exploring jaisalmer: one of the world’s few surviving living forts

It was nearing midnight. We’d been on the road for close to nine hours, having left Mandawa at three in the afternoon.

The deserted highway, smooth and wide, was sheathed in golden desert sand under a pitch-black sky. Our drive constantly interrupted with herds of prancing wild camel, stoic buffaloes, and abandoned cattle which merged with the darkness of the night. We were on our way to Jaisalmer in the north-west frontiers of Rajasthan.

I will never forget the calm words of my 22-year-old driver, Budharam Bishnoi, the first time an animal sneaked in front of our speeding vehicle: “Jitna aapki suraksha karna mera dharam hai, utna hi inn jeevo ka suraksha karna bhi mera dharam hai. Aap chinta mat karein.” [Just as it is my duty to protect you, it is also my duty to protect these animals. Don’t worry.” Continue reading

bikaner: the forgotten jewel of the thar desert

Encircled by Rajasthan’s harsh and dusty Thar Desert is the medieval city of Bikaner. Once upon a time Bikaner was one of the most powerful cities on the Great Silk Road, opulent and exotic, its people wealthy beyond compare. Silks, spices, precious metals, and opium were traded here. Culture and ideas from east and west met and merged within its streets. But when trade routes shifted and other centres were created by the vagaries of time—Bikaner was forgotten. But never destroyed.

Wise enough to realise that the gains of peace were more enduring than the booty of war, diplomacy and the desert kept Bikaner safe from battles and conquests. There are no mutilated temples in Bikaner. Nor abandoned crumbling forts and palaces. Neither have modernism and commercialism dived through the desert yet to deafen its individuality. Off the tourist circuit, Bikaner is rarely visited, and when so, only by the intrepid.

Rajasthan’s forgotten jewel in the Thar Desert traces itself back to 1488. Prior to it, the area was a desolate wasteland called Jangladesh. And it may have remained a wasteland were it not for the ambitions of a young Rajput prince. Continue reading