Lonely Planet sparks omelette war

The Lonely Planet guidebook changed Ramkishan Gawlani life when it began listing his omelette stall in the Indian city of Jodhpur.

by: Reuters | 29 May 2007

"I used to be poor. I used to drink all day. I was tense and frustrated," said 60-year-old Gawlani, recalling the slow years before the listing in 1999.

"Now I'm relaxed," he said, even though the scores of guidebook-toting tourists squatting on plastic stools by his stall keep him pinned to his stove for most of the day.

Ideally, guidebooks try to unobtrusively nudge tourists towards the authentic sights and pleasures of a destination. In reality they have the power to transform almost anything they touch, especially in places popular with backpackers.

In Gawlani's case, the change was particularly dramatic. For 24 years he cooked mostly meat, rice, lentils and only the occasional omelette before Lonely Planet unexpectedly renamed his business "The Omelette Shop" in its listing.

Suddenly business was booming, and Gawlani's new, foreign clientele only wanted one thing – so he scrapped his old menu, and reckons he now cracks open about 1,000 eggs a day. "I have a lot of respect from people in Jodhpur now," he said.

Except, he adds, from the city's other, less feted omelette sellers, most of whom got into the omelette business only after Lonely Planet created an appetite for it. Gawlani said jealous rivals had tried to bribe local authorities to put him out of business.

"They are my enemies," he said.

A few footsteps away across the marketplace stands Gawlani's arch-nemesis, 20-year-old Vicky Chouhan, who is annoyed that his smaller stall is dismissed by the Lonely Planet as an imitation.

The Lonely Planet guide to India has sold over a million copies since 1981, its Australia-based publisher said.

But many backpackers say they have conflicting emotions about the thick paperbacks that send thousands of them shuffling around the same sights and sleeping and eating in the same hotels and restaurants every year.

"I think people are over-dependent on it," said tourist Daniel Kirchner, 32, between mouthfuls of Gawlani's specialty, a 20-rupee (50 U.S. cents) toasted cheese omelette sandwich.

Tony Wheeler, Lonely Planet's co-founder, said, "To some extent the problem is self-correcting. If the star omelette maker gets lazy and lets his standards slip, well next edition he goes out and the harder-working competition gets in."

So there is hope yet for Chouhan. But for now, Gawlani remains Jodhpur's omelette king.

Image: Ramkishan Gawlani, an omelette shop owner, gestures during an interview with Reuters at his shop in Jodhpur.

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