Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey - Whiff of Colourful Pushkar

Day 2

You are late by a few days to catch the Annual Pushkar Camel Fair. But it is okay. On a nice sunny January morning, you are happy that you have the town almost to yourself. It is such a bummer when they do not allow cameras inside. Anyway, the Brahm Temple is few yards away from the hotel. You come back, have darshan at one of the most well known and very few temples dedicated to Lord Brahm, the Creator.
Pushkar - a religious touristy town you can actually fall in love with

Picking up the camera and bag you stroll towards the Pushkar Lake for some street photography. The lake thankfully is full of water and the area is generally clean considering. With your traveller look and cameras the priests around the ghats do not bug you and largely leave you alone. Notices say photography is not allowed on the ghats around the lake but you intend to take your chances. There are few people at this hour but all kinds of animals and birds are out in full force enjoying the fresh chilly morning.

Obeisance to The Creator

You realise how small you are and bow your head to the Creator in reverance

Pushkar - Meditation

Pushkar Sarovar: There is something serene and tranquil about the waters that all you can do is bow your head to the Creator in reverence

A walk around the serene waters of Pushkar Lake is a rewarding morning experience
Pigeons do their thing in the air and on the water. A dog lets you play with her puppies but then goes ballistic after a dude almost biting him. On your way back you stay clear of her. There are cows everywhere. This is only the beginning. All across Gujarat all you will see are cows – on the roads, in Gir forest, in the Rann of Kutch. And then there are the monkeys. These are the more gentle langur types. The rhesus monkeys are the ones that terrify you – thankfully the langurs are the turf leaders here. They seem to be everywhere but don’t bother the pilgrims keeping their feuds among themselves. Some monkeys gaze reflectively over the waters while others feast on grain offered by devotees trying to cleanse their lives.

Wondering and Pondering at Pushkar Sarovar
Okay kids you can play with this goofy guy while I go bite the other dude
Drink Up - Everybody gets thirsty
As you circle the lake, the names of ghats keep changing. With passing minutes more devotees are making their way to the lake from the bazaar lanes. A few intrepid ones take dips in the cold water. Some groups of people have already started the rituals in memory of their ancestors as the priests chant away. You are always surprised to see the faith in people. It could be frozen waters, temples high up on hills, or peak of summers; people of all ages surrender themselves to their beliefs as they get busy appeasing the Almighty.

Can't believe she dressed me in pink and a pink bow too - somebody rescue me - in the bazaar of Pushkar
The walk in the alleys of Pushkar bazaar as it arcs around the ghats of the lake is a psychedelic trip 

It is time to explore the bazaar which you have read so much about. The bazaar largely runs east to west on the northern periphery of Pushkar Lake. It is early and shopkeepers are slowly raising their shutters. The bazaar grows colourful and eclectic every minute. The shops sell clothes and accessories with psychedelic and ethnic tones. There are healing centres and restaurants offering menus that caters to all international travellers.  

Pushkar - Hebrew Signs and taking pick of your international cuisine

Pushkar is a popular destination for foreigners, especially Israeli kids who come to India for their R&R after their mandatory two years in army. You met several tourists during the trek to Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand. After Pushkar they usually disperse to Goa for some sun and sand or to Manali for some Himalayas. Here in the bazaar you find signs and menu in Hebrew.

Mr Ashok Tak - The Camel Man of Pushkar. Yes he gifted me the little camel you see in his hands!
Hilarious compilation of idioms on Camels
Another shutter opens. The owner hangs a transistor radio on the door. The station is playing Dev Anand's old mellifluous songs. You get reeled in. This is Mr Ashok Tak Pushkar who is famous as the Camel Decorator. His mission is to revive the dying art of camel decoration. Now he participates in different festivals in Rajasthan and Gujarat displaying his decked up Camel winning several awards including Lifetime Achievement Award in the process. He had participated in the just concluded Bikaner Festival and invites you to the Jaisalmer Festival in February. "Sure," you say!

Everyone needs healing
You can trace your family tree here
Pushkar is all about seeing and hearing and experiencing

The good old havelis lining the bazaar streets complete the marvellous vibe
The walk in the alleys of Pushkar bazaar as it arcs around the ghats of the lake is a psychedelic trip. Signboards in Hebrew, dreadlocked foreigners riding Bullets, cows chewing their cud nonchalantly. There is something laid-back, transcendental vibe about the town. And then there is this low hum that never becomes loud or dies out - it is as if this incessant chant is playing in your mind.  

Pushkar is the perfect combo of oriental exotica, colourful Rajasthan, and the small town charm. Next time you would like to come during the Camel Fair that is held on the sand dunes just outside the town. You will actually love to spend a couple of days here doing the touristy things. This bewitching laid-back and languid vibe will certainly bring you back here soon! Pushkar needs to be experienced and felt over and over again.

