Thursday, April 4, 2013


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Enchanting Rajasthan thru a Jharoka!
Next morning we start for Ajmer, a distance of 135 kilometers by bus from Jaipur. We move over dusty roads on a dry, windy day, with a number of shops with very big areas, on sides, storing and selling marble; the sight of slowly moving trucks, carrying huge boulders of marble, is unusual for us! 
Boulders of Marble
We reach Ajmer in three hours and straight away head for the Dargah (shrine) of the Sufi saint Khwaja (meaning master or lord) Moinuddin Chishti (1141-1230), greatest of the Indian Sufi saints, well visited by all communities of India. Entering through the Buland Gate, we spend a considerable time in the pleasant, fragrant atmosphere around the main crowded shrine, where the people offer flowers, colorful ‘Chadders’ (embroidered Cloth sheets), praying for the fulfillment  of their wishes. 
KM Chistie Dargah

Then we move around the other marble structures like the Akbari Mosque with a very peaceful ambience, and come out. On the way, we also happen to come across the beautiful Jain temple, Soniji Ki Nasiyan.Then we reach Pushkar, via the picturesque artificial lake Ana Sagar, spread over 13 Km; to begin with, we find ourselves before a grand, double-storey Gurudwara in white marble! 
Grand Gurudwara

                                                                                                                    Honoring the visits of Guru Nanak and Guru Govind Singh, this monument, nestling in the Aravallies, replaces the earlier Guru Nanak Dharmasala; it turns out to be a refreshing place for us to walk towards the Pushkar Lake. One of the five most sacred, ancient destinations for the Hindus and also for foreign tourists to flock for peace and bliss, Pushkar also happens to be a notorious haven of narcotics and drugs said to be an attraction for many to attain Nirvana (bliss)! This huge water-body with a surface area of 54 acres and 52 Ghats is depicted on Greek and Kushan coins as old as 4th century B.C. This lake has mention in Ramayana and Mahabharata as Adi Tirtha (the sacred water-body) and as the mythology goes, also in this place with beautiful surroundings, lived together romancing, the great sage Vishwamitra and the beauteous Apsara Menaka for ten long years!
Pushkar Lake with Ghats
We move around the lake with beautiful views of the Ghats animated by people and flocks of pigeons every where. We also enjoy some time feeding pigeons on our hands and then, as we move, watch birds catching fish and people bathing relaxed in the lake on extended concrete platforms. We are told by our just made local friends that, in the olden days, man-eating crocodiles inhabited the lake and the people considered themselves lucky to be eaten by them! I salute India Incredible as I imagine an ecstaticperson being happily swallowed by a crocodile!
Looking for fish!
Good time with pigeons
From the lake, we come to the 600year old present Bramha Temple, the most prominent Indian temple of ‘The Creator of the World’, where he is worshipped. The life size icon with four heads in four cardinal directions, seating cross-legged, riding a Swan, depicts Bramha in the Vishwakarma (creator of the Universe) form and it was deified by Adi Shankara in 718 A.D.  Well, the lore of Bramha with His wives involved and how he was cursed is spicy and interesting; it’s interesting to listen to it from the locals! We start back for Jaipur shortly and reach there about sunset time.

Next day we bid good-bye to the warm Pink City and head for Jodhpur, watching the sunset over Sambhar Salt Lake, an elliptical piece of vast saline wetland, 35 km long.

Sambhar Salt Lake
This weird, largest salt lake of India produces about two lakh tons of clean salt and also is an ecologically preserved Ramsar site, a wetland of International importance, as, in winter, thousands of flamingos and other birds from northern Asia migrate to this place for sustenance on special type of algae and bacteria growing in the lake, which also provide striking colors to the lake!
 The same night we reach Jodhpur, are promptly picked up and taken to the hotel we have already booked, riding rough in an auto-rickshaw, in the narrow lanes and by lanes. It is a house converted into a mini hotel with small, cozy rooms in Rajasthani style furnishings and all family members welcome us, even at around 11:30pm in the night; yes, their business acumen is also well known! We have tea and then go to sleep after eating a bowl of curds and rice, of course with Limboo ka Achar (lemon pickle).

