Isolation stories – Vandana

Around 20 years ago, when I escorted my first group to Orchha, a small town in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, I met Vandana.

Vandana was a newly married young woman living with her husband Raju in a single room fronting the main street leading into town. Her ‘home’ was enroute from our hotel to the main town square and was nothing more than a ‘garage’ with a roll up corrugated iron door. I actually first met Vandana at a local kindergarten where she was teaching. Although untrained, she had a teaching job which paid her a very meagre salary, it was hardly enough for her and Raju to survive on. Next time I walked by her front door, Vandana was sitting outside and recognizing me, beckoned me to come and have chai.

We formed a friendship from that day. Despite her simple home, the single room inside being discreetly curtained from the outside when the roller door was up, Vandana generously invited me in and would cook wonderful dishes which she shared with me. Such simple yet delicious home cooking I’d never before tasted.

Vandana cooking on the floor of their one-room home

As Vandana’s home was in such a prominent position, witness to tourists and travelers walking by daily to and from the couple of hotels situated further down that road leading from town, I suggested that her and Raju begin to sell basic supplies that tourists might like such as bottled water, soft drinks and snacks. And so began Vandana’s connection with tourists.
Eventually, Vandana and Raju were able to move into a larger 2-room home and Raju took a stall in the market selling trinkets to tourists. I suggested Vandana start cooking classes in her home and before long, they were a family of three with the arrival of their daughter Gouri.

2006 with a very little Gouri

Several years later, Vandana and Raju had been able to save enough money to purchase a block of land and build their own home. Vandana continued to give cooking lessons, Raju eventually gave up his market stall and their wonderful 3 bedroom ‘mansion’ became the home of Vandana’s home-stay and of course the location of Vandanas cooking classes. A room out front was filled with all manner of things the average tourist might wish to buy – spices, spice boxes, jewellery and more.

Branching out, Vandana decided to become a tour guide and is now a qualified local guide for her beautiful home town of Orchha, which remains off the major tourist routes, but does get its fair share of small groups and lots of independent travelers.

In addition to cooking classes and having a small on-site shop, tour guiding has given Vandana and her family (now 5 with two daughters and one young son) a little extra income to continue to prosper and improve their home and lives.

Cut to March 2020. India is in lockdown, the tourists have all gone and with no income for a family who rely entirely on tourists to make a living, Vandana wondered how on earth her family would survive. Having toyed with the idea of starting a Youtube channel for cooking videos for some time, Vandana decided this was the perfect time to launch it.

Over the past couple of weeks, Vandana (with the assistance of her oldest daughter Gouri) has made a number of cooking videos and they are making and adding more daily.

Although at this point, Vandana is yet to make any form of income from her videos, I am working with her to figure out how to best monetise the cooking classes and to make the most of her fantastic chef-ing skills. Any suggestions you might have to help out Vandana turn this venture into a money-making one would be greatly appreciated.

In the meantime, please visit Vandana’s YouTube channel, like and subscribe, and do try out her recipes. I can personally vouch for how wonderful, easy and successful they are as I’ve tested a few of them already.