Driven by IMAGE DRIVERS (India)

Motorcycle Trips

Marwar – Central Rajasthan.

Part 3 of Rooh – E – Rajasthan.

To read part 2 – Click here.

To read part 1 – Click here.

Jodhpur.

Coherent chaos.

The mehrangarh fort.

I turned off National Highway 114 and entered Jodhpur at what felt like the peak hour of traffic here. It was now noon. My dash from Jaisalmer had turned into an easy riding session most of the way. Jodhpur looked like a greeting card of commotion which was unfolding just as the bike and I rolled in. I learnt early that in this town, dust had the right of way and so did the oddly shaped black and yellow rickshaws. In a way this was a rude reminder of my dispatch from the calm caress of Jaisalmer. I caught myself thinking “I got a bad feelin’ ’bout this” (the way Will Smith would say it). The mid day heat was harsh, coupled with the dwindling dare of my motorcycle’s smooth run, I was crossing my fingers about Jodhpur.

On to Jodhpur!

Reaching Jodhpur.

I had to shake off all apprehensions as I rode towards my new RTDC (Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation) home. The wheels of the bike crawled through the traffic as I finally broke free onto one of Jodhpur’s broad roads which led to the High court. Just as the city breeze started playing with the beads of sweat forming on my forehead, I reached my hotel for this city. RTDC’s Hotel Ghoomar was now my home for the next few days.

This RTDC Hotel was brilliantly located, right in the middle of Jodhpur. The receptionist, a Mister Kishore Kumar, had one heck of a sense of humor. I was welcomed with an open heart I have to say. Mr Kumar had quite an interest in photography too and that’s where we hit it off. After settling myself, Kishore ji and I spent quite a while discussing where in Jodhpur may one find good photo opportunities. The hotel itself, was decent enough. Thankfully, the RTDC has quite a few tariff categories, suited to almost any pocket.

RTDC Ghoomar, Jodhpur.Rickshaws of Jodhpur.

Hotel Ghoomar and the rickshaws of Jodhpur.

Jodhpur was to be a long stopover, I knew people here. One of my Army friend’s family was stationed here. An uncle of mine was also in Jodhpur. Plus, most important, the Marauder was to get its all-important servicing done. She had come a long way since we first left on that chilled early morning from Pune. Dinner was to be had with uncle and the evening was spent looking at pictures I had clicked on my journey so far. This of course, was my first whiff of home food after Barmer. For some strange reason though, I felt, Jodhpur had an unsettling vibe to it. Unlike Barmer, Jaisalmer and even Mount Abu with their oozing positivity, Jodhpur was more a place where life as we know existed. It was a normal city, in a desperate rush to get ahead of its own self, trying to conquer time.

The bustle of the city woke me up the next morning. I sat in bed sipping on tea, looking at the curtain on the window play games with the sun’s light. Unlike other mornings, today there was no riding or photography to be done. The day would be dedicated to spending quality time with my motorcycle. This was a rest day. First, I made numerous phone calls trying to scout for an authorised mechanic here and found one. Then came the task of actually reaching the workshop in this new city. Now this is the part I love, deliberately getting lost in a city I know nothing about. Lanes, by lanes, small roads and big roads. Stopping every kilometer to ask people directions for the place I want to go to and then from being hopelessly lost to reaching my destination. This was my way of breaking the ice with Jodhpur. The hungry me stopped at one of the sweet shops and hogged on some local samosa/kachauri variants. In Jodhpur, it’s easier to find a ‘halwai’ or sweetmaker than trying to find a restaurant to eat food.

Jodhpur city.

Breaking the ice.

Ismail bhai, an authorised Royal Enfield mechanic on Chowpasni road, gave my motorcycle a once over. According to him nothing was wrong with the engine but I knew better. There was a piston slap which was more than audible. Having said that, I didn’t want him poking his spanner in places he didn’t seem to know much about. So the bike just got some routine maintenance done. The breaks got cleaned and adjusted, the air filter was cleaned and the chain was oiled and adjusted. At such garages, which are dedicated to the Enfield, more often than not, one finds other motorcycle owners with a passion for the ride. Conversations with other bullet owners here were about our bikes and where I was coming from and where I was planning to go. Suggestions, route directions and warnings were all part of our banter. When I told people about what I was doing, most people would respond with a puzzled gaze. The ‘What is this guy up to?’ kind of a look. I find that amusing and it always brings a smile to my face.

To know that some people out there actually think something like this can’t even be done and for me to be doing it, that’s a gift I cherish dearly.

About three hours later, I scouted for a place to have lunch. Strangely, the crowded streets around Chowpasni road weren’t home to any interesting eat outs, apart from your odd ‘halwaai’ of course. So I went back to my hotel and had a very simple Dal and Chawal.
The afternoons in Jodhpur are hot, even in November. The tourist inside me was aching to go out and check out the sights but I wanted to take it slow. When on such trips, it is often easy for someone to try and get ahead of one’s self in the excitement. Which in turn leaves you tired and unmotivated when it matters the most, a bit like a marathon. You have to pace yourself all the time. Self motivation is key to surviving the length of such a trip. More than half the trip stood in front of my motorcycle and me, I kept telling myself to persevere.

Tea time again, sitting in the garden, I looked up at the sky. A strange haze of cloudy fume had cast itself over the evening, like a message written in cloud, telling me to stay in and not tire myself out. It was time for a reality check. I was worried about my motorcycle, as she hadn’t got the service I felt she needed. She talks to me, this motorcycle. Each other is all we have on such endeavours. I would spend at least ten minutes every day making sure everything was in order with her. I like to believe that she understands me. Because boy, when she talks, I have to listen. Just by the beat of the engine I understand what her mood is like. How the engine sounds tells me whether or not she is feeling up to it. At this point, I knew she was not in great nick. Right from Barmer, there was a faint change in the way the engine sounded. The metallic clang had increased ever so slightly as we covered more distances over the desert state. I did not know if she could stand by me throughout the trip.

The iffy evening over Jodhpur.

Haze over Jodhpur.

All that thought didn’t mean a change in plan was in order, no.

Day three in Jodhpur and it was time to see what this city had in store for its tourist. The Mehrangarh Fort was one of the most imposing forts I had seen till date. It is difficult to spot from within the city as the buildings crowd the view but once you are on the hill road heading to the fort, the view is awe inducing. It almost catches you off guard, the Mehrangarh is that huge.

The mehrangarh fort pano

The Mehrangarh Fort, overlooking the city.

Thanks to my uncle, the fort authorities had been informed about my arrival. The moment I reached the entrance I was ushered through the crowd and given a complimentary pass to the interiors of this mega matrix of pathways, history and well, blatant robbery of a tourist’s time. Not for a moment will I say that the fort does not match up to what it promises. No, the place is brilliant and the history is more than intriguing but it is the way such places are managed and run in India these days. It felt like a dirty quest for money was the driving force behind allowing the common man access inside these walls. There was even a Rupee 20 charge to use the elevator. The security personnel at this fort, behaved as if they were doing a favour to the guest/tourist who dared to venture inside after paying for her/his ticket.

The undermined tourist.

The tourist.

A strange rule prevented me from putting up a tripod anywhere inside the fort’s premises. This anti-tripod rule will chase you through many monuments in India. When questioned, the authorities told me that it is to prevent professional photography and videography but then again, you can tot a camera or a handy-cam all you want. They say one needs special permission to be able to put up a tripod and shoot, also, money needs to be paid to the fort management if you wish to shoot with a tripod. Wow! What a lovely explanation for such a nonsensical rule. Apart from the outright fleecing going on these days at such so called tourism savvy monuments, these regulations are made by people who have no real idea of the on ground situation or even knowledge of photography. Most professionals can shoot as well or better without a tripod or ‘stand’ as these people call it.

The mehrangarh fort.

View from the courtyard.

This fort was mighty beautiful, from inside and out. As one reaches the main courtyard, one can see the blue city stretching out in front of the fort. When touring the insides, I noticed that sunlight had a special relationship with this monument’s architecture. At almost every arched entrance that you walk through, fresh rays of sunlight will rain down on you. Some of the Darbans or doormen may even pose for your camera if you ask them.

The mehrangarh fort. The mehrangarh fort.

Romancing the Sun.

Inside, the brilliance in gold work will leave one gasping as you come to terms with the sheer scale of art and craft which is a part of every single royal expanse here. From regular rooms to August darbars, inside the palaces, stories keep one engaged all through. More than just a visual delight, the Mehrangarh with its history and tourism centric ethos gives the thinking traveller a run for his or her money. Quite literally.

The mehrangarh fort.The mehrangarh fort.

The mehrangarh fort.

August expanses.

Another interest inducing sight are the cannons which are kept on top of the broad fort walls. The importance of which is undermined by the tourist himself as you will see people climbing on top of the cannons or sitting on them.

MEHRANGARH CANNON.

A Mehrangarh cannon.

The most intriguing story here goes back to the time the construction of the Mehrangarh fort began. The hill on which it was built was known as the hill of birds. A hermit known as the lord of the birds used to stay on this hill and when he was forced to move because of the construction of the fort, he cursed the kingdom. His curse prevented the kingdom from ever having adequate water. To this day they say that the areas in and around Jodhpur suffer from drought once every four to five years. The stories also say that Jodha the ruler tried to appease the hermits’ curse by burying a man alive in the foundations of the fort. (The man) Rajiya’s family was looked after by the kingdom of Rathores.

The mehrangarh fort.

Built on the hill of birds.

I must also mention that most of the fort is actually cordoned off for general public, entry is prohibited. Why? I have no idea. So much contrast between the past and the present allied to the less than ordinary experience of the fort interiors had left a sad impression of this place on my mind. Even though I was given free entry and treated with residual decency, what was actually happening here was for everyone to see. Money rules the roost here, take my word for it. After eating a kathi roll at the Mehrangarh café (the fort run restaurant) and paying 170 INR for it, I left.

The mehrangarh fort.The mehrangarh fort.

Kathi roll and the Cafe’ Mehran.

Next on my monuments list was the Jaswant Thada. A building situated very close to the Mehrangarh fort and one of much aesthetic and historical importance. A mausoleum, the Jaswant Thada is a beautiful sight. The word mausoleum usually brings up visions of negativity and of life ending circumstances but this building induced quite the opposite sensation. Take off your shoes and walk on the grass here. Clutch the fence and look at the city of Jodhpur stretching out in front of your eyes right up till the horizon. Turn around to see the pale marble monument standing in the middle of the gardens with a spirit as crisp as the kings of yore.

The Jaswant Thada, Jodhpur.The Jaswant Thada

DSC_4936

The Jaswant Thada.

If that’s not enough, lend your ears to Bansiram. An old fellow of tradition. Let him welcome you with his voice, singing to you what he likes and what your ears would like to hear. Mark my words, this man has a voice which can challenge even the most honed vocals. Sitting in the courtyard of the mausoleum, Bansiram makes a living off of tips and adulation from passing tourists.

Bansiraam at the Jaswant Thada.

Bansiraam.

