Friday, September 14, 2012

Rangeelo Rajasthan - Jodhpur







                                                            The beautiful city of Jodhpur


We reached Jodhpur on our 4th marriage anniversary. It was the Christmas eve as well. It was beautiful staying at Mandore Guest house, about 7 kilometers from Jodhpur and right across the supposedly beautiful Mandore gardens (which we never visited). We wanted to have a good time on this special day and were off towards the city. The things on agenda were of course the delicious Marvadi cuisine, The Mehrangarh fort, Jaswant Thada and the Umaid Bhavan palace.  Most structures in Jodhpur (just like in Jaisalmer) were Blue. This is to avoid insects, we were told. I kept wondering if the color had something to do with pesticides.

Nevertheless, Mehrangarh fort is one of the beautiful(lest) fort and the biggest in Rajasthan and was constructed in 1459. Unlike the Jaisalmer fort, this was better maintained and un-littered. The fort is more or less a museum and a house to various artifacts of the erstwhile rulers of Jodhpur. Same goes for the Umaid Bhavan palace which is now converted into a five star hotel. Jaswant Thada is the place where the royal family is cremated. The beauty and majesty of the place is something that cannot be expressed in words. Hence, the pictures.
                                                  
                                               At the entrance - Mehrangarh

A traditional welcome
The name of the constructor ruler
 
One of the many amazingly constructed buildings inside the fort
   
I dunno who he is, but made-up for a good photo
One of the many antiques in the fort museum



The Dewane-Khas

View from the other side - This side is also seen in The Dark Knight Rises
Towards Jaswant Thada
Jaswant Thada - first view



The front facade
The interiors


Umaid Bhavan Palace

Umaid Bhavan - Hotel entrance

Museum

the interiors

Rangeelo Rajasthan - Jaisalmer


We were anticipating Jaisalmer to be the highlight during our voyage to Rajasthan and it indeed lived up to our expectations. We spent two nights at Chokhi Dhani located in the Sam village, at the outskirts of Jaisalmer city. 

                                                 At Chokhi Dhani



By the time we reached Sam, it was well past noon. Since we were camping out in the open, it was really cold and it appeared there was no stopping the wind which was blowing at great speed. The flags on the top of the tent (which I guess were put up for identification) flapped frantically. After lunch and a sweet nap later, it was time to go to the Thar Desert situated about a kilometer away and we had the ship of the desert for company. The temperature might have been 2 or 3 degrees and while on the way, I saw couple of never-seen-before birds. Since I was just making forays into bird watching, I promised myself to look up in to Salim Ali’s book titled the Birds of India for the identification of these lovely species. These birds, I later realized were Desert Wheatears.

A little later while still on the camel, we were going up and down on the sand dunes and really enjoying the time out. The care-taker was a local boy. We asked him to take us further down to avoid the noise clutter (Yes, there were indeed a lot of people). He said he would charge us INR 300/- and we agreed. The locals live on the tips from the tourists which normally is more than what the hotel wala would have paid them. As we kept moving from one dune to another, an idea stuck into the mind. My photographer instincts made me jump off the camel and take this snap. I wasn’t a DSLR possessor yet but the snap was satisfying.


We soaked the serene sunset for quite a long time till it was quite dark and the sky was brilliantly lit up with stars - a sight not to be seen in Mumbai anymore till it was time to go back.


Jaisalmer is known for the desert and the Rajasthani folk music for entertainment. At Chokhi Dhani, the music was good enough to pull people out of their cozy tents to enjoy the party even though the temperature had further nose-dived.  The dancing banjaran girls slowly started to pull the guests to have a jig and the atmosphere suddenly was charged up since the ones who weren’t dancing opted to cheer up the dancers by clapping instead. A short while later, puppets with the names of Amitabh Bacchan, Abhishek Bachhan and Aishwarya Rai too thoroughly entertained us. The top class Rajasthani vegetarian dinner at Chokhi Dhani was an icing on the cake.

