Solve For x

The problem is not the problem, you’re attitude is the problem. Said a legendary Pirate. Pop culture may have romanticized this pirate, but the quote would’ve sounded just as sweet had it come from an old crooner. Except the fact that crooners may not be willing to be problem solvers.

Capt. Jack Sparrow

Problem solving is a skill, the fruits of the trade lie in the process. The exhilarating experience of hitting dead ends, feeling the world press against you, and the never ending pall of gloom all add up and make the victory seem sweet. Sometimes it’s just an end that you’re craving for and not even victory.

Once it ends, you look for the next problem, next battle, next pall of gloom to fight through.

It was my father’s long standing dream of seeing the world, or to be more specific, seeing USA. Ever since I was a child – perhaps 6-7 years old, I had seen my father try for the foreign posting jobs at his work. Every time he would be disappointed, he would count and recount the sequence of incidents and stay disappointed for days on end.

As he got older and moved onto literature, he became active in the Kannada literature circles. He published 3 books in a single calendar year. He hoped against hope that the who’s who of Kannadigas in USA would notice his work and invite him over for a session or a reading or any other cultural or literary event in USA. The invite never came.

Finally, I put my foot down and said enough of trying and failing dad. You keep clinging onto hopes that others might give you an opportunity, but you’re just losing time. I think you should go on your own. You have the money, you have the health and you have the time. What else could you need?

Finally he went for it. Got the visa, got the tickets, got on the invite list of a few events, made a list of all the tourist spots, relatives to visit and shopping to do, and he went. Mission accomplished. It took nearly 35-40 years – or it could be more – but he had done it. What next? He started writing a book about all this – Ok maybe not about the 35-40 years, but more like a travelogue – but he had moved onto the next challenge – next x.

The story of the crystal merchant in the book The Alchemist is known to all. Here’s what you need to know about him if you don’t know already. If you don’t know and didn’t bother clicking the link, he wouldn’t do something, lets call it x because he believed there wouldn’t be anything to live for once he did his x. Did my father push his foreign trip or look for disappointing avenues to the trip because on the inside he didn’t want to go?

All of us love staying in the problem because we don’t know what we would do next, or rather what problem we would take up next to solve. Makes me ask, are we all always looking for problems? Maybe that’s why someone long ago though ignorance was bliss?

The truth is established that we all love to move on from problem to problem, because life is after all a game of improvisation, but what are we trying to improvise on? or rather improvise towards? An eternal state of bliss? Does moving from one problem to another count or does it mean we constantly want to remain in the problematic state? It sounds so cruel, but to sum this argument, you are either a problem averse person or you’re a person who loves to dwell in them.. how do we find a balance?

That’s the question. Its easy to say Moderation is the answer, but how to we moderate? The hell if I know.

A Day in Paradise

Haven’t we always wondered what happens in the world? How do birds fly? What makes it rain? What’s the need of a catch basin? OK pause. Judging by the desperate nature of the examples, you would’ve figured that this is an unwanted intro to something completely different. You’re not all that wrong.

Like the questions, we also have one burning question inside us. How are laws made? The easy answer is: we as people elect our representatives through elections, these representatives come up with ideas that could improve our lives. Once an elected representative (most often but not always is a part of the government in power) comes up with something, he/she then tables (floats/pitches etc) the idea in the parliament, where the rest of the representatives (both from the govt and opposition) take an objective look at it, study it and come up with questions and amendments to the proposed idea. Sometimes this results in lengthy debates, setting up on committees for further studies and finally when everyone is satisfied with the amount of debating, the proposal – also called a bill is subjected to a vote and if the bill passes the vote, then does the idea become a law? Well not exactly, but this is the first step – Ok what are the other steps then? We’ll take that up some other day – but just to remind you, this was in your secondary school civics text books.

So, what is this blog about?

This blog is about taking a look at whether it is really all that simple. Do laws just get ‘tabled’ in the parliament, debated upon and passed into being laws or does something else happen? Let’s look at one day – hence the cheesy title – A Day in Paradise. For our purpose, I’ve taken up 4th July 2019 as a case for our study. Now let’s dive in – there will be technical terms and ‘governmental’ or ‘parliamentary’ jargon what we’ll try to define in simple terms as we move along.

