There was a sudden windfall of a 15 days unscheduled break from flying. The month was Jan 2019 & there were these perpetual hassles with the maids & cooks all trying to force their way with a poor me! This was an ideal opportunity to knock off a much awaited item from my bucket list – a road trip from Gurgaon to Rajasthan, and that too in the best season.
A few phone calls later to rustle up old friends in the region who were more than kind to offer accommodation, plan local sightseeing & offer valuable guidance, I was off in my car on the journey.
It was a little late in the afternoon by the time I left Gurgaon & there was no way I could’ve made it to Jodhpur that day. So the choice lay between a night halt either at Ajmer or Pushkar. Instead, a cousin very generously offered to host me at his place in Jaipur. The next morning after a hearty breakfast I was on the road to Jodhpur.
The stretch of ‘National Highway’ from Gurgaon to Jaipur is a nightmare but after that it does start living up to its name. Very soon I was zipping on the smooth tarmac consciously making an effort to keep the speed at a sane figure.
After a light lunch at a roadside dhaba enroute, I hit Jodhpur by early afternoon. Off late when travelling solo I have been experimenting with hostels as an alternative means of accommodation & planned to do the same there. But my fauji buddy would have none of it & very graciously offered me a room in the Army Mess where he was putting up. You don’t argue with Army people! Period! The evening was spent taking a quick round of the local market & partying with other old friends in town.
It had been a long day on the feet & so it was then time to say good night & rest for the next day’s journey. More on Jodhpur on the return trip.
The traffic visibly starts thinning out after you leave Jodhpur & start driving further west. Leaving Jodhpur at about 9 am, Manvar Desert Camp & Resorts, about 115 kms out which took me 2 hrs on the smooth NH 125, offered a good break to stretch out & grab some breakfast. A few kms out of Manvar Resorts I saw my first camel on a sand dune! Yayyy…it finally felt like Rajasthan!
The countryside had now changed quite drastically & herds of camels & goats started to flash by with regularity as the car continued to gobble up the kms. Quaint old wayside towns of Pokhran & Khetolai suddenly evoked 25 year old memories of the time when we used to go there for our Army exercises & in fact had managed to steal off a little road adventure to Jaisalmer then with other Army colleagues in a derelict old Jeep!
I had driven past it but then turned around to check out the Jaisalmer War Museum. Located just 13 kms short of the city, it gives a nice overview of the past military campaigns in the region along with wonderful write ups, displays of battle trophies, sundry military memorabilia & even an audio visual presentation. Its a great place to educate oneself about the Indian Armed Forces.
It was almost 3 pm by the time I pulled in to Himmatgarh Palace at Jaisalmer. It was a decent resort with cosy turret shaped independent cottages & a swimming pool, a tad away from the town centre but with a great view of the fort. A cup of tea later I was off to tour the town.
My first pit stop was the famed Jaisalmer fort which is also known as the Golden Fort or the Sonar Quila (there’s actually an old movie by this name which my father had taken us kids to see in my childhood). It is said to be the only ‘living’ fort in India as it still has more than a hundred families living within the fort boundaries, some of them generations old.
I hired a guide to take me around & realised that this hadn’t been a very wealthy kingdom (if one compared it with the Jaipur dynasty) which was reflected in the spartan interiors of the fort. Nevertheless, the narrow alleys & bylanes crammed at places with small kiosks selling all sorts of myriad stuff within the fort & the views of the golden city from the ramparts made for some lovely pictures.
Jaisalmer is also famous for its Havelis, some of them works of arts by themselves & majestic enough to put any small palace to shame. Confused about the route, stepping out of the fort I asked a passerby on a motorcycle & he in turn offered to take me with him & show me around! It turned out that every other man in the city was a guide & if you asked anyone for help you were in a way hiring him. It didn’t turn out to be a bad bargain in the end as my guide Mr Jawan Singh was more than helpful in every possible way. You can ask me for his number if you intend to visit the city.
After stopping by at Salim Singh ki Haveli & Nathmal ki Haveli we arrived at the most famous of them all, the Patwon ki Haveli. History says that these havelis were constructed by wealthy Rajasthani traders as a symbol of their opulence, power & hierarchy within that kingdom. Over the years as the means of doing business & the mindsets changed the families & their descendants migrated to bigger cities leaving the havelis locked & in the care of essential staff. Of these, a portion of the Patwon ki Haveli had been donated to the government which had opened a museum inside it for the public.
It was then time to head for the sunset point & my guide very graciously offered to drive me there. There are two popular places in Jaisalmer from where one can watch the sunset – one is the Jaisalmer Sunset Point (marked by a number of Chhatris, ticketed entry) close to the Himmatgarh Palace Resort & the other free & on top of a hill. We headed for the latter. On reaching I realised that a bunch of tourists, both Indians & foreigners, were already there & struggled to find a vantage point in between them & their fancy cameras on the tripods.
It turned out to be a mesmerising sight as the city changed colours & hues with each minute of the setting sun.
Having tipped & said goodbye to Mr Jawan Singh I returned back to my hotel, freshened up & stepped out later again for a meal of a delicious Rajasthani thali with the famous Lal Maas (chilly mutton curry) & red wine to the accompaniment of live folk music at a lovely rooftop restaurant near Hanuman Chowk, a befitting end to an action packed day.
To be contd…