Midnight on the Dunes

moonrise

Prelude:

Red days on the calendar is an emotion for everyone. What if you have 13 red days on the calender? You wont be able to hold back the “n” number of possibilities that you mind makes to spend these days. For some it means home and family, for others it means a time to relax. For me it has always been and always will be travel. With a lot of excitement I started to filter out the possibilities that my mind was creating. I am not a solo travel kind of person and crave companionship. Hence I did a lot of propaganda to get my friends to agree to my ambitious plans. Many were apparently over ambitious but I still maintain it was possible. 🙂

So my initial plan of a grand 2 weeks tour of South East Asia dwindled down to just Indonesia and finally to Bali. But it soon turned out that it too would not be possible. I started seeking destinations closer to home and had finally shortlisted Kolkata – Tawang, Kolkata – Darjeeling – Bhutan, Chadar Trek and Rajasthan. North East India and Bhutan has been in the back of my mind for sometime now, but I wanted to ride to those places, which I would not be able to do at that point of time. This left me with Rajasthan which I was more than happy to finalize. I had longed to visit Rajasthan ever since I was introduced to the royal and honourable Rajputs and their mighty fortresses in history lessons. The mighty Thar and the images of rolling dunes added an essence of uniqueness and romance to my perceptions of Rajasthan and that… I wanted to explore.

Planning started in Full-Swing which required me to find two things: People and Places. Finally I convinced my old friend and schoolmate Vineet who was in Mumbai  and John my junior at Amrita School of Business to accompany me on my endeavour.  We caught a flight from Chennai to Mumbai and the journey begins…

The Plan:

It was still ambitious… Just like most of my other plans… Me and John spent the first two days in Mumbai under the guidance and care of my good friend Nishant Menon. You can’t hope to get a better host. We wanted to do all the clichéd stuff everyone does when they visit Mumbai. Local train, Black and Yellow Premier Padmini cab,  Gateway of India, Taj Hotel, Elepanta Caves, Queen’s Necklace, Bademiya, Leopold Cafe, CST… Both the days were long but absolute fun. My suggestions: After a long day walking the streets around the Gateway of India, try to find “Alps”. Wings and a Pitcher can do wonders to dissolve that stress. And you simply cannot miss Bademiya, its easy to find and hard to forget.

Vineet joined us the third day and without further ado, we pumped the pedals and headed towards the Golden City in “Land of Kings”

The Place:

Jaisalmer – is truly a Golden City. The desert, the sandstone, the rising sun, everything bathes the city in Gold. We drove through the night with near zero-visibility and reached Jaisalmer in time to see the sunrise. Quick search online showed that one of the best places to see the sunrise at Jaisalmer was the Gadsisar Lake. What we never expected and was least prepared for was the cold.. It was ice-cold outside and the sun was nowhere to be seen… Our hope to see a splendid sunrise was shattered. Shivering but still excited we reached the lake. After waiting for sometime the gentle breeze blew away the mists rising from the lake and slowly the Chattris and the temples dotted around the lake were revealed to us.

Mists.jpg

Having a very tight timetable we headed for a quick rooftop breakfast that gave a view of the Golden fort.  Before heading to the fort there was one thing we needed to do…the most important thing in our itinerary.. the Desert Safari. We all agreed that we wanted to spend a night in the desert and didn’t want the Swiss tent experience. Our search for an authentic desert safari experience led us to Kheta – The real desert man. I’m not going to tell further on how the discussions went. Trust me you will have your doubts and might think again.  Looking back at it now a smile crossed my face. Kheta is a sweet person eager to tell you stories of all the people he has taken. We put our trust in him and didnt regret the choice we made.

The Jaisalmer fort is a living fort.. i.e. people still live in it. We took a quick tour of the palace. Taking photographs was not a happy experience inside the palace. We didnt linger much and moved towards the much awaited desert safari.

Kheta took us to a remote village in a vehicle. On the way we made brief stop at the Kuldhara ruins which is believed to be haunted. Legend has it that the entire population left the village overnight to escape thee wicked Salam Singh of Jaisalmer. They left behind a curse that no one would be able to live in the village again.

Kheta.jpg
Kheta at Kuldhara ruins

We stopped again when a mongoose crossed us, which was considered as a bad omen. A quick ritual and we were back on track. We stopped near Kheta’s village where the camels and his brother were waiting patiently for us. “The best camel for you”, Kheta’s brother said as I climbed the camel. He made me feel particularly happy. We started our hour-long bumpy camel safari. As the dunes drew closer there was a palpable excitement in the air. There was a final climb which the camels did easily and the dunes rolled out in front of us. The setting sun, rolling dunes and I was lucky to spot a deer(Chinkara I guess). It was picture perfect. Just then Kheta and his helpers built a fire and got us piping hot masala tea. Can it get any better? Ohh yes.. On one side the sun was setting and on the other the moon was rising. All of us tried to capture the moment on our devices but as is the norm, we failed miserably to catch nature in its true colors. So we sat there soaking up the last rays of the sun as the cold was gently setting in. It was time for a simple dinner which was followed by campfire stories. Sitting around the fire, Kheta sang for us a beautiful folk song that still lingers in my mind. Kheta and his helpers rolled out the mattresses on the sand near the dying fire. He asked us to lie down and put on top of us extra thick blankets to help us face the cold night ahead. And there I lay, gazing at the stars with a smile on my face… A midnight on the dunes. The silence and the calm of the night soon pampered me into a sound sleep. My friends on the other hand were not so lucky and had to twist and turn to get adjusted to the snoring of god knows who.. Poor souls.

We woke up early to see the sunrise which was just as refreshing and calming as the sunset. We had a quick breakfast of fruits and wanted to get back on the road as soon as possible. Our plans to head on to Jodhpur got cancelled as I had an urgent(not so pleasant) meeting at Bangalore. This was the only trip that I had abandoned half way and I am yet to come to terms with it. Rajasthan gives you a unique experience. I’ll be going back for more. When are you going?

Few Things:

  • There is a lot more to explore in Jaisalmer that I didn’t mention. Bada Bagh, Havelis, shopping, etc are some of them
  • From what I have read, majority of the people depend on tourism to meet their ends. So help them whatever way you can.
  • For the adventurous types, there is a Government authorised Bhang Shop next to the fort entrance
  • Staff inside the Haveli and the palace were a bit edgy while we used cameras. Get tickets(even for mobile cams) if you don’t want to draw their ire.
  • Dont fall into the tourist trap. Do a bit more research and go for an authentic desert safari and I strongly suggest you stay the night in the desert. Trust me you’ll love it.
  • If you want to get in touch with Kheta to take you for the desert safari or if you have any other queries, please write to me at govindkgr@gmail.com
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