With two brand new cars with the gang, a Road-trip was inevitable. With all four of us in four different countries, struggling to find time to meet, planning meetings on skype, finally the road-trip was chalked out. And it went a little like what we had planned but hundred times fantastic than what we had thought!
19th December 2014, 2.30 am, SK and PK “landed” on ‘D’s’ apartment runway with the boot of the XUV500 half full and ready to load with ‘D’s’ luggage. We took the first selfie with sleepy eyes and started off the journey ! MD was appointed as the treasurer and SD :the music kit organiser. PK was the attractions-co-ordinater and worked her job of the timely-snacks-provider perfectly. SK was the XUV owner and caretaker, so he already had a lot to himself ! The boot was filled to the brim with what appeared like luggage for a month’s trip. We all would have loved to have the trip for a month. The winter’s collection in our wardrobes had found itself breathing, as Rajasthan boasted of low temperatures.
SK drove our way to Gujarat, touching Ahmedabad highway at 5.25 am. A couple of hours later we halted for a quick breakfast at a MCD. As it was quite early we had few options. MD took over and drove through the NH-8 which was pretty smooth except toll gate near Bharuch and the road work near Dumad. The traffic jam ate away almost 3 hours of our time and dropped our average speed. We decided not to stop for lunch and took “takeaways” from a resto near Gandhinagar as we wanted to save every minute we had lost at the traffic jam. Having a powerful car and not driving continuously at 100kmph was a crime, thought MD and SK. To overcome their torture at the traffic jams, SD took out “Pu La Deshpande” from the music kit and PK took out home-made laadus and chiwda. It made the journey smooth and we entered Rajasthan at 4.15 pm. The entrance in the state itself is decorated with a fort like structure and makes you wanting to see more and more in it. XUV’s Navigator was showing Jaipur 450kms and SD’s phone showed our hotel in Jaipur was still 7 hours to go. We had too much energies and excitement to realise that it was still really far. Chit chats, laughters and music cruised us through the highways of Rajasthan. SK took over the steering while MD rested a while late in the evening. We thought we were jinxed with the 400km board of Jaipur was not changing despite of driving for a long while. Finally SD and SK (awake members of the gang ) gave a high five when they saw Jaipur 399 kms away ! The trucks usually think that driving at the speed 50kmph at the right most lane was the most amazing thing to do in life ! Reading and enjoying the lines written on the trucks and dodging them left and right , we finally reached our hotel in Jaipur at 11.40pm.
While SD and PK checked in, MD and SK opened the bonet to check the engine, It lay cool and happy in its place. XUV was happy to ride 21 hours and so were we.
20th December 8 am : After a lavish breakfast at our hotel we set out to explore Jaipur. We headed to the city centre and experienced why Jaipur is rightly called the Pink City ! The tradition and architecture has been preserved and taken good care of. We parked at the central parking outside the City Palace and walked our way to the Palace, Hawa Mahal and Jantar Mantar. All three attractions are very well situated within waking distance. The City Palace flaunts its art at every nook and corner and is a feast of photographers. SD and SK didnt take their eyes off their frames through their Canon DSLR’s. Hawa Mahal is no different. The grandeur, the creativity, the symmetry in the artwork leaves you spellbound. Jantar Mantar is a classic proof of the intelligence of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur who himself studied scientic implications of the Sun’s and Earth’s movement and built the observatories. Hundreds of year later even today the models show perfect results.
Sisodia Rani Garden is another simple garden built in the same era. Evening view of Jal Mahal from Amer Road is soothing. The low-rise symmetrical palace appears to float in the Sagar Lake. As it got dark, the lights highlighted the beauty of the Water Palace. The Promenade along the lake is alive with street hawkers offering handicrafts and decorative items. We opened our shopping account on this lovely street. The eventful day ended in an amazing restaurant with traditional Rajasthani delicacies.
21st December 8am : Albert Hall Museum is am amazing artistic structure designed specially for promotion of art. We were filled with appreciation for all the jewellery, textiles, paintings, metal art, pottery, marble art, sculpture filled in the museum. We had dedicated this day to fort-ing experience at Jaipur. It began with Jaigarh Fort. Most of the fort is in ruins. Most of the forts now-a-days are used for giving royal wedding theme experiences. Next in queue was Nahargarh fort. It offers a mermerizing view of Jaipur City and the haveli at the fort is beautiful with courtyard structures for the Maharanis. Each section had a terrace which was linked form the top. The fort also had a lake on the top which had stoned steps in the earlier days to descend.
