The Pallares thought they were stuck in a pandemic nightmare when the coronavirus lockdown stranded them in rural India, but now the French family are in seventh heaven — despite the veggie diet.
Living in the grounds of a Hindu temple for the past 50 days, it has become “the most beautiful memory” of their road trip for the two parents and their three children, mother Virginie Pallares said.
“We are experiencing the most incredible generosity,” Pallares, who works in a pharmaceutical laboratory back in France, told AFP from their temporary home in the northern village of Pulwa Dhala.
The villagers “bring us fresh buffalo milk and vegetables. They refuse to take a single rupee and when my son had a 40-degree fever, they took it in turns to help despite the fear of coronavirus.”
“They even planted three trees as a souvenir of us,” the 44-year-old said.
The family left their home in Toulouse in southwest France in their 4×4 last July and drove all the way through Turkey, Iran and Pakistan on their way to India.
They wanted to continue into Nepal but on March 24 they were turned back at the border after it was shut because of the coronavirus lockdown.
But a 66-year-old Hindu priest with greying dreadlocks who locals call Haridas Baba took them under his wing and invited them to stay with him.
They all cook and eat together. Husband Patrice Pallares, a mechanic, helps with odd jobs. Every evening they join Baba in performing his religious ceremonies.
Since he has problems pronouncing their foreign names, he has given all the family new Hindu ones. Virginie for example is now “Yashoda”, foster mother of the Hindu deity Krishna.
And because he is a strict Hindu, their diet is vegetarian.
“The hardest thing is not eating meat anymore. Sometimes we dream about having a nice steak,” Pallares said.
The parents and the three children, aged nine, 13 and 18, sleep in a tent on top of their vehicle.
For power they have a solar panel. For water there is a well and they use the toilet of the village school.
India has eased the lockdown in places but the area where the family are is classified as an “orange zone”, meaning they cannot travel. And the border remains closed.
“As soon as we can we will try and cross into Nepal. Going back to France is out of the question for us right now. We’re better off here. The epidemic seems much more under control than in Europe,” Virginie Pallares said.
The police come to check on them every other day, and stay in touch using WhatsApp.
“We have asked them several times if they want to move to any government buildings or a hotel,” local police inspector Shah Mohammad told AFP.
“But they say they are very happy around the temple.”