Thursday, January 7, 2016

Jaisalmer- experience of a life time!

I was on cloud nine when my son telephoned me to say that he is taking me and his mother, my wife to a destination that would open our mouth with awe to celebrate the New year bidding farewell to 2015.  My wife was equally excited to know about this program and was inquisitive to know the place that we were heading to?  Jaisalmer- was the immediate response and quite naturally, we were quite happy and thrilled to go to a new place that we have never visited, explore and celebrate the New Year bash!

I and my wife took the early morning flight by Indigo to Delhi and my son, his wife and our grand son took a flight from Bangalore to Delhi more or less at the same time.  As we were entering the baggage hall, we were pleasantly greeted by our grandson Arnav who was happily sitting on top of a baggage trolley and smiling!

The connecting flight to Jodhpur was from T3 terminal which was at quite a distance from the T1 terminal.  The Airport authority had a spl bus to transport the passengers and within half an hour we reached the T1 terminal.  while we imagined having time to binge on some eats and coffee, it was otherwise and were advised to join the security check that took nearly 30 minutes to clear.  Delhi, being the Capital can think of opening more frisking counters that will reduce the Security check time considerably.  The CISF team that manned these counters were just whiling away their time talking to colleagues here and there and the person behind the X-Ray machine was just staring at people instead of doing their jobs of clearing the hand baggages!  The flight by Air-India was nostalgic as the erstwhile Maharaja gave a luxurious, rich look in its attire with colorful seats and ambience!  The Air-hostess were wearing an attractive Mustard color attire adding color to the air craft that carried about 140 passengers instead of the ususal 180 carried by other private airlines, giving us sufficient leg space and comfort in travel.  The Airlines also gave us sufficient short eats and snacks along with hot cup of Tea/coffee that refreshed the travel fatigue in us. The airlines arrived at Jodhpur right on time and we headed to Laria Hotels and Resorts that was booked much in advance by my son Neeraj, a reason for us to sit back and relax!

The resort was about 21 kms away from the airport but on the highway leading to Jaisalmer where we were headed to.  The rooms were luxurious and the surroundings were picturesque!  The food prepared were fresh and of top quality.  we could find Dosa and Uthappam with chutney on the menu that gave our belly some kind of solace!!  The highlight was tasting delicious Rajasthani food like Poori/chole, dal bhati and many other items.
We spent an evening listening to folk songs and dances where the singer wore a typical Rajasthani dress with a colorful turban and dhoti/kurta and played harmonium. The accompaniments were Dolak, a co-singer and some kind of stones that they fixed in between fingers to give Rhythm/beats to the singer who was full of energy belting out typical folk songs!  The dancer, a female had worn a typical ghagra, choli with a ghoonghat and each time she took a circle in a dance, the ghagra would spread out like a circus tent and brought out the colorful dress that Rajasthan is famous for!  The artistes were time bound and wound up by 8.30 PM.  On the sides, there was a puppet show that attracted my grand son who was keenly observing the show.

 It was quite cold by the time the clock struck 9 and the hotel staff were kind enough to ignite the gas-heated pillars that were all around to keep the guests warm!  It was so blissful to be there and felt and remembered my childhood days in Delhi and the winter onslaught that used to be there for 6 months right from October onward till March!  The best part of the tour was Ola cabs were available in a small city like Jodhpur which we hired to get back to the resort at about 11Pm.

The Innova to travel to Jaisalmer, a  distance of about 300 kms took us nearly 5 1/2 hours with a small break of 15 minutes in between for Tea break!  The car journey took us through several small towns and villages of Rajasthan that reflected the rural life.  There were hardly any women visible on the roads and those visible were men huge  mustaches with a huge turban tied over their heads!!  The so called market places were quite dirty and unclean and made me ponder if this is the way the government responds to the PM calling for Swachh Bharath! Being a BJP ruled state, cleanliness is expected and that has to be worked out and  implemented by the state machinery.
One of the towns that fell on the way to Jaisalmer was Pokhran, the famous place where our Nuclear capability was tested with success during the regime of Vajpayee as the PM.  The area is cordoned off by the Military and no one is allowed to go anywhere near it.  However, I managed to photograph the probable site believing my driver who was a local Rajasthani.

we came across a huge herd of camels grazing in the desert eating whatever green was seen or avilable at that place.  The "Jhund" as we call them in Hindi numbered easily around 200.  we went not so near fearing a camel bite to take back memories in our camera!  The cattle owner assured us that it would not bite and were very friendly but we decided to play safe and not venture anywhere near it.  You never know, the camel might sniff a different scent of human being in us, our blood containing idli, sambhar and vada that could be a lure to those camels!  Jokes apart, the camels a very calm and peaceful animal that we have studied in our early schools, calling them the ship of the Desert!  wow!! what a lovely sight it was?

