Trip Meter

Gurgaon 0 - Jaipur 250 - PUSHKAR 390 - Ajmer 410 - Beawar 460 - Bar 495 - JODHPUR 630 - Balesar 738 - Dechhu 800 - Pokhran 840 - JAISALMER 950 - SAM 1020 - Jaisalmer 1060 - Barmer 1217 - Jaisalmer - Pokhran - BIKANER 1706 - Fatehpur 1890 - 40km detour - Jhunjhunu 1985 - Rewari 2142 - Gurgaon 2212

[Numbers beside the place are trip meter readings in km at that point. Places in bold indicate sight-seeing destinations.]


Highlights

  1. Aquamarine blue city of Jodhpur. Just like what I saw in the pictures. Just like I imagined.
  2. Hordes of Baba Ramdev devotees walking on the highway - rest assured, they make drivers' lives miserable
  3. Ribbon of a road between Sam - Jaisalmer - Barmer
  4. Sleeping on the roof of a Jaisalmer home
  5. Falling for the trickery of camel riders in Sam. Don't believe their promises of the 'Golden sand dunes in the Great Indian Thar desert'
  6. Windmills in Jaisalmer
  7. Thunderstorm in Sam
  8. Golgappe in Bikaner
  9. Accidentally discovering the Shekhawati district and the havelis of Fatehpur
  10. 995 kilometers in one day - half of them in search of a petrol pump that would accept credit cards
[Travelog written by Mrutyunjaya Panda]

This trip was, from the very start, a totally spontaneous event. There was no planning, no certainty that it would ever fructify, and the reason was me. A couple of weeks ago, after our brief foray into the Spiti-Kinnaur Valley in Himachal, we were convinced that we should please the "road-travel" God with a pilgrimage to this holy place. As a result a detailed plan was decided upon for touring the entire Spiti-Kinnaur Valley. Alas, this did not appeal to the Gods, and out came reports of landslides and flash floods in that enchanting valley.

However, with a four day weekend possibility, Zishaan was determined not to increase his GCS count (your GCS count increases with every weekend you spend in Gurgaon), and had to have a getaway, while I was not that certain. But when threatened with the responsibility of the suicide of a 25 year old KPO youth, by jumping off the Qutub Minar, I was forced into changing my mind, and finally froze the idea of touring Rajasthan. Once a place was in plan, planning hardly took any time. We sat late into the night, chalked out destinations, worked out the routes, and slept after promises of an early start the day after.

However, as it was, we woke up late into the morning and could only get out by 10 AM. Our room-mate, fondly called Bandar (Monkey), in his efforts at spurring us on, and drawing inspiration from the morning newspaper, commented, "Dekho saalon, yeh 1983 born hai aur terrorist ban gaya ... tum kya kiye?" (Look! Here is a guy born in 1983 and he is a terrorist. And what have you achieved?). It's been almost 2 weeks since our trip and we are yet to figure out how this sentence could spur one on. Interpretations are welcome.


Day 1 - Gurgaon - Jaipur - Pushkar - Ajmer
Distance: 410 km

Leaving the NCR (National Capital Region) is always a driving pain. In the outskirts of the region, while the traffic still remains quite thick, the basic rules seem to vanish. Hence one has to drive trying to locate where the next danger is going to come, not helped a bit by having only two eyes, and handicapped even more by a sleepy front passenger (in this case, Zishaan). The Delhi-Jaipur road, the National Highway No. 8 (NH8 from now on), is a nice piece of tarmac, though not in the same league as other parts of the Golden Quadrilateral. We couldn't push much beyond 100 kmph till Jaipur, which is around 250 Kms away. The road is littered with toll booths, ill-driven trucks and cars showing equal disdain for sticking to their lanes. Overtaking is an art loosely based on how well you interpret the intentions of the vehicle ahead. Right indicators may either mean, "Please overtake from the right", "I am staying here in the right lane despite being the slowest", "It's just something I like to keep on" or simply that the driver has forgotten to switch the indicator off after an earlier right turn. With every possible hindrance except big potholes, we managed to maintain a good average speed till Jaipur. This included having chai at a convenient point midway, and switching seats.