The Jaswant Thada was built by a certain Sardar Singh in the memory of Raja Jaswant Singh the second. One climbs the only flight of stairs and the aura of the building takes hold. The marble used to build this monument exudes a warm caress as the sun’s light falls on it. Those contortions which formed in my brain after the visit to the fort had now been levelled by the peace here at the Jaswant Thada.

DSC_5041Peace. Jaswant Thada.

Peace at the Jaswant Thada.

One last time, I skimmed the surface of the greens with my palm and moved on to the next palace of call.

Umaid Bhavan Palace. It is the residence of the royal family of Jodhpur and also a hotel managed by the Taj Hotels group. If you’re staying at the palace hotel, well, congratulations. If not, then you may not like this place very much. More than a sight to see, this place or palace is a cordoned off monument for the public. From 9am to 5pm every day, regulars can enter through one of the side entrances and walk to the museum. On your walk, you will get a side view of the palace.

The Umaid Bhavan Palace.

The palace side view.

The museum showcases the history of the palace and its various owners. Photographs of the kings and princes in their prime are put up on all the walls. Plus, you can see all what you can’t see. What I mean is, you can see pictures and sketches of the layout of the palace, places where a tourist can’t go. Sad.

Umaid Bhavan Palace.Umaid Bhavan Palace.

The museum.

They have some lovely old world cars on display though. Which, let’s be honest, adds little to the experience of Rajasthan.

What the peaceful mausoleum had given, the palace took away. I was not liking Jodhpur, really. Day one to day three, not one moment here had inspired me. Not one instant had passed where I said to myself ‘this is it’. It was almost evening as I came out of the palace premises and started heading back to the area where my hotel was, uninterested in everything. I was trying to think of a way to turn the situation around. I wanted to try and put a finger on the pulse of Jodhpur, for what it really is. Instead of turning towards the hotel, I was taken to the clock tower or ghanta ghar. At this time, early in the evening, the place was choc a block with people, auto rickshaws and vehicles. It was the older part of Jodhpur.

The Ghanta ghar, old Jodhpur.

Ghanta Ghar (Clock tower)

I walked around a bit and ventured into narrow lanes behind the main market. I saw what I call the band district. Shop after shop of local brass bands that play at not so big fat Indian weddings and during baraats lined one side of the lane. The other side was a brick wall punctuated with the bands’ colourful carriages. This was a little refreshing. Honest.

Jodhpur city.Jodhpur city.

Jodhpur city.

Colourful carriages.

From here, I went back out into the city and gave the Mandore Gardens a span of my attention. These gardens are home to beautiful old temples which stand amidst filthy and unclean environs. The stench here is close to chronic. These gardens lie in neglect, sure, but the ancient temples overpower that repulsive feeling one gets in the gut at such a place. It’s almost as if the charm of the architecture and the history is more influential here than at the Mehrangarh fort. I spent quite a while taking pictures here. I didn’t know much about the temples or even the importance of Mandore as a place but as I now read up, it is obvious that Mandore is as important as Jodhpur itself. The ancient city of Mandore has been the capital of many kingdoms in its hay day. The stories here rekindle intrigue.

Temples of Mandore.Temples of Mandore.

Gardens in neglect, Mandore.

For me though, it was time to call it a day or so I thought. On the way back, this time my driver and I spotted a jeep full of goats being taken somewhere. We decided to follow them, just out of curiosity. Guess where we landed up? To an auction of goats! As this was the eve of Bakr id, there was a goat auction being conducted somewhere deep inside the maze of old city lanes. There were 100s of goats being put up for auction. The trading of livestock was part of an ongoing tradition here. As I inquired, the most expensive goat had sold for a hundred and fifty thousand rupees (Whoa!).

Jodhpur city.The goat auction.

An auction with a difference!

However tumultuous, this rather interesting day had finally come to an end.

I was to spend the next day socializing and preparing for the upcoming ride to Ajmer and Pushkar. But before I started packing there was a photograph to be taken. Starting with tea at 5am in the morning, I shot out of my room a little before 6 to try and shoot the sun rising over the Palace. I had a particular shot in my head and I wanted to get it as today was my last day in Jodhpur. I rode swiftly through the cold morning wind towards the fort; this route was now imprinted in my head. I reached the fort with dawn cracking over the blue mosaic of Jodhpur. I was in the Mehrangarh fort parking lot, since this point had a magnificent view of the city. I was hoping against hope to find the sun rising just behind the Umaid Bhavan Palace in the distance. I got ready with my gear with the sun still a while away from rising over the horizon.

The mehrangarh fort.

Perched up top above this puzzling city I looked at how each morning in Jodhpur must be. The sounds of the morning were the same as anywhere else. Squeaking doors, occasional grunts of a diesel engine in the distance, a train blowing its trumpet as it left the railway station and of course the tens of birds which call the fort walls their home. This seemed like the peaceful side of the Jodhpur coin. Well, relatively.

Jodhpur city.

Good morning Jodhpur!

The build up to the sunrise was happening. There were more people out on the streets in their walking shoes now, the sky had turned an orange-ish yellow shade and the horizon was lit up for the suns arrival. The sun came and rose like it does every day but sadly not from behind the palace, an arm’s length to the left of the palace actually. I was disappointed but also amused at myself. It was naive of me to think that the sun will rise from wherever I want it to rise. I should have put more thought into this photograph, oh well.

Jodhpur city.

Sunrise over Jodhpur.

After shooting the morning colours for a short while, I went back to my hotel stopping briefly to have a cup of chai on a roadside cart. My final day in Jodhpur was upon me. Can’t say I was sad about it but there was one more thing left to do. Or should I say pilgrimage. You ask any passionate Enfield rider in India about a certain ‘Bullet Baba’ and I bet you a tenner he or she will narrate a short story about a not-so-ordinary temple close to Jodhpur. The Shrine of the ‘Bullet Baba’.

The Bullet Baba.

The Bullet Baba Temple.

Google it and you will find many a story about this particular temple of an Enfield a few kilometers before Pali on your way from Jodhpur. The temple is based on legend. Folklore in India is something that people swear by and if you’re ever here you will understand what I mean. It is said that in the summer of 1991 Mr Om, known locally as Om Banna (son of the local Thakur) was riding his 350cc Enfield bullet to Jodhpur. He was high on alcohol and hence lost control of his motorcycle, he ended up hitting a tree and breathed his last on the spot. Subsequently, his body was cremated and his motorcycle was taken to the local police station. The next day however, the motorcycle was seen at the accident spot.

The Bullet Baba.The Bullet Baba.

The motorcycle and the fateful tree.

The police thought it was a prank of some sort and once again took the motorcycle back to the police station but sure enough the next day, it was back at the accident spot. As the local villagers got to know about these mysterious incidents, the legend of the ‘Bullet Baba’ was born. The locals enshrined the motorcycle on a plinth near the accident spot and now it is run as a full fledged temple of sorts. This motorcycle temple even has a priest who presides over the ceremonies. Drivers and villagers alike offer prayers and also hooch at this temple every single day.

The Bullet Baba.The Bullet Baba.

Warnings ignored.

It is also said that when any motorist has a breakdown on this stretch of the highway, Mr Om Banna comes to their rescue. Further they say, during the holy week of Navratri before the Hindu festival of Diwali, the motorcycle starts up on its own. Well, as they say, truth is definitely stranger than fiction. I don’t really believe in such stories if I’m honest but the sheer popularity of the Bullet Baba temple got to me. India and its stories are really amusing sometimes. With that I rode back to Jodhpur on my own 500 cc Bullet.

I spent the rest of the day tying loose ends, packing and just preparing. At the back of my mind though, I was concerned about the ill health of the motorcycle. Ajmer wasn’t all that close, it was 200 kilometers away. In the evening, I went to meet my Army friends. A refreshing evening it was with us all reminiscing about old times and talking about how far life has come. Good times.

Ajmer was the next biker destination! It was a city I knew little about. There was a little confusion in my mind because the Pushkar Fair was on and Pushkar was just 12 kilometers away from Ajmer. I wanted to see the Pushkar fair, yet I knew that I would have to choose between Ajmer and Pushkar. Deciding that I would leave the decision making for later, early next morning, I saddled up and left Jodhpur. Leaving Jodhpur was easy for me. The City had given me a cold shoulder, essentially. As I rode out, I wondered if I would ever come back.

Off to Ajmer!

Off to Ajmer!

Two hundred kilometers from Jodhpur lies Ajmer. I rode on the National Highway 112. I was now riding east, towards eastern Rajasthan. The sand was still present but the landscape had given way to proper shrubbery. I felt sad leaving the real desert behind. Now, the Marauder and I were heading towards the cities of Rajasthan. As I reached Ajmer, I had now completed the crossover from western Rajasthan to the eastern part. The afternoon heat was positively oppressive in Ajmer. The motorcycle was in a bad way, I could hear the piston slap loud and clear. I was worried that she would have to be transported back to Pune while I was in the middle of the trip. Having said that, I had made up my mind about one thing, I will not give up until she gives up on me.

If it so happened that I was riding from one place to another and she broke down, so be it. I would figure out a way to get us both to the nearest town and then put her on a truck. There was no way I would let my fear of a breakdown get in the way of our trip.

For more pictures from Jodhpur, Click here.

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In this article:

Number of nights: Jodhpur – 5

Distance travelled: Jaisalmer – Jodhpur = 250 kms, Jodhpur – Bullet Baba Temple – Jodhpur = 130 kms. Total = 380 kms.

Motorcycle condition: Piston slap growing louder, engine showing signs of breaking down, occasional misfires.

Next destination: Ajmer and Pushkar, Rajasthan. (Click here to read)


Rajasthan. The western sector.

Part 2 of Rooh – E – Rajasthan.

To read part 1 – Click here.

Barmer

Western Rajasthan, not a soul in sight.

A true desert town and on this day Barmer also seemed like a deserted town as I thumped in at around 12 pm. The sidewalks were empty and all the markets were shut. As I made my way through the empty streets, the noise from the bike’s exhaust echoed off the shops’ shutters. Later I was told that it was the day after Diwali and hence everything was closed. With the sun right over my head and the temperature rising, I was beginning to feel the sting of being out in the open. Riding the bike with all my gear strapped to me like a non air conditioned space suit I was feeling very warm. Even the breeze was hot. There was a stark difference at this point in my head. I had begun my journey from Mount Abu in the morning, a chilly hill station and now, I was quite literally in the middle of the desert with the sun bearing down. Such is the truth of travel, never before had I dealt with such contrasting vistas and weather, all in a span of 6 hours.

To be this far away from home and to realise that no one here knows you, it’s a strange feeling. I would talk to my motorcycle when we were on the road. My motorcycle and I, we communicate better than most humans do. I tell her where to go and she takes me there, anywhere. She also throws her tantrums and I deal with them. It’s one relationship I’m great at maintaining. Lunchtime was closing, for the both of us. At the fuel station, I was given a direction where I was told one could find a decent hotel.

