Part 2 of Rooh – E – Rajasthan.
To read part 1 – Click here.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s just gold.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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 and its architecture.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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 roads end.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Please scroll down
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.
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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
Want to see more Pictures? Click on Leh & Ladakh.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Want to see more photos? Click on Gokarna
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.
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.
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.
Playing in the sand!
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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 is the holy grail for a Bulleteer.
Want to see more photos? Click on Hedvi
For those of you who have read through this article, here’s a treat – The Firelords Hedvi ride video of 2012!
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.
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.
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?
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 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 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.
The Elephant Stables
Hampi and Kamalapur, two neighboring villages and the roads between them are lined with these imposing stone cut gates built hundreds of years ago.
In the evenings, the beauty of the place just reaches a whole new dimension.
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.
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.
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 gopuram cradling the sun during sunset.
Want to see more photos? Click on Hampi
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