Business

Business in our terms means agenda. It is the list of activities that are planned for a day’s work in the parliament. The Business is generally published 2 days in advance and in case of revisions, a revised List of Business is published and shared with the members of the parliament. I’m not sure if all the ministers coming to the parliament go through this before coming but its published as a matter of practice and standards.

Here’s the gist of what was going to be the business of the day for 4th July 2019: But first lets just understand what the different things mean

  1. Questions
    • Any questions to be asked of any member of parliament – these needs to separately listed and made available to the said member of parliament so as to be able to prepare and answer the question.
  2. Papers to be laid on the table
    • These are basically reports or notifications that any member of parliament wants to bring to the notice of the parliament. Once a paper is placed on the table, it may be brought up in discussions in the parliament (also called the house) or in general cases it is just a point of information for the house. Eg: certain XYZ Report has been produced by the ministry of oil and gas based on a study done on all oil refineries on the east coast of India.
  3. Messages:
    • Messages from either of the houses to each other or from the different state heads or the president that needs to be relayed in the parliament.
  4. Statements
    • Ministers or committee members can raise a request to make a statement in the parliament, these requests are taken by the speaker and based on merits and discretion provided a slot to make the statement.
  5. Motions:
    • Basically a topic or a line of thought that any member of parliament wants to bring out in the house and start a debate and discussion or come to consensus about a past discussion or debate.
  6. Resolutions:
    • It is a kind of coming to a decision about a certain topic, or bill or business of the house. Best explained with an example. The Finance minister can move to bring a resolution on changing the Duty on say computers from 10% to 20%. Now this isn’t a law or something that will amend a law, but it is something of importance to the nation and hence needs to get an approval from the parliament. Hence the minister will move for a resolution and the house will vote aye or nay for or against the resolution.
  7. Legislative Business
    • The thing that we thought was the main business of the parliament – making laws. These are basically laws and bills that are not yet laws that a minister may bring up for creation or amendment. These bills once brought up can either be taken up for debate and discussion or be brought up for the vote.
  8. Matters under rule 377
    • Matters of business that don’t fall into any of the other mentioned categories

Now the table above talks numbers, but what are the questions raised? Are any of them really really important to the nation and how did the concerned member/minister respond to the question? What are  the messages replayed in house? What were the motions submitted? And was there a debate on the said motion? How was the bill passes? Was there a debate? The things we see on TV, the ruckus and commotion, can we capture that? Well truth be told, all the commotion and ruckus is also captured and is there for everyone to see.

For starters, the happenings in the parliament are all on record. Secondly most of it is video recorded and available on the TV channels LSTV and RSTV. The video recordings of these parliamentary sessions is also available on the websites of the loksabha and rajyasabha. The websites of Loksabha and Rajyasabha also have PDFs of all the documents that you need to look up. The list of business, the questions, the bulletins, the debates and the speeches held on the floor of the house.

The objective of this blog post was not to bring out what happened in the parliament. Its to give the reader a general idea of what happens and that our parliament has enabled us as citizens to look for and find all the information about the happenings of the legislative arm of our democracy.

Since there is hardly a fortnight left in the current session of the parliament, Dr. Timepass will compile data of the business of the house in these 2 weeks and do some qualitative review. Come back again by the weekend to see what happened in the lower house of the Indian parliament this week and what we at Dr. Timepass make of it.

~*~

Documents used for this Blog:
1. LS List of Businesses – 4th July
2. LS Bulletin Part 1 – 4th July
3. LS Questions – 4th July
4. Papers to be laid on the Table – 4th July

BMTC – Illusioned to Fail

BMTC – Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation has always been one of my favorite things about Bangalore. In fact, the public transport of a city plays a major role in forming the culture of a city. Be it the trams and cabs of Kolkata or the locals and kali peelis of Mumbai or BMTC in Bangalore. This blog comes in the wake of the Chief Minister’s announcement to cut services in the city to reduce losses.

