Part 4: Jodhpur

The Blue City

Google maps is a life saver. It helps lost souls find their way. But on a bad day it can easily go the other way. We left from Jaisalmer just as the sun had started going down. It had thus far been a great day. Good places, good people and great food of Jaisalmer had left us wanting. But as plans go, we had to move on. Next stop Jodhpur – the Blue city. We were eager to get to Jodhpur, and in our eagerness made the one mistake that made subjected us to one of the hardest commutes we’d seen so far. We turned on google maps destined to Jodhpur while still in Jaisalmer city limits.

The Wrong Way

The main route taken to reach Jodhpur is the one that goes via Chandan, Pokhran and Dechu. This is a 4 lane highway and has tolls on the way. I’m not sure what google thought of us but she showed us a non-toll route that went through the countryside and maybe even through a forest. It was a single road – just two lanes with no clear onward and return sides. Over that we have a bizarre incidence where saw the carcass of a cow or some big animal like a deer or a camel right in the middle of the road. We slowed down, there was no one on the road, no vehicles, no homes, no people, just that carcass. Maybe it was a trap laid to get us? We didn’t stop, didn’t click photos, just escaped.

As on the previous day, we reached Jodhpur in the middle of the night. Our hotel had a wonderful view of the Mehrangarh fort, but sadly that meant the hotel was 125 feet below the fort and right in the center of the town – a town of narrow streets and open drains. It was frustrating enough that the hotel wasn’t perfectly pinned on google, but the midnight traffic was what got us really riled up. At 1 AM in the mid night people are riding around in their bikes at top speed! It was insane, insanity that we endured and finally found the hotel. It was a residential building modified into a hotel, and the promised parking was on the road – which our expert drivers struggled to mitigate.

Our day started with a visit to the central clock tower. Natives called it the Ghanta Ghar. It’s a tall tower in trade mark Jodhpuri architecture. The tower is surrounded by markets on 3 sides, including street markets that sold cloths, leather articles, plastic and wooden toys and a lot of things that looked like souvenirs for tourists. There isn’t much to talk or appreciate about the clock tower except that its a popular local land mark and though its right in the middle of the street, it makes for some decent photos.

Next on the list, the Mehrangarh fort. The fort itself is an awe inspiring site. The lofty towers, the thick walls and the shade of age on them makes it as imposing as it can get. There is another monument called Jaswant Thada close to it. It’s practically in the same premises as fort but very tranquil and serene in comparison to the fort. Given the fact that the monument is basically a place built to offer homage to the kings gone by, it is practically a tomb, just that there are no dead bodies in the place – perhaps because they were all hindu kings. There inner hall of the monument has photos and biographies of the kings, and is surrounded by a quite garden with bougainvillea trees and a serene lake on the outside. We saw a couple are artists trying to sketch the monument, so we stood for a while to catch them in action. It is said the Thada continues to serve as the cremation ground for the royal family. One of the interesting and humorous things about the place was the numerous No Selfie Zone signs.

The Mehrangarh fort has huge entryways and huge double doors which would’ve made for beautiful photos if not for the never ending hoards of people. There were also school trips and pilgrims among the crowd. Like most forts and palaces, this is also a huge museum. The exhibits can be categories as pictures of royalty, models depicting battles and other history, armoury of the royal army, and a special section of the museum dedicated just to the turbans! The fort has long corridors lined with photos, and a lot of rooms showcasing all the different remnants of the royal family and their lifestyle. There were numerous gift shops and other pop up shops in the fort. Rajasthani poppets, cotton cloths, turbans, exhotic metal utensis among other things.

The fort also housed a temple of ma chamunda devi. It is said that one of the kings of the province was a devotee of the goddess and had made the temple in the fort premises. The temple is in the compound of the fort, but is to be approached via the roof. The roof in itself is a showcase. It houses numerous canons of different time periods and makes for good photos. The view of the city from the roof top reminds us why this is called the Blue city.

