It’s a beautiful year when you end your January and begin your February in Kashmir to enter into March from the beautiful deserts of Rajasthan. Travel is beautiful, spiritual and addictive.
Upon returning from Kashmir in early January, I realized that March begins with a fabulous travel opportunity with a long weekend at its beginning. There was going to be a Holi weekend and thus a perfect time to paint a new travel canvas. It took me about 5 minutes to decide that after touching the extreme north of the country just a few days back, I will now go and touch the extreme west, Jaisalmer and Longewala.
I cannot really call it an impromptu thought, for Jaisalmer was in my bucket list for a long time. But once I realized of this long week end, in the five minutes I was prepping up for the trip. My initial thought was to drive down to Jaisalmer from Ahmedabad, which is an approximate distance of 500 Kms. The road as I understand is beautiful and one can easily drive down to Jaisalmer from Ahmedabad. I decided to put up a post on Facebook & Travello inviting interested bag packers to join in if they wish to, however didn’t find anyone willing to travel at that time. I thus dropped my plan to drive down and rather decided to take a bus.
Driving solo all night drains out a lot of energy and makes me tired the next day. I rather decided to preserve the energy by taking some rest on the bus and making the most of it while in Jaisalmer. This is when I realized that the road connectivity between Ahmedabad and Jaisalmer is also pretty limited. There were very limited options available in redbus.com as well. Finally, I adopted the old fashion method of visiting a few travel agents and managed to book myself on a Rajasthan based (probably) travel companies bus. (Thar Travels) about 10 days in advance to my travel.
Unknown destinations and solo trips are definitely exciting, but the thought once materialized always makes me nervous, for you are alone soaring into the unknown. But it is always a good idea to experience the unknown rather than being afraid of it.
I boarded this bus – an AC sleeper (mind you, not a Volvo) from Ahmedabad on the Thursday night, a day before Holi after work. When one travels it amazing to see how diverse our country is. I was observing my fellow passengers as we were waiting to board the bus. The men in their loose white shirts and white Pajamas with a turban on their heads and big silver earrings and women in colorful sarees and huge ornaments made of white metal showcased the traditional Rajasthani style of attire.
The bus left Ahmedabad at 10:00 PM. Though not from a prominent travel agency the bus was pretty much comfortable to get a fair sleep. I have long learned from my three years in Gujarat that one cannot always expect clean restaurants and good food on the highways here. Unlike some highways, these states don’t have Mac Donald’s and Pizza Huts. Rather once you leave Ahmedabad and travel further west there are no major cities that one comes across, thus luxurious restaurants are out of question. It’s best to pack dry snacks for these journeys. At about 1:00 AM the bus stopped at a filthy food joint for about 20 mins to reach Jaisalmer at 9:00 AM – about an hour and half past its scheduled arrival time.
I arrived into Jaisalmer on the Holi day. The bus stand was just near the fort and I was to go to the Swan Hostel as the place was referred to me by a friend. I decided to walk rather than take an auto to start exploring the city. I turned my GPS on and started walking. As I entered into the town I could easily see that the city was closed for the festival. On the streets I could see kids playing Holi, throwing colors and splashing water at each other. As I walked into the small lanes of the city kids started following me with colorful intentions. They were a little curious and scared as I walked with a big rucksack on my back. Some brave hearts were trying to ask me ’which country’, which country’. I decided to act alien and kept walking, in an attempt to escape the situation.
An even braver kid then decided to splash water on me using his splash gun (pichkari), and as I tried to avoid him, someone scolded him asking him not to trouble the tourists. The kinds withdrew. As I walked out of the small alley and stepped onto the big road three men fully smeared in colors were passing by and stopped seeing me walking on the road absolutely uncolored. They decided to stop and then there was no escaping as they put colors on me head to toe. This continued to happen at every corner after that as locals as well as tourists were playing Holi. By the time I reached the hostel I was completely immersed in colors.
I reached the hostel, dusted off the color and washed my face (No shower – no no no) and came down to the lobby to plan my day. It was clear that the town was close for the festival and there was no point staying back in Jaisalmer. One of my plans was to rent a Bullet and ride down to Longewala about 120 Kms. from Jaisalmer where the famous battle of Longewala was fought in 1971. As I came down to the lobby to explore the possibility of getting a Bike, I met Shivam – another solo traveler who was exploring the same possibility. He immediately offered me to tag along and said there was another couple who was travelling and if I wanted I can join them all and thus I met Ankit and Rachna. This is the beauty of Solo Trips – you may go solo, but you don’t come back solo’ and thus the four of us became great buddies from the moment we met.
We had breakfast at the beautiful rooftop restaurant at Swan hostel. Rachna in the meanwhile had planned to go to Sam Sand Dunes – a must visit when in Jaisalmer. Post breakfast we headed to the Sahara Dessert Safari office through whom we booked over dessert Safari. There are several other who organize such safaris but our experience with Sahara Dessert Safari was reasonably good. It is advised that one books these Safaris through trussed organizers who have established offices around the fort area. It is advisable to negotiate as well. Generally you would get a good deal in INR 2k per person, which involves transportation (Jaisalmer to Jaisalmer- generally in a Jeep or an open 4x4 vehicle), desert safari in an open gypsy, Camel Safari, Stay in a tent (individual tent if you are travelling alone) and meals.