Beautiful too, are the people of Rajasthan as I was about to find out. I put up at this hotel which had opened just 10 days prior to my arrival. They gave me a huge discount as they were new and my god what a place that hotel was! Key-card entry, sliding doors and flat screen TVs the works. In the western most part of the desert region of India, who would have thought? Their kitchen wasn’t yet operational, so I made my way to the only restaurant in Barmer which was open on the day and treated myself to some of the most amazing mutton I’d had in a long time. Back at the hotel, I was the only guest but as the evening came, came droves of people from Gujarat, travelling on pilgrimage to Tanot – a highly frequented Temple near the Pakistan border. The staff at Madhav Paradise – my hotel was limited but very courteous and they made sure I was comfortable, right from the start.

3 star comfort.

3 star comfort at Barmer!

Madhav Singh Rajpurohit, the owner of this almost 3 star hotel in Barmer, became my friend in the first instant of us starting our conversation. He was a fellow Bullet (motorcycle) man or ‘Bult’ as it is referred to in this part of the country. In the evening, we rode together to a place little away from the town centre where there were sand dunes! As we rode together, we spoke to each other about our lives, he seemed very intrigued by my escapade. He constantly asked me why I was doing this and each time I found myself wondering the same but tactfully answered with ‘Photography’. It’s not just photos for which I travel, no. There was something else which was pushing me, something which I couldn’t put a finger on just yet. Here was a man with big dreams for his town. Mr Madhav told me how he planned to change the face of Barmer by making it a healthy touring town. I could see in his eyes the fervor he harboured to make things happen in Barmer.

The Star of Barmer.Mr. Madhav singh.

This was the first time I had ever seen dunes of sand and my friend was at his amusing best as he showed me how to make a miniature avalanche from sand. As the sand flowed over small sections of the dune, it formed pillar like structures of compacted sand. This was interesting! I never knew that could happen! The sun slipped behind the crest of these static dunes and the light was fading. Crickets had the right of way now. To be honest, I wanted to see and possibly shoot a scorpion. I had an image in my head for a picture that I wanted to click, a scorpion on the fuel tank and the setting sun in the background. I wondered if I’d be gifted with a chance to do this. Riding back to my hotel, through the village, the rear wheel occasionally skid on the sand covered road and each time it brought a smile to my face. Multiple realisations of being in the desert. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

Look! Sand!First sand.

Here, in Barmer, I witnessed the true Rajasthani spirit of hospitality. As soon as the sun went down, I was asked my preference of food for dinner. I responded by asking Mr Madhav what he would be eating. I told him that I had never really tasted true Rajasthani food. He smiled and told me that he would take care of my dinner. I was served traditional staples of an Indian desert home, from Mr Madhav’s home! Crushed ‘bajre ki roti’ with buttermilk, a very spicy dish of fried okra and some kheer – an Indian desert. Can’t say I was bowled over by the food but it was the gesture and the friendship which had been extended to me by a stranger which touched me.

Yet again, the motorcycle was the icebreaker. Especially the Enfield and its charms have formed many a friendships over the years I’m sure. Here and now, in Barmer too, she was the reason two complete strangers spent an interesting evening together and ended up being friends.

I was riding along the National Highway 15, the next stop was Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer is the flagship city of Rajasthan. Smack dab in the middle of the Thaar desert, it is a real oasis of sorts. I readied myself for the ride and hit the sack.

The next morning, I rode a hundred and fifty kilometres north to the golden city of Jaisalmer. Golden it really is. This is the stretch of road when I really came to terms with my reality. I was singing songs which reminded me of my days as a child, hearing stories of the sand. Dad and his Army regiments had been posted here for years. I couldn’t help but feel patriotic as the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war was fought on these very sands. At every few kilometers, there were rural roads leading off the main highway heading into the yellow sands towards the border. I almost gave in to my temptations for a ride along the border but that needed permissions I didn’t have.

Arriving at Jaisalmer.Arriving at Jaisalmer.

Arriving at Jaisalmer.

Within three hours of high speed riding on the NH 15, the Marauder and I were closing in on Jaisalmer. One could now clearly see the windmill farms which supply the border with electricity. I rode on further and the road now cut through the landscape with towering wind farms on both sides. A rest stop here and again the silence of the desert breeze hit me. Punctured only by the distinct ‘tink tink’ sound of the motorcycle’s engine cooling. India is a huge country, at no point is it possible to sum up its vastness and variety in a single breath.

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Jaisalmer.

It’s just gold.

Jaisalmer fort.

They say the friendships that start with a fight are the ones that are the strongest. Jaisalmer and I, had a rough start. I was greeted with a bee sting on my neck as I entered the city, after which I found out that there was no hotel willing to accommodate me for 5 straight nights. So I made a few calls. The beauty of the city kept distracting me from my predicament. Sweating in the sun, making phone call after phone call and simultaneously trying to tend to the bee’s doings, I kept looking around as if to try and take Jaisalmer in, all at once. Suddenly it dawned on me that there was no point in fretting over accommodation. Even if I didn’t get a bed at a hotel, the Indian Army was everywhere and being an army kid I would at least get a safe place to park my motorcycle and at the end of the day that is all a biker needs. Just like that I felt relieved. Sat down on a sidewalk as the wind threw fine grains of sand into my face I looked over at my motorcycle, honestly, she wasn’t doing too well. The mighty Marauder wasn’t all that mighty anymore, there was a faint slap in the engines tone. Yet again I wondered if she could do this trip in its entirety and take me home.
Arriving at Jaisalmer.

As the pain in my neck became more bearable with each passing minute, things started falling in place, almost magically. Joy of joys, I was now put up at an RTDC (Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation) tourist bungalow. They were kind enough to let me stay at my own mud hut (which is a theme of accommodation) for 5 straight nights. The RTDC setup at Jaisalmer was a very comfortable setting for me. Being a typical government guest house, I had complete peace of mind when it came to leaving equipment in my room or even parking my motorcycle. My mud hut had the basic needs taken care of, a usable bathroom, a fast enough fan and a nice big lock to put on the door.

RTDC MOOMAL AT JAISALMERRTDC Moomal, Jaisalmer.

Cuisine is important to me. Everywhere I go, food or should I say good food is a major priority every time. I was curious to find out what Jaisalmer had on offer for my taste buds. It was lunchtime by the time I settled myself and got ready to head into the city. Just about ready to leave, I was informed that my room tariff included one meal. Suddenly Jaisalmer’s ethos, it seemed to me, was trying to make up for its earlier misalliance with my arrival. I decided it was worth giving the guesthouse food a shot as I was going to be staying here for a while. I was greeted warmly at the dining room, which was like a fruit punch of sorts. The buffet spread had in front of it at least a hundred hungry travellers from all over the country, waiting on their turn to serve themselves. I joined the jamboree and soon found myself sitting at a table and chomping. The food was decent oily but edible. This was the first time I felt slightly lonely, looking at the other travellers and their self serving families.

After lunch I rode out onto the streets of a town I had already begun to get used to. Without all the riding gear, the afternoon temperature comforted me. I had begun to like Jaisalmer, a place that I was uncomfortable at only three hours ago. From my RTDC standpoint, I could see the Jaisalmer fort a small distance away. Just 10 minutes of riding in the same direction brought me to the foot of the fort. Only when standing close to the fort does one realise the scale of this structure. The road led to a monumentally congested makeshift parking lot and after a while of asking for directions and witnessing some quirky marketing I managed to break free and reach the actual Fort entrance.

Quirky marketing.The Jaisamer fort.

Quirky marketing and the Fort entrance

Let me now try and explain what Jaisalmer really stands for. About a thousand years ago, the Jailasmer Fort was built and even today it stands tall with all its might. The fortress is visible from miles away and one wonders how in that age did they manage to build it. A king called Rawal Jaisal was behind its construction. The interiors are highly intriguing as this is the first ever fort I visited where I rode my motorcycle all the way to the top.  All through the afternoon it looked brown in colour but as the sun’s light becomes softer one can make out the change in the fort’s mood. The Trikut ka teela or the Trikut Hill plays host to its massive three walled defenses. As I read up on the history of the fort, I begin to get an idea of Jaisalmer’s importance. In the medieval period it saw the rise and fall of many a ruler and was also a major bastion of trade in the Indian sub-continent. Even in the present day, Jaisalmer and its sands hold a strategically important place in India’s Geo-political existence. This part of the country has witnessed two wars between India and Pakistan.

At any point of time, there is heavy Indian Army presence in these parts of the desert all the way up to the border with Pakistan. Having said so, in and around Jaisalmer, one has to make an effort to spot a soldier on duty. You know they’re there but not always in sight, something which I believe helps the traveller feel more comfortable. I was certainly at ease. There were no restrictions on movement and one could walk the streets without nervousness. The streets of Jaisalmer are paradise for photographers and people watchers alike. In the morning as fresh yellow rains down from the skies, the golden streets light up and present a very pleasant ethos.

Streets of Jaisalmer.

Golden streets.

The Jaisalmer fort interiors were no different. The once royal pathways had now given way to cobbled roads which bear the weight of hordes of tourists, two wheelers and auto rickshaws. During the day, if you do take your vehicle inside, you will witness a very amusing game of incessant honking being played out. It can get so loud while you and your vehicle are waiting for some space that it could actually bring a smile to your face. I was amused all the way!

Fort interior. Pathways of the fort.

More than five thousand people actually live in this fort. Also, most of the fort has been converted, over time, into a one of a kind tourist’s shopping centre. Handicrafts, clothing, memorabilia and international cuisine roof-top restaurants are just some of the money spending options you will find here. Everywhere you look, from the walls to the smallest corners, one can see some item which is on sale. Not to mention the tens of ‘guides’ who will offer their services to you on your way up. At this point I caught myself thinking, this is not what I’m here for. A sudden second of realisation told me that the history here had been overshadowed by the rampant overuse of tourism for daily bread. Like a snail touched by a twig, suddenly I went back into my shell. In the middle of touring the fort, I stopped and turned back. My mind was a fistfight of thoughts. On one side stood the ‘image’ I had of this place and the other was defended by what I had just seen, reality. Was this Jaisalmer?

I spent the entire evening, having probably the slowest cups of tea I must have ever sipped on. Ogling at the fort from a distance, I sat on a flimsy ‘chaiwallah’s’ stool and watched the structure as it changed it shade with every falling photon of evening light. All through I kept thinking about whether it was a mistake coming here and changing that image of the desert in my mind. The conclusion came in the most uncommon of ways.

The Jaisamer fort.

The fort over evening tea.

As morning came the next day, sipping on an early morning cuppa’, I stood at the outer courtyard of the guesthouse, an empty street in front of me and the breakfast buzz coming from the dining room inside. I was trying to formulate a plan of action as I had pretty much spent my entire first evening in Jaisalmer taking time-lapse footage of the fort. This morning I decided I should tour the fort like a tourist and not have preconceived notions about anything, it is what it is. On this day I chose to walk to the top and spent my time clicking pictures of the city architecture all day. The Patwa Haveli and Salim Singh ki Haveli that I toured, offer a small insight into the daily life and times of Rajasthani upper class. How they lived, how they cooked and how they got together in their homes.

Haveli interiors. Haveli interiors.

Haveli interiors.

The Patwa Haveli interiors.

Come afternoon, still pretty grumpy, I sat down to have lunch under the sun at one of the many roof top restaurants atop the fort. Coming back to cuisine, the food at these restos is more or less decent. The fact is, the economy of Jaisalmer thrives on tourism and hence competition is fierce, which in turn results in reasonable prices and decent quality. At least by my standards.