The CM of Karnakata, HD Kumaraswamy came out with an announcement that the only way to reduce the losses of BMTC is to reduce the lossy AC buses. These AC buses have a shortage in users and hence are not pulling their weight. The commuter community reacted with disappointment and said this was a stupid decision and the government was drawing short sighted conclusions.

BMTC before its separation and rebranding in 1997 was called BTS and affectionately called Bitre Tirga Sigalla by Bangaloreans. The BTS was known for its scanty service. BMTC was an attempt to breathe new life into the failing public transportation service. It started with acquiring fresh capital and equipment. The government of the day pumped money knowing well that it was a going down the drain.

The turnaround happened in the second half of the 2000s. By 2006-07 BMTC had emerged as a unicorn in India’s public transport services. The period between 2006 and 2010 can be termed as the period when BMTC reached its peaks in profits and popularity.

The measures taken were not simple. Money was added, people were hired and a lot of new services were added. New buses, improved bus conditions, Digital marquee displays, bus stop announcements, and the addition of all the different new kinds of service.

This was the time when BMTC went on an expansion spree, they launched the AC bus service, the airport bus service, the pass bus, women’s bus, the training bus, Janti vahini – double coach, hospital bus service, BIG 10 bus service, MBS – long route buses, and special high frequency bus services on specific route, patron engagement campaigns like Bus Day and the launch of the MyBMTC App. One can wonder what happened to all these plans. One by one, many of them gave way.

Recently it was announced that BMTC has reported a loss of 300 crores for the FY 2018-19. Why? How? How did the unicorn of public transport just 10 years ago start losing money? On closer observation, it becomes clear that the unicorn has been bleeding for quite some time.

While BMTC made success and reported profits in the first decade of the millennium, at the turn of 2010, the drive to innovate and upstart started drying and the objective was to capitalize on the investments made. The prices of bus service in Bangalore has always been higher in comparison to cities like Chennai or Hyderabad or Mumbai, the patrons were OK with paying the fare. It could be because of the lack of alternatives or the fact that historically the economic divide has been better off in Bangalore.

The arrival of Namma metro, Ola and Uber, rental bikes and cars may have played a small role, but looking at the growth rate of the city, all these are not enough to handle to 9 Million residents of Bangalore. In fact in any city in India we face this problem, the growth is faster than the availability of infrastructure – but that story is for another day, let’s stay focused on BMTC.

Traffic

So why now did BMTC start losing money? BMTC like everyone is Bangalore is a victim of the ever-growing menace of traffic. The city’s roads are filled with 45 Lakh 2 wheelers and 13 Lakh private cars, in comparison, the 6000 odd buses that ply though the city are doing a commendable job in ferrying public in the city of 9 Million people. The exponential growth in traffic means the turnaround time for buses goes up.  A 25 Km trip to Whitefield from Majestic – which is one of the kinder routes, takes nearly 2 hours. How many trips can a driver make in his designated 8-hour shift? Not more than 3.

Fuel

Public transport corporations are notorious when it comes to revising fares based on the fuel prices. BMTC is no different, it did this as it pleased, every change in fuel price was warmly welcomed with equivalent fare revisions. The revisions also affected bus passes, daily passes that costed  ₹ 20  when they first came out, now costs no less than 70. BMTC also periodically reduced the fares if there was a price drop in the fuel market. But as one can expect, they were far and few.

Fares

The idea of cutting loses by reducing the service routes is the general knee jerk reaction. MTC, the bus service in Chennai does this often – but it couldn’t be a good example to talk about as the MTC is not a profit-making body. In fact, there are very few public run bus services that can be compared to BMTC. How then can BMTC make a second turnaround? Definitely not by cutting services – maybe by redesigning the routes?

MTC Fairs – Bus service in Chennai

A 2017 blog post comparing the different RTC’s paints an informative picture about the state of Bus fares across the country. It is important to note, none of the RTC’s are making a profit.