Sardar Market
 Next day morning, we reach the terrace via a narrow stair-case and have tea in the pleasant early March weather, having a view of the huge, red sand-stone, high walled Mehran Garh fort in front of us! We climb down, get ready and then into the narrow streets with twists and turns, gaining confidence as we move ahead among friendly people. Leisurely, we reach the gate of the Sardar Market with a big Clock Tower inside, surrounded by a market in all directions. From the gate itself, we turn back and proceed in the direction of the fort, having decided to tour it first.
We reach the intricately sculptured Jai Pol (the Gate of Victory, constructed by Maharaja Mansingh in 1806) with floral designs and the pleasant, colorful paintings on both sides, depicting Ganesha, other Goddesses, and the marriage procession of Lord Shiva.
Jai Pol
Imposing Corridors

                                                                                        Still we don’t get the slightest hint of the artistic treasures in the form of palaces inside the powerfully protected fort with walls measuring up to 118 ft high and 63 ft wide! Moving through imposing corridors and gates, with magnificent structures by sides, we reach the ramparts of the fort, ornamented with historic canons. Spread over 5 km in the heart of sunny Jodhpur, the fort reconnoiters the whole Blue City, as Jodhpur is known due to the live-blue painted buildings around the fort, from a 400ft hill.
The Blue City from the Fort
More of a castle, its foundation was laid by the Rathore ruler Jodha  in 1459 on the then mysterious hill Bhaurcheeria or the mountain of birds, where only the hermit Cheeria Nathji, the Lord of Birds lived! In the process of being asked to move from there by Jodha, he cursed that the place would always suffer scarcity of water! The king tried to mollify the hermit by providing him a house and a temple nearby, but later on buried a man by name Raja Ram Meghwal (‘perhaps me in the earlier birth’, I jested with Poonam.) alive in the foundation for auspice to the place!He was promised complete care of his family and descendants, who live in Raj Bagh, a garden named after him! Any way, there is a drought every three or four years, even today. Surely, the castle, one of the seven wonders of India, attracts the Bollywood and also the Hollywood director Christopher Nolan made a part of his Batman movie here.
More of a Castle!
Moti Mahal Courtyard

With time, the fort had several palaces developed, under various kings till 1870. Moti Mahal, buzzing with turbaned attendants and tourists, and a courtyard with marvelously sculptured multiple balconies imposing over us from all sides, just throws us into a dizzy delight! Built by Raja Sur Singh, for his five queens, a spacious hall in it displays an array of fabulous palanquins with gold and silver work; they were a means of travel for ladies and men of nobility on occasions.
Palanquin with gold work; also a cute, friendly canon!

 The next section we enter is the exquisite Phool Mahal, a luxuriant hall in rich red, gilded with gold leaf, absorbing light through tainted glass windows; paintings depicting different Ragas of Indian music on the upper section of walls, and the artistry on the roof and around it, again with paintings, everything just beyond imagination! Yes, the vivid colors of Rajasthan, with a variety from fertile Chambal region in the east to the endless sea of desert in the west, express themselves in magical paintings from Royalty to flora and fauna to Gods and religious texts; any one visiting Phool Mahal is stunned!
Phool Mahal
Sheesh Mahal

                    Then we spend some time at the typical Rajput style Sheesh Mahal, a colorful fantasy all-round in mirrors, a chandelier and lamps spreading light to all nooks and colorful religious paintings. Then we come out in the courtyard, spend some lively time with the attendant. I borrow a turban from one of them for pictures; Rajasthan style!  

Rajasthan Style!

Our next destination is the Ummaidbhavan Palace, one of the world’s biggest residences with 347 rooms; but at present a great part of it is a luxury hotel and a substantial part, residence of the Royalty! Again good business and maintenance of the heritage structures clubbed together. We spend some time in the museum, then go to the place where Beautiful Rolls Royce cars are parked and then strolling through a garden come to a spot to have nice, refreshing, hot coffee. As we come out of the premises of the palace, I sight a huge, bluish Nilgai, which slowly disappears into the wood, as I try to attract it, giving a call, “Aao, Aao!” It is evening and we return back to our hotel, roaming through streets, after we come to the market center by an auto-rikshaw.
Ummaid Bhavan
The next day, it is Holi, the festival of colors; we decide to go to Mandore Gardens, spread over 82 acres, a beautiful recreational spot, nine km away from Jodhpur; the festival of colors is celebrated here by the locals, tourists and also foreign tourists. A beautiful, fully developed garden with rock terraces, water bodies and a variety of flora, the gardens main attraction is the sprinkle majestic cenotaphs of the erstwhile rulers of Mewar! Actually, they are sculptural masterpieces resembling Dewals (temples), adding charisma to the respective personalities, but not just Chhatries (cenotaphs) as mostly elsewhere in Rajasthan. We enter the garden and soon find a troop of langurs having happy time on a pair of huge, ancient trees, standing over a stone well. Soon we reach the picturesque Dewal of Maharaja Ajit Singh, in red sand stone and marble, built in 1793.
Dewal of Ajit Singh