Bye Pushkar!

Snaking across Nag Pahari on the way to Ajmer
Operation Clean-up at Anasagar Lake in Ajmer - yes it is surprising to see most water bodies clean!
Getting new shoes in Ajmer
You leave Pushkar behind on your way to Ajmer through the ghati road. Expectedly the road runs through the Aravallis offering some thrill before the road levels out into the Ajmer city as you find yourself driving around the Anasagar Lake. You need some more directions before you emerge out on NH8 on your way to Beawar about 70 kms away.   

NH14 is a beauty - unspoilt and uncrowded

First sign of Palanpur
The road from Beawar to Sirohi and then to Mount Abu becomes even better. Driving on the smooth blacktop is pleasure. You make good progress stopping intermittently for the various toll booths. Oh yes, the toll bill is racking up. Around Sirohi you see the same rock formations that you saw yesterday in Viratnagar with smooth rounded bowl like depressions. You still cannot figure out what happened in these two places.

Now trucks are getting pimped up with some fancy alloys
Whatever that means

Following the Marwar Express
For the second day in row you are treated to another mesmerizing sunset. The red ball of fire is sinking into the road just beyond. The sunset starts from the right on the road and few kms down settles right on the horizon hovering over the road. You pull over like you did yesterday. You need to take time out to savour these moments.

Sunset on the highway - going towards Abu Road

There is something about sunsets on the road. It is both euphoric and melancholic. The sense of freedom, the open road, the possibilities are all elating. But when you see the cows and birds and people returning to the familiarity and warmth of their homes, the thought does appear somewhere if all this travelling has some meaning. The temptation to hear a familiar voice on the phone is overpowering. But again, thankfully, the thoughts are fleeting. You have to get somewhere. The sun will come up tomorrow bringing in the promise of another sunny day and wonderment of new sights. 

The Magical Twilight Moments
As the skies darken, the mood on the road and inside your head goes a little quite. It is like nature asking the world to reflect on the day. You seem to withdraw in a warm and glowing cocoon. The moment is about gratitude and taking stock. The mind and even the road seem to float on these twilight magical moments.  

You don’t even realise that you have entered Gujarat as you get pulled over at the check post. Seeing the Gujarat cops confirms the entry. They go through your stuff and then let you go. This will be the first of three police checks of your vehicle in Gujarat.

Palanpur is short distance away. The Gujarat Odyssey begins tomorrow – after two mesmerizing sunsets, tomorrow you hope to catch the sunrise!

Day’s Stats
  • Route Covered: Pushkar – Ajmer – Beawar – Sirohi – Abu Road – Palanpur (Gujarat)
  • Distance covered: 418 kms
  • Total Distance Covered so far: 892 kms
  • Route taken: Pushkar to Ajmer through the Ghati Road, driving through the centre of the Ajmer city, then NH 8 to Beawar. From Beawar take NH14 to Pali, Sirohi, Abu Road and Palanpur
  • Places seen – Pushkar Lake and Bazaar, Lake Anasagar in Ajmer

Travel Tips
  • You can only carry your mobile phone inside Brahma Temple – no cameras or bags allowed
  • Notices indicate that you can’t do photography at the ghats around the Pushkar Lake – take your chances
  • Pushkar is full of hotels. The bazaar area has lots of budget options
  • Everything is walkable in the town
  • If you feel like doing a climb, Gayatri Temple overlooking the town beckons

Mr Ashok Tak - The Camel Man of Pushkar
  • The store in Pushkar is called - Collector's Paradise
  • Contact Number - 9461276668

Related Blog Links

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey - The Timelessness of Viratnagar

Day 1

Oblivious to the enormity of task at hand, you leave home early Tuesday morning. All you are thinking of is of the open road and the rewards that await you. The immediate plan is to take two days crossing Rajasthan to reach Gujarat. You have two places to see in Rajasthan.

India's Oldest Shrine - The Buddhist Stup / Chaitya on the Bijak Pahadi in Viratnagar Rajasthan

The omen is good and Gods seems to be smiling. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are playing Free Falling on the radio. You have a feeling this trip is going to be just that. You want to follow Tom Petty tripping free down the hole that will lead you to your wonderland.

You make your way through the NH8 expressway even as Gurgaon stirs, waking up from the night’s brief slumber. There is something scary about driving through Gurgaon’s traffic that you never venture here unless it is early morning or late night or a holiday.

