Friday, 31 January 2014

Delightful Bikaner

At Kharni, we realized that we did not have any bookings for the night and sort guidance from the one and only divine ‘World Wide Web’. The source of all joys and sorrows proved once again that there is divine intervention always.

So armed with contacts, we set off calling prospective hotel owners for accommodation. This was tricky as we were looking for a place to stay on Christmas Day. Our driver was more than accommodating to show us his reference, this after he didn’t know the roads and kept moving in circles. So we enjoyed the sights of the busy Bikaner streets with all their fried stuff and the local delicacies. However we didn’t get a chance to sample any. With longing eyes we moved ahead.

Finally, the driver found his way out of the Bikaner streets where cattle were more adamant then human. He took us to a hotel which wasn’t to our preference and mentioned that he should drive down to the one we had spoken about. The driver had all the possible reasons of why he could not take us to the hotel but he didn’t know he was dealing with tougher breed of people.

After our insistence, we were finally led to the hotel of our choice. It was on the outskirts but a nice residence. We managed to have a sumptuous meal under the open sky with bonfire to keep us warm. Great food was accompanied by great conversation. There was an Australian couple and we spoke into the night from religion to politics to development. I believe we were on our way to finding solution to world peace. Unfortunately the conversation was cut short by the arrival of another group.

A crowd which initially was not at all welcome but had some surprises in store for me. It was a mix group of people from different background who were part of a small tour. One of them was my colleague who had a big surprise for me. My best friend Deeps was part of the group and she was staying in the hotel room. We decided to play a prank on her. I knocked on her door calling out room service. I still kept knocking irritating her to no ends. Finally when she opened the door, I am sure her scream could be heard all the way to Jaipur.

All intelligent conversation was out of the door and most important girl talk began. There was no stopping the flood gates of memory considering we rarely meet up. This was a pleasant surprise. My folks heard the scream and were wondering what had happened.

Unfortunately, Deeps was travelling back early next morning and we had to keep conversation short to a couple of hours. She did get a chance to scream again next morning on seeing my mom who looks like my elder sister. So for her it was a screamathlon. The journey back must have rested her vocal cords.

In the morning after breakfast we ventured out to see Junagarh Fort. This is a must see fort if you are interested in the armoury. I was in awe seeing all the weapons, especially the ingenious techniques used in the daggers. There were daggers with pistols or levers which opened up in the stomach when stabbed. I mean people really think of ways of killing. It must have been a meticulous study.

As all forts in Rajasthan, this one too had a Sheesh mahal (glass palace), Badal Mahal (Cloud palace) etc, in all honestly these are just rooms and not really a palace as such as they are within the fort. Although the Badal Mahal in Junagarh was amazing as it had a technique wherein water came in through channels and cooled the room also they had developed some sort of a sprinkler system.

December is a crowded month to visit Rajasthan and there were loads of tourist everywhere. Enjoying the armoury section was kind of difficult with people jostling to take pictures of swords they weren’t bothering to read about.

Although Junagarh was the best fort I had seen in Rajasthan, armoury is all I need to say.

It was time to say good bye to Bikaner and its bright colors of pink and orange and red.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Thar Desert begins... the nomads have moved again. Karni Mata

Like Nomads we set off on our journey towards the desert, the golden land. I guess the other hitch in our journey was that we never left the hotel till 10.30.

With the change in our schedule, we did not have any bookings for Bikaner. We liked to believe that nothing is impossible and left our worries for later.

The journey from Jaipur to Bikaner is around 4 hours, considering the fabulous driver we had, we took more than 6 hours.

The speedometer kept showing us that we driving at 100km/hr to be honest, it felt a lot lesser. But then I cannot be a judge of speed as I once banged a car at 5km/hr speed.

The amazing bit about Rajasthan is that the highways are in excellent condition, considering Bombay roads, this was a blessing.
The land is so flat, you can literally see into great distance. This was the first we would be seeing a desert and we could wait to see the majestic Thar.

Our first stop was the famous Kharni Mata temple at Deshnoke, this temple is known for fulfilling wishes. The important element is that this is the only rat temple. People come from afar to worship here.

You can see rats scampering around everywhere.We felt like warriors set for battle. I am petrified of rats and these aren't mere rats, these are gigantic rodents and they have freedom to roam all across.

We  reluctantly handed over our shoes, there was no way I was forsaking my socks.
I am amazed at my bravery and I believe I deserved an award for the exemplary bravery I showed amongst my enemies. I took the family camera and went about clicking photographs while my family looked for a safe haven where there were fewer rats.

I doubt you there was a supposedly safe haven. My sibling kept telling me to get down with it and move out. But I had to do justice to the family photos and the rats kept moving. I couldn't get good pics.

I was so engrossed in clicking photos that a lady came and stood besides me and I almost yelled. Luckily for me, I did not yell out loud, else what am embarrassment during pooja.

It was a fun experience. This one place one should visit as it is definitely an experience. 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Pink City Part 2

The next day, bright and early we waited for our car. We weren't taking any chances today.
Our car duly arrived on time but can any of our journey be smooth. Nope, all our planning and booking and advance payments cannot stop from calamity striking us.