While we were waiting for our transportation to go to the dunes near the fort area we tried our hands on the local delicacy (or the one that is rather more popular in the Sindh region in Pakistan) known as Dal Pakwan.
On our way to the dunes we stopped at the Kuldhara village. It’s an abandoned village basically in ruins believed to be abandoned in the 19th century. The exact reason though not known, there are several beliefs behind it being abandoned. Over the years it has also developed a reputation of being a haunted village and as we Indians love to tell and listen to stories, there are several stories told locally about the paranormal activities in this village. Not sure about the paranormal activities, the village in the day time looks good and shows ruins of beautiful 13th century architecture. A beautiful place to take pictures and a location worth using for rustic theme photography folios.(please seek local permission from tourism department ) After spending about an hour at the village we moved further to reach the sand dunes.
Water which is an (apparently) easily available resource for us in the cities is an extremely scarce resource in this part of the country and needs to be used very carefully.
After a quick shower, we were taken out in an open Mahindra Thar on a Sun down desert Safari. This is a mind blowing experience, as the vehicle takes a small road out to the dunes and then runs wild into the dunes. Extremely well trained drivers drive you through the dunes at a high speed giving you an adventurous experience of the dunes. Watch a short video here –
The safari stopped in between the desert after about 20 mins at a strategic place from where we could enjoy the sun set. The place was pretty crowded and commercialized (though not exuberantly expensive like many other tourist places). We settled ourselves on one of the dunes to experience the desert sunset. While we were enjoying our time taking pictures, sipping on the tea the sun was almost touching the horizon on the verge of setting in. The evening was pretty cloudy and dusty and the sunset was kind of a quick one into the defused clouds. Though we enjoyed the experience it was not a contending one majorly due to the weather. After spending some more time in the desert we moved back to the camp site to enjoy the night.
As we arrived at the camp site we were invited for to join in for a folk evening. A stage was set in the center of the huge camp site and local singers presented Rajasthani folk music. Not the best of the artists, but they did the best they could.
After enjoying the sunset we started our journey back to Jaisalmer with a pit stop in Ramgarh. It took us a little longer than 3 hours to reach Jaisalmer as we rode a little slower in the dark desert road. By far this has been one of my best experiences of the few road trips I have had.
Upon reaching Jaisalmer we had a quick dinner at a beautiful joint facing the fort (which later became super famous as some parts of the film Parmanu were shot here) and bid farewell to Ankit and Rachna who were to leave for Delhi the same night.
We checked in into a small hotel to spend a few hours at night as we had plans to see the fort the next day. Generally Jaisalmer fort will be the first place to visit once you reach Jaisalmer, however we were visiting it the last, just before leaving Jaisalmer.
Jaisalmer fort is a stunning architecture and is perhaps one of the very few forts which have got people living in it. An entire colony is based inside the fort with houses, restaurants, shops etc. In fact the city of Jaisalmer was based in the fort only - in the olden days. As population started increasing people started dwelling outside of the fort which is now known to be the Jaisalmer city. The fort is made up of yellow sandstone and thus has a beautiful and distinctive yellow color, which in the morning and evening hours looks stunningly golden, rightfully being known as the golden fort. This yellow color is also used to paint most of the construction in the city to hold its reputation of the Golden city. The color strongly matches with the desert sand around the city.
|(Entrance to the Jaisalmer Fort)|
We further walked a little more into the fort before Shivam left for Jodhpur, leaving me to spend some time by myself in the city. I decided to see the Patwon ki Haweli . It is more of a tourist attraction and yet again the architecture is marvelous. The net-work in the stone (traditionally known as ‘Jali’) is truly worth seeing as one wonders as to how talented the carvers must have been to create such creations. Enjoy a few pictures of the Haveli –
I then took a walk in the city market. Though not a great fan of buying stuff from these highly commercialized tourists markets, I did buy some stoles and Afghani lowers from a local shop. By the time I reached the hotel, lunch time was over, thus had to move out again for lunch which turned out to be a good decision as I came across a place where I had traditional Rajasthani Thali. It was a good lunch with Kersangri, Gutte ki Subji, Ghewar and other Rajasthani items. A perfect way to finish the trip.
I walked back to the hotel to leave for my bus to Ahmedabad.
That one thing that prominently one notices while travelling in India is its uncleanliness and Jaisalmer was no exception. The old city is extremely filthy and apparently lacks washrooms as people use streets and road side gutters to relieve themselves. Even inside the fort where most tourists visit is not well kept. One can smell filth everywhere which doesn’t give a great feeling. Local authorities, locals as well as tourists need to be more responsible in maintaining cleanliness in our cities.
Alas that is one bad thing amongst a hundred good, but Jaisalmer is truly a great place to visit and one must visit it at least once.
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