ServiceRegularAC Service
BEST – Mumbai720
BMTC – Bangalore615
MTC – Chennai315
PMPML – Pune5
DTC – Delhi2.55

Since Namma Metro entered the scene of public transport in Bangalore, the BMTC has reduced its fares. This cut has been across the board, including long distance route on AC buses. If a passenger pays 80 rupees for a 25 Km distance that the bus takes 2 hours to complete, it’s hardly surprising that the bus is losing money. Today the average mileage of BMTC is 3 Km per liter and one liter of diesel costs around ₹ 65.  This comes up to ₹ 500-550 per trip, this should be easy to recover. Considering it is traveling on a long distance and hence the number of passengers using the bus should offset the sad mileage.

Politics

The CM of the state announced that BMTC would redistribute the costly AC buses to other RTC’s owned by the state in the north. While this is a move to ‘cut the losses’ Bangalore’s need says quite the opposite. The Bengaluru Bus Prayaanikara Vedike in its research says Bangalore needs at least 3000 more buses to cater the public transport needs.  One might say there is no place on the roads to add these buses, but as we’ve seen already, of the 65 lakh vehicles on the streets of Bangalore, there are only 6000 buses. Hence adding more buses could actually bring down the other vehicles.

So where does this leave us?

  1. Don’t cut bus services – they don’t affect traffic and they will help the public better
  2. Recalculate and reroute AC bus routes
  3. Don’t reduces bus fares for AC buses – metro is not a competition  
  4. Reduce bus fares for normal buses – they will help the public
  5. Real estate game – building TTMC’s was not a master stroke, may cut your losses here and stop the real-estate game
  6. Non Operational income – ad revenues needs a new strategy, renting of buses to private parties and renting of parking space can be made into a lucrative non operational income – this needs work

Most importantly, don’t just call BMTC to have failed before attempting to revive it.

~*~

PS: Unfortunately I haven’t been able to cover the income generated via the non-operational activities like advertising, leasing and renting of buses, parking, and private party renting. Perhaps an addendum will come up shortly.

Also read: BMTC – Pocket full of Sunshine

Novice Poker Effect

Re-post from 1st Dec, 2013

It had been a while since I had been sent out of a classroom… the last time this happened, I think It was in the OOPs lab in 2008. Teachers wouldn’t get offended that easily in UVCE I guess, anyway it was an interesting class of rural marketing and I seemed to be interested, but sadly I was caught fiddling with the phone and making some kinda tattoo on my hand. The teacher took offence at it and pushed me out of the class. But what I was googling about was the Myths involved in Rural Marketing. I’m not gonna bore you with what I found.

Something I remember from class held my attention for a long time. The prof had said ‘One of the biggest myths about rural marketing is that the marketers think that rural buyers don’t ask many questions, in fact they ask more questions than urban buyers, they are smarter than the urban buyer. They sometimes ask questions that seem silly and make you laugh, but we fail to find answers to such questions and that’s what makes rural marketing more challenging.’

Yes, we’ve heard this being said a lot of times. It’s almost a cliche. But something doesn’t fit right, does it? How could rural buyers with less exposure and information about what’s happening be harder to outsmart? Why would they be harder to sell to? Why do they ask harder questions? Why are they tougher to convince? Do they know what we’re trying to do from before? Not really. I like to call it, The Novice Poker Effect.

It happened roughly 2 years ago; out of boredom I decided to teach my cousin how to play poker and tried to play him a little. I couldn’t read him, I couldn’t bluff him, I thought he bluffed when he played simple and I obviously lost. The reason is simple. A novice poker player is not playing you, he is just playing his cards. It’s the same with Rural Marketing, a rural buyer is just playing what’s on his cards, he isn’t bothered about what or why a marketer is trying to sell. 

We could conclude that a rural buyer is not smart; he’s just like a novice poker player. Hard to read, hard to pick up trends and hard to know what he wants. It’s this Novice Poker Effect that makes us think a rural buyer is smart. If we understand that the rural buyer just looks at things from his side and doesn’t try anything fancy against him, we would succeed. 

