|The Junagarh Palace, Bikaner|
|Courtyard for the Queen, Junagarh Fort|
At first sight, the grandeur of Junagarh Fort stunned us. Not that I haven’t seen a palace like this before but probably I was too young to appreciate the ‘grandeur’ of Mysore Palace when I was only 12 years old. From the entry itself, this structure starts impressing you. The whole fort has a red hue due to the use of red sandstone for its construction. An amazing courtyard inside built with marble to play holi for the queen and her friends gives us the taste of royalty.
|Golden work in Anup Mahal, Junagarh Fort|
The artistry in the fort goes to next level in the Anup Mahal and Karan Mahal where you find exquisite art pieces of golden work. Maharaja Karan Singh of Bikaner in 17th century is believed to have revived this art. The Anup Mahal and Karan Mahal are the part of places for private audience. The Diwan-e-Aam (Hall for the General Audience) is very big but less craftier with carvings on red sandstone. From the terrace of the fort, the well maintained gardens and the expanse of Bikaner city are clearly visible.
We also paid visit to the museum which is in the premises of the fort. Good thing about paid entrances is – they are not thronged by every Tom, Dick and Harry. The museum is worth a visit which exhibits royal costumes, old manuscripts, palanquins, idols etc. A local young woman artist was showing her skills of henna design. Anita wanted to have one designed on her hands. It was costly at 500 bucks but it was our wedding anniversary, remember?
How I wish that we had been to the Karni Mata Temple or popularly known as the Rat Temple. Here the offerings are first tasted by the rats and then distributed as Prasad. May be next time (not for the offering though)!
We started our drive to Jaisalmer, the most famous city of the Marwar region of Rajasthan. We again hit an obstacle before exiting the Bikaner city in the form of railway crossing. The railway crossings across Rajasthan could be annoying at times as they normally slow down the pace of your journey. Sans the railway crossings, the roads across Rajasthan are in a very good condition.
|Bikaner-Jaisalmer Highway :)|
Specially to talk about this 331 km stretch between Bikaner and Jaisalmer is a driver’s haven any day (make sure that you are travelling in an AC vehicle during summer J) The lovely tarmac with visibility till horizon and miniscule traffic makes it one of the ideal roads. I was too excited and wished I was driving my own car. I kept on requesting Shib Kumar to let me drive for some distance but he was hesitant. Of course he should be! It was neither his nor mine car. But finally, I persuaded him and he allowed me to drive for half an hour till we took our first pit stop or lunch break at Jaswant Vilas Palace which is situated exactly in the mid of Bikaner and Jaisalmer.
|Me with Mr. Dushyant Singh|
We were fortunate to meet the owner of Jaswant Vilas Palace, Mr. Dushyant Singh. Son of an army brigadier, owner of coal mines in Chattisgarh and a wonderful human being, Mr. Singh appreciated the respect we paid to him. People of Rajasthan carry themselves with pride and they love it when one respects that. We had a long chat over our cold drinks. An hour flew by and Shib Kumar was grumbling. It was time to say goodbye to Mr. Dushyant Singh. He insisted that once in Udaipur, we should certainly dine at ‘Ambrai’ which is situated on the banks of Lake Pichola. He told us that the owner is his sister and we need not face any difficulty to get in even on a crowded evening. Look, how we keep on getting people who just think like us only!
|Shib Kumar and his car! Tough task, indeed! :)|
4 pm and more than 150 kms to cover to reach the Khuri sand dunes before sunset. A tough task indeed for a Maruti Dzire which has a run for more than 0.2 million kilometers and a driver who is weary of driving with speed more than 60 km per hour! Indeed, a tough task! Shib Kumar did his best and we reached Jaisalmer well before sunset. But Khuri is another 40 odd km drive and the road is not so good. Yes, the tough task turned out to be INDEED a tough task and we couldn’t make it to Khuri Dunes before sunset. L We stopped the vehicle on the way and kept on staring at the red sphere for a while!
Not to be disappointed…the dusk was falling and the evening had just begun! Here we come, Khuri!
|The Sunset en route Khuri, near Jaisalmer|