Saturday, 6 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
References

  • A great post written by Giriraj Singh Shekhawat on the travel blog Ghumakkar (please type 'Viratnagar Ghumakkar' on google and you will find it)
  • http://www.viratnagar.in/

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