We promptly took the bypass from Jaipur to continue along the NH8. The road from here on is simply beautiful, with wondrous curves and stunning scenery. We stopped to click some pictures and change seats. It was quite a relaxing drive for the next hundred or so kilometers, before we stopped at a roadside dhaba to have lunch. It was a decent meal, nothing extraordinary to write about, but filling. With less than 150 kms to our destination, we were certainly not in a hurry. The route reminded me of my Goa Road trip, as it was basically the same route. Around 370 kms, we had to take NH89, following a right turn, to head to Pushkar. Now, the roads were narrow, but well paved with even less traffic. As we had taken a break to change seats, now it was my turn, and I couldn't suppress the rally driver within me any longer. We reached Pushkar in a short while, and managed to find a place to park the car. Now it was time to explore the place, to see if my skills with the camera can match my pose, and for Zishaan to chase all the girls around (without any discrimination on the basis of age, nationality, color, etc.) with a camera in his hand.

Pushkar loudly proclaims his age; the small 'gallis' (lanes), congested shops, antiquated planning, etc. making it a street photographer's delight. Thus it was no wonder that my dear friend loved every second there, and used every trick to further our stay. As for me, I could only hope for some pretty ladies to ogle at.

We circled the Pushkar lake, the prime attraction of the small town, moving through the innumerable shops, with signposts in Hebrew and other languages. Finally we made it to the lake, and spent a few moments there. The lake is considered very holy. As with most other holy places, it shows in the absolute triumph of faith over all other things i.e. hygiene, cleanliness, order, etc. There are palaces around the lake, some converted to hotels. People come from near and far and take a dip in the water, with the belief of being cleansed off all their sins, and without any discomfort with the green, algae rich, extremely dirty water. In addition, there is the sacred cow, which seemed to almost own the place and hell bent on cleaning the whole place with its dung. We had a real tough time in making the last few steps to the lake, without the protection afforded by our shoes; we had to choose our steps very carefully indeed. After spending some time, and taking a few snaps, we headed for the Brahma temple, not so much for the visit, as for the trusty juice center in front of it. It tasted like nectar to our sore throats.

After a few enquiries, we figured out the route to Ajmer. It was basically a simple and curvy road over a small hill. However good the road was, the experience was sullied by the dense traffic. We stopped midway to take a nice look of Ajmer and I attempted a night-shot of the distant town. Ajmer is a small town, proper roads, and wonderful gol-guppas. There are a few attractions out there as well, but we were more concerned about filling our hungry stomachs and tanking up our car. Thankfully, a friend of ours was at home, at Ajmer, and he arranged a comfortable night stay for us.



Day 2 - Ajmer - Beawar - Bar - Jodhpur - Belasar - Decchu - Pokhran - Jaisalmer
Distance: 540 km

Like any small town, leaving Ajmer early had its advantages. The sparse traffic, easily visible road signs, etc. resulting in hassle free driving and saving a lot of time. Unfortunately our host, Ankur, couldn't not quite bid us farewell. The thing is, his boyfriend had come over the last night from UK, and he seemed too tired to wake up (both were sleeping together) the next morning. We tried out best to understand his situation and promptly took leave of his parents. Within minutes we turned into NH8, and were cruising towards Beawar. The NH8 is a beautiful piece of tarmac, making light of driving over long distances. Beawar came up shortly, and we had to drive across the town to reach the NH14. Only later did we realize that we had yet again been misled and that there was a bypass road ahead. This was soon to be a feature of the whole trip.

The drive till Bar was uneventful, but for the hordes traveling on foot to visit Baba Ramdev. As with any procession, they were unruly, scattered, and very mob like. In addition, with religion being a key political issue, there were a lot of rest camps erected by the state government, and invariably the crowd in front of these covered almost the entire road. It was a major problem as we were traveling in the same direction as them, on a two lane road without any divider. So, not only would one have to look out for oncoming traffic, but also make sure that he doesn't crash into anyone when driving in the left lane. This slowed down our express by quite a margin. While we both shared a common disdain for such abuse of public property, the unruly behavior that goes against the basic tenets of road etiquettes, we had different approaches to the common problem. I could manage to separate the thoughts from my actions, thus taking on the nuisance like any suffering motorist, unlike my fellow traveler. Zi managed to hit one to the ground. Luckily, neither the person was hurt nor was there any oncoming traffic. So we managed to escape. But it wasn't the only incident.

Before I describe the next one, it is imperative on my part to describe a common behavioral trait in rural India. Goats are domesticated and kept for milk and meat. But once a goat grows old, its value decreases considerably and it becomes a question of how much can it fetch. The poor prices at local cattle bazaars change the status of an old goat from an asset to a liability. Thus developed an age old tactic, whereby, the owner/grazer would lead the goat onto the path of oncoming traffic, and get the poor animal killed or injured; and thus exploit the unsuspecting driver for getting more money that he/she could possibly have imagined.

