Incredible India, India Travel, IndiaTravel, Rajasthan, Tourism, Travel

The Desert Lands of Bikaner

The depression has been killing me for the long time. It was more of a battle that I was fighting within myself, the heart brain conflict you can say, but more or less it was a conquest of evil over good and I was going through a lot of pain. Well for pain, it accumulates to my alcohol addiction, which I know is bad but gives me relief for the time being, and work schedule. The new job and the designation aspires me to do more but not getting much time for myself to explore and do more creative work is exactly very frustrating. It looks good in the starting phase but not for very long. I needed a break and that was all running at the back of my mind even when I was presenting some marketing pitch ideas. And I got one.

This time the focus was solely on discovering a city which I visited as a child and not since then, ever, until this time. Most of the time what happens is that I run after the mountains, the clouds, the greenery and the complete serenity but this time it was the barrenness if the desert that was calling me and hence I embarked on my journey to Bikaner in the state of Rajasthan, India. The city has a royal heritage and it is said that this is the very city which is the entry point of the Thar Desert. India as a country has diverse climate and regions and only one desert i.e. the Thar Desert.  I stay in New Delhi, because of the job that I do and the journey took some 7 hours by train to reach the Bikaner railway station. The journey was comfortable. Indian railways are impressive to many extents, the people and the landscape to everything. I interacted with some of the people who travel by that very train and sharing a cigarette with someone whom I never knew and I will never see, on a running train, was simply awesome.

Bikaner is one of the princely cities of Rajasthan. The city has its royal heritage dating back to the 1450s. It is said that Rao Bikaji is the founder of this city. Rao Bikaji was one of the five sons of Rao Jodhaji, who infact is the founder of the city of Jodhpur. When Bikaji arrived far and east leaving his father’s kingdom over a heated argument, he arrived in Bikaner and established the city and made it his kingdom. He built the ornate forts and other castles of the city, built primarily of red sandstone that withstood the passage of time. Today, the Indian government and the trustees of the forts spent lump sum amounts in their maintenance and also aid comes from the Indian government and the government of Rajasthan.

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Rampuria Haveli

#JunagarhFort

This fort holds the prestige of never been conquered and not even during the British rule. The fort was built by Raja Rai Singh during 1540s and has since then played a prominent part to contribute to the history of India. Bikaner as a princely state was always held of high grandeur until it got merged with the Indian union of states and territories post-independence during 1947 to 1948. The royal family of Bikaner used to live in this fort and rule the entire north western region of Rajasthan. The construction of the fort is believed to be so royal that in those times that marbles were specially imported from Rome to lay the foundation of the floors. Special Mughal craftsmen and architects were called to design the monuments and arches. This fort is stupendous in many extents and forget not, this fort has one of the two fighter planes that was used during World War I. The British gifted this to the then ruler of Bikaner for his loyal services. The rulers of Bikaner were believed to be loyal devotees of Karni Mata. Today it is commonly called the rat temple and lies some 45kms south of the city. Due to lack of time and unpleasant heat during day time, I could not manage to visit the temple but remains in my bucket list.

#RoyalCenotaphs

These are the places where the kings and queens were cremated. The royal cenotaphs are located some 8kms west of the city on the highway connecting Bikaner to the state capital Jaipur. The road to this place is extremely barren and arid landscape plus hot sands are a disaster, but worth relishing every now and then. Don’t forget to carry your polarized shades and plenty of drinking water if you want to visit these cenotaphs. Well history says that, it is simply a burial ground. But the architecture and the blend of Mughal and Persian plus Rajput arts make this place worth a visit. The cenotaphs are a shinigexample of Rajasthani arts and culture. It is also known as Devi Kund Sagar, which a lake that’s almost dried up. The cremation/burial ground is just adjacent to this lake. The floral patterns are seen throughout the place and during summer months, when you might be resting under one of the cenotaphs, sighting a peacock resting by your side is a common scenario. I missed the peacock though.

