The Vivanta Taj President upgraded suite was just the right recipe to calm our battered bodies after a hectic but fulfilling Kenyan trip. The quest for authentic Maharashtrian snacks was quickly dashed, however, as we learnt that South Mumbai is “too posh” to cater for such native desires. Zomato came to rescue and we headed off to the unassuming Cafe Bharat with chaddi buddy Motu as company. After sharing silly college stories over beer (in the hotel), specially the one where I stole a whole block of Amul butter from the college mess, we were ready to hit the sack and bid good bye to Aravind.
Next day we headed off to dear friends Mangal & Rita (and their lovely daughter Charisma) in Andheri and were presented with a mouth watering lunch which will be difficult to forget.
The Mumbai-Udaipur flight was on time and soon after landing, we headed off to the local dhobi to handle last 10 days’ laundry. The imposing and enigmatically beautiful Ramada was just what we needed for a 3 day break.
The land of Mewar Rajputs, Udaipur has been hailed as most romantic city in India. I could not conjure up such feelings though as city center resembled a typical Indian provincial town. However the morning trip to Lake Pichola and the City Palace helped in reversing my feelings. City palace museum has some lovely stuff from era gone by.
The next morning was yours truly’s birthday and the best way to celebrate was to gulp a few beers. Its funny how no one questions for your sins on your birthday, so why not make the most of it.
I was jolted on my special day with the thought that 50 was close by so we headed off to the best parlor in town to get my hair colored ! And the Pichola lake boating that followed, with the setting sun and the various iconic landmarks in the background, made my day truly memorable. Thanks darlings Meha and Mika!
It was time to head to the famed evening folk performance at Bagore-Ki-Haveli. Packed to the last seat, it was a memorable performance of Rajasthani dance, music and puppet show. The best we saw on the whole trip.
After witnessing next morning’s beautiful sunrise, we were on our way to Jodhpur, via Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur.
Kumbalgarh, the first stop, has a fantastic Mewar fort second only to Chittorgarh. It had taken combined armies of Marwar, Amber & Akbar to conquer it, that too for only two days. With a smattering of temples, the fort has a surreal setting.
It was now mid day and time to visit one of India’s most beautiful Jain temple complexes at Ranakpur. Built of milk-white marble in 15th century, the main temple dedicated to Adinath (first Jain tirthankar), is an architectural wonder.
Enough sight seeing for the day. We drove on and checked into our lovely heritage B&B at Jodhpur, overlooking the imposing Mehrangarh fort, one of the most magnificent in India. The dinner on the terrace with the lit up fort in the background was amazing.
Next morning we woke up to a sea of blue-cubed homes around us – they signify Brahmin homes even though later the non-Brahmins too got in the act – perhaps symbolic of the transition India is making from a caste-based system to a more egalitarian one. The blue tint is also supposed to drive away the insects.
Jodhpur was the seat of the Rathore Rajputs, who had been driven away by Mohammed of Ghori from Kannauj. They settled in Pali near Jodhpur, eventually choosing the rocky ridge of Mehrangarh as their base under the leadership of Rao Jodha. The area was eventually known as Marwar (place of death) due to harsh conditions in the region.
Everything revolves around the fort and the magnificent museum – it took a good part of our first morning to soak both in.
Jodhpur Riff, a high-class annual cultural festival was on, and we grabbed the visual treat with both hands.
The icing on the cake for the day was zip-lining (courtesy flying fox company) at sunset over the mighty fort – an unforgettable experience indeed !
We visited the beautiful Jaswant Thada (memorial to Maharaj Jaswant Singh II) at 6 am the next morning where Jasleen Kaur regaled us with the soulful renditions as part of Jodhpur Riff concerts.
Remember the (in)famous Salman Khan Black buck/Chinkara hunting incident from 1998? Next we visited a Bishnoi Village, an hour from Jodhpur and learn how this sect, formed in 15th century, was way ahead of times in their belief of protecting the environment with a staunch belief of not harming wildlife and trees. As is typical in India, might is right – inspite of strong evidence Salman was sadly acquitted of hunting black bucks and chinkaras (Indian Gazelle) during shooting of Hum Saath Saath Hain. We were welcomed by a Bishnoi family with an Opium (!) ceremony, dressed up in their attire, interacted with them as well as saw a number of Black Bucks, Chinkara, Nilgai (largest Asian antelope) & migrating damoiselle cranes from Siberia. Great stuff .