Jaisalmer.

Roof top refreshment.

I was now wondering what to do for the rest of the day when suddenly I got my answer. Three Jaguars roared a thousand feet above my head and in formation they barrelled towards the open desert. With a morsel of laal maans (red meat – a Rajasthani specialty) in my hand, I looked on as the aircrafts disappeared behind the yellow buildings. My mind now was blank, the sound of those jet engines still echoing in my head. I made up my mind. I would head to the desert and by five the same evening, I had touched the sand.

I asked the guesthouse staff to arrange some transport for me and at three pm I was off towards the open desert but before the sand dunes there were a couple of other places to be seen. I wanted to give the bike a little rest and although everyone told me the road conditions were good all the way to the dunes at Sam I didn’t want to take a chance. A short drive out of the town had brought me to a place called Badabagh. Badabagh or ‘big garden’ is where one can see Chhatris or Cenotaphs belonging to long gone Bhatti rulers. It is a site which seems, for the most part, neglected by the development authorities, nonetheless it offers an interesting look at the past. If you take a guide, he will probably charge you 50 rupees and give you a small background about Badabagh. The carvings and the arches here bear reference to the number of wives each king had, amongst other things. A short tour of these cenotaphs might leave you thirsty for more but in your haste, don’t forget to look back as you drive out towards the main road. The open expanse is punctuated by the arches of the Chhatris at Badabagh and is a sight no photograph can do justice to. Try and be here around four in the evening.

Badabagh.Badabagh.Badabagh and the Cenotaphs.
Amar Sagar.

Next comes Amar Sagar. A collection of temples sits off the banks of this almost dry lake. It is not the place a typical tourist will dedicate much time to though the architecture here, just like all over Jaisalmer is worth commending. Lodhruva and Kuldhara are two more sites in the area which are of historical importance and have interesting stories behind their existence. But the time for the sun to set was just a couple of hours away, so I instructed my driver to take me directly to Sam. I had waited too long to shoot in the dunes here. After spending a while at Amar Sagar, we made a dash for the sand.
Amar Sagar.

Amar Sagar and its architecture.

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Sam.

The camel and its jockey.

Silhouettes. Sand. Serenity.

(Pronounced: ‘sum’) The first grains of free sand dunes hit here, about 5 kilometres before the desert village of Sam. On the way one passes the village of Kanoi, a village which is home to many a musical prodigy. A narrow and almost snaking road heads out from Jaisalmer and after driving for about 40 kilometres you will see tourists lining up to take camel rides up to the sand dunes. Even here, the chaos can get to you, if you let it. The most common camel ride is a 200 rupee, kilometer long trip to the sand dunes and back after the sunset. The photographer in me wanted more, a lot more!

Carting caravans.

Camel caravans.

I put my haggling skills to work and and got myself two camels. Sultan, the camel jockey, told me that he would be taking our team out into the expanse. For about half an hour we kept riding and swaying in the sweet desert breeze. For those of you who think ‘oh I can ride a horse, how hard can this be?’ think again. Hold on tight is my suggestion to all things camel riding. We made our way through the chaos of people and camels. It takes a little getting used to, riding on the camel, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy. As we left the ruckus behind, I looked around. The sun had now become a constant companion on my trip. Early mornings, late evenings and even hot afternoons, the sun made sure the bike and I had company. Six days into the trip and already I had gone through so many emotions in my head. Those ‘feelings’ that shrinks talk about.

The wind picked up slightly and I could barely hear the hordes of people we had left behind. It was a pleasant feeling, although I had my hands full. In one hand I was holding my still camera and in the other was an improvised video camera, simultaneously trying to shoot every second of this seemingly short journey.

Take us across.

Sultan asked me, ‘uunth chalaoge’? (Do you want to ride the camel?) I gestured to him and as soon as my gear was safe inside the bag, he threw the reigns of my camel to me and the camel took off. Riding a camel is not all that different from riding a horse as I learnt. Sultan and I were soon trotting alongside each other over the crests of dunes. Now THAT was fun. As I rode directionless, Sultan let me lead and feed my ego just a bit before asking me where I wanted to stop. I chose myself a virgin sand dune and we dismounted. An intelligent man he was and equally enterprising as I found out. He volunteered to parade the camels as I prepared the lenses I wanted to use this evening. Felt a little like a sand box dream, I ditched the footwear and let the sand tickle my toes to happiness.

Just majestic.

Sultan, doing what he does best.

Within seconds of putting my feet on the sand, desert beetles crawled up out of the sand and started racing around the crest of the dune. These quirky creatures of the desert were something I never knew existed, all I could think about was scorpions and sidewinders. The beetles are amazing fun to watch and are really fast movers on the sand. It’s was pretty tough to get a good shot of them strutting their stuff. I did however manage to get a decent photograph of a beetle as the camels sat in the background.

The desert beetle.

Struttin’ its stuff!

In the next two hours, the sun went down and I kept clicking. Taking a break to watch the sun slip under the horizon, I could still see tourists in the distance, oh what a view! The sand in the air and the suns’ dwindling light made a beautiful soup of red. As numerous camels took their tourists back to campsites, I sat there on the sand with two puffing camels behind me. Lalu and Kaalu, the two camels had been good to me, like old veterans they looked over my shoulder unto the crimson horizon. To think of how far I had come, on a motorcycle, felt great. From my home in Pune to the middle of the Thaar Desert in six days flat. This wasn’t the end though, this was the start. I had ridden more than a thousand kilometers up until now but there were a lot more milestones to be seen.  A long line up of destinations was ahead of me but before that, I still had one more day here.

Laalu and Kaalu. – Tourists heading back.

How serene this place has been. What with the numerous battles and wars having been fought on these very sands, like a sponge these grains absorbed what human life threw at them. Then it was the marauding enemy and today, the marauding tourist. Stoic. With that thought we saddled up. There was a cultural programme which had been organised by the RTDC at their campsite, where dinner would be served. Sultan, my driver and I rode on camel back all the way to the parking lot where Sultan said to me, ‘agli baar aur door jayenge’ (We’ll go much farther next time). I shook his hand and thanked him as I left for Dangri, the RTDC desert campsite. All these interactions this far away from home had made me understand how goodness, is present everywhere in this world. People here were the kindest and what about me, I was barely a stranger on a motorcycle. I can’t help but mention how beautiful Rajasthan is, not just for its sights but also from its people. My over speeding thoughts were cut short by our arrival at the campsite. I was greeted with a glass of water, which by now I had understood, in the desert is the best welcome drink anyone can gift you with.

The evening was off to a great start! Folk music, dance and some really interesting fire spitting was the order of the night. The open sky stretched across like a dotted blanket over the proceedings. It got much colder as everyone finished dinner and the customary final cup of tea. I met with the musicians and dancers after dinner, I wanted them to sing to me some of their folk songs. I wished to record them and then use the music for a short film I planned to cut later. They obliged me with open hearts and sang to me while I sat in front of them bewildered by their prowess. Bismillah Khan and his troupe were very amused and intrigued by who I was. Yet again, here in Rajasthan, the simplicity of these beautiful people touched me. It was time for me to head back, to Jaisalmer. In all honesty, I did want to spend the night at the campsite but my pocket just would not permit.

Fire spitter at RTDC Sam.Tents at RTDC Sam.

Fire spitting at the campsite.

The night drive back to Jaisalmer was nice too, cool wind and not a light in sight for miles.

Sleeping that night, I kept having visions of myself riding the motorcycle in the desert, next to the sand dunes. When I woke up, I just had to take the bike to the dunes and come afternoon, I did! Oh! The dunes seemed even more beautiful as I rode on past them and further towards the border. With grassland on both sides I kept riding for a long while, till my adrenalin settled. A water stop in the middle of nowhere bought back that silence of the desert wind. The Sun, yet again, our only companion.

Where the road ends and the sand begins.

Where the roads end.

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Jaisalmer

Encore.

LAKE GADISARLake Gadisar

One can’t miss the music here. Omnipresent notes will somehow catch the wind and reach your ears. The quintessential description of these desert towns and villages has to carry the words sand and sound. Life here revolves around the two. I made two very inspiring friends here. Mr Hariram Bhopa, a khandani musician from Jaisalmer itself and Mr Etienne Lauth, a French flutist who stays at Tiruvanamalai in Tamil Nadu but comes here for a few days every year, just to play with Hariram ji.

Jaisalmer connections!

The Jaisalmer trio!

To them, my story of a lone man, riding across the desert in search of a muse was intriguing but above all, we all shared an unparalleled love for music. That is probably the only reason we became friends. From that moment on, music is what we did, they  jammed together and I shot them playing their instruments. This was a captivating experience as initially we shot at Bhopa ji’s home at the artists’ colony in Jaisalmer where I met his entire family and then at the serene Gadisar lake. This was a golden opportunity presented to me and I made the most of it. Their music was beautiful and so was their soul. Just like the golden city.

Music in motion.Music.

The musicians at Hariram’s house and at Lake Gadisar.

I bid my dear friends farewell as the time for me to leave the city was nearing.

Jaisalmer had grown on me, from the bees’ sting on the first day to the dunes on the third and from the music to these fantastic people on the fifth. I had fallen in love with Jaisalmer and that love wouldn’t let me leave. I wanted to spend more time here but the rest of the trip was still in front of me. I had to trick myself into leaving Jaisalmer before the city woke up or else I would end up staying here another day. At first light the next morning, I kick started the motorcycle and she rumbled into her smooth beat. I said my goodbyes to the good people at the RTDC guesthouse and left. I rode across the city towards the road that leads to Jodhpur. The wind was the coldest of all the days I had been here, as if trying to freeze me within the city. I felt as if I was leaving a loved one for good. Even Jaisalmer, I think, had fallen in love with me.

Leaving Jaisalmer.

Till we meet again.

Steadily, we reached the outer limit of the city. The sun had just hopped over the horizon on my right. It was only apt that I stopped here to say my final goodbyes.

That moment on, it was a dash to reach Jodhpur. A different city, it was a new place to explore. I was excited. The convoy after convoy of Army field guns on the road to Jodhpur made the ride that much more interesting. All the while I was trying to figure out what guns they were and whether I had ridden in the trucks towing them. I missed my army brat days dearly but this time I was on my own mission. Rooh – e – Rajasthan still had a long way to go before I could sit and look back.

On to Jodhpur!

The roads of Rajasthan were smooth as usual and the wind kept me cool as the sun climbed up on top of my head. A medium paced ride took me along the National highway 15 and NH 114 all the way to Jodhpur.

For more pictures from Jaisalmer and Sam, click here.

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In this article:

Number of nights: 6 (Barmer: 1, Jaisalmer: 5)

Distance travelled: Mount Abu – Barmer = 250 kms, Barmer – Jaisalmer = 150 kms, Jaisalmer – Sam = 40. (Total = ~ 450)

Motorcycle condition: Piston slap audible, vague mushing sound from the engine.

Next destination: Jodhpur, Rajasthan. (Click here to read)


Chalo Rajasthan!

