san dunes thar desert rajasthan india

Voyage to the Great Indian Desert

The sight of endless mountains of sand is not a common offering of tourist destinations. It wouldn’t have done justice to Rajasthan if after staying for 4 years in Delhi we didn’t visit its deserts. The itinerary was very carefully drafted, for we were 11 of us and wanted to have all our arguments before going on the voyage. We planned to visit Rajasthan’s three of the many beautiful cities – Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur. Jodhpur was our first stop.

sand dunes rajasthan

From the moment we hopped on the auto-rickshaw to the time its engines stopped, our eyes never once broke contact with the mighty Mehrangarh Fort. The fort stands firm in the midst of the princely city of Jodhpur, gazing watchfully at each of city’s houses. At some distance before the fort is a beautiful monument which can be easily missed if one is not looking for it – Jaswant Thada. Built on the banks of a lake, it looks like a Hindu temple. An elderly man with wrinkles laced all over his face was playing an interesting modification of the violin. He proudly called it Raavan Hatha. The melodious tune of “Padhaaro Mahare Desh” was the first of many musical flavours of Rajasthan that we would experience on our trip. Apart from its beautiful architecture, Jaswant Thada also offers a striking view of Mehrahgarh Fort. The boundary wall all around Mehrangarh Fort was a reminder of the attacks that the fort has endured in the past. Most parts of the fort have been converted into museums and it takes a couple of hours to scan through all of its rooms. Some scenes from the movie The Dark Knight Rises have been shot here.

blue city jodhpur rajasthan
The blue city of Jodhpur
mehrangarh fort jodhpur rajasthan
The majestic Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
jaswant thada jodhpur rajasthan
The magnifiecient gardens at Jaswant Thada, Jodhpur

After spending a couple of hours at the fort, we had lunch at Gypsy, famous for its Rajasthani cuisine, but 4 pm was a bit late for lunch and the restaurant’s Rajasthani cooks had called it a day. We thus had to suffice with the usual courses which were also quite delicious. Next stop was the Clock Tower (more popularly known as Ghanta Ghar). It’s a bazaar in the centre of the city with all kinds of traditional and indigenous items on sale by the locals. We spent only a couple of minutes at this place since it had nothing unique to offer. Late in the evening we boarded the train to Jaisalmer.

If Jodhpur is the gateway to the Thar then Jaisalmer lies in the lap of the Great Indian Desert. Jaisalmer essentially comprises of the Jaisalmer Fort while the small city landscape all around the fort is trying to make its mark on the city map. Jaisalmer Fort is a town within a town – there are museums, shops, temples, restaurants, streets, and even small dwellings inside. One can see modern buildings, power-plants and wind mills growing around Jaisalmer, but the ancient Hawelis around the fort still make it up for the town’s historic significance. The Hawelis are said to be home to some of the richest merchants in the past but now lie abandoned. We visited Patwon ki Haweli – every carving on the sandstone spoke marvels of the artisans who had carved the patterns.

haweli jaisalmer rajasthan
Patwon ki Haweli, Jaisalmer
haweli carving jaisalmer rajasthan
Impeccable carvings at the haweli

Next stop was Sam village – abode of the sand dunes. We hired two motor bikes and a cab and hit the 40 km state highway towards Sam. The highway has series of wind mills on one side and barren land on the other. Since the road is mostly narrow throughout the stretch, helmet is a must if hiring motor cycles (though we didn’t pay heed to this warning). As we drove towards Sam, we could see the sand dunes rise royally in the distance, adorned with vast stretches of infinite sand spreading in lateral directions. It was an hour’s drive from Jaisalmer to our resort in Sam. After reaching the camp, we quickly unloaded our bags in our tents and then went out to greet the sand dunes. We climbed the mini mountains of sand and like men of battle, marched on the knife edged top. We jumped off the dunes one after another like a weak canon aimlessly shooting balls. It was jump-climb-repeat until our feet gave up on us. Dinner was arranged at the campsite. After dinner we relaxed on the porches of our tents. The Rajasthani muddas couldn’t get more comfortable; it had been a tiring day.

sam village road trip highway rajasthan
Highway to Sam village
san dunes thar desert rajasthan
Dune bashing.CLIMB-JUMP-REPEAT

Early next day we went for camel safari. It was a short ride and lasted only for a few minutes. We had expected the desert to stretch out till the boundary of Pakistan, but the dunes were more like a patch of sand spread in a few acres of land. In the afternoon we took a detour to the deserted village of Kuldhara (25 kms from Sam towards Jaisalmer). Rumours have it that the village is a ghost town. On visiting the place, the antique houses did look scary and reminded us of the Indus Valley Civilization.

kuldhara haunted village rajasthan
The abandoned village of Kuldhara, Jaisalmer
jaisalmer fort rajasthan
Jaisalmer Fort
3D map jaisalmer fort rajasthan
3D map of Jaisalmer Fort

The last stop of the day was Gaddisar Lake. Like any other lake in India, it offered boats on hire. We relieved the boatmen of their duty and took the bars ourselves. With 8 of us in 2 different boats, we couldn’t avoid having a friendly boat race. Late at night we left for Udaipur. The journey comprised of an overnight train back to Jodhpur and a 6 hour bus ride thereon.

Udaipur was the final destination of our trip. The city is guarded by the Aravallis from almost all sides. A major percentage of Udaipur map is filled up by lakes; so much so that if one throws a stone from any of city’s house’s rooftop, it sure is to fall in one of the lakes. We had booked 3 rooms at Hotel Anjani, near Lake Pichola. The hotel offered a beautiful view of Lake Pichola from its rooftop restaurant and also had a swimming pool. In the evening we went to the sunset point beside Lake Pichola. It’s surprising, how a simple sight as a palace (City Palace) beside a lake and an island hotel (Taj Lake Palace) render such splendour. The most laudable part of the day was the dinner at Natraj Dining Hall. I had the best food I have had in my entire life (no exaggeration!). The Gujarati thali that we were served, boasted of many delicacies, the best one being bundi (sweet dish) with mini pearl like gulab jamuns in it. The day was made. This is a must visit place in Udaipur.

group photo natraj restaurant udaipur rajasthan
Chaachh got us high. Best food ever at Natraj, Udaipur
lake palace udaipur
The ever beautiful Lake Palace Hotel in Lake Pichola, Udaipur
city palace lake pichola udaipur
City Palace, Udaipur

Next day we visited the City Palace. Unlike other forts that we had visited, this palace was built on the banks of a lake (Pichola) rather than a hill top. After being defeated by the Mughals, Maharana Udai Singh II had to flee from Chittaur; he later built the city of Udaipur in the 16th century. Maharana Pratap was his son and ruled the city after his death. The City Palace is embedded with the history of Mewar and has many paintings and artefacts on display. We could also spot places inside the palace where scenes from the movie Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani were shot. Being the last day of the tour, we chose a sumptuous restaurant to have lunch at – Ambrai. The restaurant was yet again situated beside Lake Pichola. Scenes from the movie Ram-Leela have been shot right next to this restaurant.

We all had seen the white capped Himalayan peaks, the endless blue seas down south and the green rain laden hills of Sahyadris, but the golden hue of the Great Indian Desert adorned with forts and palaces makes Rajasthan a must visit place. It adds another feather to the beautiful Indian landscape.

IMG_4899
The Voyagers

 

The trip is summarized in this short video.

 

Journey Date – March, 2014

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2 thoughts on “Voyage to the Great Indian Desert

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