NH8 - entry into Rajasthan

But the days of breathing easy as you leave Gurgaon behind are long gone. Before there would be green fields everywhere you look. Now one concrete city leads you to another concrete city. Gurgaon dissolves into Bhiwadi and Bhiwadi into Dharuhera. Blocks of concrete structures seem to line up either side of the road all the way to Neemrana. The furious construction activity bent on tearing up the Aravalis and levelling all forests and farmland will soon ensure that you will not see mustard fields any time soon. All you are treated to are apartment blocks and factories stretching almost all the way to Neemrana. Sometimes development is truly a curse.

Jat Power muscling in!

Now here is the thing. Drive on the NH8 is always volatile with the huge crush of trucks always plying at any hour of day or night. And on this highway they like to run abreast with three trucks hogging the three lanes. As the cars pileup behind, some persistent honking makes one of the truckers to yield allowing the backed-up traffic to squeeze through. And combined with these trucks are the HR26/HR51 vehicles that seem to have death wish on the roads. You keep seeing their antics on Delhi roads and here in their own backyard they turn their performances up several notches. You just like to stay clear of these cars.

No winter trip is complete with some whiff of Sarson ke Khet

You pull over when you see the first mustard fields. The dhaba seems to be surrounded with the glowing yellow tiny flowers. You order breakfast and disappear among the flowery plants to breathe some sarson. Standing in the middle of sarson ke khet on a wintry sunny morning can well be one of life’s most simple pleasures and one of the most wonderful - the sway of the green plants, the yellow flowers reaching into the blue horizon and then this all pervading heavenly smell. The moments turn into a sensory intoxicating cocktail. This could be heaven. The smell is hard to describe. Take the wet earth and combine it with the freshness of winter air. Infuse this with the spicy whiff of leaves and flowers. Now only if someone could bottle it.

The smell only makes you hungry and you watch the hot paranthas disappear in no time. NH8 has improved substantially over the years and now only few diversions remain where they are building overpasses. You maintain a comfortable clip.

The Scenic 248A Highway to Viratnagar

The landscape and humanscape changes - you know you are in Rajasthan

About 80 kms before Jaipur and 5 kms before Shahpura you turn left. Your first destination, Viratnagar is 20 kms from here. The picturesque 248A connecting Jaipur to Alwar snakes through hills. India is amazing. The landscape and humanscape is already changing. Aravallis look rich and green. Men sport colourful pagdis and women light up in bright odhnis.

Viratnagar: Ahoy
You will love the 20 km ride on 248A into Viratnagar

You have heard of Viratnagar through a friend’s great blogspot. It seems kind of a town that you love. Viratnagar has everything from Mahabharat and prehistoric association to Ashok’s edicts and Stups. There are temples and some Mughal time buildings. It will be an exciting few hour detour.

A sign confirming you are entering Viratnagar greets you. On the left a small sign points to Bijak Pahadi on the right. You are still mulling over what to do when you see this kid. You ask if this is the way towards the Buddhist Stup. He affirms and yes he will show you around. Your passenger seat is filled with cameras and other knick knacks. He jumps in the rear seat.

Nishant, your guide for the day leads you into the rocky universe of Viratnagar

Looking towards Bijak Pahadi on the left - did Banganga flow through here?

Nishant is class 12th student who is enjoying his day off in run up to Makar Sankranti. This is a desolate path and the hill is still three kms away. You ask him if he had walked all the way to the hill? Yes he loves this place. He regularly goes to the Hanuman Temple there. His deceased father, a school teacher, used to bring him regularly.
Before climbing the Bijak ki Pahadi, Nishant wants to show me where the Banganga used to flow. It is a rocky climb through thorny bushes. 

Few days breathing Delhi’s air and it seems your lungs give up. Slight ascent and you are already gasping. The first day out is always hard. This should prep you up if you decide to climb Girnar or Palitana in the coming days. There is no path - you are literally jumping from one rock to another. Nishant shows you the spot where he once slipped and cut his chin and his father rushed him to the hospital to get stitches. You become more careful. You are not looking for similar excitement on the first day of the trip.

Viratnagar: The path going up the Bijak Pahadi

The interestingly shaped rocks of Viratnagar
Who goes there? Asks another interesting shaped rock. Still no idea how these rocks got shaped like this

Nishant points out to the area where Banganga probably flowed in the past, but right now it is totally dry. We start our way back towards Bijak Hill. You have been looking at the rocks here. You have never seen anything like this before. Hampi has boulders but they are all rounded. Here each rock has a unique shape and most look like skulls with eyes. They have smoothened depressions. You have no idea what natural phenomenon has caused it. It seems it is limited to this part of Aravallis only. You don’t remember seeing such shapes anywhere else in the Aravallis during a previous trip that took you to Udaipur and Kumbhalgarh.

