Chanderi: the small town with the big hero

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The world has just lost one of his biggest heroes this week. Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable strength and honour, and he has changed the world to a better place.

I am a stronger believer that we all have a purpose in life, and that we should fight for the world to be a better place! It’s our responsibility, and it doesn’t matter if we do the tiniest thing or we completely change the world as Mandela did, as long as we contribute positively.

As his funeral goes on and I don’t have a TV, this is my way to celebrate Mandela’s life, so I would like to dedicate this post to him and all the other heroes out there 🙂


Meeting new people has always been one of my favourite things in life.

As a whole, the human race can be represented as a few sand grains on an immense beach, but some people are much more than a tiny grain, they can be a huge rock – and that is what I think of people. Some are just “passing by” but others are making a statement and leaving a stamp. I like to call those people Heroes.

Apart from Mandela; Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Angelina Jolie, Steve Jobs, John Lennon, Leonardo Da Vinci, are amongst my favourite all time heroes. But they are usually mainstream politic, artistic personalities that left and are leaving a mark on humanity.

However, for me, heroes are not only the mainstream personalities that we read on newspaper, or watch on You Tube. I like to find my own heroes, people who have made a difference by encouraging and inspiring good actions.

Now while on my travels, I am hopping to be able to meet many of those real life heroes… and so far I can say that I am confident that some people still surprises me on a positive way.

So I would like to tell you about my favourite “hero” so far in India. His name is Kalle Bhai (which means black brother).

Kalle Bhai is a modern Indiana Jones/Philanthropist/Self Taught/City Ambassador/ Historian and he is a very friendly and caring person.


He has written a few books about his town – the beautiful Chanderi, found several prehistoric artifacts and he is definitely the local hero that is clearly loved by his people.

He walks around his town with the biggest grin in his face and with such an enthusiastic attitude that he seems like a walking light that illuminates the way, and literally everyone in town salutes him – is such a beautiful thing to see, specially as he has time for everyone and always stops for a quick chat.  He is Muslim, but he says he is welcomed in any house in Chanderi’s mixed religious community.

We have now been pretty much all over India and one thing I can state is that I personally prefer the small towns rather the big cities.

So doesn’t come as a surprise that most of my trip highlights have been happening in small towns.


Stunning people in Chanderi

Stunning people in Chanderi

But I have to say that Chanderi was one of the cities that touched me the most, and no, is not because is prettier, or less dirty, or even less noisy… at first sight,  it looks like another regular small town in India. Chanderi is in fact a very small town that most Indians never heard about. However Kalle Bhai has been attempting to rocket its way onto the map and he is doing a brilliant job.

The town only has 28,000  habitants, very small if we compare with the likes of Mumbai, and Delhi, both with over (12,500,000 habitants) , but since important discoveries happened and important archaeologic stuff has been found, the old part of the city has been designated a UNESCO site of historical importance.

Chanderi UNESCO

Chanderi UNESCO


I have to say that while in Chanderi, there was virtually no tourist activity in the area because of its remote location. Apparently, the only tour company that comes to Chanderi is Intrepid Travel (the amazing company I have used to tour India). So as you can imagine, our celebrity status raised high while in Chanderi as we were definitely different from everyone else. Surprisingly we were so well received, everyone was so welcoming and friendly and made us feel at easy.

But the biggest difference from ALL the other places I have been in India, was the absent – but not missed, people trying to get your money. From children asking you for money and candy, people trying to drag you in to their shops or demanding money for taking their picture, etc, not even once we saw a beggar, neither anyone asked us for money, food or gifts at all, which was very refreshing…

Now don’t get me wrong, is not like I have an insensitive soul or anything, but people don’t realise how dangerous and bad it is for the entire community to give them money or presents. Tourists can in fact ruin a community by doing what they perceive as charitable and innocent. By giving money or presents to the community, it will encourage that behaviour and soon they will be begging rather than working.

Same for children, they will quickly leave school and stay in the streets selling small items or just asking you for money instead of staying in school learning. We have heard about some horror stories such children being “rented” so women can beg pretending its their child.

Beautiful children from Chanderi

Beautiful children from Chanderi



So after seeing the contrast of a community with health and conscientious tourism, I will definitely no longer contribute and encourage the problem. I hope you do the same no matter how spoiled already is, if you wish to contribute for that community, use an official organisation that will help the communities gain access to education, food, medicines and fresh water.


Now, let’s go back to Kalle Bhai, as he is the one that has been key for this positive behaviour and healthy community feeling we have seen.


Straight after we met Kalle Bhai, our city host/tour (all organised with Intrepid), we all liked him after a few minutes of conversation. He was so warm and full of life and had a genuine love for his city, his people and his community which he is so proud of. But it was after he guided us throughout the bustling bazaar, where he was greeted by everyone  with great respect – and no, no one asked us to get inside their shops; after he showed us all around town and made us feel welcome everywhere – even inside the mayor’s house where we actually got in to say Hi to him and his wife (which was previous mayor of the town too); after meeting the most beautiful and well-behaved children in the entire India, that were really curious about our light skin and different clothing, Kalle Bhai invited us to his humble house for dinner, where not only we had the best food in India (as heroic as Kalle Bhai may seem, his wife’s cooking is the biggest star) but we got to know better this local hero and his life story.

