Good Haveli Bad Haveli

“These review are all from jealous people.”

We made some lovely new friends in Jaisalmer. As a thirty five year old boy, I’d instinctively refer to this quartet of handsome and bright seventeen and eighteen year olds as boys. However I have no intention to condescend, in fact, the opposite. At their age I was vomiting Blue WKD behind Squares. Here, these men were embarking on a final cultural venture prior to their looming two year stint of compulsory national service for their native Singapore. Hussain, Sanni, Ratch and Nas looked like an entry to South East Asia’s Got Talent in their matching desert outfits and through the laughter we talked; politics, travel, photography, Youtube, history, art and dreams.

Collette and I had arranged a week of work at a camel safari on the edge of the desert and in exchange, we were to be provided with food and lodgings. As part of our trade, we were checking people in at the reception of the haveli, which is where we met our new friends. As I write,  we should be reunited with our new friends returning from their night sleeping under the Rajasthani stars. Instead we watch them on the rooftop of their haveli from another haveli rooftop across the city. Out of earshot. Our opportunity to reconvene with our new favourite man-band lost forever.

The Singapore Four were not the only newfound friends whose relations we could not consolidate through this place. We’d met a lovely Indian family of six, led by Prakesh and Praful. Collette had talked shop with Marianna, a sweet Romanian yoga teacher. We’d both checked in a very sweaty Jonas from Stuttgart. Jonas was travelling with shy Rebecca from the land of the political-dreamboat, Justin Trudeau. And then there were the lovely kitchen staff, F.K. and Aladdin.

You see we had to leave. Quickly. We were incredibly sad to leave these friends behind. We were also very disappointed to have been let down so badly. We had been very much looking forward to our working experience in Jaisalmer.   But after two nights in this camel safari, it became clear that to maintain our integrity and safety, we should pack up our things immediately and leave.

After we had packed up and prior to leaving, I went onto the rooftop to speak to our trusted kitchen friend, F.K.  I wanted to say goodbye and to tell him the real reason we were leaving. Learning what we had learnt, he would never get the truth from Abu. F.K., running an independent restaurant on the top of the haveli, had his head in his hands. I could see he was grateful for me speaking to him but also concerned for his business which was totally reliant upon the popularity of the haveli below. We shook hands and we shared a moment. Hopefully, the few wholesome staff their would get the real word from F.K. about our premature departure.

At our new haveli, they get things right. The Tokyo Palace.

“Namaste.” Smiles Ali, the smart, side-parted and mustachioed receptionist. “A complimentary chai or coffee sir and madam?” As we bundle through from the stifling street. Before we’ve even taken our bags off our shoulders or explained our entrance, we are invited to take respite in the spacious reception. An immediate sign of welcome, attention and care for not just the guests here, but humanity as a whole. Staff smartly and efficiently make their way with purpose around the exquisitely clean and cooling, white marbled floor. Ornate stone carvings flourish the arches, pillars and walls referencing the architecture of the fort which dates back to AD 1156. Joyful traditional artwork tells stories of Maharajas and goddesses. A wide-open curving marble stair-well aerates to the rooftop, offering a cool swirling breeze through the area where we stand enquiring about the cost of a room. My immediate assumption is that this place is out of our budget.

photos from the Good Haveli, The Tokyo Palace, Jaisalmer. 

Reverse two days and compare this to our landing at Abu Safari.   We landed late at night from a seven hour train ride through the desolate desert that had air-dried our souls. We required hydration and to be received by human beings. What we received was a gawping from a gang of frowning, desperate losers who, though they had been expecting us for six weeks, didn’t know our names. Abu had let us down and had decided at the last minute he could no longer collect us. His brother, Baddal, was the new boss. He had the eyes and the energy of a rapey terrorist preparing for action. He disapproved of us immediately and commenced with his throbbing, violent, inferiority complex. We had to demand water before we locked ourselves into our room and prayed for a better morning and the arrival of Abu.

Some new dawns never come. And I fear that the darkness that has descended upon Abu Safari will swallow it from the inside. We over-looked the poor organization. We allowed for the differences in culture that lowered the bar on acceptable levels of equality. We sought light through the cracks. But these were not just cracks. These were gaping wormholes. Worms were all around us. Slowly they squirmed out of the dirt.

It was 9.30pm at night. Collette was going beyond the call of our duty to check emails again in reception before we went to bed. Between us we were trying to get a handle on the train-wreck administration. It was the end of the season and Abu Safari was bereft of clientele. The reception was an echo chamber, lonely and dark. Only stone walls and the feverish, hot night. I had left Collette briefly so I could dampen a mop in a store cupboard adjoining to the reception. As I exited the store cupboard I wasn’t quite sure what I’d seen. Baddal was moving away from Collette looking very shifty and the energy of the room had reached eleven on the rape-o-meter. I couldn’t be sure so I returned the mop and moved between Baddal and Collette.

“Have any of your boundaries been breached, my love?”

A meek, “Yes.” Collette’s spirit momentarily frozen by the wandering hand and inappropriate intention of this horrible bastard.

“Most uncomfortable time we have ever had. If you are a western girl you shouldn’t take this one.”

“Abu invited his friends to join us during the night and one of them was all the time talking about his sexual life.”

“Worst experience of my life.. We visited jaisalmer and it was our bad luck we met these people..theze guys are jus _____…. crepy people…. we at least xpctd our stay to be memorable but they gave us such a bad memory to cherish with………”

“If youre a western woman alone don’t stay in the hotel. Abu is known all over Jaisalmer for trying to get with western girls”

Unfortunately, these are just the first few random atrocious reviews that form a small portion of a vast, vile swamp of experiences shared online by previous victims of Abu Safari. We had taken a cursory peek at a few reviews ourselves in advance of our arrival but somehow we’d seen only glowing reviews on Trip Advisor. Other sources, in retrospect, painted the true picture of this grim, man-hole. I suppose the lesson here is to research thoroughly and from a number of sources, especially as a solo traveler.

We hugged afterwards. I apologized to Collette for having to put up with what she suffered and we decided we wanted to confront Abu together. Unwilling to accept any responsibility for the disgusting culture that was alive in every single interaction in his filthy business, Abu made excuse after excuse. He had the look of a man tired of his own shit, but without the integrity or intention to die anything less than a creepy cheat. We explained the abhorrent details of what we had experienced from the moment we set foot into his world. We told him how we felt. Then we left. We refuse to be associated with it.

Now we sit in the breeze atop the Tokyo Palace with new friends; Marseille Kevin, Taaman, Ling Le, Yuki, Craig, Andrea and Brad. Hilarious and energetic Taaman, from Penglai, China, has just offered us a taste of his amazing egg chow mein served from the kitchen. A perfect, safe, interacting environment. The environment you hope for when you travel. The bright eyed and diligent restaurant chef and host, Pandya, making everyone feel relaxed. Amongst all the international foods you’d expect, he’s serving up generous tasty thalis with three rotis, a huge portion of jeera and coriander rice, dal, mix veg curry and curd. Enough for two, and all for 190 Indian Rupees.

Our room here suggests we’ve spent a lot more. We have a large bathroom and hot water from the rooftop solar. Silk drapes and cushions. Fresh white cotton bedding and retro Indian furniture. AC and a TV with sports and movies. It is amazing and clean and we are sad to leave. Especially as there is the cooling bonus of a shaded, private pool.   This is how to do it. And all for the bargain price of 1000 rupees.

camel safari in Jaisalmer arranged through The Tokyo Palace

Thanks for reading

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