So to round it up, learn to play poker with a kid, maybe you’ll excel in rural marketing.

~*~

Original Post – Novice Poker Effect

AES Outbreak – Indian Outburst

As of 26th June, the death toll has crossed 140 and the total number of reported cases in Muzaffarpur has crossed 600. As the death toll mounts and children continue to die, we still find ourselves at square one. We don’t know what is causing these infections, we don’t know what type of AES it is, we have no clue of when it might stop, and we most certainly have no answers from the government at the state or at the center.

The district of Muzaffarpur has been at the receiving end of these outbreaks since 1995. There have been multiple commissions and research benches trying to get to the bottom of this, but none of them have turned up with usable knowledge. This form of encephalitis happens every year in Bihar, in 2014, as many as 355 lives were lost due to this disease. Although we have not yet identified the cause of this outbreak which has now become a periodic activity, the number of fatalities had started reducing post 2014 due to health awareness programs initiated by the government. Why then has it gone so bad this year?

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
143 355 11 4 11 7

While the news first broke in the first week June, well, let’s be honest, there was hardly any news coverage since it was election season, even so, there was no clue of it escalating so fast. Soon the fever rose – quite literally, and everyone was talking about what’s happening in Muzaffarpur and why so many children are dying.

While the usual question arose of why this is happening, doctors and researchers started looking for answers that was already at hand – some started by saying AES is a very broad term and can mean too many things, ‘we need more information’, they attributed it to the weather – hot and humid weather conditions, and then the fact that most of the patients are malnourished children from poverty ridden families, and the most atrocious argument – litchi.

ICU of a Public Healthcare facility

Our researchers blamed a fruit. That’s right. Apparently raw litchi has chemicals called Hypoglycin-A or MCPG which can cause hypoglycemic conditions that in turn triggers the symptoms of AES. The argument made sense first as we were dealing with the litchi bowl of India and poor families who might resort to eating litchis due to the lack of availability of a proper meal. As time passed and sanity descended, this argument was termed atrocious because quite a large number of children were too young to eat litchis and the fact that the litchi season was already over – which leaves the weather, malnutrition and the living conditions as the possible causes.

But do we really need to care about the cause? Doctors would know that many times we can’t really isolate the problem, but we go about having a general idea of the problem and the various measures we take helps solve the problem without us having put a finger on it. Would it be too much to ask to forget about the cause and concentrate on the treatment?

This brings us to another problem. How to treat and Whom to treat? The two medical facilities in the district are brimming with patients. One bed has 2 children lying on it, and the floors of the ICU’s are occupied by patients. One simple course of treatment is just hooking up the patient on glucose – for this, the poorly equipped hospital is struggling to make ends meet. There are not enough IV sets, not enough glucose, not enough staff to administer the treatments. Who is to blame here? I’m not looking for someone or a reason to place blame, but this needs to stop.

In the days that followed, the Indian politicians were barely questioned, though the CM or Bihar and the health minister visited the district, there was no respite. Poor children kept pouring into the facilities, and the facilities just had no facilities! The doctors were pulling in 18-20 hour shifts and yet there was no respite. The mainstream media conveniently forgot to question the politicians, the medical officer – who in his own words had been transferred just 2 months back pointed the finger to the lack of awareness programs. He said, we know this happens, but we don’t know why it’s happening, only way to stop this is by creating awareness and raise the general standard of sanitation and living. He also pointed out that due to the election, the health awareness programs were not run as efficiently as they were run in the previous years – this is truly disturbing.

Speaking of the media, it sunk to a new low when anchors kept parading into the ICU of the SKMCH with cameras and other media equipment and started heckling and bellowing at the top of their voices over the doctors. One journalist even went so far as to ask a doctor “how many children died today” is she being a hero by asking pointed questions? Where is this grit and candor when it comes to asking questions to the politicians? The role of media in this whole charade has been appalling.