The driver tells us that we are scheduled to drive to Shekhawati region on the same day when we had specifically confirmed that the trip was scheduled for the next day. Today was for sight seeing in the outskirts of Jaipur.

So starts the day, talking and arguing with the agency. The agency guy keeps mincing our words and no amount of reasoning works. Then the driver suggest we tell him to cancel the deal. That seems to pacify the agency guy but oh boy how wrong we were.

The driver was trying to make a deal with us to avoid the agency and give him the contract for our 10 day tour to take us around. We were in 2 minds as the morning conversation had already soured us but were left with no option.

We took the advise and the agency guy asked us to take the car for the day. We spend the day seeing Amber fort which is on the outskirts. After marveling at Amber fort, it is a spectacular fort but not the most memorable I must say. I had to refer to the pictures to remember it. After Amber we went to Jaigarh fort which has the biggest canon. Now that is spectacular. Seems it was only fired once and the cannon ball was around 27 kgs.

After the fort visits, we referred to our sheets for good places to eat as we had skipped lunch. One of our travel party was ill after the previous night Lal maas (red meat) so we allowed our stomachs to settle. The next item on our agenda now was food.

We had heard praises of Rawat kachoris and had to try some onion kachoris. What we didn't know was the driver was cooking up a story behind our backs while we enjoyed piping hot kachoris and lassi.

We were supposed to go to Choki Dhani when he tells us that the agency is going to deduct 75% of the advance that was paid. We realised that these guys were trying to take us for a ride. We insisted to speak to the agency guy with whom we had transacted however the driver kept telling us to take to some other supervisor. We knew these guys were up to something. We asked them to take us to the police station and put us online with the agency guy we had transacted. The agency guy finally agreed to deduct the amount we spoke in the morning however our Choki Dhani dream was down the drain.

Even the driver tells us that he needs to go to the agency to give the balance payment back. As if, considering they were just trying to cheat us.

On we go on our search for a new car for our planned itinerary. Our evening is spent speaking to the hotel desk arranging for a car.

In the meanwhile we are worried though not disheartened as we knew we could manage from this tight spot only with a lighter pocket.So be it, we were on a vacation to Rajasthan so we decided to try some more famous cuisine at another recommended place.

Off we went to Santosh Bhoganalaya and tried the Dal batti chorma. It was fun, now this was a thali but we had already eaten a kachori and had lassi about 2 hours ago and were stuffed. We ended up eating just a dal batti in the entire thali.

Post dinner, we head back to pack as next day starts our caravan for the tour across Rajasthan.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Pink City

Lost in the myriads, stands the magnificent pink walls of Jaipur. So begins my travelogue of the recent trip.

Fun, adventurous, astounding are some of the words that come to mind. Confusion is another word that stems in my mind but that's more from a writing perspective - do I want a monologue article on how I traveled or baffle myself with varied places of interest.

Like an ever excited trooper (Though my face belies it), we set on our grand tour of Rajasthan. Oh we were in for a surprise.

Our first port of call was Jaipur - Pink City. I will be lying if I said the noise & traffic didn't surprise me. Packed with information from the net we set off on the grand tour of the city. We avoided the taxi for the day and decided instead to take the bus. With our maps, we ended up at Hawa Mahal, the place has some 900 odd windows, not sure of those though. I liked the view from the top of Hawa Mahal, you could see the city all around you. The sight of the entire city says a lot.

During my tour of Rajasthan, I have always wondered how did the princesses & queens tread the narrow steps in their heavy jewelry and clothes. They could give a weight lifter, a run for their money.

Post Hawa Mahal, we traveled to Jantar Mantar. Now that is some place, brimming full of knowledge. It is amazing how the king put together different instruments to tell time. And these are humongous & astounding instruments.

There were a group of school kids visiting Jantar Mantar which just helped us in our quest for knowledge. The audio guide was horrible and confused me further.

Lunch beckoned us and we went to a popular restaurant Handi. On the local cuisine, I had an amazing guide in my sibling who knew all about what I should eat.  We tried the Rajasthani thali along with Lal Maas , the star dish for us was the Lal Maas. Enough to make you sweat out.

After our scrumptous meal, we set off to shop. Jaipur surely makes you work out for a good deal.
Shopping was shopping, long and painful after multiple store visits, we were happy with our few purchases.

All the shopping made us very tired and we ended up at Spice Court. We had heard quite good reviews of the place and they were quite true.

As we adventurous and didn't hire a car for the day, we had to fend for ourselves. After a lot of hassling managed to get a rickshaw. We duly gave him the hotel name and the popular location and what does he do. Drops us of at the popular location and ask us to walk the remaining distance.

We were adamant and insisted that there was a deal to drop us to our hotel. Luckily for us another rick guy told him that he should drop us as it was barely any distance from where we were stationed.
He finally agreed to drop us. So here we were safe and sound back at the hotel at 12 in the night, all geared up for the next day.