Next day, we were off to the Jaisalmer city for some shopping and site-watching. The road from Sam to the city is quite aloof and you can drive the car at F1 speed if you really wish to. But the cabbies normally tend to not drive more than 80kmph to get a better average out of the car. There was hardly a soul on the way to Jaisalmer city for a few kilometers. We however enjoyed the company of a couple of long legged Buzzards flying just above the car, probably looking for their prey.

The Jaisalmer city has a mesmerizing charm. The moment we got down from the cab, an imposing Jaisalmer fort, also known as Sonar Qila was staring us in our face. This is one of the most culturally significant landmark of this place and has a bit of timelessness about it. From quite a distance, the fort looks like a huge golden cliff and like an illusion with the desert in the backdrop. And from inside the fort, you look anywhere outside at the city, you are sure to find a breathtaking view of the candy colored buildings around the fort. It was an amazing view and a sight to cherish.

                                        View from the fort - Jaisalmer city



About 1/4th of Jaisalmer’s population lives inside the fort. Unbelievable but true! They sell various things inside this magnificent fort, blame it on the number of tourists coming to Jaisalmer. The fort is huge and depicts the architectural grandeur and the rich heritage style of Rajasthan. There are many museums and decade old jain temples inside the fort. Shoppers can have a good time here since they can buy exquisite jewellery, shawls, textiles, kurtas, bags et al. The price however is very high for most items and the items which cost lesser are available in Mumbai at much cheaper rates. There are camel safaris available from Jaisalmer to various other parts of Rajasthan like Bikaner, Jaipur, Jodhpur etc but they were mostly to attract foreigners and we therefore chose to stay away.

                                                   Inside the Jaisalmer fort


We would have perhaps walked a few kilometers to check out the entire fort and were tired and hungry. Later, we walked into a famous restaurant called – 8 July for lunch located inside the fort. The owner is an Indian-Australian and this restaurant was recommended on a Discovery Channel show – Highway on the plate. Wastage of food here is a strict no-no. The price of most of the items available here is too high, however it was heartening to know that the food is prepared specifically after the order is placed unlike other places where the food is ready and is served immediately once the customer places an order. The kulchas, naan, sabzi and kesar-lassi available were quite good.

Post lunch, we found it difficult to walk to the Patwon ki haveli located a kilometer and a half away from where we were. We thus returned to Chokhi Dhani. After having an amazing time with food and entertainment yet again, I hit the bed thinking about Jodhpur, which was our next stop.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rangeelo Rajasthan - Bikaner



This was it. The wait was over. The Holiday (with a big ‘H’ - the trip was a 15 day long affair) had already begun and the Dadar-Bikaner Express was about to reach Bikaner railway station shortly. The passengers had already pushed their luggage close to the exit. Someone’s phone rang. The ringtone was familiar. Many people set a ringtone but purposely delay picking it up when it rings as if letting others listen to it. This ringtone was not the one I liked in particular, but it was an indication of where I was. The song selected as the ringtone was – Maiya Yashoda from the film Hum Saath Saath Hain which was shot in Rajasthan. It brought a smile on my lips which also added a different and unknown flavor to my admiration to the stone walled structures which I was busy admiring from the small window. Soon the train reached the railway station of the city which was built in the 15th century by Rao Bika ji, the ruler of erstwhile Bikaner. The streets and buildings have a primitive appeal and did remind one of the erstwhile days of the kings. I had been to Jaipur – the city with its pink architecture and found its resemblance with Bikaner was quite apparent.



