When we first arrived in Ravandur, Kiran, our hospitable host turned good friend, instructed us to take off our shoes before stepping into his home. We added our sandals to the gathering pile laid out across the path in front of the house, next to an intricately drawn chalk mandala with a flowerhead laid in the centre.
The following fortnight was filled with delicious home cooked South Indian food, countless warm welcomes into the locals homes for chai, coffee and traditional snacks and the chance to see skilled workers build mud houses from scratch.
The team of builders let us watch in awe, film, shoot and even join in the building process which went a little like this: one worker was in charge of the cows, holding a stick and shouting instructions, leading them by a rope tied through their noses as they walked in circles across wet mud to churn it up. Next step was someone piling the wet mud into dipped plates with a spade and passing it to another builder who then carried the load on their head across the grassy field to the building site. The mud was tipped out into a pile, thrown up in balls to the builders at the top of the growing walls and squelched into a satisfactory, straight structure.
It was mesmerising watching hands kneed mud like dough into the desired shape for the sun to dry it into a sturdy wall. The whole process had a rhythmic pattern to it with everyone playing an important role in turning an empty space into a house. The rooms themselves are not just any old rooms, they are made with natural materials to be completely sustainable and they have been built by this community of skilled locals spending the days working together under the hot sun.
When it’s time for lunch, rice, dahl and vegetable curry are generously dished out on banana leaves for the workers to eat, always with their right hand as is custom. The women who did the cooking knew exactly what flavours and spices to blend to make the perfect dish from lemon rice with roasted peanuts to ragi roti with coconut chilli chutney. Most of the fruit and veg that they cook with is grown organically on the farm, the compost of what is not eaten going back to the land.
JJ barely went anywhere within the grounds or out in the village without his camera at the ready. People were very happy to have their portraits taken and didn’t seem phased at the lens following them about as they completed everyday tasks or posed in front of their homes. It was a great ice breaker for meeting people because they seemed as curious about the big SLR camera and the foreigners carrying it as we were about them.
Humans have always been fascinated by how others live, with different style houses, clothes, food and an entirely different language. But despite how none of our words from Kanada or English were the same, the universal language of facial expression and hand signs or body language can get a group of people with no matching words to a place of understanding. This is the joy of communicating across cultures when neither knows the other’s mother tongue.
Cows wandered around the dusty roads, people sat outside their houses chatting in groups or simply sitting quietly. Women swept the outside of their houses and poured water to clean the ground whilst kids ran around playing or getting their homework ready. Men milled flour in a dark mill adding it’s mechanical whirr to the other sounds of the village like the rumble of the occasional motorbike engine, distant sound of tuk tuks tooting their horns or birds calling to each other in song.
Because we were so touched by the generosity and welcoming nature of the people in the neighbourhood, on our last day we printed off many of the portraits that were taken on our walks and did a quick dash around the village to give them out. We wanted to leave a little something behind to show our appreciation.
In hindsight we should have given ourselves more time because of course everyone who we handed a photo to then invited us in for chai and food and we had to mime putting our rucksacks on and running for a bus to try and explain that we didn’t have time. Not having time didn’t seem to be a usual occurrence in daily village life. Some of the villagers we handed portraits to were the priest who was there when we did our first Puja at the Hindu temple and Kamalamma, an elderly women we interviewed for a short documentary we made about Kiran’s Ayervedic centre.
We also gave a set of photos to Kiran’s friends Dwaraka and Kavya from the adjacent village, Haralahalli. We could never forget our hearty dinners at their place, getting stuffed full of the best pakoras we have ever tasted in our entire lives.
Ravandur is certainly off the beaten track, and we couldn’t be more grateful to have had the opportunity to spend a peaceful couple of weeks learning to slow down and live simply. It’s interesting how Westerners or indeed, city dwellers from anywhere, can sometimes see these rural places as “in need of development” or as somehow “behind” when actually we could learn a lot from going back to the roots and living like the villagers do. We left with a deep sense of calm and the lack of attachment to luxuries associated with city living, realising what we already knew deep down – that all we need are the basics and if you throw in some good company and natural surroundings then we have more than enough.
All photos by Hogg Photography and writing by Jasmine Irving.