Friday, March 15, 2013

Jodhpur - The Mighty Rajasthani Breakfast and Meherangarh Fort - Day 4 - Royal Rajaputana Rhapsody

We started early in the morning from Jaisalmer. The Golden City was glistening in the first rays of morning but was still sleeping. We made a quiet exit from the city and marched towards Jodhpur which is the third important part of the Marwar Triangle (other two have already been covered- Bikaner and Jaisalmer). On our way to Jodhpur, we drove through Pokaran which is near to nuclear test site, Pokhran. India had performed nuclear tests in Pokhran in 1974 and 1998. I heard that because of the explosion, the dust was in the air at higher proportion leading to hindrance of sunlight for few days. We took a pit stop to have breakfast and had insipid aloo paratha. Was wondering about only us having breakfast there! The place of exorbitantly expensive for the taste of the food.

Makhaniya Lassi
We had still to cover 200 km to reach Jodhpur. We already had covered 140 odd km since we started from Jaisalmer. There is a stark difference between Indian travelers and foreign travelers. Foreigners love to be at leisure (for obvious reasons) and don’t push the journey beyond 200km a day and we Indians (for obvious reasons) have to keep it pushing so that we reach office on time the day our holiday is done with! Otherwise, boss gets angry! How I wish that we had the same culture of work in India where we have the luxury of roaming places for months. Near Pokaran, I saw a majestic peacock perched on a branch of a desolate tree. It was indeed a moment to die for and captured it by my mind. Sorry, I was not carrying the SLR camera with zooming lenses. The peacock was similar to the one we normally see in the paintings in palaces of Rajasthan. Plump, sitting with an erect glistening blue neck and the huge and extremely beautiful foliage curved in the direction of gravity. I haven’t seen such a beautiful peacock for years and no wonder it is the ‘national bird’ of India.

The Pyaaz Kachori
We entered Jodhpur at around 12.30 pm. This is probably the biggest city in the Marwar region. My agenda was clear about what to do in Jodhpur. I instructed our driver to drive all the way to ‘Janata Sweet House’ on Nai Sarak. (Thanks a lot Dear Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma) Once we entered the sweet shop, the madness prevailed for another half an hour and the taste still lingers on my taste buds. I got my hands first on the legendary ‘pyaaz kachori’ of Rajasthan. This puffed bread deep fried till crispy brown outside and stuffed with onions and other spices inside takes your culinary conscience to another level. I have all the sympathies for the lady pilot of Air India who overthrew the diktat of her seniors for the love of these pyaaz kachoris. J Next o the menu was the burly ‘mirchi vada’. The rajasthani mircha thickly coated with chick pea flour and deep fried is a must have snack when you happen to be in Rajasthan.

The Mawa Kachori
In the meanwhile, Anita who doesn’t share my enthusiasm for food was half-heartedly trying her hand at aloo tikki. She didn’t seem too pleased with that. I helped her finish it but yes indeed, it was not that great. Time to engage the sweet tooth! The Mawa Kachori – Probably the same batter for pyaz kachori but this time stuffed with condensed milk and dry fruits and soaked in sugar syrup. You ask me what heaven is and I will tell you the address! After polishing off the Mawa Kachori, I turned towards the special ‘Makhaniya Lassi’. Laced with insane amount of malai and dryfruits, this lassi can take care of your calorific requirements for days to come. For me…what calories???

Entrance of Meherangarh Fort
Trust me, you always have a happy time with happy belly. Never ignore it. So after pampering our guts at Janata Sweet House, we moved towards the iconic Meharangarh Fort of Jodhpur. For movie buffs, you surely have watched Nolan’s epic ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and if you remember the place from where Bruce Wayne escapes from the dungeon of Bane is nothing but the Meharangarh Fort of Jodhpur. Perched on a hill near Jodhpur, the Meharangarh Fort looks like a guard of the city.

Meharangarh is one of the most beautiful forts we came across in Rajasthan. With a splendid architecture and intricate art inside, it personifies Rajasthan’s royal history in a genuine manner. We somehow did a mistake of not hiring a guide and pushing through this fort on our own. Bad advice from our driver! Take my advice- If you are visiting such a beautiful fort with vast expanse then a guide is a must. It costs only few bucks but makes the visit worthwhile! We captured the beautiful vista of the blue city of Jodhpur from the fort. Most of the outer walls of houses in Jodhpur are painted with blue color and hence, the name Blue City. We had just covered the ‘Golden City’ of Jaisalmer, we were in the ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur and in couple of days, we would find ourselves in the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur. We marveled at the grandeur of the King’s bedroom, walls with beautiful artwork and windows bedecked with colorful glasses. It must be difficult to sleep there. It is difficult to write about forts and palaces. I can use the words like grand, beautiful, vast, and intricate but you won’t get the feel unless you visit such places.