Two years had gone by, just thinking about this adventure. One on which I’d be alone. Just my motorcycle and that’s it. No friends, no company, no backup and no escape. I would head into the desert state of India and ride from place to place, tasting tourism at every step. Relive the clichés and see if it was possible to survive for that long, alone.

You won’t die, I said to myself as I started packing for the trip. It was not to be a survival trip but such trips are never easy and one can never be prepared enough. 2011 had been an eventful year already – I had spent a month in Africa, driven across Maharashtra and Gujarat with the Nanos, shot huge events and even been on countless bike rides. But for some reason, it felt incomplete.

Rajasthan is one of the largest states in India and its party piece is the Thaar or the Great Indian Desert. We have all had visions or seen images of camels and turban clad men in white, women in dressy reds walking on sandy streets and over curvaceous dunes. Rajasthan is also home to imposing forts and Gothic monuments which narrate stories of ancient times. Kings and kingdoms, Sultans and their Sultanates – all were heard about. Only heard about and seen in pictures or movies, never felt.

Rajasthan header

Rooh – e – Rajasthan 2011

The motorcycle journey.

Come winter of 2011, I decided that it was time to head out. I was to ride north across Gujarat and enter Rajasthan on my motorcycle. Why on a motorcycle, you ask? Well there are two answers to that.

The first one: A motorbike ride is the best way to experience the landscape and be independent all through the journey.

The second: It’s the only way I feel like I’m travelling. A plane, train or car just doesn’t cut it anymore.

I had spent so much time thinking about the destinations on this journey for the past couple of years that now I could recite the route I wanted to take in a single breath. It felt as if there would be no better time to leave home. The day finally came.

The saddle bags were stuffed with stuff and the cameras cleaned. Tank brimmed and it was time to ride out. I left the comfort of home to see if my dreamy idea of a ride across the sands could actually be realised. At the start, there was a fellow rider with me. He was riding towards his home in Gujarat. We started our ride together and then he turned off a little ahead of Surat on the highway. That was the end of my company on the ride, or so I thought then.

Rooh - e Rajasthan 2011.

On the second day, as the sun got ready for another setting, I crossed the Tropic of Cancer and reached the foot of the Aravallis. At the foot of Mount Abu, I stopped for some tea and whilst sipping on the smoking golden potion, conversations started flowing. The random stranger sitting next to me, the chai-wallah and I started speaking about where I was coming from and where I’d planned to go.

There’s a feeling you get when you’re on a motorcycle ride. One moment, an instant where you realize – that these are not ordinary road-trips. This was most certainly not a typical trip. The dream ride had started.

Twenty kilometres of smooth winding roads took me to an elevation of about four thousand feet. The sun was setting, the mountains were moving in front of me with each turn. The now cool wind hit my dust covered face like a splash of cold water and the setting sun just added to the drama in every moment. This stretch of 25 kilometres and its curves is what made it all feel like the long haul from Pune was worth it. Even before I had reached my destination for the day! Turn after turn the sun played hide and seek while I overtook the ever effervescent Gujarati families in their sedans, getting those ‘looks’ every biker will tell you about. I felt at home and peaceful on this hill road.

Mount Abu:

Much commercial.

Rooh - e - Rajasthan.

A typical tourists’ loaf, Abu has greenery, a lake, the Dilwara Jain Temple and Guru Shikhar – the highest mountain in the Aravallis. Not to mention a gazillion hotels and guest houses.

Mt Abu , at an elevation of about 4000 feet is the only hill station in Rajasthan and is frequented by tourists throughout the year but never more than in the summer. The elevation above sea level provides breath giving respite to tourists from the hot states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. This is the land of Gurjjars, an ancient ethnic group. The roadside ‘paanwallah’ tells me that the ancient name of this area used to be “Arbudaanchal”. Interesting how us humans fall into conversations over just a few pieces of gum. He also informed me that I shouldn’t head out alone too early in the morning to shoot the sunrise as this area is home to some bears, which aren’t afraid of humans anymore, thanks to the rampant tourism. Though I think, since it was Diwali and firecrackers were bursting everywhere, even if there were bears around, the loud bangs and thuds must surely have shooed them away. Still, one can never be too careful. During the Hindu festival of Diwali, is the perfect weather to come here but not the perfect time. Tourists from Gujarat and Rajasthan flood Mount Abu during this time. Hotel accommodation is next to impossible if you’re a biker like me and prefer to scout for a bed after you’ve reached your destination. I was lucky I got 2 nights at an upmarket hotel after some major hotel hunting.

You may not feel like you’re in Rajasthan here, so touristy is the ethos of this hill town. Still, for the religious folks there is the Dilwara Jain temple. They say its architecture rivals that of the Taj Mahal. Entry for non-Jains is allowed from 12pm onwards and photography of any kind is prohibited (Why?). One can’t even take a cell phone inside.

Abu

Mount Abu is also home to the well known ‘Bhramakumaris’ – a cult of spiritually inclined people.

The Nakki lake, a major ‘attraction’, is a place where one can pay for a boat and take a small ride around the lake. There is one man here; he is old, blind and a musician. During the day you will find him at the lake and in the shikaras playing his instrument and singing songs. Just to hear him sing, the boat ride is worth it.

Nakki lake.

Nathu ji and his music.

Toad rock, a rock which looks like a frog is seen commanding the lake when you’re taking the boat ride. A small trek up to the rock will reveal a panoramic view of Mt Abu with the Nakki lake as its centrepiece.

Mount Abu from a distance.

Toad Rock.

There is also a small wildlife sanctuary here. They say the trails here are worth a trek but what I found most fun was the ride up to the parking lot. Broken road, narrow and covered with flora on all sides. It’s short but fun.

Abu

Spot the bike!

To be honest, Mount Abu offered nothing substantial for someone looking for a muse. Make no mistake; this place can be beautiful if you have the eyes for it and the time. To me though it felt as if the hill town was trying desperately to cling to its Rajasthani roots and earn a living off it. Everywhere you look there are shops and hotels aimed at the tourist. I wondered where the real Mount Abu people were.

Mount Abu streets.

As Diwali here came to a bittersweet end, I left. The map of Rajasthan took on its first fold.

I rode into what felt like the real deal. Gradually, the lush green gave way to a barren flat land with shades of brown. One straight road cutting through the landscape and nothing else, that’s what it looks like in the desert. The sand was visible now. I had to be careful of thorns from roadside bushes puncturing the tyres.

The road in to the desert.

This road was smooth, not a bump. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what I was up to. This was going to be a brilliant experience and that is all I knew.

The sun came up behind me and suddenly, I entered the district of Barmer. There was no turning back now. I stopped to wrap my head around the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing here, except the road, my motorcycle and me. It was so quiet I could hear the sips of water slip down my throat. The gentle morning breeze whistled in my ears as I looked on.

Middle of nowhere.

Almost nothing in sight.

That feeling of uncertainty had deserted me and the adventurous streak had set in. I got a glimpse of what it was going to be like over the coming month!

For more pictures from Mount Abu Click here.

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In this article:

Distance travelled: (Pune – Ankleshwar – Mount Abu) = 875 kilometres

Number of nights: Ankleshwar = 1, Mount Abu = 2.

Motorcycle condition: All good.

Next destination: Barmer, Rajasthan. (Click here to read)

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Rooh – E – Rajasthan

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ROOH - E - RAJASTHAN

Rajasthan, the land of sand and more.

From Jaisalmer to Jaipur, this vast state titillates the imagination with visions of loitering camels, boundless sand dunes and august forts. To say that it was a dream to ride across these sands and experience what this land has to offer would be an understatement. Two years had passed in the run up to this monumental and personal undertaking. Finally though, we did it. Over the twenty eight days which I spent on the road with my trusty motorcycle, we covered over four thousand kilometers. I met more people than one would ever imagine and experienced more than I ever thought possible. The alluring scent of the scenes here is made up of so many aromas and vistas that it is next to impossible to try and put in words its brilliance.

A motorcycle man head out alone into Rajasthan to repaint the canvas of his memories from early childhood as the son of an Army Officer. Roads were ridden and sights were seen, people were met and food was eaten. With every rise of the sun came new milestones and bastions which gave way to brilliant frames and the setting sun. Each night was a realization of a new human being taking shape inside. Each moment was a revelation to the eyes of my time on this land. This is a journey of two characters. The man – Me and his Motorcycle – The Marauder. Every day they travelled and did what tourists would do in a new town. This will be a glimpse of their story over those twenty eight days. Not only will you witness the pleasure of being on the road but you will also view the emotions that drive a person. On good days or bad, the need for self motivation is a constant on such endeavours, out on a solo trip, it takes more than just the will to leave home.

Over the coming weeks, you will be enthralled with content from this motorcycle ride across Rajasthan. One by one, the destinations and their sociology will compel you to get out of your chair and head out on your own. Once this was a thought, today it is reality.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring to you Rooh – E – Rajasthan 2011.

ROOH - E - RAJASTHAN

Treat yourselves to the poster shots from this mammoth trip: Click here.

The trip has started! Go ahead and read!

Part one: Chalo Rajasthan!

Part two: Rajasthan. The western sector.

Part three: Marwar – Central Rajasthan.

Part four: In the hills of Rajasthan.

Part five: Rajasthan – The Capital City.

Part six: Tales from beyond the sands of time – Chittaurgarh.

Part seven: Southern Rajasthan.

Part eight: My journey home! (Finale’)

Rooh – E – Rajasthan, the film.

A film by travel photographer Nipun Srivastava about his 5000 kilometer solo motorcycle journey across the desert state of Rajasthan in India.

Nipun set out to shoot the cities in Rajasthan with his cameras and ended up with one of his favorite pieces of written/photographic work.

With the lack of decent video and audio equipment, Nipun set about shooting his experiences in video with only time lapse footage and shots taken with his cell phone and DSLRs.

Video produced by: http://www.theroadtonirvana.com

Editing-Direction-Narration: Nipun Srivastava.


T – minus two and counting? Destination Aurangabad!

So you’ve got to get to work on Monday and you think you can’t travel? Think again! It can’t always be about exotic locales and beautiful beaches now can it? Here is what you could do if you’ve got just two days and two wheels.

225 kilometres from Pune and about 425 from Mumbai along State Highway 60 lies Aurangabad. It is a city which is fast transforming into a metro but still manages to cling on to some of its true old world charm. It serves as a base for tourists travelling to see the Ajanta and Ellora caves which are a major ‘to do’ on everybody’s travel lists and are close to the city.

The Bibi Ka Maqbara

This article however, is not about the clichéd caves. Yes Ajanta is beautiful and Ellora is nice too but frankly, you need a lot of time on your hands if you want to cover just the two cave clusters. If you do have time on your side, make sure you cover them as well.

Apart from the famous caves, Aurangabad is host to a few other interesting avenues for travellers as well. To start with the ‘Bibi Ka Maqbara’ is a Mughal example of a son’s love for his mother and is often referred to as the ‘Taj of Deccan’ as it strongly resembles the Taj Mahal at Agra. Yet, there is much that sets it apart.

The Bibi Ka Maqbara

The Bibi Ka Maqbara.

The good part is that entry is open to the monument all day, from sunrise till 10 pm. No food or eats are allowed into the premises but there are ample options for street grub right outside the entrance, as with most tourist attractions. May I suggest some Nimbu Pani (Lime water) and soda before you start the tour.