This was it. The wait was over. The Holiday (with a big ‘H’ - the trip was a 15 day long affair) had already begun and the Dadar-Bikaner Express was about to reach Bikaner railway station shortly. The passengers had already pushed their luggage close to the exit. Someone’s phone rang. The ringtone was familiar. Many people set a ringtone but purposely delay picking it up when it rings as if letting others listen to it. This ringtone was not the one I liked in particular, but it was an indication of where I was. The song selected as the ringtone was – Maiya Yashoda from the film Hum Saath Saath Hain which was shot in Rajasthan. It brought a smile on my lips which also added a different and unknown flavor to my admiration to the stone walled structures which I was busy admiring from the small window. Soon the train reached the railway station of the city which was built in the 15th century by Rao Bika ji, the ruler of erstwhile Bikaner. The streets and buildings have a primitive appeal and did remind one of the erstwhile days of the kings. I had been to Jaipur – the city with its pink architecture and found its resemblance with Bikaner was quite apparent.


The Camel breeding farm

When you are in Rajasthan, you see Camels everywhere.. on roads, outside railway stations, around hotels etc. For sure, it is the ship of the desert and one of the major tourist attractions as well. We went to the Camel breeding farm managed by the National Research Center on Camel (NRCC) later in the evening after a short nap. NRCC is situated about 8km from the Bikaner city at Jorbeer. This is an incredible farm managed by the government which attracts a lot of tourists. We enjoyed tea made of camel milk and also jumped the shopping bandwagon to buy blankets, bags, clothing, etc made of camel hair. Apart from being a home to the Bikaneri breed of camels, the farm also has Jaisalmeri and Kutchi breeds.





The Karni Mata Mandir – the Rat temple


After the breeding farm, we decided to visit the very famour Rat Temple of Bikaner – The Karni mata temple. There is a huge gathering of the devout at the temple everyday for seeking blessings of the goddess and some come for simply a glimpse of this unique temple. This temple is situated in the Deshnok district about 30 kms from Bikaner. By the time we reached there, it was quite dark. Just like any other place in India, there are small hotels and dhabas surrounding the temple and the people working in these hotels keep making an invitational gesture to the tourists eager to get hold of each of us.

The huge front gates of the temple made us oblivious of the people around. They are huge and made of silver whereas the walls are made of marble. The temple dates back to 15th century and was made by the then ruler Maharaja Ganga Singh.

The moment you enter the gates, you would require to take extreme care to not to step on the (thousands of) rats also known as Kabbas running everywhere inside the temple. It is believed that the temple is host to approximately 20,000 rats who are the devotees of Karni mata. When we went for the darshan of the main idol in the temple, I was surprised to see these tiny creatures on and around the idol too. It was an unbelievable sight. After the darshan, we fed these rats with nuts for sometime while looking for the white one, the sight of which is a sign of luck. But it appeared, it had an appointment elsewhere.

Post the visit to the temple it was dinner time and of course, time to wander in the mithai shops lined up near the Bikaner railway station. After a light dinner of daal-baati churma, we let ourselves loose in these shops which had a series of mouth watering Rajasthani delicacies. Moong Daal Halwa, Ghewar, Malpuas Churma Laddu… we ate to heart’s content.

The Junagarh Fort

We were up early morning the next day and were looking forward to visiting the first fort on our trip. The Junagarh fort is also known as Bikaner fort. The first Mahal out of the many we visited inside the Junagarh fort was Chandra Mahal which is decorated by mirrors and Bikaneri art work. Also, the fort is a house to an amazing museum with a vast collection of ancient manuscripts, jewellery, arms and royal weaponry. The fort has infinite number of huge pillars decorated with art and handicrafts. Moreover, there are several bastions, halls, lounges and pavilions inside the fort. Huge portraits of erstwhile rulers adorn the beautiful walls.

The fort was built by Raja Rai Singh who was a trusted general of Emperor Akbar. The Kanar Mahal in the fort was built to commemorate the triumph over Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The other places inside the fort which are worth a visit are the Phool Mahal , Gaj Mandir and Rang Mahal.

Perhaps something which we missed while at Bikaner was a visit to the Gajner Wildlife sanctuary. It’s a plush hotel near the sanctuary and if one gets lucky, may get a chance to see a Leopard while sipping early morning tea. Gajner was definitely on our itinerary if at all we come here again.