As we reached Amer Fort which was supposed to be the most popular one, it was closed for some govenrment visitors. It was our bad luck but we managed to book the “Sound and Light Show” at Amer Fort and it took away all the disappointment. It was one if the most amazing shows that we all had seen. Hats off to Rajasthan Tourism for really making it “Incredible India” The show runs in Hindi and English. In the words of Gulzar, the voice of Amitabh Bacchan, Shubha Mudgal, Ustad Sultan Khan paint a wonderful picture of the older era in front of us. It is an absolute treat to the eyes to see the fort lighten up. A definite Must watch when one is visiting Rajasthan.
22nd December 7.30 am : We left for Ranthambore from Jaipur. The road from Jaipur to Ranthambore is picturesque with sarso fields on both sides of the road. Temperature was quite low and we enjoyed a cautious drive in the fog. One of the most serene drive in the trip. There are a number of resorts and hotels in Ranthambore giving plenty of options. We checked in to our hotel at 10.30 am and roamed around the streets before lunch. There are a lot of handicraft shops offering colourful and creative products. We shopped at an outlet called “Dastkar” which is an organization that utilises unique talent of the displaced villagers, especially villagers in Ranthambore and generates income for them. Traditional craftsmanship is seen at its best in this small outlet. From pillows to curtains, from kurtis, tops to quilts, this shop has a lot to offer. We started out for our jungle safari in our jeep from our hotel at 2.30 pm. Zones are allotted at random and we got Zone 10 which was decently far from our hotel. After entering the zone, we roamed around in the forest for a long time, holding our Cameras in ready position for any sight. Antelopes and deer came to see us but we were waiting for the “Hero” of the Jungle. The clock was ticking and we were losing patience. The driver was constantly in communication with other fellows and guides from other jeep to trace the Tiger. Finally we reached a spot up the hill where a few other jeeps were resting post sunset. We realised from the talks of the guides that the zone 10 was a comparative new zone in the national park and far form the centre of the jungle so the sighting in this zone was nearly impossible. Blaming our luck we gave up and were looking forward to get out of the jungle before dark. The chilly winds and the open jeep made us cold and we had already given up the hope of sighting the Tiger. Sadly our driver said that he was on his way to the exit as it was getting dark (We didnt know where we were going, all roads looked the same 😛 ) Suddenly the jeep stopped. Stunningly, we looked at the driver. “Tiger paws” ! he said, pointing in the front. Without thinking and saying anything he turned the jeep around and drove superfast. We somehow managed to cling to the jeep and not to fall down. With his calculations he drove us to the nearest waterbody and there he was !!!! Sitting beside the water calmly. Looking at us and two other vehicles who were already there ! “Fools these people are”, he must be thinking. The ladies and kids form two other jeep were over excited incapable to understand jungle rules and started shouting their excitement out. The tiger looked at them, gave a “Oh-God-These-Ladies-types Glance” and got up to walk away. The royal walk as they say, we could capture it in our cameras. Just those few seconds and we sighted him – Fateh was his name, we found out later. Thanks to our driver who spotted those pugmarks ! The return journey was even colder. We were drenched in dust by the time we reached the hotel. The day concluded with the successful mission of ‘meeting’ Fateh in Ranthambore ! Luck is the biggest thing in such spotting. We have heard of people taking 4-6 safaris and not spotting even a single tiger. Lucky we were indeed !
After an early morning breakfast (we almost had to wake up the chef) we left for Jodhpur at 7.30 am. It was almost dark and very foggy when we left. Almost all roads in Rajasthan are really good and one has very much less to complain. Road to Jodhpur was no exception. We reached Jodhpur comfortably at 3pm and had a quick lunch after checking in at our hotel. Meherangadh Fort in Jodhpur is one if the biggest in India. It stands tall, four hundred feet above the skyline of Jodhpur. A small winding road took us to the fort. The road is so small that you don’t feel that it will take you to something so gigantic. We reached a little ahead of its closing time so had less time to roam around. The first view itself from the ticket window is stunning ! The fort is so tall and huge and it comprises of many sections filled with intricate carvings and expansive courtyards. There is a lift which is built out of one stone which takes you almost 15-17 storeys above to the top and you can visit the fort on your way down. The lift took 13 years to build. The fort is very well maintained and very tourist friendly. It also has special arrangements for dinner at night and some adventure sports around it. The view from the top is amazing and it explains why Jodhpur is called the “Blue City”. All houses are seen in blue shades and the whole city looks blue from top. The fort is made up from three different stones and the different colours make it beautiful. The carvings and artwork is gorgeous. We really didn’t wish to come out but had to move towards exit before closing time. Visit to Meherangarh is definitely a must when one is touring Rajasthan. In the evening, we went for some shopping at Nayi Sadak which is near the Clock Tower in the city. The road flaunts lots of handicraft shops and eateries. We enjoyed scrumptious street food before calling it a day.