Next we headed off to the final frontier Jaisalmer with the famed sunset of Sam dunes as our first stop. Even though crowded and highly touristy, the experience of the dunes on a camel, with the setting sun as the backdrop is truly unforgettable, specially if you move away to a peaceful corner away from the hawkers. Spending a night in the desert camp, regaled by a lovely Rajasthani cultural show is the icing on the cake.
Next morning we checked into Mystic Jaisalmer, a lovely family run hotel with lovely views of the Jaisalmer fort – one of the few in the world wherein more than 3000 people live within it’s ramparts !
First stop was, you guessed it – the fort ! Founded in the 12th century by Rajput Raja Jaisal, the fort has seen many battles between Rajputs and the Delhi Mughals. Early part of our morning was spent in the fort and the fort palace – the former rulers’ seven-story residence.
At the exit, we were rewarded with a chance meeting with dear friend Nitya and her family from Bangalore. We again met for dinner for a lovely conversation, and ohh, we ate too !!
Having been “Jain-templed” at Ranakpur, we only gave a cursory look at the temples near the fort.
Next up was Patwa-ki-haveli, a lovely haveli from the 19th century, situated in a narrow by lane near the fort. It was built by five jain brothers, who were merchants in brocade and jewellery. Fine stonework.
After a much desired lunch and nap, it was time to visit Gadi Sagar lake and desert culture museum. It is the result of the single handed effort of the owner Mr N K Sharma who has commendably spent a life time in setting up this lovely museum which has some lovely exhibits on princely states and Rajasthani culture. While introducing the puppet show, he came across as a highly committed and knowledgeable man.
Our last morning in Jaisalmer was spent at the poignant war museum which tells the story of valour and bravery of Indian soldiers in various wars. It is very unique as it is difficult to find war museums in other places in India. Specially this letter from a soldier to his family certainly moved us to tears.
We bade good bye to Jaisalmer and boarded the rickety and depressingly dirty 14060 Jaisalmer-Delhi express for Bharatpur. Most of my time was spent in photographing the dirty state of train and its toilets and lecturing fellow passengers and the TT about keeping the public property clean. Everyone had amusing looks on their faces. Free and genuine entertainment is hard to come by now a days. I sent the pictures to Railway minister Suresh Prabhu, still awaiting a reply.
Anyway, next morning we got off at Dausa, a small town in Eastern Rajasthan, from where a taxi whisked us to Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, counted among one of the finest bird reserves in the world. The standard model here is to visit the park on a rickshaw. Meha being the smartest of the lot chose the default option. Mika and I chose a cycle. Bad decision. I spent the next 3 hours trying to balance my bum on a tiny seat on a truly rickety cycle – almost a relic from the past. Oh, and the birds were great as you can see from the pictures.
It was time for some much deserved Kingfisher beer and rest. A 5 am start the next morning ensured we did not miss the eternal monument of love, only an hour from Bharatpur.
Taj Mahal well documented, we rushed to Delhi for a quick flight to Chandigarh to give the Indian cricket team a well deserved kick in the right place, resulting in a handsome win against New Zealand in the ODI. And boy, you don’t see a stellar partnership between Kohli and Dhoni every day, do you ! What to do, some guys have all the luck.
Early next morning bouyed by last night’s win, we attacked Amritsari Kulcha and Chole at a roadside joint before heading off to the famed Rock Garden sculptures. Truly outstanding and single handed effort of one individual – Nek Chand. Respect.
As we boarded the Delhi flight, we thought that was the end of Phase 3 of our world trip. Fate had a better ending in store. As we landed, I hear a huge commotion in business class with people rushing ahead. “Sunny Gavaskar”- some one shouted ! My heart almost skipped a beat – close friends would know that I was (and am) a die hard fan of him. One incident comes to mind – in 1983 when West Indies toured India, I stood in the puja room and beseeched God for a huge innings from Sunny. The Lord gifted us with 236 not out ! But I digress. Leaving all courtesies and decency aside, I rush to business class disgustingly in the most obnoxious fashion. Sunny has left the plane. Lord comes to rescue again as Mika and I meet him in the airport bus. Shamelessly I launch into selfies & autographs and popped him the million dollar question “Did you nick it?” in that 1983 Chennai match (there was a controversial appeal that was turned town and Sunny went on to score 236 not out). Sunny explained how the ball had hit the pad (hence he was not out) and patted me for remembering the 33 year old incident. As he walked out of the bus, I was floating in air.
Wait, wait Phase 3 is not over yet. We headed off to Muzaffarpur , Bihar (my home town) to join dad’s festive 75th birthday celebrations. With full family in attendance, papa must be feeling blessed !! Great note to conclude this leg of world trip. See you in Australia and thanks for reading.