Monday, April 07, 2008

It's a good thing I have a brother to continue the family line...

...because my reproductive capabilities might just have been compromised a little.

OK, drastic statement, that. Don't want to scare off any potential brides. Let me put this in context... I'll start by beginning this post from scratch, including a new title.

4 guys. 3 days. One car. 2000 km.

The weekend of Good Friday and Holi was a three day weekend. Having had quite enough of Gurgaon and its environs, four of us decided to pack our bags and set off on a good old fashioned road trip. Our destination: Jaisalmer, in the midst of the Rajasthani desert in the extreme west of the country. We plotted a Delhi -> Jaipur -> Ajmer -> Jodhpur -> Jaisalmer itinerary, a total one-way distance of about 900 kilometres.




Apart from eating some very simple yet amazingly tasty food at a whole lot of random dhabas along the way, we hit some very interesting spots, and had some pretty cool experiences. Here's a brief description of the highlights of the trip; maybe this will be helpful if you plan a trip to these parts someday!

1. Vroom!

I love driving. It's one of the things that gives me the most pleasure in my life as it stands now. And the roads of Rajasthan are be-yoo-tiful. Smooth roads all the way, even in the middle of nowhere en route to tiny hamlets and villages. There's something very uplifting about being able to zoom down a fantastic road at a consistent speed of 140 kmph... It makes the blood rush and makes one feel glad to be alive. The roads were waiting for us, daring us to rip them up... and we were more than happy to take up the challenge. Looooong drives + lovely roads + awesome music + good company = a fantastic experience.



The road ahead...

2. Khwajaji...

Ajmer is synonymous with the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. We visited the holy site, prayed and made the customary offerings of flowers and a shroud for the grave. The early morning, birds twittering all around, cool marble flooring and the soft strains of beautiful Sufi music... heavenly. One could have sat there for hours just watching the throng of fervent devotees and enjoying the soulful renditions of the singers.



A band prepares for a procession outside the dargah

FYI, this is not the Khwajaji in the kickass song from Jodhaa Akbar. If I've got my facts right, that song was for Salim Chisti who Akbar (and AR Rahman) are devotees of.


3. The Royal heritage

The Rajasthani royals of yore ruled their empires from their fortresses, large sprawling complexes built atop hilltops to afford a clear view of invaders. We visited the forts at Jaipur and Jaisalmer.

The Jaipur Fort is maintained by a private trust and not the Government, which explains why it is so much more tourist friendly and well-maintained than most other historical locations. It features a very very extensive museum and gallery showcasing the history of the ruling family and their exploits. It also features an extensive armoury featuring beautiful swords, daggers, guns, shields and spears (of the Rajasthani and not the Britney variety). A very beautiful structure, indeed.


Also worth checking out at Jaipur is the palace of the current Raja, Umaid Bhavan. It's now part tourist attraction, part heritage resort and part marriage/event venue, I think. It's a really magnificent building, but we couldn't give it much time because we had to hit the road.


The Jaisalmer Fort is not so much a fort as a complete living township. It's still very well populated today with shops, restaurants and whatnot all over the place to cater to the considerable number of tourists. I would recommend setting aside atleast 4 hours to explore it... there are several tiny roads and points of interest within the complex that will take time, patience and lots of sunblock to cover completely.

The forts also offer, as expected, fantastic views of their respective cities.


Jodhpur, the Blue City

4. Hello Pakistan!

On a whim, we drove to a small temple town and army outpost called Tanot, 120 km from Jaisalmer and 16 km from India's border with Pakistan. This area was a key battle zone during the war of 1971, and came under heavy shelling. The troops believe the local deity - Maa Tanot Devi, a form of Durga - protected the soldiers then and continues to do so to this day.

We chatted with the jawans and officers posted there and were told that to get army permission to visit the actual border, one had to go all the way back to Jaisalmer or an intermediate mini-town called Ramgarh. Much to our surprise, however, the General in charge of the base allowed us to visit the army post on the border.

So there we were, 16 km later, chatting with the soldiers posted at the border and taking turns looking through their binoculars at the Pakistani outpost on the other side of the no mans' land between the countries. They shared their army experiences (one of them had served at every major border area of the last decade), and told us how life was on a daily basis, looking out for smugglers and soldiers from across the border. They were ecstatic to see us (especially since two of us were from their hometowns), their only grouse being that we hadn't brought any Holi colours for them.

I visited Tawang near the border with China last year, and both these experiences gave me a renewed appreciation of how much these brave men and women have sacrificed in order to ensure our safety and sovereignity. Battling through harsh weather conditions, staying away from home for months on end... it's a difficult life and takes guts, passion and courage to do it... Somehow, a lot of what the rest of us do and crib about in life seems to pale in comparison.



The long, often dangerous international border with Pakistan

5. After the main course, the desert!

One thing every single visitor to Jaisalmer does - and must do - is take a nightime camel safari into the desert. There are innumerable tour operators who can arrange one for you. A typical package would include a couple of hours of camel riding, dinner at a campsite (with Swiss tents that have all amenities you could want) with performances by local gypsy troupes, a bonfire, possibly some drunkenness and a good night's sleep.