 Anyone’s eyes will just be glued to the extremely proportionate structure! As we move ahead amidst lawns and rock terraces with langurs on sides, we sight the dignified marble Dewal of the queen mother. Slowly we stroll on to the huge Dewal of Maharaja Jaswant Singh, where we spend a lot of time, able to have views through the balconies on all sides with beautifully carved pillars.
From the Dewal of Jaswant Singh
Then walking some distance by the side of a big lake where some youngsters are swimming, we again get scenic views mingled with cenotaphs, large rock terraces full of langurs, till we reach the Hall of Heroes, carved out of a single huge rock, with lively, painted figures of folk heroes.
Raja Gojgaji

Friendly Langurs

On the way out, we are able have some fun with friendly langurs offering them small laddus, and as the evening approaches, we witness the processions of different local groups with rustic drums and bawdy slogans, a legitimate part of the Holi festival!

The same night, we bid good bye to the friendly family of the hotel owners, where we stayed, and reach the Jaisalmer railway station early in the morning to witness the glowing Sonar Kella (or the Golden fortress, named so after Satyajit Ray’s movie of the same name) at sunrise, with the setting full moon behind!

Sonar Kella
 As I move on the platform, cupping a cup of hot tea in the morning chill, I see and get interested in a lively parrot drinking water at a leaking pipe! 
Soon I am approached by an agent of a hotel, who promises us accommodation and a colorful night in the desert; I take him to my friend (made in the train) and we together fix for the arrangements at a very reasonable price. Soon we are taken to the hotel, where we relax, complete our morning chores and get ready for the tour of the city and the fort.
We reach the center of the town, founded by Maharawal Jaisal Singh in 1156. Standing on a thrown up fold of yellow sand stone (ridge), Jaisalmer is known as the Golden City of India, due to the tinge of most of the structures in yellow sand stone! We don’t have to do anything, but just move along in the narrow streets with virtually a golden atmosphere, due to the beautifully sculptured houses with grandly carved main doors in teak!

Nathmalji ki Haveli
Yes, we spend time admiring and taking pictures like the other tourists, also foreign, in the most unexpected places, till we reach Nathmalji Ki Haveli, a succulent mansion of a smaller proportion,  with two elegant elephants on sides. It was constructed for Diwan Mohata Nathmal, the then Prime Minister of Jaisalmer, by Hathi and Lalu, two imaginative architect-brothers appointed by the king. The mansion is off beat with the depiction of modern amenities like cars and electric fans on the walls along with the classical Rajput style architecture and sculpture. At present, we find the jharokas decorated with masks and toys, perhaps temporary.
 After spending some time in the cool Haveli, we come out and continue to stroll and linger at shops to see interesting decorative items on the roadside.

 On the whole, our journey in the very narrow golden streets is delightful as we reach the Patwon ki Haveli, another artistic mansion of the business family Patwons. This ‘mansion of the brocade merchants’ commissioned by Guman Chand Patwa in1805, took fifty years to complete, and enjoyed by his five sons in affluence from business and also suspected illegal trade in opium and money lending. This five storied mansion, supposed to be the best in Jaisalmer, attracts all with its frescos, mirror works and chiseled ceilings. Antique furniture and other aesthetic mementoes like locks, gramophone with a loud speaker, a table with a chessboard on it and exclusively made pieces, in a grand drawing room of unusual class, also abound in the place, refreshing the sense of appreciation in a person. 

Again, the golden narrow streets and the fort are the views from its unique jharokas and soon we are in the square on the opposite side, full of vendors selling a variety of clothes, puppets and colorful wall hangers, and also fans made of peacock feathers. We spend some happy time here with many other tourists also enjoying themselves.
Fort from Patwon ki Haveli

 Finally, we make a hurried visit to the two hundred year old Mandir Palace; built by late Maharawal Jawahar Singh converted into a hotel, an architectural splendor with different sections. It is a part of Badal Vilas, the present Royal Residence not accessible to people, which is the tallest structure of the town, next only to the fort. 