As we neared Jaisalmer, we came across a Militray War museum that was open to public for visiting and gaining first hand information about the 1971 war that we engaged with Pakistan and the captured Tanks with Pakistani markings and the photo library was unique and drove a sense of Patriotism in you and heart of hearts our hands went up saluting the brave defense Personnel who sacrificed their lives just to keep us safe and happy!  There were a few army Jawans who stood in the exhibition area trying to clarify the doubts and questions raised by the visitors.  However, they refused to pose for photographs as they were prohibited from doing so as per military guidelines.

we reached Jaisalmer Railway station by about 2.30 pm and were greeted by the camp people who put us promptly in a Maruthi Swift car to take us to the Desert camp that was about 25 kms away from the town, right on the Desert!  we expressed our desire to have lunch before we embark on our Desert safari, he took us to one shudh Vegetarian hotel named Aangan where we had delicious Rotis and vegetables, Rajasthani style that ended with a huge Pepper roasted papad!  One thing about Rajashthani food is that its very spicy hot unless you tell the people to tone down the spice! Its presumed that your body is tuned to spicy food!!

The Rajputana desert camp is undoubtedly an exclusive camp in the mid of the Desert that welcomed us and showed us our abode for the night halt, pitched elegantly in white color with all facilities such as western toilets, a shower place, huge double beds, a mosquito repellant liquid  and towels!  we reached the camp around 4.30 PM and preferred to take rest and brace ourselves for a non-stop entertainment and staying awake till the wee hours on account of New Year's Eve!  we were up and about by 6.30 PM and strayed in and around the camp, exploring the blank Desert that had started to cool and cold.  The program started at around 7.30 PM with some Rajasthani sangeeth calling out people to come out of their tents and join the fun that was wound with New Year celebrations.  People were feeling a bit cold and some protected themselves with warm winter garments and some preferred to water it down with some hot drinks that were easily available there!  The Camp people served some delicious roasted peanuts, hot pakoras and Tea to add taste to whatever you were drinking!!

The Evening got exciting as the Male singer who sang some filmy, non filmy ghazals and cracked jokes to amuse the audience did a good job of entertaining people for about 11/2 hours after which there was an announcement about a couple of Rajasthani  females performing some folk dance.  Both of them did their dances well and enthralled the audience with their speciality and agility of their body bending forward and backwards to pick up some articles etc..  At around 9.30 PM, it was announced that they had specially brought a few dancers from Delhi who would dance to some exclusive, popular  Bollywood tunes!  This was a show dampner and except for a young girl, others were not fitting the roles and contributed to bringing down the moods which was cheerful until then!  Many females who had come with families, probably did not like such a visual treat and left the arena back into their tents!  There was a small lag in announcing the next sequential item that were lined up for the evening.  The DJ played some western dance music as an interlude but people lost their patience by now and trooped into the well, on the dance floor to shake their legs and welcome the New year in the usual style of dancing with their pair!  The Rajasthani folk singer and his troupe who had taken their positions to render more ghazals and sangeeth became mute spectators as people started dancing and demanded only songs that will make them dance!!  It was fun seeing most of the youngsters dancing away to glory and we had our share of watching our young Grandson who stamped his foot to the beats and rhytm and seen happy!!

As we neared the New year, the count down started and the enthusiastic crowd that gathered there wished New Year to every one with those familiar Indian Hand shakes and hugs!!  we welcomed the New year with the temperature dropping to almost less than 10 deg.  we hugged each other and wished each other a very Happy and a Prosperous New Year along with choicest blessings to our children and grand children alike!
Later, the next day, my daughter-in-law told me that while giving her a hug and blessing, I had wished her a Happy Christmas!!!!!!  I realized the greatness of Old Monk working so well within me that I found no difference between Christmas and a New Year!!  The note ended in good humor and I had a hearty laugh looking at myself and the broad minded attitude to treat all alike!!