#KoteGate Market Place

Due to shortage of time and struggling finances, I had to call off the trip. Two important palaces I had to leave, primarily because those were closed on those two days and secondly I struggled with my expenditure. The market place around Kote Gate is highly vibrant and the most thriving one in Bikaner. It is believed to be one of the oldest market place of the city. From shops serving snacks and sweets to jewelry and clothing and garments, everything is available in those lanes surrounding the gate. This place is highly popular for the history buffs since the lanes are centuries old and the pillars of the old lanes have seen it all. Also for shopaholics, this, this, this is the place where you can spend heavily from buying some local food to souvenirs.

#BandasharTemple

This is the most prominent Jain temple of the city and dates back centuries. It is believed that this temple has its existence prior to the formation of the present city. As I stated before that when the king fled the kingdom of Jodhpur to establish his own city in the far North West, he took shelter in this very temple as he and his army was thirsty and already many of his men died of hunger. It is believed that once a priest met a rich businessman of those times and he was told to keep a valuable object that the priest owned. But somehow the businessman lost it and when the priest demanded its return he was unable to give it to him and the priest said that to avenge the disappointment a temple must be built. Hence the merchant started construction of this temple. The entire depiction of arts, culture, sins and righteousness in Hinduism and Jainism is depicted in the walls of the temple. It is one place which just cannot be missed, especially those who love arts and wall paintings.

That’s much of it. This trip was mostly of a self-time-needed break for me. I wish I could have more time and sincerely wish that I could have spent less on buying good whiskey and rum. Being frugal is good but for unplanned trips when come to a sudden halt due to shortage of money, the reckoning comes that, what if had I been thrifty?

Bikaner is a place which can be covered in 3 to 4 days if the trip be taken on a luxurious scale. Else 2 days is maximum to cover the length and breadth of the city. It is a small city well connected by railways and roads to the rest of the country and is a military base for both the army and the air force. So, sighting army convoys and jeeps is a common sight. Yet, nothing to worry about, everything is okay for tourists. So do let me know if anyone is planning a trip to this city anytime soon, would be super happy to accompany you.

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Pushkar, Rajasthan, Travel

Traveling High in Pushkar

It was almost past afternoon on a hot and humid Friday that I decided to spend the weekend differently. Parties and friendly get together, I have had enough. So I just shut down my office desktop, wrapped up every paper on my desk and reached my apartment. There I managed to see everything I require is duly in place or not and luckily I had all that I needed. Packed my clothes, camera and laptop in my rucksack and decided to start my Rajasthan Diary. I started my trip for Pushkar, a small town in Rajasthan, India. One of my friends also joined me in my trip.

I have always preferred bus services. Regular buses ply between Ajmer and New Delhi. Pushkar is only 14 kilometres from Ajmer. Local vans and jeeps are available from Ajmer. We boarded the bus at 11-30PM and next day at 10AM we were in Pushkar. Although the bus journey was very much tiring, hence I recommend people to avail the Delhi- Ajmer Shatabdi Express.  Many other express and superfast trains are also available.

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When I reached Pushkar a sense of religious piousness filled me although I was mesmerized to see more foreign tourists than Indian nationals. The restaurants and many others stalls have signs in Hebrew which was another thing which caught my attention. Hotels were mostly filled in even in hot summer days. Luckily we managed a room in Rajasthan Tourism’s own hotel. This Hotel Sarovar where we stayed is completely owned and managed by Rajasthan Tourism Department Corporation. It is a very nice hotel and the food quality was excellent. If rooms are available you can put up here. There is a calmness around the hotel as it is away from hustle and bustle of the main market area.

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It was around 2PM that I decided to explore and my friend eagerly accompanied me, although the scorching heat of the sun was keeping the people away from the streets. But when in Rome I don’t want to be a Roman, I want to be a traveller instead. My first destination was the famous and holy Lake of Pushkar. Legends say that the lake was created by Lord Shiva’s tears. So it is one of the oldest and sacred lakes in India. Although I am not much into these mythological facts but I did not want to disrespect the belief. The scenery surrounding the lake was beautiful and it gave me delight. There are 52 ghats surrounding the lake. The ghats are basically bathing places however you cannot bath in every ghat. The common business around this area is done by the pundits. In lieu of giving the God’s blessing they dragged me by the lake and uttered some hymns and made some offerings to the lake and charged me heavy. I strictly disliked this but had no choice. In their opinion if someone is visiting Pushkar for the first time then such offering must be done in the very first place, which many religious people actually do every day. I personally found this logic very much orthodox and illogical and did not pay heed to the man. But the way he was arranging and convinced me made me feel that he and many others doing the same thing are in this profession for a very long time. It would be unfair to judge the man’s knowledge of the religious hymns and the procedures of offering to the God, so I better remained silent and had a look at what is being done here to earn a living. Countless number of temples surrounds the lake and beware of the monkeys which remain mostly in these temple rooftops. These monkeys are the real nuisance of the place.