Jodhour is known for its sweets. Jalebis, Ghewars, barfis and laddoos of a million kind. Unfortunately we had no time hunting down authentic places to eat as the fort had taken up nearly 3 hours and it was almost 2 PM. Sticking to our ambitions plan meant we would have to leave the city in less than 2 hours if we were to reach Jaipur before nightfall. We did find a Haldirams and ordered some delicious Raj Kachori to end our day in Jodhpur on a sweet note.

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PS: We missed the Umaid Bhavan palace. Though the palace is visible from Jaswant Thada, its not like actually visiting the place, is it?

A Girl in Red

It was the weirdest part of the trip. What was supposed to be a 4 nights 5 days trip in the himalayas was gonna go wrong. OK calm yourself, no one died, no one broke anything and no one was lost.


It so happened that my company had taken on a stupid stupid client and we were trying make a lending software for this hard nosed stupid ass. I was the BA leading the calls and I messed up. Well, that’s another story, maybe for another day, but for now there was a stupid stupid client that I couldn’t drop and I was in the Himalayas.

With regret I had told my guys I was gonna stay back in Mcleodganj. The initial plan was to drive up to Manali from Mcleodganj, try skiing and any other adventure sports available and maybe play in the snow! But I couldn’t. So the guys went ahead to on the trip and I stayed back alone in the hotel room with my laptop. There was no heating in the room and there was no room service in the hotel.

The guys left for Manali early in the morning, at around 5:30 AM. I just woke up to see them off and went back to bed. No one was gonna be in office before 10. I don’t need to log in at 5:30 to prove anything. To my pleasant surprise, when I woke up by 9:30 AM, there was snow! It had started snowing in Mcleodganj in the 4 hours that I had been asleep since the guys left! The gods must really like me to have made it snow so that I didn’t miss seeing snow! It was the first time I saw snow in my life and it did feel new and fresh and unique. I walked out to the front porch of the hotel and stepped on the snow. Took a couple of steps and turned around to see my foot steps in the snow. The feeling was surreal. I had just taken 3 steps on flat ground in front of the hotel and it got me excited. So weird!

The kids who were manning the hotel started playing in the snow. A couple of them started making snowballs and throwing at each other. The 3rd kid wrote a girl’s name in the snow and was taking selfies with it. They were not kids per say, they might’ve been 18-20 years old but they were playing in the snow like they were 8 year olds! Snow is the beach of the highlanders I suppose.

I asked if breakfast was available, there was nothing in the hotel. Not even noodles or eggs or bread or even chai. I was asked to walk down to a small town center, a center circle like the town plaza which had a line of shops. I decided to take the chance. It’s not like I was hungry, but I liked the snow and a walk in the snow and a spicy fried egg seemed more inviting than drafting lengthy unconvincing mails.

I wore literally all the cloths I had with me. I hadn’t packed mustang, so I wore my thermal inners, 3 layers of cloths on top and then the only jacket I had. Gloves, socks, shoes and the cap too. I started walking down, the snow wasn’t think and since it was the first day of snow, there was no frost and it was easy to walk. I walked down to the plaza and found a neat eaterie. It had colorful interiors and looked like a library cafe. I picked up a political magazine, quite an anomaly in the otherwise “love all – no boundary nation ” theme of the cafe.

As I walked in I noticed there was no one else in the cafe. I was afraid I was gonna be turned down, but thankfully not. Another 18-19 or 20ish kid came up and took my order. I ordered a masala egg and cup of hot latte. He wrote it down, turned on the music to loud blast, gave me smile and ran down. It felt good, I was important. Perhaps in the himalayas when there is snow and bad weather all around, even a single customer ordering a single egg is important.

I ate my egg slowly sipping the latte. It had stopped snowing and there was noise outside. It was a Monday, so children had started going out to school. Few other eateries started playing music and other shops and establishments started opening up. Each with one or two guests.

A few kids, again 20ish kids had started playing cricket in what looked like a small park. There were some younger kids and some older ones. In fact the older ones were the kids who were running these cafes. They all played together but ran different cafes. Seems strange at first, but guess that’t the life in mountains.

