How do you visit a place so rich in traditional handicrafts and not go shopping? The evening was spent thus. We took a local auto, as preparations to burn Ravana were at full swing everywhere, with a number of no-entry signs and reached a quiet shop, where we got some artfully made bags, Kota sarees and bandini dresses.
The architectural splendour of Rajasthan
The next day we set out to Jaisalmer, a distance of 505 kms through Ranakpur, Pali, Jodhpur and Pokhran. Our first stop was at the Ranakpur Jain Temple.
This temple, built by a Jain businessman, Seth Dharna Sah in the 15th century, is one of the largest and most important temples of the Jains. Covering over 48,000 feet, built with white marble, having 1440 uniquely carved pillars that change colour from gold to pale blue during the day, with an architecture so minutely designed, it is no wonder it was nominated to be a wonder of the world. Dedicated to Adhinath, the first of the Tirthankars, the Chaumukha (four–faced) temple built like a Nalinigulm Vimana (heavenly aircraft) is a feast to behold.
Sadly though, there are no tourist amenities anywhere in or near the temple. There are no hotels, the toilets within the temple perimeter where disgustingly unclean and when I enquired of a temple official, he bluntly told me that he can keep the temple clean but not the toilets! We have so many breath-taking monuments built spending crores easily, but we do not spare a thought for the tourist visiting these areas and thereby playing a vital part in maintaining its greatness.
Pokhran is a vibrant town made famous by the detonation of 2 nuclear bombs by the Indian army in 1974 and 1998.The landscape changes to a desert with sand dunes, shrubs and camels. My kids marvelled at how people could stay near a place where nuclear testing was done. Had they known that missile testing is done regularly there, villagers are invariably evacuated during these tests, there is acute water scarcity and incidence of cancer is steadily on the rise, they would have been appalled.
You are greeted by rows and rows of windmills as you approach Jaisalmer. Makes you wonder why harvest wind energy when abundant solar energy is readily available?
Named after Maharaja Jaisal Singh, who founded the city in 1156 A.D., in the heart of the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer is aptly named the Golden City. All buildings including its Crowning Glory-The Sonar Qila, is made of Yellow Sandstone. The dry, hot weather and scarce, brackish water has led to a wandering population, with almost all tourist destinations operating on lease in the winter months and proprietors closing shop and going home to Gujarat, Delhi, Mumbai or elsewhere in Rajasthan during the summer.
About a quarter of the resident population of Jaisalmer live within the fort (the only one of the kind in India) that is built on the Meru hill. The attractions are the Raj Mahal, the Jain and the Laxminath temples.
A desert safari seemed to be the perfect way to unwind after the Sonar Qila tour and so we made our way to the Camp-E-Khas dunes. A row of tents, each with 2 beds and an attached bathroom, in the middle of the desert is an exciting way to spend the night. We were taken on camels into the desert, we climbed up dunes and perched ourselves to see the sunset. A lot of desert hawkers claiming to take you where Khuda-Gawah was shot, to entertain you with Rajasthani dances, will test your patience, but it is soothing to enjoy the sunset and walk back leisurely into camp. There was an open air exhibition of Rajasthani folk dances and music, a tasty assortment of snacks and tea, and a healthy vegetarian dinner to boot.
The last day of our holiday, we set out to explore a ghost village in the morning. Kuldhara, a village 15 km west of Jaisalmer was home to about 1500 prosperous Paliwal Brahmins. Folklore is that, a local chief, Salim Singh wanted to marry a girl from the village and in desperation, all the villagers of 84 villages abandoned their homes and vanished in one night. It is believed that they left behind a curse that would bring death to anyone who tried to inhabit the village.
The village itself is intriguing, with so many well planned houses, all with roofs fallen in, brick walls separating rooms, many elaborate staircases leading to nowhere, underground tunnels, temples etc.
We culminated our tour by visiting the Patwon ki Haveli, 5 mansions built by the wealthy trader Guman Chand Patwa in 1805 for his sons. They are now owned by private residents and the Govt. The first is the most splendid with intricately carved paintings, jharokhas (balconies) and archways. These havelis have carvings on the doors, embedded in ivory, golden paintings on the roofs, and Belgian glass work. The roof made of mud and the floor of wood keeps the havelis warm in winter and cool in summer. Each haveli has a safe, a munim-garh, guest rooms, kitchen, and storerooms etc.
My Best experience at Jaisalmer
At 12 midnight; we took the Ranikhet express out of Jaisalmer to Delhi.
So, after an extensive long-weekend tour, we returned home 3 shades darker than when we left. The highlights of Rajasthan -amazing history, breath-taking architecture and very good roads. The areas that need mending maybe some good eateries with a multi-cuisine menu and good restrooms. All in all, a memorable trip.
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