Mandore Gardens in Jodhpur was the next on our list. The gardens are special because of the temples of Jodhpur’s former rulers in there. There are many such beautifully crafted tomb structures which are carved out of rock and built in red sandstone. After a photography stroll in the garden, we headed towards Umaid Bhavan. It is presently divided into three parts, One part of Umaid Bhavan is converted into a luxury hotel, managed by Taj, One part is where the royal family still lives. It is one of the world’s larges private residences. And the third part is the museum which is open for the public. There is also a gallery showcasing the most exotic automobiles owned by the royals.
The museum is well maintained and full of artwork. The whole of Rajasthan is a beautiful artwork in itself. When you come back home to your concrete jungles from Rajasthan, you feel as if you are like a sponge who has lost all water from it.
11am we geared up for Jaisalmer, the one destination we all were really looking forward to. We stopped at a roadside dhaba on NH 114 and enjoyed authentic Rajasthani lunch. The road from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer didn’t disappoint us and we cruised in to Jaisalmer at around 3.30. Lake Gadisar, an oasis in the desert is in the city of Jaisalmer. It has small temple like structures within the lake and numerous surrounding the lake. All of this gave a soothing and picturesque view. We headed for Sam Sand Dunes which is around 40 kms from Jaisalmer city where we had booked tents in a resort. Sam Sand Dunes has many resorts offering tents in the desert with packages of camel safari, jeep safari, folk music, etc. The road from Jaisalmer to our resort in Sam Sand Dunes was what we would call in our slang : “Makkhan” !! A flawless road shining in the bright sun with desert on both sides. What a view it was ! We felt as if we were living a movie ! MD was on the steering and SK had made up in his mind already that it was going to be him while returning. As soon as we checked in our resort, the jeep for our jeep safari was already waiting for us. Sun was the clock for the locals there. A young driver, barely 18, drove is in the sand dunes to a spot from where the sunset was perfectly visible. Camel owners screw you out trying to make you sit on their “Shahrukhs” and “Hrithiks”. We somehow managed to get rid of them and launched ourselves with SK’s tripod and SD and SK’s Canon DSLR’s for the perfect sunset pics in the Thar Desert. Sunsets in deserts give some sort of a different serenity and peace. Our jeep driver was going to meet us at a point “after sunset” so we rushed to be in time. It felt lovely not to look at the watch but to follow nature to meet time. The return ride was an amazing roller coaster desert safari with stomach-tickling ups and downs. The resort had arranged folk dance and music for all the guests along with the campfire. “Padharo mhare desh”, the traditional Rajasthani tune echoed in the dark sky. It was extremely chilled and it was hard to imagine sleeping in the tents. We somehow managed with 4-5 layers of clothing and blankets.
We were never so happy to see and drink hot tea than on that cold morning in the Jaisalmer desert. The resort authorities (just two of them) were trying their best to help everyone with fresh and warm breakfast. We headed for Jaisalmer fort, also called as the golden fort in the Jaisalmer city. The fort actually looks golden due to the stone colour found there. Like Jaipur as pink city, Jodhpur as blue city, Jodhpur is rightly called the golden city. The Jaisalmer Fort is supposedly the only living fort in India. Many families live there since decades, their generations grow there and follow the handicraft and art traditions. Any glance around the fort is full of colours and artistic stuff. Small lanes, houses, shops give the fort quite an ancient feel. We were attacked by “guides” wanting to explain everything of the fort. It was fun to see a guard explaining about the Maharajas and the history of Jaisalmer in fluent German to a foreigner couple. But as we had time constraints we somehow managed to free ourselves and landed in the museum situated in the Jaisalmer fort. Like all the museums, this one was well maintained too. With considerable entry charges, Rajasthan Government has efficiently managed all the tourist spots. SK and SD could not stop clicking their shots on their DSLR’s. There was so much to spot and click. As we had another long drive ahead, keeping track of time MD urged all of us to move ahead to our next adventure, Patwon ki Haweli. PK had to see this one, no matter what ! Actually our XUV was lost in the gullies outside the fort while we were trying to find the Patwon ki Haveli. With lots of efforts, with 4 of the GPSs running and also with the help of a few locals, we managed to reach there. We entered the Kothari Haveli. Grandeur was the word ! Artwork and designs had no limits to the havelis’ architecture. It was like a museum and we watched all the rooms in the haveli, the kitchen, dining, living room etc in awe.