For a super experience, however, convince your tour guy to take you into the desert so you can sleep under the open sky in the middle of nowhere. Trust me, it's well worth it. The camel guy takes you out into the desert, cooks you a simple meal for dinner and leaves you to sleep with the stars. In the morning, he makes you tea and breakfast, and leads you back to the real world.

We were there on the night of a full moon, and the scene was breathtakingly beautiful. Rolling sand dunes, billions and billions of stars in a wonderfully clear sky and the gentle desert breeze. Extremely inspiring. (Also extremely romantic, which made things a little depressing because I had no one with me to be romantic with.) The sheer beauty of the landscape, stretching out across the silent desert, made the trip worth it. We were an hour's camel ride way from any road or form of civilization... sheer bliss. To give you a brief (but very inadequate) idea, here's a picture. And the light you see, folks, is the moon.



The beautiful moonlit desert night


Camping in the middle of nowhere...

Most overnight desert packages start about 3pm in the afternoon and will bring you back to your hotel about 11am the next morning. Charges can range from Rs 1500 to Rs 10000 per head depending on how much of a mug you are, how many foreigners are in the group, and how many camels you intend to use. So don't be afraid to bargain hard. If you have the time, shop around among a number of tourist agencies to ensure you get as good a deal as possible. But under no circumstance whatsoever should you miss out on this - this was easily the single most brilliant memory of our road trip.


So that's that... 3 days VERY well spent. When we initially told people about our plans, they were dismissed as being crazy, impractical and pointlessly tiring. Well, we proved the naysayers wrong :)

Next up: a Punjab road trip, up to the Indo-Pak border at Wagah.

Update:
I read through the post and realised I had completely forgotten to put my original statement in context. I'll try to put it as plainly as possible. The camel is a nice animal and fun to ride, but ensure you're mounted on it correctly or its lurching motion will hurt you in places you'd rather not be hurt in.

15 comments:

Gayatri said...

waaaaaa... Jealousy is coming li'l bit :)

for the next trip, if you have place for one more traveler who promises to be bery bery good, please give heads up. Wagah has been on my list for much longer than I care to remember!

DiVa said...

Full moon night in the desert!! wow..

AC said...

@ Gayatri: Will do :) How about this weekend?

@ Divya: Trust me, wow doesn't do justice to it :) You should try it sometime if you haven't already...

Divya Das said...

I am tad bit jealous too.. Seems to me like it was an amazing experience!

Gayathri said...

:) lovely. u must try the punjab road trip. the roads are not too great but somehow u get the RDB effect :)

Chaim said...

Beautiful post. Unfortunately, all of my road-tripping has been limited to hear in the states. But I consider myself to be a huge fan of such trips. Took one up the California coast on Hwy 1 just one week ago.

Great photos. And I dream of sleeping under those stars one night. Sounds magical...

pnoasnidtiinvie said...

nice post !
Jaipur....brings back so many memories ! There is a place called Rawat Mishthaan Bhandar that is known for its Pyaaz ki Kachoris...did you guys check out Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar etc in Jaipur ? I also love the way the nomenclature of the shops hasnt changed since I was a kid.....Pyarelal Dularelaal, Dhaniram Ghanshaamdas.....etc etc....

Shree said...

like the 'podi' in ur title head man! nice...
2 fotos : damn good lighting... probably start a photoblog!

Nandu said...

Nice! I love the Wagah border. Go to Amritsar and do not miss the Golden Temple for anything, including that desert stay :) And eat there too! Also, eat in Kesar da Dhaba, please! Eat for me as well, and the Wagah, OMG, I have been there and want to go agaaaaain :( Miss all this here! Send pics no? Let me end this comment which looks like an email anyway with love you muchly and miss talking and all that :P There, am I not a nice sis? Call or email NOW!

AC said...

Wasn't able to do a Punjab road trip after all... but spent 3 wonderfully restful days at Dalhousie!

@ Chaim: If all goes well, I'll be in the Us sometime next year, and I intend to do a LOT of driving there!

AC said...

@ pnoasnidtiinvie: Well, we decided to do a deep dive in Jaipur sometime later, since its only a few hours away from here and can easily be done over a two day weekend... will check out Rawat Mishthaan Bhandar for sure - food is always a priority! :)

@ shree: What podi? I don't think I take enough photos to justify starting a photoblog!

Vivek said...

Nice!

pnoasnidtiinvie said...

if food is a priority then you might want to check out Chhoti chaupad and Badi Chaupad.....they are crowded shopping areas, but have some really superb chaat places, if you care for such stuff. no visit to Jaipur is complete without going to Govindji Mandir, Jantar Mantar and Ram Nivaas Palace.....and , if time permits, Birla Temple and the temple at Moti Dungri. Outside Jaipur (I guess about 15-20 kms) there is a place called Gadh Ganesh. you have to climb several flights stairs (in a setting that resembles a fort) in scorching heat....barefoot....to see the deity.....its somewhat arduous...but it could be fun with friends.....
my two cents on Jaipur :)

Supergirl said...

Sounds simply brilliant!

AC said...

@ pnoasnidtiinvie: Wow... thanks! Will definitely get in touch with you before I explore Jaipur :) I haven't had much time on my previous visits there; did some fort hopping and spent a few leisurely hours at Choki Daani...

@ supergirl: It was :) Words cannot do justice to the experience... you have to try it yourself!