I walked back to my room shivering in the snow. A girl in a red knee length coat was walking down towards the plaza. She was alone and didn’t look like a tourist. Our eyes locked, I nodded as a way of wishing the morning and she gave me a smile. I never saw her again, but the memory of this split second exchange of warmth still keeps me warm on cold lonely nights.

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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

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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

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Part 1: Rajasthan the Land

Rajasthan is the largest Indian state by land area and the seventh largest by population. It is the state of princely kingdoms in the great Thar desert of the Indian subcontinent. Rajasthan is an ancient land dating back to days of the Indus Valley civilization. As time rolled on, the region’s history has interwoven with the colorful history of India. The current shape and dimensions of the state are an effect of the States Re-organisation Act, 1956, but it took a lot, I mean a lot of work to get there. In fact, it is said the unification of Rajasthan happened in 7 stages, and 18 kingdoms together united to form the state as we see now.

The biggest cities that we identify with Rajasthan today are remnants of their respective kingdoms or princely states. Each of these big cities have their own culture, architecture, people and lifestyle – and they are beautiful. Huge forts and palaces, beautiful silent lakes and the all engulfing golden sand of the desert – makes anyone want to see this land once in their life. We were no different. ‘We’ are a group of friends who grew up together – some from preschool and some from college – but the friendship is strong and so is the desire to travel and experience the beauty of this diverse land called India.

Mehrangarh Fort

The plan was simple, – scratch that, there are no simple plans. For starters Rajasthan is a huge place and practically every district has a fort or a palace and a beautiful story to tell. How do we pick and choose in our 5 – day long trip? We broke our heads for hours, weekend poker nights ruined in the name of planning, hotels booked, and then cancelled, native Rajasthan friends and contacts pestered and then negated. All this and finally came up with something that was so tight that there were no time for sleep – at least not for the drivers. Come to think of it, we don’t regret it now – so Ill take you through our plans and other things that you can plan based on your time and convenience.

The Thar Desert

Modern day travel has become a lot easier with the availability of internet and capital. I remember the tours we took as a family, we looked for budget accommodations or religious institutions to stay in, read up on the bus and train facilities and always carried a map. Today we still carry maps, just that we aren’t as worried about finding budget hotels or dependent on public transport. We wanted freedom – freedom to accommodate our lazy ass attitudes – hence we decided the best way forward was hiring rental cars and find our own way using google maps.

Plan A

Plan A

Jaipur is the capital and the biggest city in Rajasthan. Naturally most trips start or end at Jaipur. Since we lived quite far from Rajasthan, travelling by air made most sense. We would fly to Jaipur, hire the rental cars, travel around Rajasthan and fly back from Jaipur – only that it didn’t feel right. This plan meant we would have to pass through both Jaipur and Ajmer twice – and we were not in favor of that. Like all middle class Indians we wanted to maximize our travel. Also this plan didn’t work out well because we had only 4 nights and 5 days.

Tigers at Ranthambore

Before going to the plan that we went with, lets take a look at the places in Rajasthan that are worth the visit.

  1. Jaipur – The Pink city: Palaces, forts, museums and the Hawa Mahal
  2. Jodhpur – The Blue city: Palaces and Forts
  3. Jaisalmer – The Golden city: Dunes of the Desert, Patwa haveli, the living Fort
  4. Ajmer – Darga of Khawaja Gharib Nawaz
  5. Udaipur – The White City: Palaces, Forts, Lakes, zip line, lake palace
  6. Pushkar – Temples, ponds, and other places of religious interest
  7. Chittorgarh – Asia’s largest fort, other palaces and forts
  8. Bhilwara – Forts, palaces and religious places of interest
  9. Mt Abu – Hill station in the desert, lakes, view points and temples
  10. Ranthambore National Park – Tiger reserve, animal safari
  11. Bhangarh – Historical ruins, haunted places

The above list is just a ‘top of the head’ categorical mentioning and each of them have so much more to offer. There are other places like Bikaner, Kota, Barmer, Pali, Baltora etc etc that have their own unique architecture and cultural offering for the enthusiastic traveler, but time and money are generally the determinants of how well the middle class travels.