Finally we left Jaisalmer indeed with a heavy heart. We wish we had some more time to spend in the Golden City. At 1 pm we were cruising on NH115 on our way to Udaipur. It was a long way and we knew we had over-shooted our planned limits. It is said to be extra careful while driving at nights. We realised its importance on this highway when the GPS took us through a “Ghaat” Road. It was the scariest of all roads in the whole trip. No lights, no vehicles, just the four of us hoping to find a fuel station as the blinker had given a warning. Those last 2 hours were like watching a horror movie. It feels easy writing about it now, but it was a thriller night. We were lucky that there was no action. MD was with the steering and the one to speak the least as he was the first recipient of the fuel blinking light. At one point the fuel meter of our beloved XUV showed ZERO and we had 20 more kms to reach Udaipur. We had no idea what we were gona do. SK comforted us that even when it shows a zero there is still reserve fuel in the car, in usual conditions. We really hoped we were in that usual condition. With our hearts throbbing at double rate we entered Udaipur city, but still there was no sign of any fuel station. GPS showed one 2 kms ahead. We raced to it. As our car entered the fuel, station, that very moment, we sweared to each other that we would refill each time the tank is half empty, unconditionally. We checked in out Hotel in Udaipur at 9pm. Still not recovered from the horror movie, PK and SD chose to have dinner in the room by skipping the Christmas gala dinner hosted by the hotel. With baby doll, munni and sheela screaming with extra decibles, the gala dinner did not go the with Royal theme of our roadtrip.
Udaipur is blessed with the lake. Major hotels are situated on one side of the lake. With lanes (including State highways) so small to make way for one car barely, we decided to keep our XUV at the hotel parking and preferred to walk to explore the city. City Palace of Udaipur is a beautifully located structure attracting thousands of tourists. Being the long holiday after Christmas, it had invited many more of them. It was too crowded to see the palace in detail. There were long queues and chatterboxes everywhere, which gave an annoying experience and harmed the peace of the venue. But all of this couldnt be helped. We managed to make the most of it and returned to decide our plans. We had planned to leave Udaipur that very day and head back home. But since we reached late the earlier night, we had not had enough time in the city. SK and MD tried to call a few hotels to check availability, to decide if we could extend another night. Being a long weekend, it was tough, but we were lucky to find rooms in a haveli-style hotel near the lake. It was a delight when we actually checked in the rooms in the afternoon. Had we not stayed in a place like this we would have missed a great deal. It was an old haveli which was now converted into a hotel. They had retained the haveli styling and had just introduced some new amenities for a comfortable stay. The jharokas, the paintings, the carvings, the old wooden furniture gave it that authentic feel. This indeed was a cherry on the cake ! We planned to do the ropeway in the evening. It was an amazing experience barring the long wait at the base due to the holiday rush. The view from the top was spell-bounding. The Taj Hotel on a small island in the lake, the City Palace and the Udaipur City looked stunning from the top. With a few photography experiments, we descended (shopped for souvenirs to our hearts’ content on the way) and chose the rooftop restaurant in our haveli-hotel for our last dinner of the trip. It was an experience of a lifetime. Authentic Rajasthani food in an even authentic ambience, with the lake on one side and a campfire on the other on a chilly December night was the most amazing way to end the trip.
Why was it this day? Why did it not come tomorrow? 6.40 am we winded up and touched the highway again for our journey back to Pune. All of the drive went with discussing memories from each exciting day that we had. We halted for lunch on NH8 and enjoyed the authentic kathiyawadi thali. We crossed Panvel at 7pm to reach home at 8.30pm. Pune, we were back ! We were a changed “us” ! With heaps of memories, lots of GB’s of photographs and a rich database of experiences, we ticked our Rajasthan section from our bucket list with this awesome roadtrip, already gearing up for another!