It is smaller in size compared to the real Taj. Plus, it’s not just marble that has gone into building the Maqbara. Unlike the Taj Mahal, Plaster of Paris (PoP) is a major building material used in the construction of the Maqbara apart from marble.

As one walks onto the stone tiles which make up the pathways just while entering the front arch of the entrance gate, a sense of déjà vu takes over for a split second. For those who have seen the Taj Mahal that is. If you have a camera in your hand, you will probably end up being a part of the crowd trying to capture the classic middle of the arch shot.

The Bibi Ka Maqbara

Cliche’ or not, click it!

Stepping into the cool shade of the arch, one gets a full view of the Maqbara standing tall with all its opulence. One hundred rupees is what it will cost for a 7 minute snippet about the Bibi Ka Maqbara from a registered guide. The narration will tell you all that a tourist needs to know about the Maqbara and the stories behind it. You are also welcome to ask your guide all the questions you want to.

For those who have 5 minutes, watch this video:

Walking around in the lawns at the Bibi Ka Maqbara, one feels peace. The quiet is broken only by the distant chatter of tourists flocking to check out the Dargaah and intermittent whistles by the security guards. Not to forget the chirping birds.

The Bibi Ka Maqbara

Apart from ogling at the imposing white Maqbara standing bang in the middle of the premises, there is not much to do here. Sitting in the shade or watching the sunset while the time flies is something a lot of people come here to do. During the sunset, the game of lights played out on the white marble dome and minarets is worth watching. As the sun makes a dash for the horizon, colours of the sky have a magical effect on the white monument. It has to be seen to be believed. Much like the Real Taj.

The Bibi Ka Maqbara

Lights play!

After the Bibi Ka Maqbara and its lightness, spend the second day doing some hard core cardio. Climb the Daulatabad Fort, right to the top. Although it is a relatively small fort according to some, it has a very colourful lineage.

Originally known as Deogiri Fort, the famous Mughal ruler Mohammed-Bin-Tughlak renamed it Daulatabad when he shifted his capital from Delhi to Deogiri. Yes! There was a short period of time when Deogiri was the Capital of India. After which it became the capital of the Deccan region of India, thanks to Aurangzeb.

Also open from sunrise till evening, The Daulatabad Fort is one which is not overwhelming to the naked eye. One has to scratch the surface and blow away the dust to find some semblance of the history here. And only then, does the real beauty of this outpost in the hills get to you.

In over seven hundred year of existence, this fort has seen the rise and fall of over 8 kingdoms. I won’t spoil the entire mystery now, do some research for yourself!

More than seven hundred steps make up the mini trek up to the top of the Fort. Right from the start, as I entered the fort walls, what hit me was, the textures here. From the mammoth gate and its brass work to the wide flooring and numerous pillars at the Bharat Mata Mandir. My god was this place beautiful, that to under the mid-day sun.

Textural treat.

Depth of field Nirvana! Daulatabad Fort.

The pillars at Bharat Mata Mandir. Daulatabad Fort.

This is a place where, as you go along reading about the various lines of defence and security measures in place, you find yourself marvelling at the meticulous planning and techniques adopted for building this fort. Even the hill on which the fort stands has been chiselled to make scaling the 200 meter height impossible.

An impressive cannon park greets you as you walk a little further in from the main entrance. Also, all over the fort are present many bastions, equipped with heavy cannons. The condition of the fort here is not very good but it’s not all that bad either. It was built to last. Many considered it to be invincible.

Great travellers like Ibn-e-batuta, Therenott and even Tavernier have graced this post.

An orange-ish tower is what will probably be the first to catch your attention as you approach the fort. Known as the Chand Minar, it is mighty tall and resembles the Qutab Minar at Delhi in many ways. Entry in to this monument is closed.

Chand Minar.

Chand Minar at Daulatabad Fort.

The cannons here are in splendid nick. (‘Tope‘ meaning  cannon) The Mendha Tope and the Durga Tope are a sight to behold. Engravings on the Mendha Cannon christen it as the Qila-Shikan-Tope or the Fort Breaking Cannon.

Cannon at Daulatabad fort.

The Fort breaking cannon.

As you puff your way upwards you will suddenly come across a dark dingy entrance. Known as the Andheri or the dark passage, its primary role as a line of defence was to baffle the incoming enemy and disorient him. As one ventures in, the smell of bat droppings is overwhelming. Make sure you carry a strong flash light. Zigzagging your way through you will come in to some light where one feels the dark walk is over but it is not. You enter the darkness a second time if you want to reach the top. You will have to brave bats at close range and don’t forget to cover your head!

Ready for the darkness!

Out and in light, moving further up, one comes across a few temples and meditating caves/shrines. These places have interesting stories behind them. We stopped and spoke to the only caretaker here. Listen to Rukmani bai tell you what she knows about the history of this fort.

Watch the video: (Duration: 10 Mins)

From the top, the view is panoramic, to say the least. Here, looking on, one can truly understand the placement of the cannon bastions and appreciate how effective they must have been in their day. This is not the biggest fort neither the most beautiful one but there is a lot more to a place than beauty and size. The Daulatabad fort has a soul to it. Look at it as a trek or a mere tourist destination, it is sure to involve you.

View atop Daulatabad fort.

Panoramic Daulatabad.

Especially for photography, the Bibi ka Maqbara and the Daulatabad Fort offer the opportunity for a photographer to go out of her/his comfort zone and push the boundaries of basics.

Speaking of which I should mention that the Bibi Ka Maqbara is managed by the Maharashtra state tourism department here and they have a couple of really funny (bordering on stupid) regulations once you’re in here. For instance, you can walk through the metal detector and into the premises with your camera and tripod but you cannot use the tripod or ‘stand’ as they call it. Also, as I mentioned earlier, no eats are allowed on to the lawns but when there, it’s easy to notice empty packets and wrappers strewn around on the grass (purpose defeated).

How can I not tell you where in Aurangabad do you get the real grub? I don’t know how.

So here goes. The food scene in Aurangabad comes alive after dark. In the day it’s your usual didley piddley restos along the road and all that. But if you’re serious about your food, head to the Taj Residency here. Order the Tom Yum Soup and sit pretty, this soup tastes awesome if you’re the kind who likes his twang.

Come dusk and the shutters roll up all over Aurangabad but nowhere more than at Boti Lane (Pronounced Booty). It is Aurangabad’s very own khau galli. Vegetarians beware! ‘Boti’ is the Urdu word for a tender piece of meat and that is all what you will find here.

Booti (Boti) lane.

Booty (Boti) Lane. Aurangabad.

Take a stroll along this alley and all you see are bright lights hovering over big dishes of pre-cooked Chicken 65 pieces and long skewers of Tandoori Chicken legs. Not to overlook, the beef here is some of the best I have ever had the good fortune of tasting. There is something about street food which gets all of us salivating, don’t you think?

‘Haath gaadis’ or ‘Thelaas’ or push carts as they are called make up one side of the street. The aromas in a place such as this can make you want to breathe double time and I mean that in a good way. We picked ourselves a cart and asked for seekh kebabs to be brought to us.

Kebab-e-que.

Seekh stack.

Served with two stems of mint leaves and a couple of lemon quarters, set beside a mini bowl of mint and curd chutney, they looked divine under the darkness mixed milky light of the street. Melt in your mouth texture of the meat coupled with the slightly watery, silk like feel of the chutney tripled with the lime mixed raw onion makes for a great early evening snack. Round 2 please!

For bike rides, food is essential. Not in a survival kind of way but in the way that one loves it. Be it healthy/unhealthy, simple/complex – whatever it is that floats your boat. Eat!

Guess what?! It’s Sunday night! Time to ride home and greet the grind. Chop chop!

Homeward bound.

Want to see more from Aurangabad? Click here.


Serenading Mountains

It’s that time of year again. The mountains will soon echo with the sound of motorcycle engines. Hundreds of people will leave their homes and comfort zones alike, taking charge of their existence with the help of two wheels!

Serenading Mountains

 Serenading Mountains

The things in life one decides to do before it’s too late are many. For a freakishly increasing number of motorcyclists in India, riding to Khardung La aka the Khardung pass a little distance from the town of Leh in Jammu & Kashmir, is the ultimate achievement.

To Khardung La!

To Khardung La!

It is a very personal experience and an equally personal endeavour, this. The Khardung La is located at a height of about 18380 Ft, on the way to the desert towns of Disket and Hunder. From the high altitude town of Leh (11000 Ft), the mountain pass is about 50 kilometres away.

If you think there are things in life more important than riding a motorcycle over maddeningly bad terrain and beautifully dangerous roads to the highest motor-able road in the world, just ask any Royal Enfield (Bullet) rider. She/he will surely set your thoughts straight.Out of the comfort zone and into the mountains

Into The Mountains

For most bikers, riding in Ladakh on the mountain roads which wind their way through the Himalayas is a challenge. Everybody can do it but not everybody does. It takes courage of a different kind to actually set out on this special road trip. The hurdles a motorcycle and its rider face when on these high altitude roads are positively uncountable. Mind you, that is a major reason why one sets out on most adventures, isn’t it?

A night in the mountains.

Night in the mountains.

Controlling a motorcycle while riding through slush, gravel, sand and even torrential streams are just some of the things a person on this endeavour will have to endure. Not undermining the fact that high altitude always has nasty surprises up its sleeve, if you aren’t acclimatised properly. The air is thin up there, oxygen is less and so is the room for error while riding on the ultra-narrow roads. Almost 85 % of the roads are mountainous where on one side is the mountain itself and the other side is a cliff or a raging river and no, seldom will you find any barricading to save you, if you’re planning on going over i.e.

Long way down!

Long way down!

One can never underestimate the power of the weather here. They say ‘If you don’t like the weather in Ladakh, just wait five minutes’ and it is actually true. The weather can change with every blink over the Ladakhi landscape. You will be treated to ice cold rain and snow, winds fast enough to throw you off your feet and people who are as beautiful as they are calm.

Whacky Weather!

Whacky Weather!

Whether you ride solo or you ride with a bunch of people like yourself, this adventure will affect you as an individual. Call it philosophy or call it spirituality, either way, you will be a changed person by the time you reach home. Many have said before that the isolated existence and the feeling of being removed from the ruckus of everyday life is the real reason why people go to this place. There is a lot more to Ladakh than just that. It is that place where no matter what your age, you will meet yourself, the real you.

Absolute Isolation

Absolute Isolation

We’re not going to talk about how one should take this trip. Frankly, we have no right. Do take the trip if you get a chance though.  Leave that chair, head out, stretch right up and touch the sky.

Touch that sky!

Touch that sky!

Want to see more Pictures? Click on Leh & Ladakh.


Murud Janjira – fortress on water

 

Murud Janjira

Ever thought of a place, not too far away from civilization but still a gateway to peace?

THE JANJIRA FORT

The Janjira Fort

I, for one, am always on the lookout for such places. Sometimes, between the rigorous audits and the worrisome tax calculations, it is all but natural to get that feeling – the feeling to get away from it all. Even if it’s just for that one night two night sojourn.