The fever like all fevers will run its course, it will just leave a bad memory and a number behind.  Is this what we want? Have we as a society become so used not caring? Should no one be brought to book? Well actually no, there has been a suspension of a poor lowly doctor for negligence. Really? Just days ago, we were talking about and going gaga over how badly doctors are treated and practically everyone was one with the IMC for calling an all India doctor’s strike, and suddenly doctors are the villains?

Media Reaction

There is no easy fix to this problem, we don’t have a cause, and hence we need to live with the reality that this AES has become a recurring yearly ordeal. We can only reduce the intensity by employing preventive measures like awareness programs, government nutrition programs, capacity management at health care facilities and some basic level of accountability in each of us as politicians, or media or the general public. But as we learn to live with this problem, let us not misdirect our anger and frustration at the doctors or the weather or a fruit.

~*~

Part 3: Jaisalmer – The Town

Jaisalmer is called the golden City. Just like Jaipur is called the pink city and Jodhpur called the blue city. The names come from the general colour theme of the city. Here in Jaisalmer, most houses are painted gold, in fact it’s not paint, it’s the colour of the stones used in construction. On our list of things to see, we had the Jaisalmer fort and the Gadisar lake. Our list was mostly curated from online research and you can probably guess that things didn’t go per plan.

Jaisalmer Fort

We set off from our desert camp after breakfast and reached the Jaisalmer fort in half an hour. There is no special place for parking, so we parked on the street against the wall of the fort. As soon as we parked and started walking towards the fort we were hounded by guides and auto drivers who wanted us to show around. As the natural response we shoo-ed them off and started walking in a general direction towards the fort. Soon after, we gave it a little thought and decided to hire a guide – and it really did pay off.

Jaisalmer Markets

The guide, like most guides spoke many languages including ours. He walked at a brisk pace and simultaneously spoke of the history of the fort. The Jaisalmer fort is the only living fort, meaning there are people who live in the fort. About 3000 families reside inside the fort, since the fort was actually a garrison of a king, the aids and support staff of the king also lived inside the fort. As generations passed, the property was passed down, and even after all royal families lost their property to the union of India, the servants of the king still retained their properties within the fort. Today, these homes sport small stores and cafes. The cafes, handicrafts, leather bags and boots, souvenir shops and numerous clothing stores all have a hippy vibe around it.

The Live Fort

The guide  showed us a tall building which was supposed to be the seat of the king. For some unexplained reason, this building was out of bounds for tourists. He then took us to two temples. First the Lakshinath temple, which was a Hindu temple. It was bustling with tourists, but like any Hindu temple, yet the priest managed to give every visitor the holy water and an orange-red tika on the forehead – and tried to subtly ask for donations. Moving on we were taken to the more famous Jain temple within the fort, the Chandraprabhu Jain temple dedicated to Sambhavanatha – the third Jain tirthankara. Though the King was a Hindu Rajput, he had sanctioned to build this Jain temple as a major section of his subjects were Jains. Mobiles phones are not allowed in this temple, hence some of us waited outside while one party went inside with the guide. This temple was a little quieter, but was just as crowded. The guide went on to tell us about the history of how the temple came into being – which we conveniently let fly past our heads and we were immersed in the beautiful yellow and white stoned architecture. We did pick up on his theory of how to identify the different idols based on the animal inscription at the base of the idol.

Chandraprabhu Jain temple

Post the temple visits we took a small break to appreciate the different souvenir shops and indulged in buying a few fridge magnets – our guide suddenly got protective of us and told us not to buy anything as these were the markets for the “foreigners” and he would take us to a trusted shop which had legit merchandise all made by widowed and estranged women. Perhaps he had a cut?

The last stop in the fort is a high view point on the wall of the fort. It has a view of the town beneath it and has an old canon on display. Like everyone else, we took photos, many photos, and then reluctantly moved on as there were more people wanting to take photos. The view point also had a few home-turned cafes with some elegant rustic furniture – we could’ve ventured into some of those – at least to get good color graded photos – but we moved on as we still had to see the Patwao ki Haveli, do shopping, have lunch and all this in 2 hours – impossible. We were in Jai-sal-mer!

