Thursday, July 29, 2021

Jaisalmer and Jaipur

It was end of the month of December 2020. Corona first wave was going down but here was a threat of it coming back soon. We were at home for many months now and geting desperate to visit somewhere. The idea of a long drive came into mind and so Jaipur - Sambhar - Pokharan - Jaisalmer was finalized.

Our elaborate plan was as below:

Day 1: Lucknow to Sambhar town via Agra and Jaipur

Day 2: Visit Sambhar Lake and Shakambhari Mata Temple, take road to Pokharan via Nagaur

Day 3: Visit Longewala War Place and Tanot Mata Temple, stay at Sam sand dunes

Day 4: Visit Kuldhara, Jaisalmer War Museum

Day 5: Visit Jaisalmer fort, Akal wood Fossil Park and Gadhisar Lake and dolls Museam

Day 6: Jaisalmer to Jaipur

Day 7: Jhalna Leopard Sanctuary, Lake Palace, three forts of Amer, Jaigarh, Nahargarh and Hawa Mahal

Day 8: Visit Albert Hall Museum

Day 9: Jaipur to Lucknow


Day 1:

From Lucknow, we took Agra expressway to Agra. Traffic was minimal and by afternoon we were doing lunch at outskirts of Agra at Agra Jaipur Highway.

For details about Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. Please refer my blog here.

One can stay at Sambhar Lake City as well but options are limited. Through internet, I found the suggestion to stay at Phulera town, about 6 KMs from Sambhar lake.

It was around 8 PM, as we reached Phulera. Its a small town. We got a couple of rooms easily at hotel Rajveer near small bus stand.

Immediately we went out for some food. Options are limited but we got a small dhaba nearby. Food was fine and a good sleep refreshed us for the next day.


Day 2:

Early morning, before sunrise, we took the road to Sambhar Lake. It was dark when we reached there near the Shakambhari Mata Temple.

There was a small shrine of Shiva (Bhairava) as we entered the territories of Sambhar lake. We paid our prayers to merciful lord and drive at the salt bed of Sambhar Lake.

Contrary to the thoughts, the water is very less in lake and that too in a very specific area closer to Lake city town. We could not found any water even after driving on for several KMs. The entire lake bed is white with salty sand and gives a feeling of like mini "Rann of Kachchh".

Driving on this dried salt bed is a fun.

The Sambhar Salt Lake is India's largest inland salt lake. Most of the lake is devoid of any water for several KMs. The lake is an extensive saline wetland, which receives water from five rivers: Medtha, Samaod, Mantha, Rupangarh, Khari, and Khandela.  The lake is elliptically shaped with a length of approximately 35.5 KM and a breadth varying between 3 KM and 11 KM. The circumference of the lake is 96 KM, and it is surrounded by the Aravali hills on all sides.

Sambhar lake basin is divided by a 5-6 km long dam. After the saltwater reaches a certain concentration, it is released by lifting the dam gates and salt is derived from the salt evaporation ponds after the water dries up.

Sambhar Salt Lake produces 196,000 tonnes of salt every year, which is around 9% of India's salt production.

The Indian epic Mahabharata mentions the Sambhar Lake as a part of the kingdom of the demon king Vrishparva, as the place where his priest Shukracharya lived, and as the place where the wedding between his daughter, Devayani, and King Yayati took place. A temple near the lake is dedicated to Devayani.

The legend says that Shakambhari Devi, the tutelary goddess of Chauhan Rajputs and the consort of Lord Shiva, converted a dense forest into a plain of silver as payment for some service. Subsequently, at the request of the inhabitants who dreaded the greed and strife that such a possession would beget, she transformed the silver plain into a lake.

In 1884, ancient sculpture art was discovered in the area as part of small-scale excavation work done in Sambhar Lake. During that excavation, some terracotta structures, coins, and seals were found along with a clay stupa. Later on, around 1934, a large-scale systematic and scientific excavation was conducted in which a large number of terracotta figurines, stoneware, and decorated discs were found. A number of these sculptures from Sambhar are present at the Albert Hall Museum at Jaipur.

After driving for several KMs and taing a lot of pics of Lake and the rising Sun, we went to the nearby temple of Mata Shakambhari. Main gate was channled and from tehre only we were allowed to do the darshan.

Mother blessed us with her divine presence. Mother goddess Shakambhari is an incarnation of mother Parvati. Her name means "The One who nourishes mankind with fruits and vegetables".

I feel that Sambhar Lake’s beauty and vastness is best explored on a full moon night when a walk on it feels like a never ending land of silver.

I heard that the night sky from the chhatri (cenotaph) near Maa Shakambari Devi Temple is incredible.

Now its time to take road towards Jaisalmer. But first we went to town of Phulera and did breakfast of "Mirchi Bhaji" with excellent "Kadhi". The Kadhi of Rajastha is famous and now I came to know why.

It was incredibly delicious.

From Phulera we drove to Nagaur. It was noon as we reached there. The plan was to have a quick look at Nagaur Fort and then move to Pokharan.

To our utter disappointment, the fort was closed due to covid pandemic and nobody was allowed inside.

Nagaur fort was also known as Ahichhatrapur durg, which literally translates into ‘fort of the hooded cobra’. It is situated middle in the Nagaur city.

Spread over 36 acres, The Nagaur Fort is of historical importance. Nagaur fort is the fort built by the ancient Kshatriya clans. In the medieval era, the town of Nagaur sat astride trade routes coming north from Gujarat and Sindh and those on the west crossing the Indus from Multan. With a dead flat plain all around, the defense of the fort depended on the military and economic power of its rulers.