Murud is a small coastal village. The thing about Murud is that one doesn’t even realize how close it is from the highly commercialized and run down beach towns of Kashid, Alibaug and the likes. A meager 12 kilometers down the road from Kashid, lies Murud and the adjacent hilltop village of Janjira.

The main reason for travelers coming here is the day visit to the Janjira fort. Standing tall in the middle of the Arabian Sea, it is visible from the Janjira village (also from the road which leads to the village). The fort is a brilliant sight during the evenings of January and February as the sun sets just beside the exterior walls.

Sail boat to the fort

One can take a 20 minute sail-boat ride across the waters, which will reach you to the entrance of the Janjira fort, which is when one notices the innovative construction techniques used while building this medieval building.

Sailing for tourism.

On the way to the fort, in the boat (while you are hanging on for dear life), your boatmen will give you a very brief historical overview of Janjira fort. In the most flamboyant of ways, one of the boatmen will narrate to you the story behind the mammoth water locked structure. This narration is free of cost of-course but the boat ride will cost you 20 INR to go to the fort and come back. The monologue lasts around 10 minutes and the second boatman then doubles as your guide at the fort – a further setback of 20 INR to your pocket i.e. if you choose to go with the guide.

You can of course head out onto the fort by yourself. Negotiating the fort interiors isn’t too much of a hassle. Just remember, the last boat to the mainland leaves around 6pm.

Our group of bikers chose to head into the fort ‘with’ the guide. After the precarious boat ride across the waters, you can’t help but think to yourself ‘this better be good’. Good, it is for sure.

The mammoth arched entrance greets you out of the blue (quite literally, read: innovative architecture). The entrance to Janjira fort is built at such an angle that at first glance from afar, one can’t notice it. A feature incorporated to make it difficult for marauding powers to get on to the fort floor.

Arrivals.

‘Jump!’ said one of my friends as I tried to gain balance on the boat while trying to change lenses on my camera, as the boat load of passengers hopped onto the jetty. All of us managed to get off the boat without slipping on the wet staircase under the tall stone entrance. A reasonable feat, if you ask me.

As you walk into the fort, a sharp right marks your entrance. The journey begins from the fort floor and takes you around the various verandahs and gun posts present in the fort. It is not very well preserved, this fort. Of the many things you will see inside the fort walls, by far the most intriguing are the two fresh water ponds, which are quite noticeable.

The Janjira fort interiors.

The queens palace lies in ruins, though is still a sight. Midway, during the tour, the guides will tell you that you have 15 minutes to climb to the top of a bunch of flights of stairs to the top of a flag tower and come back in time for the rest of the tour.

The tower like monument.

We climbed up; the view from the top is nothing short of breath-taking. Quite literally, huffing and puffing we reached the top of the tower, totting our cameras every step of the way.  From the top, one can see all four corners of the fort and standing there gives you a semblance of the sheer size of the Janjira fort.

Depending upon the time of day when you visit the Janjira fort, the light will play out. I suggest that one spend the day getting to know the town of Murud, probably take a stroll through the market and then head to the fort around early evening. 3pm would be the perfect time to queue up for the ferry ride to the fort and then you can catch the sunset. In this case you will probably reach Murud town by nightfall.

Our Boatman.

There is another small beach right next to the jetty from where boats leave for the fort. It’s not a particularly clean beach and neither is it very beautiful but like most things in life, it’s beautifully imperfect. When I came to this place the first time, I chanced upon this stretch of sand and walked onto it with my camera. Within a minute, I was surrounded by children from the village nearby and I got some of my best silhouette shots ever.

Laughter.

I don’t think this beach even has a name!

For the photographs from this beach: Click here.

The food situation here is decent. Murud is not particularly known for its cuisine but rest assured, you WILL find some tasty, taste bud tingling and semi-hygienic grub here. It’s a fishing village after all!

Head to the fish market after sunset and buy yourself some fresh catch. Give it to a local and let ‘em cook up your dinner.

The evening fish market.

Suggestion:

Golden Swan beach resort is an up-market and beautifully put together hotel/resort/restaurant situated on the beach, near the start of the town when you are coming from Kashid (or Mumbai). The food here is very good and hygienic as well, decent vegetarian options are available too. If you plan to stay here, it will cost you anywhere between INR 3500 to INR 10,000, according to your choice of rooms and the number of people staying put. You will love the people here and the free roaming ducks too!

(Personal favourite: The Chinese food here is great and the Solkadi (A refreshing non-alcoholic drink, a speciality of Maharashtrian cuisine) is pretty darn good!)

Mandatory Sunset

For the budget traveller, there are quite a few small lodges and homes where home owners will let you share a room or two for a price. The costing for this type of accommodation can range from INR 300 to INR 700 depending upon the class of the place.

There are some run of the mill hotels and lodges too but they are situated off the Murud beach and are honestly a bit of a turn off. So that is a choice you are going to have to make.

The beach at Murud would give you ample opportunities to lounge around doing nothing or well, whatever you may please! I loved the photo opportunities here. The nights are equally majestic with the stars lighting up the sea. Do take a mid-night stroll, it’s totally worth it.

Solitary by Nipun Srivastava (Nipun) on 500px.com

Solitary by Nipun Srivastava

A weekend trip is enough time to take in most of what Murud and Janjira have to offer. For me though, it’s not so easy. I have been to the place thrice, once with friends, once solo and once with my lady but thrice is never enough!

Getting to Murud-Janjira:

Crank up that engine!

The rider and I by Nipun Srivastava (Nipun) on 500px.com
The rider and I by Nipun Srivastava


Take a bike ride. 170 kilometres from Pune and less from Mumbai, the ride to Murud will take about 4 hours.

Driving down is also a popular option. BUT. There is nothing worse than closed doors and rolled up windows of a car on serene roads.

You could also take the bus. ST or State Transport buses will get you to Kashid where a change of buses will see you walking the streets of Murud in no time. Be warned, these buses are seldom in good condition and almost always leave a painful mark on your back. Though travel in ST buses has a different thrill and it is also the cheapest way to get around.

The Sunset Sea

However you do, do head out!

Want to see more photos? Click here.


Gokarna

Gokarna Revisited!

About 150 kilometers south of Goa, Gokarna is home to some really appealing beaches. Primarily known for its ‘hippy’ crowd, it is a magnet for foreign tourists who are on a budget. As always, we were on motorcycles.

Gokarna Revisited!
welcome to Gokarna

It had been a real task getting here as Gokarna is about 650 kilometers from Pune. We covered that distance in a little over 13 hours of pure, unadulterated motorcycle riding through intermittent rain and losing our way while crossing over the Western Ghats. Here, unless you’re staying at the shacks on Om beach, it is next to impossible trying to search for a place to stay at in the night. So our suggestion, if you’re driving/riding from Mumbai, leave early. There are other options of getting to Gokarna like taking a train or even buses. Both the trains and buses are reasonably reliable and will get you there in one piece (if you cross your fingers ;)).

Gokarna town is chaotic and haphazard for the most part. We somehow find it beautiful. The place is full of people. Make no mistake this is only Gokarna town that we talk about. The vibe in the town is quite different from the rest of Gokarna.

Om beach, which is about ten kilometers from the main town center, is the true Gokarn-ian destination. This stretch of smooth winding road gives you views of the Arabian Sea in the most flattering of ways. This small journey is very beautiful, especially during the evenings.

Gokarna Revisited!
the spectacular view

Om beach is so named because it looks like the Hindu symbol of worship Om (aum), when observed from a distance. A quaint and quiet calm prevails over this beach at all times. The slow pulsating waves that break on the golden brown sand titillate the senses and conjure peace in the mind.

Gokarna Revisited!
om

A very endearing beach café and the only one of its kind, Dolphin Bay Café, sits right in the middle of Om beach. Appropriately named, you will often find many local boatmen with their boats lined up; ready to take tourists out to sea, to watch dolphins. Interesting as it may sound, we’re not sure about the environmental impact these shabbily organized and orchestrated tours actually have on the dolphins. It’s not healthy for their habitat in most cases, we’ve learnt. These boat rides are not very expensive and one can be hired for about 500 Indian rupees.

Gokarna Revisited!
a titillating peace

The Dolphin bay cafe is a very interesting place indeed. Laxman, the De-facto manager of the cafe will try and first- understand you and second- make you what you asked for. The easiest thing to order here, like anywhere else, is beer of course. Evenings couldn’t be more magical here, the color of the skies and the water are refreshing.

Gokarna Revisited!
refreshing hues

In and around Gokarna there are a bunch of beaches which are not just beautiful but are also different from the regular run off the mill beach idea. For instance, Paradise beach, (yes!) Paradise is situated south of Om beach, about a 20 minute boat ride away. What’s special is that there is no access to this beach by land. It is also very small as far as the sand bank is concerned, which adds to its charm.

Gokarna Revisited!
paradise found!

There is a huge restaurant on Paradise beach which serves very good Punjabi food. Also, for the offbeat traveller, there are shacks available. Why offbeat? Because once the tide comes in, the boats can’t dock on the beach. So you’re pretty much water locked on two sides and land locked on the other two. Staying here should be fun!

Gokarna Revisited!
view from restaurant at Paradise Beach

Kudle’ and Half Moon are the other beaches around the town of Gokarna, Half Moon being the more remote one. They have a decent reputation and are of course very beautiful but plan to stay here only if you’re coming during the ‘season’. Else a passing visit to these two beaches is more than enough.

The beach near Gokarna town is also a pretty place. This beach is more interesting during sun up. Life here is an apparent presence, if you catch our drift.

Every day, there can be seen whole families of fishermen heading out to sea to catch fish. This beach is a busy place, not in the tourist sense though. People here who live with the Sea, live off it too. Sure there are the cafés and the shacks and you might even find a couple of bikers with their tents pitched on the beach too. Gokarna though, has a lot more to it.

Gokarna Revisited!
out to sea

Religion, predominantly Hinduism is a huge part of Gokarna. Temples and shrines present the real reason of existence for this town. There is a lot of folk lore about the ‘atmalinga’ which some claim rests at one of the temples here. Gokarna is home to a host of interesting avenues for those on a quest for knowledge about the religious aspects of this little temple town.

Gokarna Revisited!
spirituality found

All said and done though, Gokarna is both for the lighthearted traveller as well as the one who finds solace in beer, bohemia and banter – not that the former doesn’t enjoy the latter. Anyone would simply love the aura of Gokarna.

Gokarna Revisited!

Want to see more photos? Click on Gokarna


Hedvi – Motorcycle Paradise.

Hedvi 2013

Motorcycle Paradise

Give me a place I can be myself.
Give me the pleasure of connecting with my soul.
Give me my space to dream.

Let my essence come to the surface.
Let me, for my life back home, reccaliberate.
Let me sing my song.

I want to win the world.
I want to LIVE my life.
I want to fly.

Give me Hedvi.

The quintessential beach destination for any biker, come here to ‘touch’ your old self. Listen to your heart tell you what it really wants from life. Take a dip in the sea of peaceful waves breaking on the brown sand. Forget about where you came from. Head out towards where you want to be. Hedvi will take you there.