The Blue City of Jodhpur from Meherangarh Fort
It was past 3 pm and we were ready for another grueling drive of 150 odd kilometers till Ranakpur. And we marched. We had no choice. We had so many places to visit and so less of time. Ranakpur is a wildlife sanctuary and also famous for its Jain temple complex. By evening, when we entered the forested area, we feel relieved with the cool breeze of the air. We soon entered the premises of Ranakpur Hill Resort and got a lovely, cozy Swiss tent. A much needed cup of tea and a wonderful shower. Probably, the best place to stay in Ranakpur Forest. The restaurant of the Hill Resort serves nice food easy on spices. It was good for the palette and for the guts. After the tiring drive of about 500 km in the day, all we needed was a good sleep and we got it. I didn't wish to be in King's bedroom though!

The King's Bedroom, Meherangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Day With The Thar - Royal Rajputana Rhapsody - Day 3 (February 2012)

The Camel Ride Begins, Khuri Sand Dunes

As against the choice of other guests, we had decided to skip the camel ride last evening. So we had an unfinished business this morning. After coming back from the sand dunes after spending the night, we were all set to go in the sand dunes again this time on the back of camels directly instead of the camel cart! We started our ride at around 9 in the morning as the Sun gets harsher towards the noon. The two camels named ‘Saaiya’ and ‘Bhoora’ were at service for us. Camel is indeed a wonderful animal. Perfected to weather the conditions in the desert. Still a thorough gentleman (and a lady if it happens to be a female! J). Never seen or heard a camel going berserk! Keeps on chewing leaves of bushes in the desert and is okay if denied to drink water for a while. So we started our ride with these two extremely adorable camels. In just 20 odd minutes we reached the beautiful sand dunes of Khuri.

The Thar Desert, Khuri, Near Jaisalmer
Beware, if you haven’t fallen in love with someone at first sight then the Thar Desert does the trick. It is just beautiful! In my childhood, I was scared of desert – the fear of getting lost, the fear of getting no water, the fear of the heat etc. I never knew at that time that I would fall in love with the desert in the future. Life, how indebted am I to you! The vast expanse of the Thar Desert is similar to that of an ocean. You can keep looking at it for hours and appreciate it (provided you have a heart who knows how to love!) Incidentally, we had few minutes with us to appreciate it.

Me with my camel, Saaiyaa :)
We took a halt at one point near an old temple in the mid of the desert. Me and Anita took a walk in the desert from this point without shoes. And mind you, it feels awesome..the sand is so smooth. I almost embraced the desert for some time. I had been carrying Anita’s ‘odhani’ around my neck since yesterday. We requested our guides to tie it as a Rajasthani Pagari (headgear) and it fit so well. I looked like an authentic Rajasthani guy! J

We came back by 10.15 am and were supposed to head towards Jaisalmer. However, we heard that all the people working at Mangalam and their family members are going to visit a temple 50 km away nearing India Pakistan border. I am always mighty thrilled to be near India Pakistan border be it Jammu, be it Wagha near Amritsar or now near Jaisalmer. This was the picture perfect journey. Desert on both the sides of this narrow and road was actually deserted. J Got the pictures clicked sitting in the midst of the road. And yes, saw a vulture in its natural habitat for the first time. Oh man, what a bird! The expanse of its wings almost covered the breadth of the road when it saw our car approaching it.

Anita with a local guy in Khuri
We reached Jaisalmer by 2 pm.  Finding the right restaurants was not a big task. Thanks to my icons, Rocky and Mayur, who are hosting the show ‘Highway on My Plate’ and have written the book with the same name. We entered the Chandan Shree Restaurant and ordered a Rajasthani thali  (that’s obvious!) but they do serve the Gujarati and the Bengali Thali (what’s that?) also. By this time, I have become an expert on Rajasthani Thali (yeah yeah…Veg ofcourse). At Chandan Shree, the ‘ker sangri’ (a Rajasthani vegetable) tasted different as it was fresh compared to other parts of India as it is produced in the desert only. ‘Gatte ki Sabji’ (Chunks of yellow gram flour boiled in a curd gravy) was not that great. I will still vouch for the wonderful Rajasthani Thali you get at Chetana at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai. That is the best I have ever tasted till date!

We were tired now and after gobbling up the unlimited Rajasthani Thali, all we needed was a good nap. We checked in at a hotel and surprisingly, we met our friends Eliane and Peter who were staying in the same hotel.

After a refreshing nap (this is generally the adjective used for nap, but honestly I was feeling drowsy), we headed towards the famous Sam sand dunes, 40 km away from Jaisalmer. Frankly speaking, I didn’t like the place. There was a congregation of tourists across the country making a lot of noise. You are attacked by the camel owners and coerced to take a ride. However, the bargain could be amazing here and you can ride camel at a minimal price. I rode on a camel named ‘Michael Jackson’ while Anita was on ‘Shahrukh’! J

The Jaisalmer Fort from a distance
My sincere suggestion to the travelers (and not the tourists) that if you realy wish to savour the sand dunes and the desert, Khuri is the place. Sam is not for you. It’s too commercial, noisy and intimidating. A small cup of badly prepared tea and we were on our way back to Jaisalmer. The sunset at Sam was though extra-ordinary. Bu too many cameras clicking and too many people with funny poses kills the surreal beauty of the sunset in the dessert.

