Recently, we visited a place called Choki Dhani, situated on the outskirts of Chennai. It was an unforgettable experience.
Choki Dhani, meaning ‘Excellent Village’, is a unique concept of dining and having fun, completely in Rajasthani flavour. Basically starting out as a Rajasthani cuisine eatery, it expanded to creating a complete village fair filled with rides, dances, snacks, acrobatics, puppet shows and even palm readers. This themed village fair can be found near several towns in the country.
As we reached, it felt we had reached a Rajasthani village from Chennai within a short time. The beautifully decorated entrance, set in the village style, gave a preview of the type of structures that we would find inside. We were greeted by a man on stilts at the entrance gate. Before we entered the reception office, a woman gave us a traditional welcome, by applying teeka on our foreheads. I looked around, all the men and women, who were part of Choki Dhani, were dressed in traditional Rajasthani daily wear. The famous welcome song, ‘Kesariya balam, padharo mhare des …’ was playing in the background. After getting the tickets, we were allotted a guide who was with us throughout our stay at Choki Dhani.
Near to the reception office was a pink structure with a small pond, wherein we enjoyed some boating. Once out of that, we were greeted with a group performing the Kachi Ghodi dance. It is a folk dance where the main dancer dons a dummy horse and sways around, while the rest play the instruments and sing songs. The highlight was when we got to don the dummy horse and sway as well. The fun had begun.
Soon, we started walking to the next stop and I noticed that the path was adorned with beautiful lanterns. They did look like the traditional kerosene lanterns, but actually they had electric bulbs in it. These would be lit at dusk, about an hour left for that.
We reached a small mock village which consisted of beautifully decorated huts. We heard a folk song, ground grains with a hand held millstone, tasted a tiny bajra (millet) roti and also tried our hand at pottery. There was also a cave-like enclosure with Shri Shirdi Sai Baba’s idol placed within.
We were then led to an open area with open pandals at different points and a small temple in the centre. The view looked like a lively village fair. There were snacks, hot tea, cold sharbat and sweets. I loved the hot and crisp jalebis. I hadn’t had such crisp jalebis in a long time. From time to time, at different points, we also had tiny rotis made from different flour.
And then there were the rides – camel ride, horse ride, camel cart ride, horse cart ride and bullock cart ride too. The attraction of the fair were the dancers performing traditional folk dances as well as displaying skills like carrying many layered pots, picking up sharp things like needles and blades with their eyelids, etc. And when they were done, one could also join them to learn a step or two. The musicians play their instruments all along.
Apart from these, there was a magic show, fortune teller, applying of mehendi, acrobatics on rope, puppet show, bioscope, a maze, a life-size snakes & ladders game, head massager (champi), herbal hookah, balloon shooting, etc.
We didn’t realise when the sun had set and the lights in the lanterns were lit. It was a sight to behold. Soon it was dinner time and we were led to a building, which seemed to be designed as a palace. The insides were beautifully decorated with traditional designs, just like the rest of the structures were. But this building looked grander. There were many dining rooms and we went into one such air conditioned room. There were rows of low tables in a circular formation arranged all around the dining room. We sat in one such formation. In traditional leaf plate and bowls, we were served a delicious Rajasthani dinner. I hadn’t tasted Rajasthani cuisine before, so there was nothing to compare to, but I loved it.
After dinner, we came out and rested for some time at one of the pandals. There was a soft evening breeze accompanied with the folk music constantly playing. It was a blissful ambiance. As I looked around to take in the beauty of the whole setting, I couldn’t help but feel bad for all who were working hard at the fair, especially the animals. They were constantly on the move, giving rides to visitors, one after the other. The dancers were dancing non-stop too, performing their risky antics again and again. I felt really bad for the mehendi lady. All evening, without any complain, she kept on making beautiful mehendi designs on the palms of eager girls and women.
The hard work put in by each individual to make Choki Dhani a welcoming place, is commendable. Since it is open only in the evenings, I am ascertained that these hard workers get their due rest. Yet, I felt that the number of animal rides could be reduced.
Soon, it was time to leave, though we didn’t want to. It was a place that was difficult to bid goodbye to. A revisit is certainly on the cards, especially to taste the delicious Rajasthan cuisine.
All the pics are credited to the Choki Dhani Chennai website.