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Next thing on our list was the Savitri temple. This particular temple along with other 2 temples of Pushkar is the only temples located on the mountain top. Aravalli Range, the oldest mountain range of India, surrounds the town of Puskar. Savitri temple is accessible by walking down the main market road and taking a short detour to reach the foothills and from there continue the climb. By walking, it took roughly 25 minutes to reach the foothills. When we were supposed to ascend the stairs made of rock, there I met a British girl who accompanied us. She was Charlie Gilmartin, a young and jolly British girl enjoying her stay in Pushkar and eagerly waiting for her next destination i.e. Udaipur.

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While climbing the stairs I was very much out of my breath. Realization came again that I need to quit my smoking.  The stairs are carved out of the mountain rocks and are very steep. At certain points while climbing uphill its like jumping two to three escalator steps at a time. This makes the entire uphill climb very much tiring. People descending down the stairs greeted us well as they were mostly locals and took special interest to greet my new British friend. But once I was up at the mountain top the entire tiredness seemed to fade away, thanks to the picturesque view of the Pushkar town and the surrounding valley and the view of the desert far away. The entire town can be viewed from the mountain top and it was like I cannot believe my eyes what I’m seeing. Truly Incredible India!

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Another prime thing to do in Pushkar is the camel safari. The herdsmen make people tour the surrounding desert region and the only oasis found in that place. Added bonus of the camel safari is watching the sunset behind the high sand dunes sitting on top of the camel. The entire experience is worth remembering for a long time. Although I had similar experience in Jaisalmer, but could not do this time in Pushkar because the charges for the short trip was high and after much discussion on the fair I had a negative nod on him.

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The major shops as well as the eateries lie along the Sadar Bazar road. This is the most happening road of the town. It is a narrow town and shops and food joints lie on both sides of the street. Although the street is very much congested with cows, buffaloes, motorcycles and humans traveling through the same narrow avenue, I bet you can understand how congested it might be. But the food joints mainly Italian, Israeli and German bakery offers quality food. There are some tattoo parlours also which draw large crowd. Mainly hippie style shops attract the crowd followed by the Rajasthan handicrafts stores and the foreign exchange ones. This road surrounds the holy lake of Pushkar and leads to the main temple complex i.e. The Brahma temple, the only temple in India dedicated to God Brahma. I found the temple to be very much simple and the floors and the wall murals well maintained in-spite of the rush throughout the year. Brahma temple is dedicated to Lord Brahma who holds a very significant position in Hindu mythology and his various other forms also known as his avatars. Devotees flock to this temple from far flung areas and even from all across the nation. The other Brahma temple lie in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

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Pushkar being my weekend trip was very much enticing. I became a lot apprehensive about the place since I have read a lot about it, and whatever I read I was not disappointed. Best way to roam around the town is to get bikes and scooters on hire and travel like boss. Traffic restrictions are very limited and the ease of access to remote places is good. Even the locals also less interfere with the tourists and at night the town is safe.  Marijuana is available almost everywhere and that brings a lot of foreign nationals here more than the Indians. Alcohol is strictly prohibited and not easily available unless you have got that special contact. I am not much into visiting temples and worshipping idols, so I did not visit the temple complexes which are in plenty. Every corner of the street has a temple. But if you’re looking for some yoga and quality time getting high on weeds do visit this place. You will have one heck of a time to remember for long and cherish for. Do get in touch with the locals; get some info on the culture and things happening around. Pushkar is ready to surprise you.