The Patwao ki Haveli has an interesting story behind it. Apparently the Patwas were a normal struggling trader family trying to set up business in the city. The priest at the Jain temple in the fort had prophesied that the Patwas would be more successful if they left Jaisalmer. So the family left the town and in time became one of the biggest and richest names in the province. They set up many businesses including fabrics, finance, opium and precious stones. They made a fortune and after some time made a come back into the city. The father partitioned his wealth among his 5 sons who set up their own mansions each facing the fort. As fate would have it, their fortunes turned again and they starting losing money and market. Fearing the generation old prophecy, the family fled the town a second time leaving the mansions in the name of the town. Today the mansion has been turned into a museum and is open to public. A nominal fee of 15 rupees is charged for the ticket. Cameras and phones are allowed inside at no extra charge

A tricycle used by the children of the Patwas

Finally, it was time for shopping. We were literally salivating at when we would get to shop. The fort and the places around it are literally brimming with things one can buy. With simple tourist merchandised t-shirts to designer hand made fabrics, bed sheets and table cloths to ancient looking antique metals and porcelain articles. The leather articles were also really attractive. Orange-brown leather bags, satchels, wallets, shoes and sandals were all really tempting. Not all leather articles are camel leather as they also sold goat leather bags – which also looked orange in color and were just as stylish. We shops for cloths – mostly for friends and family. Some of us indulged in buying the holy looking(read hippy) cloths that foreigners buy to feel Indian. Some of the sarees are so silky and light that they could be packed into a small soap box – of course they are also very expensive.

Camel and Goat Leather

We said our goodbyes to the guide and paid him his due – which felt really easy as he had told us a lot of stuff and we really enjoyed his knowledge and company. The guides here are government certified and sport a badge that has a seal and an ID. He charged us just 500 rupees for spending almost 3 hours with us. We took an auto back to the fort entrance where we had parked our cars. A North Indian vegetarian lunch wqs followed by the long ride to Jodhpur in the dark.

Next up – Part 4: Jodhpur – The Blue City

Also Read
Part 2: Jaisalmer – The Desert
Part 1: Rajasthan – The Land

~*~

Part 2: Jaisalmer – The Desert

Jaisalmer has to be right up there! one of the most beautiful experiences in India. The dunes, the vastness of the desert, the chilly night and the beautiful buzzing fort of Jaisalmer all of this is a package to experience once before you die.

Our tour started in an early morning flight to Ahmedabad. The flight took less than 3 hours to reach Ahmedabad, just before sun rise. Since it was January, the early morning was cold, we had to wait for the rentals for an hour or so at the airport and since it was our first brush with hiring rentals, we were extra cautious, making sure the agent knew the bents and scratches on the car.

We had 2 good-looking hybrid SUVs to ourselves for the next 5 days to drive through the great Thar desert of India. Our first drive was the longest – from Ahmedabad to Jaisalmer. This was about 600 Km and google said it would take us 9 hours to get there. We strapped in started by 7 AM as the early morning Gujaratis came out for their morning routines. Ahmedabad is beautiful, the main roads are big and wide, there is a separate bus lane in the center of the road and the autos here also are green and yellow. They have a very different meter – like a water usage meter. it looked like it needed some manual winding and showed distance/fare in digits, not sure how the driver read it, but we couldn’t figure it out.

https://youtu.be/J5yHbeirZMM

We drove two hours on the route showed by google before we started feeling hungry. We stopped at a small town on the way called Mehsana at a road site cafe that was surprisingly so well decorated that it could pass off for a quint cafe in one of the bigger cities. We had refreshing Poha and tea there and pressed on. Of course, there was dosa also available and some of us did indulge in the Gujarati take on dosa – not bad at all.

The roads were wonderful, but it was clear to us that we were in the dry lands. There was no sand, but large areas of barren hard brown ground passed us. If you are not from this part of the country, you are generally used to seeing agricultural lands or forest run past your window – not here in Gujarat – Rajasthan. By 2 PM we crossed into Rajasthan, paid the state toll for our rentals and moved on. Rajasthan initially was similar, except the change in the script of the sign boards and ads. More turban clad people and more desert vegetation. The first sighting of a Peacock crossing the road had us excited but then sighting Camels and Peacocks became common.

https://youtu.be/rMi2MCyAwNA

We also saw Army equipments being transported on the route – which again got us excited.