Dusk was falling and by the time we reached Jaisalmer, it was dark. It was a cool evening. We couldn’t go to the Jaisalmer Fort though. We came back to our hotel. The rooftop restaurant of ‘Bharat Vilas’ was an ideal place to have a long dinner. I am sure it is loved by the people for penchant with alcohol. We though stuck to simple affair of spaghetti and Chinese noodles. A good sleep was necessary as we were about to cover 420 km on the road to reach Ranakpur Sanctuary near Udaipur.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Night in Khuri Sand Dunes - Royal Rajputana Rhapsody - Day 2

After the sun set, we continued our journey towards Khuri village. It was quarter to seven in the evening. In another 30 odd minutes, we were stopped by a guy who waved at us outside the Khuri village. He was the guy from the ‘Mangalam Resort’ where we had decided to spend our evening and most probably, the night also. Khuri is one undiscovered gem near Jaisalmer and makes it a better destination than it’s cousin - commercial, crowded and noisy Sam dunes.
Mangalam Resort, Khuri, Jaisalmer
Our car made way through the village and all I was praying was to have our accommodation in the outskirts of this village and not in the village. We frankly speaking, had no idea about how exciting time was just ahead of us. In no time, we reached the Mangalam Resort. We tried meekly to negotiate with Jeetu, the soft spoken guy at Mangalam who was firm on the charges but assured that we would not be overcharged. I bought his words and from the next morning onwards I had reaping the profits till date, of the experience. J

Mangalam had a huge courtyard and bonfire was lit in the middle of it. The Indian sitting arrangements around it already had been occupied by other guests and we were the last couple to enter the premises. We settled at our place and were provided with some tasty Indian munchies.

The Fire Dancer at Mangalam Resort
The folk singers started their performance. The songs like ‘Kesariya Balam’ and ‘Nimbuda’ were familiar. In fact, since we were the only Indian couple amongst guests, the artists interweaved our names as the protagonists in few songs which were all about love. This was probably the best wedding anniversary we had till date. We danced and sang with them and so did our European friends. We simply had a gala time that evening. After burning few calories, it was the time to dig our teeth in the sumptuous Marwari food affair. The fresh ‘ker sangari’ along with rotlas was indeed tasty. We somehow happen to mention about our anniversary to Jeetu and wow…another surprise! We were presented with an extempore moong daal halwa ‘cake’ and we blew the candle to celebrate our anniversary. What a wonderful moment it was!

Peter and Eliane
After dinner, we unexpectedly were provided two options – either to stay in the hut cottages at the Mangalam Resort or to go in the mid of the sand dunes and sleep under the starry night of new moon. No prizes for guessing! In 5 minutes, we were on a camel cart heading towards the sand dunes inside the Desert National Park. Soon the lights were dim at Khuri and we were heading in the darkness. It was an amazing atmosphere which still gives me goose bumps – cool air, complete darkness and the lovely silence! In half an hour, we reached our destination. And surprise surprise..we were told that we would be sleeping in the open! Anita shuddered J No tents? And I was super excited! We had our beds arranged at a ‘safe distance’ from other couples ;) After a while, we lit the bonfire and invited our companions if they were interested in a chat. And I was not surprised when Eliane and Peter, the lovely couple from Belgium joined us. And we are good friends till date! J

As we were done with our talk around the bonfire, we retired to our beds. It was indeed a
thrilling time. We lied and what we could see were the zillions of stars twinkling. Shooting stars were making their appearance so frequently that we could have fulfilled wishes of our life time in one night itself. The other lights which were at a distance and were not twinkling were the lights on the windmills. The wind was now blowing with gusto. And Anita was uncomfortable. Yes the combination was nasty – a new moon night, silence, howling wind, no network on our mobiles and we people alone in the unknown sand dunes! We finally took shelter in a camping tent brought along.

The Desert Sunrise, Khuri Sand Dunes
 I got up early in the morning to capture the sunrise in the desert not knowing that the sun rises late in the desert (How similar to me!) It was cold. So finally the Sun God started appearing on the horizon by 7 am in the morning. In the meanwhile me and Anita were enjoying the desert, the feel of the smooth sand. A good morning to Sun and everybody else there! We were told by Peter that we had few visitors in the night – the deer or sambhar, we don’t know!

Life is full of surprises. I never expected that I would be spending such a spectacular new moon night amongst desert. This was neither on our minds nor on our itinerary. This just happens. And these things happen to your life. Because this is how you define your life. After 20 years (or even today) you won’t be telling stories of how you grabbed a seat in the local train in Mumbai. Talk about how you stared at the Himalayas, how you swam in the Ganga, how you felt the sand to your feet in Rajasthan and how you were in face to face with a Royal Bengal Tiger. Then people will inevitably say, “You have lived life!” J