india travel shot: a temple for a rajput biker and his enfield

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Last year, during the months of October-November, I travelled across Rajasthan by road with different cabs for each leg of my 35-day journey. I soon started to notice one constant element across the taxis’ dashboards. They had a framed photo of a young turbaned gentleman, either perched on it or hanging from the rear-view mirror. My first thought was: he must be a relative of the driver. But when the photograph kept cropping up in almost every cab, I was confused. All the drivers could not exactly be related to the same man.

So, I asked, though I really did not want to sound nosy or offend anyone.

What emerged was a story which, I mused, could only happen in India! But before I share the story, I was also told there was a special site associated with the turbaned gentleman and it was on the highway connecting Jodhpur with Udaipur. When I asked rather hesitantly if one could stop at it, my then driver laughed. “Whether you like it or not, your driver will stop there.” Continue reading

thar desert: stories told and untold

Thar Desert, or the Great Indian Desert as it is also known, is the large arid region in north-west Rajasthan surrounding the thousand-year-old enigmatic fortress of Jaisalmer on all four sides.

Covered over an expanse of 200,000 square kilometres, it is the world’s 20th largest desert, as well as the world’s most densely populated desert [at 83 people per square kilometre]. Some 40 percent of Rajasthan’s population lives in the Thar, eking out a living on its barren stretch through agriculture and animal husbandry.

Folk art and music offer a much-needed respite in the face of hardship here; just as vibrant-coloured odhnis and turbans give a dash of colour to the otherwise dusty, bare, uninhabited miles. 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

pushkar: where the gods and seekers meet

Pushkar.

No Hindu pilgrimage is believed to be complete without a stop at Pushkar, Rajasthan’s rose garden. A polestar for the seeker within since ancient times, it is apt that the little town’s rose essences have been exported far and wide through the centuries.

Not that Pushkar’s spirituality washes over one like a massive tumultuous wave, creating an instant transformation. Nope. Nothing like that at all. It is instead subtle and gentle, with a consistent, tangible peace hanging around the 52 ghats and 500 or so temples which line its very soul—Pushkar Sarovar, Sarovar meaning ‘Lake’.

Yet, this devout peaceful haven, a mere two-and-a-half-hour drive from Jaipur, is inexorably tied to an eclectic mix of myths and traditions which range from a first wife’s wrath to being the seat of the Hindu god of creation. Continue reading