Without further breaks we entered the city of Jaisalmer. Like any tourist spot in was buzzing with vehicles and petty shops. Our accommodation – the Winds Desert Camp was about 30 Km out of the town and into the desert. It was already dark and well past 8. Some of us were starting to get scared of the vastness of the void. Every sign board seemed like a ghost until we started seeing huge white creatures that were sure to be ghosts – luckily they were the wind mills – wind energy producing turbines along which they had built out desert camp.

The Desert camp is a place in the middle of the desert, and your room is a tent – made of fabric and the bathroom is just another partition in the fabric. The tents though not sound proof had all conceivable amenities – lights, fans, furniture, porcelain and brass bathroom fittings, numerous plug points and what seemed like a heater/cooler. And not to mention clean sheets and blankets along with hard wood flooring.

We were welcomed to the open air theater where they had organised a performance by native folk artists who sang songs and performed native folk dance forms to entertain the guests. There were a couple more groups with us. The show was good, including the servings of assorted starters and a mini bar that served hard liquor. After the outdoor entertainment performance in the bitter cold of the desert we were ushered to the indoor dining room for dinner. We ate well – there was standard north Indian veg spread along with the native daal bati. We had a scrumptious dinner and planned for the next morning. The camel safari and the safari on the dunes was included in our hotel package so we just confirmed our numbers and the time to start – it was going be an open jeep.

The morning was chilly, the jeep driver, like all drivers was complaining we would miss things if we didn’t leave soon. He was right, the sun rise wasn’t going to wait for us was it? We hopped into the Jeep and he tore into the desert. We clung to each other as music blasted from the speakers and freezing cold desert winds were blowing our heads off. When we went off road we saw the awesomeness of desert dune riding. The jeep fell and sank into the sand as the driver kept on accelerating. It was like riding a boat, one side you’re going up and on the other the jeep is sinking in the sand. He brought us to the sun rise view point and complained a little. We saw the desert sun, massaged to heat ourselves and took the many photos.

Just when we had begun relaxing, the driver barked at us to get on the jeep. We still had the camel ride. We got on, sailed through the ups and downs of a couple more dunes before we were brought back onto level ground. That’s where the camels came out. They were beautifully decorated and were buck toothed. They didn’t stink as much as they are generally known to stink in pop culture. Two people were made to sit on a camel and once all of us had found a seat, the man – one single man leading 4 camels made a sounds with his mouth and the camels rose. The first time a camel rises is no short of an experience on a roller coaster. The camel stands its hind legs first while standing up, hence the unexpected and sudden rise from the back feels surreal. Once it starts walking – in its camel like wonky walk, you start to feel like you are constantly being thrust forwards. If you don’t find a comfortable posture then the ride is going to be a nightmare. We rode the camels for 10 minutes before we stopped for some photos, another 10 minute ride and we were in the middle of nowhere, its where he asked us to get down and take as many photos as we wanted. We did. On our way back many more camel men came and offered us to make camels race – none of us were interested – either we were scared of the menacing visuals of a running camel or had had enough of the camels – city dwellers right?

Our ride was waiting for us as we made our way back to the starting point of the camel joint. It was around 8:30 AM, some of us had a cup of chai while shivering in the bitter morning chills. We got back to the camp, washed ourselves up and got down to the complimentary breakfast. It was an all vegetarian spread with omelettes made available on demand. Along with the side, there was a special green veggie called desert beans, this was supposed to a specialty of Jaisalmer – it was a little less succulent, but was longer.

We paid up, and said our goodbyes – we had a tight day ahead of us – see Jaisamler fort, shop, have lunch and leave for Jodhpur which was going to be a 6 hour drive. Target time – 2 PM. Time we actually left 4 PM.

Next up:
Part 3: Jaisalmer – The Town

~*~