Rajasthan On the Rebound


In Bishnoi land. Pic says it all

Staying home-bound is doable for just about 6 months. Impossible after that.

Wave 2, ‘21 had us boxed in but a window of opportunity had to appear. And it did. April – July was hard, come August, bags packed, vaccinated, I was raring to go.

Pushkar for the umpteenth time.

Once, never enough. Never, during the cattle fair either.

An eight hour drive across rain washed countryside, beyond the Aravalis.

(The Monsoon I am convinced, is the best season to travel. In the plains at least. Not winter, as many believe. The sun being quite harsh then)

What’s not to like about a heritage hotel with rooms overlooking the sacred lake, a view of the Brahma temple and hills along the periphery?

Where dawn is welcomed with a chiming of bells and sun bid adieu in a crescendo of drums.

Kailash & his son are ‘nagara’ players who regularly perform outside Sunset Cafe, where everyone meets to catch up over ‘chai’ & watch the sun go down.

Essentially a one-lane town, Pushkar is full of bookstores, rooftop cafes & hair braid parlours. As famous for Gulkand – Malpua as it is for pandas & sadhus. One of whom took me on rather zealously, wanting to know if I did not see the difference between Brahmin & Bhangi. His words alas, not mine.

“None. To my mind” was the reply. An upper caste advantage emboldening the retort.

And did I detect something akin to Covid effect in the little town’s sulk at the loss of tourists?

Why then had people suddenly become so apathetic & uncaring?

Don’t ever remember seeing littered ghats either (the reason for that altercation with the panda)

Less than 8 kms away is another Holy of Holies. Ajmer Sharif. Corona or not the crowd is knee deep and almost everyone is without mask. Time to scuttle and scoot, for if the virus doesn’t get you beggars and touts certainly will.

The magic hour

Jodhpur is four hours away. The drive through dull countryside and semi desert vegetation. A grey monsoon sky completed the picture. Or saved the day?

Everyone makes a beeline for the charming, ‘old’ town with a clock tower. It’s historic gullies and lanes crowded with heritage havelis & step-wells. The magnificent Mehrangarh looming above it all.

This time however the old vibes were missing. The flavour gone. Abandoned by travellers, shops & cafes closed, without the regular hustle and bustle the place was dead.

Apologising profusely, I checked out after a single night & moved to a great place near the Circuit House.

One word that best describes Jodhpur is ‘order.’ A strange term in the context of an Indian city but I cannot think of another with its mix of history, heritage, beauty, modernity – ‘order’ and ‘discipline’.

The Royal Estates are managed by a Trust headed by the Maharaja. The great Gaj Singh. Be it the many palaces & museums, the Mehrangarh Fort or the royal cenotaphs (Jaswant Thada). Or even the gardens at Mandore. Each exceptionally well maintained, traveler friendly. Signages, ramps, lifts, bins, toilets, kiosks – everything in place.

Move about freely, without fear of harassment. There isn’t a beggar or tout in sight.

Pushkar happened simply because it was along the way. The prime attraction, the Bishnoi villages near Jodhpur. The entire trip planned around it.

The Bishnoi’s love of environment is well known and well documented. They stood up to a Raja’s diktat ordering the felling of trees. The year 1730 when 363 villagers were killed endeavouring to protect trees. Making the ruler retract. At the forefront was Amrita Devi, hugging a tree, proclaiming, “a chopped head is cheaper than a chopped tree.” The episode, the inspiration for today’s ‘Chipko’ movement. Not to forget the more recent killing of a black buck that sent Salman Khan to jail. For Bishnois, environment is everything.

The main villages are Khejarli, Guda, Kankani, Rebari, Salawas and Singhasni. Each known for a particular trade. Inhabited by about 2500 families.

Guda has a lake, home to myriad bird & fowl, the Great Indian Bustard, Brahmi Duck & Siberian Crane among them.

Guda Lake

Khejarli has the martyrs memorial, a tribute to Amrita Devi and her companions. A man-made oasis of green in a landscape of Keekar, Pathar and Kankar. Populated by trees, mainly Neem, Peepul and Bargat, squirrels and birds abound and peacocks strut about vainly. A cool breeze picks up and blows. Bird-calls fill the air.

Step-Well, Old City, Jodhpur

Jaswant Thada, Cenotaphs

Village Kankani

The Khejarli Memorial

Khejarli

A road trip from Delhi to Udaipur. Return by air. Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur enticingly along the way.

The route should have been – Jodhpur-Ranakpur-Kumbhalgarh-Udaipur – along the national highway but an oversight made me do Kumbhalgarh ahead of Ranakpur. Resulting in a choppy, four hour drive across State Highways. A lucky mistake that took me into the interiors. Inside villages nestling in the lap of the Aravali. The mountain high and mighty. How high, I had quite forgotten.

Kumbhalgarh has the world renowned fort with incredibly long – wide walls. A wonder, no less than the Great Wall. If only it was better managed. I had expected a lot and felt cheated of what could have been a memorable experience. Spending a night there was another mistake. It gets noisy because of visitors who come solely to drink ( Gujarat, next door having banned liquor)

Village Narlai would have made a better stay option.

The Kumbhalgarh Fort

On to Ranakpur and it’s architectural wonder, the 15th century Chaturmukhi Jain Temple in the middle of a forest. It is a lovely drive (90 minutes) through villages with stone huts. Where custard apples grow wild.

It’s impossible to capture the beauty of this wonder in marble. The Derasar has 80 sculpted domes, 446 columns and 1444 intricately carved pillars. There is one without any carving at all. An artistic imperfection to ward off the evil eye. Also, no two pillars are alike.

As in most Jain temples there is a Rayan tree inside. Data apart, what truly touches a chord is the pillar inscribed with Emperor Akbar’s Din- Ilahi. A late 16 century addition.

Ranakpur was a fitting finale to a wonderful trip, ending with the satisfaction of knowing it was worth it.

Entrance to Chaturmukhi temple

Pillar No: 13 Akbar’s ‘Din Ilahi’

5 thoughts on “Rajasthan On the Rebound

  1. Sudha maza aa gaya… to read it..I always read yours twice… the first time n then the 2nd time deliberately savoring yr words..imagining your travels. Good fr u sudha…n many more safe n happy travels!

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  2. Beautiful… I wish you had taken me with you 😊❤️. U haven’t mentioned how you spent a day with the Bishnoi’s..

  3. Sudha, as always, your travel experiences never fail to delight. I hope to one day visit the step wells in Jaipur. So much to see!! Thank you for opening up your world as you take the less traveled paths. I envy your passion for travel and your love for adventure. You have this amazing acceptance and engaging connection to people you meet on your way. Your photographs are Happy travels.

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