With the current Chanderi's Mayor and the previous one: Husband and Wife =)

With the current Chanderi’s Mayor and the previous one: Husband and Wife =)


As he escorted us to his house, he went to buy a bunch of chocolates, which at first I was a bit confused (is he planing to give it to us for desert I thought?)… Just before we arrived he gave each one of us a chocolate and told us to offer to the children. Once at his house, which he shares with a few of his brothers and respective families, we were welcomed at the common courtyard by his children and nieces/nephews which came to receive us with flowers and hugs. I then gave the chocolate that Kalle Bhai gave me and instruct me to offer his children and I felt horrible for not have think about it first.  However it was such a beautiful gesture by both Kalle Bhai and the children and felt so welcomed and lucky to be there.

Then we went to the rooftop where the dinner would be served under the light of the stars and the beautiful moon (the power kept going out – very normal in India trust me (funnily enough while I am writing this post right now, there’s no power…. lets hope the battery lasts 😉 )

Beautiful Family

Beautiful Family


Kalle Bhai and his awards :) + the food of course

Kalle Bhai and his awards 🙂 + the food of course


I am quite (should I say the true? ok, VERY) fussy with food, as I am vegetarian and don’t eat any spicy, which is a bit of a trouble in India. But that didn’t stop Kalle Bhai’s marvellous wife to cook one of the best Indian meals I have ever had in my life. Everything was so delicious and surprisingly healthy. What a beautiful treat.


After the dinner Kalle Bhai told us about his talented daughter that is famous in the community for her henna painting. So I obviously decided to take advantage of it and let her use her inspiration in my hand where she did a beautiful design that I wear proudly for a couple of weeks.


Kalle Bhai also introduce us to one of his biggest love in his life: his extensive coin collection that dates thousands of years ago. Very impressive collection I must say and he wouldn’t sell it for anything in the world 🙂


This coming from a men that grown up without hardly any food (he told us stories on how he and his siblings would listening their mother cooking for hours, eventually falling asleep – she was just pretending to cook as there was only water in the pan), without education (he told us that the teacher didn’t let him in the room because he had no shoes so was not allowed in the class room), no money… still end up being one of the most caring, intelligent, friendly and kind person I have met in India. A self-made man, that now speaks 6 different languages, even tho never been allowed to school, wrote 4 books, do archeology discovers for fun and out of passion, that every day shares his contagious smile and is eager to make his town into a better place by educating everyone around.

Even tho he shares a room with all his family where they sleep on small mattresses on the floor (saw it with my own eyes) still he is one of the most grateful men I ever met. What an inspiration. What a lesson. Specially for me and people like me, a Western, an European that is used to get tantrums because the water is not hot enough at home or because the train is late a couple of minutes…..).

Little girl from Chanderi

Little girl from Chanderi


Old man from Chanderi

Old man from Chanderi












Thank you Kalle Bhai, thank you for the beautiful presents you gave to us, for the company, for sharing your life with us, for touring your beautiful city and show it to us, for the most beautiful food, for the inspiration, and for making sure that Chanderi welcomed us without making us feel like walking wallets like in the rest of India.

You have done a beautiful job in your town and I am happy to share that with the world. You are a star, you are special, you are a hero, and meeting people like you is one of the main reason I am doing what I am doing. Thank you 🙂

With love,




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13 thoughts on “Chanderi: the small town with the big hero

  1. Diana

    I really liked the photos, specially those with the children. In this “travel photography” thematic, beside landscapes I’m interested in portraits and the last photo – of the girl – and the one with the boy smiling captured fantastic expressions! I really liked them! More than collecting places, collecting histories. Human histories. I like that motto. That’s my work as a qualitative researcher too and it highlights how humanity need to listen to all the voices. Even (and specially) the excluded and distanced voices. These children and this man seem, to me, example of that!

    1. Emma Olmi Post author

      you are absolutely right. And the little girl was just delicious. I had a great time photographing those beautiful children and people. The whole town was magic. thanks for reading xxx

  2. Bia Miranda

    UAU! Simplesmente fantástico este post. Adorei as imagens 🙂
    E gostei de saber mais sobre este grande herói que para ti foi um bom guia, anfitrião e amigo…
    Continua maninha *

  3. Fabienne

    What a gorgeous article! I’ve spent a week in Chanderi last December, and I strongly agree with all you say.
    I had tears in my eyes leaving that place. I will definitely go back 😀

    “Tourists can in fact ruin a community by doing what they perceive as charitable and innocent. By giving money or presents to the community, it will encourage that behaviour and soon they will be begging rather than working.”

    YES! Absolutely! This is very important!
    Love to all:D

  4. Tuku Seal

    I too visited Chanderi a few days back. When I asked for a guide, the hotel introduced me to Kalle bhai. Initially I thought that he may be like any other guide hankering for money, so I relied on my own source knowledge I gathered. I considered him only as a road guide because my driver was a first timer at Chanderi. Bur after moving with him arround Chanderi for about two days, I was immensely impressed by his knowledge about Chanderi and it,s historical & archeological background. I also noticed his immense popularity and respect among the local residents. I also found him getting concerned about the problems & needs of the local people irrespective caste, relegion & social status whether rich or poor or celebrity status. I also found his various personal contribution towards protection of Chanderi,s historical & cultural herritage. I wish him to continue his selfless service with the same zeal and honesty of purpose. Thanks again Kalle Bhai for your valuable information and notes about Chanderi.


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