There is a lot more I can say about this haven. It is a special place for all us men and women the world considers as outsiders or weird. There is something about a flimsy shack near the beach, something about that voice of the ocean every time you close your eyes. That something which makes sweet sweat fall from your chin, that something which wakes you up early with the sun shining through bamboo weaves. Something, which is in drinking a litre of Solkadi every day that you spend here. What I can’t do is explain it with words, that something, it’s just Hedvi.

On the west coast of India, Hedvi is a small stretch of sand 200 kilometres north of Goa. Guhagar, another beach close to Hedvi is a major tourist centre. That is all anyone will tell you, especially us Enfield riders. Further, if you really deserve Hedvi, you will find it – On the road, on those two wheels standing in your garage right now.

The Hedvi sand and sea.

Sun, sand and sea.

Take the Nh-17 and head out towards Goa if you’re coming from Mumbai or the north. Remember one thing, if you’ve reached a place called Chiplun (coming from Mumbai), you’ve missed the right turn towards Guhagar.

If you’re on the right track and lucky, you will see almost blank concrete sign posts telling you where you should be headed.

Ask people, that’s the easiest way to find the right direction in India. If you reach the beach without getting lost even once, do write me a mail. I’ll send over a bottle of wine. Honest!

Isn’t it just another beach?

So is Baga in Goa, Kendwa in Zanzibar, Murud – Janjira in Maharashtra. Hedvi is not the prettiest beach in the world but it is the most beautiful. If, you can understand the vibe present in this coastal village. I would say, take your time.

Do not head to Hedvi just for the heck of it, for that there is Goa and its booze soaked pleasures. Hedvi is for the mature traveller, the one who understands the depth of travel and is ready to put up with big fire ants.

If you’re the type who thinks a getaway is a place where you dance till you drop and drink till you puke with a Dj playing you’re favourites, you’re right in thinking that Hedvi is a bore. On the other hand, if you’re a Motorcycle man/woman, you’ll know what I mean when I say that we can dance and drink even at Hedvi, with a twist nonetheless.

Hedvi 2013

To the beach we’ll ride.

What else is around?

Well, not that it matters when you’re at Hedvi but there are a couple of interesting temples around. There is one major Laxmi Ganesh Temple in the main village, located atop a small hillock. Vehicles can drive right up to the temple gates. There is a second smaller temple on Hedvi beach itself, frequented mostly by village folk.

Next, during high tide i.e. at night, you can make your way alongside the coast to the gorge. Every time a big wave comes in, water shoots up the gorge into the air. Getting to the gorge is a bit of a trek and you need to remember how you got there or else if the tide gets too high, you might end up getting water locked. This happened to a friend of mine and me once. Carry a big, powerful flashlight.

There is a small stream which runs into the sea on the beach itself. This is a great place for bird watching early in the mornings and awesome for photography at sunset.

My Hedvi.

Playing in the sand!

Food

First things first, the Solkadi at Hedvi is by far the best that can be found anywhere in the world. Solkadi is a Maharashtrian drink/cooler cum digestive. When in Hedvi, I personally forget about liquor and stick to this pink nectar. Made with Kokam and coconut milk, it will refresh your senses and give your pallet something to think about. All this while making sure you head to the throne soon enough. Worth it!

The pink potion.

Solkadi. The pink potion.

Grub, for vegetarians at Hedvi is no problem as veggie curries etc. are easy to order and easy to prepare for the family with whom essentially you will be staying.

For non – vegetarians on the other hand, chicken is available. If you want fish you need to inform your hosts in advance. Mutton, if you want it, will have to be bought by you from the Guhagar street market and cooked by you too, if you can handle it.

Awesome setting.A typical Konkani Hedvi meal.

The typical Hedvi meal.

There is only one spice option available here, very spicy, no matter how well you explain blandness to your cook.

Taadi – or the local intoxicant (drink) is also available here. You can see farmers climb up coconut trees (from which the Taadi is extracted) and bring it down for you! It’s a very harsh drink and is not for the faint hearted drinker.

Beer is available on order but don’t go looking for brands like Tuborg or Carlsberg. Kingfisher is available, be happy. There is always the option of carrying your own booze.

Stay and accommodation

Hedvi 2013

Motorcycle Shack

Alright, so there are shacks and they aren’t really on the beach. Though there is a broad treeline between your only accommodation option and the beach. You will realise, this too adds to the beauty of the place.

‘Suruchi’ is the name of the place where you can stay at Hedvi. The hotel is named after the daughter of the owner, Mr Bhatkar, who is also a resident on the same property. There are two couples shacks and three couples rooms along with three slightly bigger halls which can be occupied by groups/big families etc. Hygiene might be a concern for people who’d rather nit-pick than enjoy a vacation. It’s no 5 star this place.

The Aristhrottle at Hedvi.

Hedvi Treeline

There is ample parking space here, right in front of your rooms – another reason for it being a hit with bikers. When you park though, make sure there aren’t any coconuts dangling over your vehicles. There is nothing worse than waking up to a nasty dent on your baby. Also, the ladies and waiter or two will make sure you get tea, water and solkadi to your hearts content all through the day. For the finicky ones, there is always the STD booth/grocery store. Yes, they keep cold mineral water.

Before you leave

You will want to make sure you don’t need to use your cell phone as there is no network here. You may chance upon a couple of bars of signal if you are on the beach. Otherwise, the only option to connect with the outside world is an STD booth in the village near the beach. That always works fine.

Hedvi 2013

Evening at Hedvi

Fire ants are huge here, thanks to the coconut trees. Big, red and ready to bite! Don’t walk barefoot in the grass or you’ll end up jumping all afternoon. Scorpions and tree snakes also frequent this joint, you’re the outcast here, deal with it. For supplies, the STD booth in the village is attached to a tiny grocery shop where you will get basic stuff like hair oil and toothpaste. Don’t go looking for tissues or baby wipes, they are a myth in this part of the country.

Make sure you order your meal at least 2 hours before lunch or dinner or else you will have to suffer. Otherwise there is tea and solkadi available always.

For motorcyclists and specially Enfield riders, there are two local mechanics here, Sandeep and Dinesh. They can handle minor problems and small electrical troubles on your bikes. To call the mechanics, get in touch with Mr Bhatkar. Basic medical facilities are also available at Hedvi, there is a very small hospital, only advisable for first aid though. Chiplun, a town about 70 kms away is where good medical facilities are available.

Bonfires are a treat here, make sure you and your group experience this under the stars and in the shadows of the tall trees. Please don’t litter at Hedvi.

That’s the end of the travel jargon. Enjoy your trip to Hedvi!

P.S: You want Mr Bhatkar’s Phone number don’t you? Well, e-mail me and you’ll get it!

Hedvi 2014

Hedvi is the holy grail for a Bulleteer.

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For those of you who have read through this article, here’s a treat – The Firelords Hedvi ride video of 2012!


Hampi – The Vijayanagar Empire.

It is a village about 850 kilometers from Mumbai, it lies close to the town of Hospet in the Southern Indian state of Karnataka. Hampi is less a medieval ruin site and more a wonder of nature. The views of the landscape here are full of boulders and hills of boulders in various sizes and shapes. Hampi is a site located within the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire. It is older than the medieval city of Vijayanagara and is still of much religious importance. Home to the Virupaksha Temple – the main center of pilgrimage here and dedicated to Lord Shiva.

On the banks of The Tungabhadra river which flows through Karnataka into Andhra Pradesh, Hampi is not just a religious stop for the Indian traveler but is also a place of wonder and amazement for the foreign tourist.

Below is a photographic account of what I saw at Hampi and also what I think of it.

On two wheels, one is never alone: My bike ride started from Pune, 600 Kilometres from Hampi. I chose to ride on the NH4 till Hubli and from there another 170 kilometres to Hampi.

The entrance to Hampi.

The gateway to Hampi

As one rides through the surrounding towns like Gadag and Hospet taking one towards Hampi, one starts to feel the excitement building up inside.

The entrance to Hampi does rather well to instil even more wonder into one’s mind.

The best season to visit Hampi is around September to November I would say, it’s neither too wet nor too hot.

 God of the Gopurams

The Virupaksha Temple from the inside.

Major monuments in Hampi require you to buy a pass which is managed by the tourism department.

One drawback being that the passes are pretty expensive for foreign nationals when compared with tariffs for Indian citizens.

In the cradle - Vitthala Temple Complex

The land of perplexing opposites

Beautiful architecture and ruined rock – cut structures all claim the land.

On one hand, temples of the Vijayanagar Empire poke ones spiritual inner self and on the other the awesome expanse of ruins spread as far as the eyes can see make one wonder, how?

Inside the VijayVitalla temple complex.The Vitthala Temple Mahamandapa

This structure is in danger of falling apart, with every monsoon, more steel pillars are used to support and keep the structure upright.

The Stone Chariot.

The Stone Chariot at Vitthala Temple

This Chariot is by far one of the most enchanting pieces of carvings in Hampi. It is believed that the wheels are capable of revolving.

The Nandi Bull at Kamalapur Museum

The Museum has a vast collection of miniature carvings up on display.

Visiting the museum is a good way of spending a lazy afternoon here.

Also, next to the museum lie the grand elephant stables of the royal elephants.

The Lotus Mahal.

Fusion Mansion

The Lotus Mahal is an awesome amalgamation of religion and culture. Huge arches on all sides and pyramidal towers. It is the best preserved stately monument at Hampi.

Elephant Stables at Hampi.

The Elephant Stables

Abode of the royal elephants of the ruler of Vijayanagaram.

Talarigatta gate

Hampi and Kamalapur, two neighboring villages and the roads between them are lined with these imposing stone cut gates built hundreds of years ago.

Dusk and the Virupaksha

In the evenings, the beauty of the place just reaches a whole new dimension.

Trails to Temples.

Nandi temple. Way to Vijayavitthala. Mathanga hills

The sheer Magnitude of everything around, from the crazy rock formations to the imposing Gopurams of Temples just keeps one on the feet.

Walking trails and riding the roads through villages to get to even more sites of splendour.

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Colours of south India

Colours of South India

Street photography in India is not the toughest of things to do.

The people of India seldom refrain from posing for a picture.

An example from Hampi!

This group of effervescent friends were quick to ask me for a picture.

What’s more, they didn’t even ask for a copy!

Strange things happen in India.

Only in India.

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The KSTDC tourist hotel

Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation.

The rooms are neat and there are three types available, Regular, Deluxe and Super deluxe.

There is also the Presidential suite for the slightly extravagant.

Rs 3500 per night and President Pratibha Patil’s room is all yours!

The food is decent and your waiter will be more than happy to help out with special requests.

The staff at this KSTDC resort at Kamalapur, 4kms from the Virupaksha temple made my stay as comfortable as could be.

Right from warning me about the scorpions in the bathroom to making sure I had well cooked mutton for dinner every day.

Eeveryone here made sure that I took back memories which I would cherish for a log time.

Like every adventure, this solo bike ride was a learning experience. Not only did I meet a lot of different people, but also, learnt that life is beautiful and travel is the way to appreciate ones existence.

The Virupaksha Temple, at Sunset.

The Virupaksha Temple gopuram cradling the sun during sunset.

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