. This 300-year-old haveli soon became an ideal destination for horse safaris in addition to welcoming many groups of people who were keen on exploring the Mewar and Marwar regions of Rajasthan on horseback. Along with the horse safaris it also quickly gained popularity amongst creative minds, artists, authors, and musicians who traveled from different parts of the world to be immersed in nature and the simplicities of rural life.
Sustainable living is at the core of Indian culture, its philosophy and values teach us to be in harmony with nature and practice non-attachment to materialistic possessions. The village of Kotri along with other rural areas across India believes in this wisdom and lives by it. Travelers passing through our village have recognized our way of living and it has created opportunities to attract like-minded individuals and organizations. One such organization is the Putney student group, an American organization based in Vermont. They offer high school and middle school students the opportunity to make a difference in the world through travel, community service, and cultural exchange.
In 2009 the Putney group first arrived in Kotri with students and teachers excited to meet the local community and immerse themselves in Rajasthani culture. The students participate in many activities such as constructing schools, playgrounds and even helping local villagers with renovating their homes. Moreover, the students also help in teaching local villagers how to read, write and speak in English. The students are widely accepted within the community and are always invited to various events like weddings, prayers, music nights where all the villagers gather to sing songs and prayers. The Raola organizes many afternoon extracurricular activities for students to learn and enjoy such as pottery, woodwork, weaving, tailoring, embroidery, and painting. They are taught these skills by local artisans who have spent their lives mastering their trade and share knowledge that has been passed down through the family over generations. Putney Students also participate in traditional music and dance workshops, the village women all learn how to sing and dance at an early age mainly by observing their elders at weddings and prayers and enjoy teaching the group some steps. They also learn about the efforts to preserve traditional folk music and dance.
Another important aspect of the Raola is food, it is at the epicenter of our culture, and Rajasthani cuisine is famous for its bold flavours. For the duration of the program in Kotri, the students enjoy typical Rajasthani delicacies which they learn to cook as well. Some of the past students chose to explore local cuisine in greater depths and even created a booklet of Rajasthani recipes that they could take back with them to America. Over the course of 12 years, we have built a fruitful and long-lasting relationship with the Putney group and hope to continue to share our culture with their students.
Another organization that visits Kotri every year is the Princeton student as part of their summer community service program. Princeton emphasizes teaching its students about community service and civic engagement. They believe that volunteer service and that community-based learning can help their students to better understand and connect with local communities. The village has benefited tremendously from these exchange programs and it has motivated the younger generations to explore wider possibilities.
In current times one is reminded of how important the sense of community is, we have the power to uplift one another and share our knowledge and experiences to make a better tomorrow. Thus, I believe community service and civic engagement are some of the strongest pillars in establishing a link between the present and future generations. Our family at Kotri Raola is dedicated to this mission and will strive to build on our efforts each year with the primary aim to achieve sustainable development.
Kotri - Rajasthan, INDIA