Money

Its not The most important thing in a trip, but money is money, so we wanted to plan this trip at an affordable rate – that is at a max of 20% of the average monthly salary of the group. This needs to include the food, lodging, travel, fuel, shopping and any maintenance we would come across. It is during this discussion on Money that we found Jaipur may not be the best place to start our tip. Ahmadabad, which is the capital city of the neighboring state of Gujarat is a bigger city and offers lucrative deals on flights and rental cars. As per our calculations, it would cost us 2000 rupees less per person – a grand total of 16,000 lesser than the plan starting from Jaipur. Even with the state toll to pay and recalculated distance, we would save a cool 12,000 rupees. Hard to overlook such a delicious discount – hence we reworked our plan.

Plan B

With the new Plan, we had to drive a little longer, but we cut lose a few places on the Plan A. We voted for the following:

  1. Jaisalmer – obvious choice because its the only place that’s right in the middle of the desert and offers camel rides and dune safaris.
  2. Jodhpur – the place has the most famous fort – the Mehrangarh, other associated architecture and a famous Umaid bhawan Palace and a minor point that my cousin served at the Airforce Station in Jodhpur.
  3. Ajmer – the famous Khwaja Garib Nawaz darga that we really wanted to visit
  4. Jaipur – because, well its the capital of Rajasthan and has some of the most famous forts and palaces, including the Hawa mahal
  5. Udaipur – the coolest of all the desert kingdoms, the land of the lakes and palaces, and its just a 5 hour drive to Ahmedabad.
  6. Since we were flying to and from Ahmedabad we also wanted to see a few places in the city – this didn’t happen.

We saved a lot of money by changing the Start and End point from Jaipur to Ahmedabad. We could’ve saved a bit more if the rentals could be hired at Ahmedabad and signed off at Jaipur. Maybe it wasn’t available in 2018 and the times have changed now.

Below is a short video of the trip. We plan to cover all of this on the blog. Enjoy!


Next up:
Part 2: Jaisalmer – The Desert

Tour de North East

A comprehensive guide to my tour in the beautiful North East of India in the the December of 2018.

Part 1 – The shortlist
A brief about how to plan your North East trip. The NE has 8 states and many many beautiful places. How to pick and choose, and what we did

Planning be Legendary

Part 2 – The Big Cities
Write up on Guwahati and Shillong. The weather, public amenities, transport facilities available, economy, business, brands, tourism, people and culture.

Kamakhya Temple

Part 3 – Khasi hills of Meghalaya
Khasi is one of the three major tribes in Meghalaya. The Khasi hills are a geographic distinction in Meghalaya and is famous for the many tourist attractions including Cheerapunji and the many root bridges.

Tawang – Not in the trip

Part 4 – Dawki and Jaintia
Asia’s cleanest village, followed by a kayak ride on the river Dawki, Bangladesh border and stories of a 14 year old boat man by the sunset.

Part 5 – Nagaland
First visit to Nagaland, how to get there, legal requirements, history, tourism, transportation, people, language and culture.

The Hornbill Festival

Part 6 – The Naga Conversations
Myth busting conversations up close with the Nagas, demystifying pop culture beliefs and dogma about the Nagas. People, Language, culture and Food.

Bonus – Getting to Cheerapunji
Travel options from Shillong to Cheerapunji. Embarrassing true stories, Cab fares, Accommodation options and Deals.

Kanyamagufa is Real

In the October of 2017, for no reason at all I took a 12 year oath.

I will witness and experience the next 12 Pushkarams in the next 12 years.

Ok, first there’s a technical term in the vow. Pushkaram – let’s define that.

Pushkaram in it’s bare sense is a river festival. Rivers in India, and in most other ancient civilizations of the world are worshipped as the embodiment of a life giving and cradling spirit. Ofcourse we always go overboard with our conceptions. No one knows when the attitude of gratitude and befriended living turned into an overzealous superstition. Naturally the river festivals became more and more superstitious.

Or maybe not? I won’t take a scientific approach to rationalize it, but let me use some common sense. India has many rivers and we cant say we’ll just worship one or two, hence they created a formula. A 12 year cycle to worship 12 prominent rivers. And what’s the measure the time? The heavens!