We return to the hotel, and relax as soon we will be starting our exciting one night excursion to the Sam Desert, a part of the great Indian Thar desert with an area of more than 200000 sq km!
A yard of cenotaphs on the way to desert
We are taken to the point in the desert from where we board the Ship of the Desert (camel) and ride to its swing, into the still sea of sand with the small thorny plants substituting algae and the motionless sand dunes, rising from 152 meters to 16 meters, substituting waves; giant and tiny!
Of course, being our first experience to be in the desert with the hazy blue skies above and hard paths turning into soft sand as we move on and reach the area where warm, sand dunes abound and we climb down the camel with the help of young, poor but pleasant children attending us!

                                                                                    The sun is still a bit strong, but it is going to be sun set within sometime, as bunches of tourists pour in, to make the place a colorful, lively stage for various cultures, enjoying total Rajasthani ambiance in the form of music, folk lore and dance!

                                                           Soon we see small girls in costumes, playing music on toy Ravanhathas (bowed fiddles popular in western India) dancing and entertaining the tourists, people running up and down the dunes, some talking animatedly to their guides and some just relaxing with their hats over their faces.
 Well, all are having fun in different ways, some even watching the silhouettes slimming and lengthening and the sand turning into golden yellow, as the awaited sunset is arriving, slowly changing the color of the skies! 

Our Bread n Butter
Then the large, orange sun sets slowly at the horizon without a reflection in the unending desert; I wonder, whether there could be a chance of mirage for the fabulous event with reflection!

All mount their camels and head towards the circular desert camp as it starts getting dark. The rooms, on the circle along the compound wall, are also circular with a conical thatched roof, with a nice double bed in the center and other amenities. There is a small stage for singers and a large, circular, cemented floor for performers and us to participate; with the seating arranged around it. It is quite cold outside but pleasant as we refresh ourselves and move around in the space with cups of hot tea cupped in our hands as the artistes are getting ready with their instruments, mike arrangements and the dancers are giving final touches to their accessories. Shortly, we have a good dinner of Dal-bati, vegetable pulav etc and come back for the program of music and dance by enthusiastic, young local artistes; already started. 

   Accompaniment of Rajasthani musical instruments, dhol, khartaal( a pair of light, rectangular wood, I wonder how it is played), dholak, gives a unique touch to the variety of dances the girls in costumes perform; 

 Bhavai (with painted earthen pots on their heads), Ghoomar (pirouetting with beautiful, flashy Ghagras) and of course some Bollywood! Soon we also join them and make merry till midnight in the, incidentally, full-moon lit night! Next morning, after breakfast and tea, we return and after spending some time in the room go to the fort.

In the Morning Chill at Desert Camp
Authorized Bhang Shop
Before we enter the Sonar Kella, one of the largest forts in the world, we find ourselves before an authorized bhang shop, from behind which we get a heady view of the fort! We enter the fort through Akshay Pol, the main entrance of the fort and find the dominating Raj Mahal, the royal palace, at present a museum. 

Raj Mahal
 With some unexpected twists and turns, originally intended to check the speed of the enemy, we pass through the artistic   Ganesh Pol and keep moving through the second and third layer of walls in the fort, at present, occupied by colorful saris, bed sheets and dresses of small vendors.
Dream Entrance!
Lively Tirthankara
Soon we reach the famous Jain temples in Dilwara style, dedicated to holy Tirthankaras (Jain hermits), dating back 12th-15th centuries. A pleasure in sculpture and painting in yellow sand stone; the lively idols of the Tirthankaras in marble, black stone, sand stone, gold and bronze, with matchless sculpture and painting around them in different temples are astounding! 

A Warrior
The life in the form of animals, birds, apsaras, Gods, Goddesses on the walls, domes and pillars just takes us into a world of dreams hard to believe and I am definitely dazed by the splendor; 

Just Grandeur!
Live Gargoyle

even a gargoyle in the form of a crocodile seems to spring into action! As we come out of the temple complex, we are attracted by shops displaying alluring carved mementoes and a variety of other fancy items; but we decide to think about them later. Then we go to a turret with historic cannon placed there, also a fantastic view point at present, to have a beautiful view of the tawny town and enjoy the breeze. 
Top of the World!
Hmm…. the summer is chasing us…shortly it will be very hot in Rajasthan! Spending some more time at another point, we leisurely walk our way out of the colorful fort.
Gadisar Lake
In the evening, we walk to the historic, 14th century Gadsisar Lake, a fresh water lake built by Maharawal Gadsi; it harvested rain water for entire Jaisalmer! At present a scenic tourist spot with several temples and shrines on its bank, we take a boat-ride all over the cool lake, also to find birds, ducks and plenty of catfish in the lake.
                                                                                                                                  RAJA RAM ATRE

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