The second incident revolves around this. While we were still recovering from the earlier hit-and-run experience, we suddenly encounter a herd of goats, with the herdswoman actively diverting them towards the middle of the road. Once again the instincts surfaced and Zi nearly ran a goat over. Thankfully, it was nearly, not fully, and we could move on, though not before exchanging a few words with the herdswoman. Thankfully it remained the last and final such incident till Jodhpur.

Jodhpur, also known as the blue city (most houses are painted blue), has two main attractions, the Umaid Bhavan Palace and the Jodhpur fort. The Palace is a 5-star hotel now, with only a small section available for tourists' viewing. The visiting place showcases the past and present of the Maharajas of Jodhpur, with extensive coverage on the founding Maharaja's life. It appeared more of an obscene display of wealth, flaunt of dictatorial power, extravagant hobbies, cheap replication of fresco arts, and extreme exploitation of cheap labor. However the building was an extremely shrewd move, a much more effective way of passing on wealth than money.

Next, we visited the fort. At the gates, there was a teenager selling tea as Indian Viagra to foreigners. He seemed to have mastery over at least 4 European languages; English, Spanish, Italian and French. It was quite a sight. The fort is a well built one, with trademark Rajasthani architecture (cramped rooms, ill ventilated spaces, intricate craftsmanship, etc.). The rear of the fort looks over the old Jodhpur city, and it was quite a sight. It was as if some invisible hand had painted the houses below blue.

We spent some time out there inspecting the defunct cannons, trying our photography skills, before moving out into the city. There were two things of note at the fort. A) There are more Italian restaurants in the fort than of any other cuisine. B) We happened to chance upon this very beautiful female (I sincerely believe that the photos don't do enough justice to her.)

Next in our plan was street walking. Thankfully, we found a very convenient parking spot outside the old Jodhpur city, before venturing out in the streets. As usual the narrow lanes evoked completely opposite feelings in Zi and me. The tour didn't last very long though, and we were done within a couple of hours. This was followed by a light lunch of Dahi-Bara and lassi, before we left for Jaisalmer.



Asking for directions once again led us to the wrong route. While the route would eventually lead us to Pokhran, it was far from ideal. Not only was it a state highway (narrow single lane roads) but our Baba Ramdev hordes were also using that same piece of miserly tarmac. It slowed us down to a large extent, but we finally managed to reach the highway at Belasar, at a cost of 2 extra hours through unrewarding roads. The highway greatly reduced our problems, and we were able to cruise comfortably towards Jaisalmer. The roads were a breeze, helping us average speeds around 80 kmph with minimal driving strain. We reached Jaisalmer at around 9:45 PM, where Gajju was supposed to meet us.

Gajju is a friend of Zi. He had come over from Barmer, a place 130 kms south of Jaisalmer. Thankfully he had arranged for our stay at his relative's house. It gave us real exposure to a typical Rajasthan house. The dinner was filling and we slept the night on the roof. It's an experience we deeply treasure. Thus a tired day came to an end.


Day 3 - Jaisalmer - Sam - Barmer
Distance: 267 km

The next day was quite unusual; in a way that we woke up to sunlight on our face. Since we had relatively less distance to cover, or rather thought so, we took it easy. It was almost 11 AM by the time we got ready. With a trusty guide by our side (Gajju), we were not in haste, and decided to head off to the Amar Lake first. It's a nice pond, with few people, and nice scenery to boot. We spent some time there, concentrating to stay in the shade as it was a very hot day. Surprisingly, it had enough water with some trees half-submerged in the middle.

Next, we headed off to the famous Jaisalmer fort. It typifies the Rajput architecture quite well, though it differs in being much bigger and that a part of the fort is inhabited by the locals. Yes, despite being such a famous tourist destination, part of it is a place of residence for many people. There are also a few temples towards one side of the fort. The heat made sure that we kept our visit to the bare minimum and didn't try to reach out to each and every nook and corner of the fort. Surprisingly, the most astounding discovery we made out there was not any feature of the fort, but the numerous windmills that span the landscape around Jaisalmer. It was immediately ticked off as one of the places we must visit before leaving. Another place we made to was a Haveli, which made us regret spending Rs 5 as the entrance fee. In addition, there was a "Govt Authorised" bhang shop right outside the fort.