Viratnagar: The reptile like rock has the Hanuman Temple below it

Bairat: The Stupa
The 3rd Century BC circular shrine was built with lime plastered panels of bricks alternating with 26 octagonal pillars of wood - at Viratnagar Rajasthan
Looking towards the town from Bijak Pahadi - Viratnagar

The most amazing rock formation is the reptile like rock that has the Hanuman Temple underneath where Nishant comes. Just above is the circular Buddhist Stup. It is supposed to be India’s earliest shrine dating back to Mauryan empire of about 2nd BCE. You find more remains of vihars where the monks would live. As always, Buddhist sites have this inexplicable calmness which you have experienced across Buddhist sites in India. All you hear is the breeze as the hill provides bird’s eye view of the Viratnagar city beyond.

You can't remember when you saw a Dak Bungalow last. All you see are the Circuit Houses now - at Viratnagar
One of the two Ashok Edicts in Viratnagar
Nishant wants to take you into the city now. You drive past the police station and the Dak Bungalow to arrive at the site of Ashok’s edicts written on side of a rock. The etching has faded and you can’t discern much. Another rock carrying edict was cut from Bijak Pahari and carried away to the Kolkata museum by the British.

The Hanuman Temple on Bhimsen Parvat
The Five Pandavs
The Tomb that is so Bidar in its shape - you don't see them here in North - behind the Bhim Parvat in Viratnagar or Bairat

Towering above is the Shri Panchkhand Hanuman Mandir on Bhimsen Parvat. Viratnagar or Bairat was the capital of Matsya kingdom of Mahabharat where the Pandavs spent their thirteenth year of exile. You can see the footprint where Bhim probably stepped on the stone. Above there are rocks signifying the Pandavs. Behind, on a hill you can spot a solitary tomb like structure, tall and slender, the likes of which you saw in Bidar.

Freshly whitewashed and adorned with beautiful murals, the picture perfect Mughal Gate / Mughal Mahal / Shahi Mahal / Midway Mahal / Panch Mahala in Viratnagar, Rajasthan was reportedly used by Akbar during his trips from Fatehpur Sikri to Ajmer at Viratnagar

It is time to step into the Mughal times. A handsome structure recently whitewashed was reportedly built by Akbar who used it as a midway halt during his trips to Ajmer. The ceilings carry lively murals.

Chau Mahala - Entrance to Nasiyaji Jain Temple

Nau Mahala - The main Temple - so called because of nine chatris

The Jain Chatris inside Nasiyaji Jain Temple of Viratnagar

Amla Trees - Jain Bagh is loaded with Vitamin C

Across the street is another huge gateway leading into the Shri Shri 1008 Parshvanath Digambar Jain Temple Nasiyaji. It is beautiful marble building with several balconies or jharokhas. In the adjoining garden full of amla trees are a group of chatris that look mughal but probably belong to Jain saints. Inside a new statue is taking shape.

Now that is some architecture - Shri Ganesh Talkies in Viratnagar now shuttered down - same fate befalls most single screen cinema halls across the country

On your way back you stop by the Viratnagar ASI museum housing artefacts starting from prehistoric times. You have a wonderful time going through the history of Viratnagar. You thank Nishant and offer him some pocket money. He is an alright kid and you suggest that he could work towards being a guide taking tourists around the surprises of his town.

Trying new angles - camera pointed to the back!

Riding into the Sunset

Kos Minars can be see on roads which during Mughal times would carry armies and traders across the breadth of empire. Along with the kos minars that signify the distance, sarais were also built as resthouses. This minar is seen on the Jaipur-Ajmer expressway

It is time to hit the road. Once out of Jaipur city limits, the expressway is a breeze all the way to Ajmer. On your first evening you are treated to an awesome sight of pink and red sun going down somewhere behind Ajmer in the distance.

There is something beautiful about sunsets - a closure and the promise of new

Trippingg Nights on the road

The plan is to sleep in the exotic town of Pushkar which you will be visiting for the first time. Around eight you enter Ajmer and take the Pushkar bypass to your hotel that is a few steps from the famous Brahm Temple bringing a satisfying end to a fruitful first day.

Day's Stats
  • Route Covered – Delhi - Viratnagar – Jaipur – Ajmer - Pushkar
  • Distance covered – 474 kms
  • Route taken – NH8 to Ajmer and the Pushkar Bypass into Pushkar town. Detour of 20 kms to Viratnagar on the scenic 248A
  • Places seen – Viratnagar has plenty to see and you will need at least four hours to cover everything. It will be a good idea to pick a local guide to show you around

  • A great post written by Giriraj Singh Shekhawat on the travel blog Ghumakkar (please type 'Viratnagar Ghumakkar' on google and you will find it)