Jupiter is said to take 12 years to make one full circle. So if Jupiter is in Libra now, it will come back to libra next in 12 years. And each year, one river gets a chance, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 rivers and 12 years. Makes perfect sense. Now I am not going to comment on the spiritual side of the story or the scientific side, because I’m neither a priest nor a scientist. I’m just an experiencer. So I experience. And hence the lofty vow.

Let’s take a few examples to drive this home.

In 2017 when Jupiter moved into Libra, the river Kaveri gets the Pushkaram – It’s river festival.

Next year, the next sign, the next Pushkaram. That is, in 2018 when Jupiter moves into Scorpio, the river Bhima gets the Pushkaram.

Like this, the cycle goes on for years. The hype is not about maintaining this complicated calculation or about anything over religious, but it’s about river cleaning and celebration. Ofcourse some of the Pushkarams like Ganga – also called the Kumbh – river Yamuna and river Godavari attract huge crowds – running into tens of millions – these invariably end up dirtying the river more than purifying it. But hey, it’s a celebration and an opportunity to cleanse ourselves.

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Phew! Now let’s get into Kanyamagufa. Oops, sorry it’s another technical term, its actually a mythical place in Micheal Crichton’s 1980 book called Congo. It’s the place of the bones.

In 2018, it was the turn of the river Bhima, which originates in the state of Maharashtra, flows into Karnataka and merges with the river Krishna in Telangana. I decided to go-to a small place – almost a suburb or Pune called Tulapur.

Tulapur is famous because it’s has the tomb of Sambhaji maharaj. He was the eldest son of the great Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of the Maratha Empire. The river Bhima flows through Tulapur and hence I decided to go there to witness the Pushkaram – this was a mistake.

I first paid my respects to Sambhaji Maharaj and cooled down for a while under the shade of a tamarind tree. It was high noon and it was hot. The group of foreigners were turning pink to red to orange. Apart from them there were also students, basically couples who wanted some time quite place to be with each other’s words. And – my favourite, a bunch of old grannys, they must’ve been easily over 70. They all had earthen pots of spiced butter milk that they sold for 10 rupees. They had no teeth, and spoke with me warmly in Marathi, either they were complaining of the heat or of something else, but they just laughed and smiled at me because I was nodding and they figured I wasn’t understanding a word. I said my goodbyes and asked for a photo, the granny declined and so I just paid and left for the river.

There was no Pushkaram, no fairs, no tents, no music, no carnival, no people, nor any water. The place is a meeting point of three Rivers: Bhima, Bhamma and Indrayani. I’m not sure if it was the season or the rivers are going dry everywhere, but Tulapur was dry. I could see shallow streams of water and soft shiny pebbles exposed on the river floor.

I decided to take a walk upstream in search of water, I was actually walking on the river when it happened. I noticed a few pieces of bones. I ignored and walked further upstream. More bones. Some dried flowers and bangles too. Now I was getting suspicious. Is this an old battle ground? Do we have the tomb here because it’s where Sambhaji died? In a battle?

Since there was no carnival there was nothing to experience, and thanks to the discovery of bones, I wasn’t going to take a “holy” dip in the Bhima either. I started walking back downstream towards the steps. The view of the tomb, temple and the tall chimneys made a beautiful frame, I clicked a couple of pictures and continued walking. I sat down at the foot of the stairs on the bank disappointed when I saw the priest, he turned around and asked something in Marathi. But I understood he was asking me if I wanted to perform someone’s last rites. Was I looking that disappointed?

That’s when I understood why there was no carnival or festival at this place. It was a cremation ground. The chimneys were of an incinerator. And the bones were actually mortal remains of dead people cremated in this place. Ouch. Mistake.

I laughed at myself, gave the priest a headache, stood up and walked back to road feeling foolish. Ofcourse I did find a place where the Pushkaram was going on later – but that’s for another day.

Two years later, the pieces of bones on the dried river bed still haunt me. Not because of the dead, but because of what we are doing to our rivers. I wonder what would turn up if all the rivers dried? Bones? Kanyamagufa?

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