The searing heat ensured that the car's AC was turned on at all times and consumption of chilly drinks (beer or coke) was high. We had our lunch soon after in a vegetarian restaurant. Since we still had two hours before heading off to Sam, we decided to make it to the windmills. The journey to the windmills somehow didn't turn out to be as straightforward as it should have been. We missed a right turn and were soon heading off in another direction. Thankfully, we realized it soon thereafter and took another way back. It was, however, a different route, and presented an indirect approach towards the windmills. One doesn't quite realize, but vast plain lands mask distances to an astonishing degree: an object at least 2 km away can easily appear to be a mere 200 m away. Unfortunately, in the searing heat, we became victims of this illusion. In the wrong route we were in, the windmills appeared a stone's throw away, and as a result we parked our car by the road and started walking. We only realized our folly after walking for some 10 minutes and still finding the car nearer than the windmills. Thankfully, the heat hadn't affected much. We decided to take a break beside a pond, and kill some time. It was well worth the decision as it helped us regain some energy.

The drive to the windmills was very simple from there on, and soon we found ourselves in the midst of windmills spanning the entire horizon. It was a fabulous sight. We took a few photos and then decided to drive towards Sam. The drive in itself was a mere 40 kms, and the beautiful roads, though there were a few treacherous dunes at places, made it an easy drive. Such roads are very rare. It appeared as if a ribbon of silky tarmac had been laid out in the middle of a desert.

On reaching Sam, the obvious activity that we wanted to indulge in was the camel ride. There were govt. approved rates for camel rides, for the standard ride up to a certain distance. However, the ride in itself didn't venture out to any place that we couldn't cover on foot, and hence were interested in getting a longer ride, at a higher price. In accordance we negotiated the distance and price with one camel keeper, and were off. He sent along his two assistants to handle the camels while we rode them. This was the biggest blunder we did during the entire trip.

The camel ride was certainly exciting, made even more so when the camel frequently lifted one of its legs to scratch its sides (the itching was caused by the flies that just stuck to these camels). It did this a couple of times, and after a few minutes it altogether sat down, without any intention of moving, and it was not even the normal distance that a regular rider covered. We felt hard done by. But seeing the animal's condition, we decided we would rather walk back than give the camel another torrid time.

On our way back, we managed to see and capture some breathtaking sights. It was evening time, the sun was setting slowly, and there were huge rain clouds clearly visible at a distance. A local helped us identify a rain cloud, and we were mesmerized at the sight rain presented in a desert.

It appears as if water is flowing down a giant opening in the bulbous clouds above. We managed to see it in two different directions. It surely must be one of the rarest sights. Rain doesn't visit a desert often.



Soon we reached the car stand, and were eager to finish off our business with the camel keeper and leave. However, it was only then that the trick played by the camel owner dawned upon us. We had been cleverly set up. While sending us away on the fraudulent ride, he went into hiding. So without the person who we had set up the initial deal with, we were now facing a bunch of locals who only stuck on to the amount negotiated earlier, conveniently feigning ignorance about the other part of the deal. Even after much negotiation by Gajju we had to part with double the amount they deserved. It left a very sour taste in our mouths, and I won't hesitate to warn anyone going to Sam for the camel ride. He or she would be dealing with a bunch of thieves. The drive back to Jaisalmer was uneventful, and everyone was a little sad about the incident at Sam.

At Jaisalmer, we faced a dilemma. Should we stick to our earlier plan and drive on to Bikaner through the night or should we drive in the opposite direction towards Barmer, both to drop off Gajju and get a good night's rest? In the end we decided to drive to Barmer and take rest before the marathon, ~ 1000kms, to Gurgaon the next day. The roads to Barmer was typical of the region, fabulously good, enabling us to cover the 130 kms in around 1 hrs 20 mins. Both of us, Zishaan and I, were terribly tired and it didn't take us long to fall asleep, after a filling dinner.


Day 4 - Barmer - Jaisalmer - Pokhran - Bikaner - Fatehpur - Jhunjhunu - Rewari - Gurgaon
Distance: 995 km

Keeping in mind the mammoth distance that lay ahead of us, we started quite early, and decided to stick to our plan to rotate driving between each other. Looking at the map, it was pretty evident that we would not have any problem till Fatehpur as we would be driving along the national highways. But the road post Fatehpur would be Rajasthan and Haryana state highways, which were unknown territory. Nevertheless, we decided to drive ahead at around 100 kmph and only take an hour's break at Bikaner for sweets (and snacks, as Bikaner is very famous for these) and a visit to the fort.