The night in the Tent was quite testing as the temperature dropped to 6deg celcius and the blankets provided by the camp was insufficient and made us shiver.  we did not know what to do as there was absolutely no one on call or to render any aid.  The little child started feeling the cold and cried and cried the whole night and we were quite helpless to find any ways to soothe the child.  My son braved the tough winter weather outside to walk a few metres away, wake up the organisers and fetched a glass of warm milk.  All this drama ended well with the Sun light of the 1st morning came out bright and shining and drove away the cold to some extent.  The breakfast was served and there was a huge rush for it.

After the breakfast, we hired a Jeep to go into the Desert to go up and down the sand dunes that was unique to the Desert adventure.  There were many camels waiting outside the camp to pick up tourists and show them the Desert on their back.  some preferred camels and some Jeep to adventure into the sands.  The drive was very thrilling and brought out the worst screams when the jeep climbed and  slided a 40-50 ft sand dune and it happened many times at different places in the desert.  I was amazed to see shacks pitched right in the middle of the desert on top of sand dunes by the locals who were ready to serve you Tea/biscuits and water!  I have heard of this Malayalee joke that when Sherpa TenSingh climbed Mt Everest for the first time, he found a Malayalee(keralite) selling Tea on top of the Everest!! But then, this is also a fact that in the mid Desert, you are able to get food and drinks!!

We enjoyed every moment of our Desert Adventure, started our journey back to Jaisalmer town by 12 noon. we reached the pre-booked Rana Villa through OYO rooms that is much in News!

The ladies preferred to order food from the room itself while I and my son Neeraj thought of experiencing their roof top luxury that faced the famous Jaisalmer Fort.  The view was breathtaking and ordered our food while admiring the Fort that was built in1156 AD by Maharaja Jaisal.  Jaisalmer’s unique fort is a living urban centre, with about 3000 people residing within its walls. It’s honeycombed with narrow, winding lanes, lined with houses and temples – along with a large number of handicraft shops, guesthouses and restaurants. You enter the fort from the east, near Gopa Chowk, and pass through four massive gates on the zigzagging route to the upper part. The final gate opens into the square that forms the fort’s centre, Dashera Chowk .
Founded in 1156 by the Rajput ruler Jaisal and reinforced by subsequent rulers, Jaisalmer Fort was the focus of a number of battles between the Bhatis, the Mughals of Delhi and the Rathores of Jodhpur. In recent years, the fabric of the fort has faced increasing conservation problems due to unrestricted water use caused by high tourist numbers.
Somehow, the time was spent in the hotel room till about 10.30 PM after which we thought of going to the Railway station and wait there to take our train to Jaipur.  The mid night Express called Ranikhet Express left Jaisalmer at 00.20 hrs and we all decided to catch up with our lost sleep.  The morning chaiwala woke us up at 8 am.  The A/c 2 tier travel was very comfortable and took us to all those exotic places of Jaipur such as Jodhpur, Marwar, Ajmer and finally to Jaipur at 2.30 Pm.  The distance of about 672 kms is covered in about 14 hours, train speeding at 55kms/hr.  I only wonder the pathetic state of affairs of our Railways and the careless attitude to reduce the journey time to benefit people.  while our PM shri Modi is all out to bring in Bullet train, here is a section that is unwilling to change from the traditional Bullock-cart train!!  The Railways will do much better if they reduce the train journey hours as the Indian Railway tracks are capable of handling speed upto 90 kms/hour.

We spent some good time in Jaipur sight seeing and going around places of importance.  we bought a typical Jaipuri cotton quilt for our homes. we felt like eating some spicy sambar and Rasam and our cab driver took us to Dasaprakash Restaurant where we ordered South Indian Thali food that was absolutely delicious and out of the world.  Rightly, we were entitled to have our traditional food after having spent a couple of days in the desert!  It was like an oasis that we indulged in our food with necks drooping into the plate like those of camels, never to look up till the dishes were emptied!!  Such delicious food. Dasaprakash served.

Jaisalmer was an unique experience that showed us the North western frontiers of our country and the people there with a rich culture of their own.  One must appreciate the Marwaris and Rajasthanis who venture out of their home land and have built big business empires all over the country!  On the flip side, I really wonder why they left their home state like Rajasthan that is so rich in various business activities like wool, stones, marbles, gas and petro- oils and chemicals that are being un-earthed of late!  According to me, Rajasthan that was considered a backward state with barren lands will become the richest state of our country given its natural, geographical resources!

Jai Hind