Thus started the huge marathon totaling ~ 1000 kms. We passed Jaisalmer at 9 AM, Pokhran at 10:30 AM, and after reencountering our Baba Ramdev hordes in places (though in the opposite direction), we finally reached Bikaner at 4 PM. The entry ticket to the fort was around 100 bucks and it would take at least 2 hours, and hence we had to limit ourselves only to the outside. The sweets and snacks were good, but failed to meet our high expectations. The only high point at Bikaner was its amazing Gol Guppas, which we think are, by far, the best in Rajasthan. As previously decided, we managed to leave Bikaner at around 5 PM, and soon it was another endless drive.

Meanwhile, we were running low on fuel and needed to get to a petrol pump which would accept credit cards (did I mention we were running low on cash too). At Fatehpur, we got confused twice in the narrow lanes in search of an ATM machine. We had to withdraw cash to pay for a refill. We discussed the route in the map with the petrol pump guy, and noted down all places we would be going through on our way to Gurgaon. We even debated whether we should take this unknown route or drive a whole 200 kms more and drive down to Jaipur before turning towards Delhi. Delhi, Jaipur and Fatehpur almost make an equilateral triangle.

In our search for the road out from Fatehpur, we came across a stretch of several small towns that are real gems. They definitely cannot match up with other Rajasthani towns (Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur.) in terms of publicity, but the stretch is showered with havelis which date back at least 200 years. Most of them are not as well maintained, but still retain their charm. It was astonishing that such a place existed and doesn't even merit a mention in most travel guides. Later, after a little google and wikipedia, we discovered it was the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan with towns such as Fatehpur, Jhunjhunu, Sikar etc. The havelis/ frescos here are described as 'open air art galleries of Rajasthan'. Zi thinks they merit a separate visit/ tour.

The roads from Fatehpur to Rewari are narrow, with craters and speed breakers equally distributed along the entire route. The roads are so narrow that no two four-wheeled vehicles can pass each other without one brushing the grass by the side. These roads also seem to have their own law. Big is better and the smaller vehicle better yield. So when an oncoming Jeep comes at you on full beam, you just have to leave the road to it. In addition, overtaking any slower vehicle is very difficult, not just because the road is very narrow, but also because the drivers of the Jeeps seem to take being overtaken very personally, and give a hard chase for quite sometime. Thankfully, my Swift enabled me to pull away from them.

This stretch was by far my most demanding and tiring drive. Not only you have to concentrate hard on the twisty and undulating road, but also maintain a high enough speed, and look out for unpleasant surprises in terms of craters or speed breakers. There were two moments of note, once when the road ahead looked to take a left turn only for it to spring a surprise right turn at the last moment, and secondly when in braking for a crater, the sand on the road almost caused the car to go sideways. Apart from these, we stopped twice. Once for dinner and tea. And second time, we were so tired that we just parked the car, rolled up the windows, locked the doors, and slept to an alarm set for 30 minutes.



There were few moments that gave us as much sense of relief as when we finally met NH8 at Rewari. We promptly swapped seats, and reached home in an hour. Looking at the meter, we realized we had covered 995 kms in our last day, reaching Gurgaon at 4 AM in the morning. The trip threw up some astonishing numbers at us. The car gave 15.7 kms to a litre, despite having a very slow puncture in its right front tire (tubeless tires lose air very slowly) and the AC being used during the entire duration of the trip. We had covered 2,200 kms in 4 days and covered almost the entire state of Rajasthan, right down to the western most tip near Pakistan border. Finally, the total cost of the trip came down to Rs 3,800 per head. Personally, I cannot imagine a lower cost for such a long road trip.

Check out some pictures from the trip.



Tags: Drive, India

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  1. If there's one blog I've been secretly envious of, it's Zishaan's. Stunning photography coupled with perfect timing transports you to the place and time that Zishaan has travelled to. His photos tell stories without a single world being spelt out. Perfection! All the best Wanderlust! - Joseph Radhik (Payne)
  2. I have wanted to visit Rajasthan since I remember wanting anything. And after I saw Road, Movie recently my only wish is to own and learn to drive a small truck so that I can one day glide along the beauty of Rajasthan and its people shimmering in the hot desert air. - Rakesh Verma
  3. I totally loved the Rajasthan album (maybe because I was raised in Jaipur). - Farhina