After repeated attacks by Ghaznavi and other Turk invaders, it fell into the hands of them and became one of the first Muslim strongholds in northern India.

Unfortunately, we could not see the fort and remain devoid to feel the times that is still there in its buildings and air!

It was quite hot and humid. We decided to take road to Jaialmer and to take lunch some one the way dhaba. We didnt found any eatery for many KMs, finally one very small dhaba, helped us to regain some energy in that harsh weather.

Just before entering the Pokharan town, we took a left turn on a small road to see the place for the first nuclear blast site, "The Smiling Buddha".

This Nuclear Test Site is located about 45 KM north-west of Pokhran town and 4 KM north of Khetolai village. The test range was built by the Indian Army Corps of Engineers and is under the control of Indian Army. It hosted the detonation of India's first nuclear device on 18 May 1974.

There is no road to the actual site and no markings also. We left the tar road and took the village route. It was able to drive car up to certain distance and after that we went on foot. Soon we spotted a area surrounded by barbed fences. The entire area is desert one with bushes and a very few trees. A board at the locked gate confirmed that it was the site.

We were there only for a few minutes as though "Buddha smiled" here almost 47 years ago, the nuclear radiation is still active.

While returning we encountered a deer on the way. The life thrives even in such harsh conditions.

It was getting dark and we took the road to Pokharan. Initaily we were in double mind as to stay at Pokharan for night or go directly to Jaisalmer, but after some deliberation, we decided to stay at Pokharan.

There are no good places to stay at Pokharan (atleast we didnt found it). It was a small hotel we stayed and took dinner there itself as outside there we couldn't find good eateries.

Its said that the night sky from Pokharan is excellent.But its same from any of te desert town. Also its good only if its dark. In cities and towns, with electricity its difficult to witness that.

There is also a small fort at Pokharan, though we did not visit it. This 14th century citadel also known as "Balagarh", stands amidst the Thar Desert. This monument is the fort of the chief of the rathore, the clan of Rathores of the state of Marwar-Jodhpur.

Day 3:

Early morning, we took the road to Jaisalmer. We discussed and decided to go directly to Longewala and Tanot first before coming back to Jaisalmer.

We did breakfast at a small eatery infront of Jaisalmer Railway station.

With advent of modern irrigation technologies and the availability of waters from Indira Gandhi Canal, the agriculture has started booming in Jaisalmer area as well. I saw many mustard fields being irrigated with sprinkler technology.

Also one can witness a lot of windmills in area.

But still major part of this land is barren with sand and bushes.

There were many small villages on the way, in that desolate land. One can only imagine how tough their life has been since generations!

We were on the way to Longewala.

Here we did one mistake. Anyone coming from Jaisalmer should first go to Tanot and then to Longewala and then to Sam village to stay in sand dunes or can return back to Jaisalmer.

I was quite excited to be at the "Land of Braves" the Longewala village, the site of famous battle in the cold night of 4th and 5th December 1971.

A battle that became a legend and being taught in all military schools acroos the world. This is story of how 120 soldiers with rifles and two gun mounted Jeeps fought with 3000 enemy soldiers and 4 dozen tanks!

The Battle of Longewala was one of the first major engagements in the western sector during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

A Company of the Indian Army's 23rd Battalion, Punjab Regiment, commanded by Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri, was left with the choice of either attempting to hold out until reinforced or fleeing on foot from a Pakistani mechanized infantry force. Choosing the former, Major Chandpuri ensured that all his assets were correctly deployed and made the most use of his strong defensive position, as well as weaknesses created by errors in enemy tactics.

By noon the next day, the assault ended completely, having cost Pakistan 22 tanks destroyed by IAF, 12 by ground anti-tank fire, and some captured after being abandoned, with a total of 100 vehicles claimed to have been destroyed or damaged in the desert around the post. The Pakistani attack was first halted, and then Pakistani forces were forced to withdraw when Indian tanks from the division's cavalry regiment, the 20th Lancers, commanded by Col. Bawa Guruvachan Singh, along with the 17th battalion, Rajputana Rifles, launched their counter-offensive to end the six-hour engagement. Longewala had proved to be one of the defining moments in the war.

The bunkers have been preserved. The entire area is dotted with tanks and trucks of enemy destroyed or abandoned by them.

We lost two of our soldiers but not before killing over 200 of enemy soldiers. As dawn surfaced, IAF fighters concluded the battle by destroying over 3 dozen tanks and forcing already demoralised and deject enemy to flee.

It was like a pilgrimage. I remembered the braves, who were there in that odd situation, who decided to defend the motherland and the cost of their lives and came with flying colors.

Its the courage which shows the path to Victory! Salutations and bravo to our army!

We spend a few hours there. There is also a small museum, but it was closed due to pandemic. Hence we took the road to Tanot Temple.

The roads are excellent here.

It took us around an hour to reach Tanot. On the way both side its barren desert land. We also saw a few villages on the way. I was was thinking how the villagers here can survive...but life goes on.

Goddess Aavad, the daughter of Mamadia Charan (Gadhvi), is worshiped as Tanot Mata. As per the oldest Charan literature, Tanot Mata is an incarnation of divine goddess Hinglaj Mata.

Legend goes like this, long time ago there was man named Mamadia Charan, who had no child, he traveled completely on foot to Hinglaj Mata seven times to attain child. One night, when the hinglaj mata asked that mamadiya Charan (Gadhvi) in her dream, whether you want a son or a daughter, Charan said that you should take birth at my house. By the grace of Hinglaj Mata, seven daughters and one son were born at that house.

One of these was Aavad Mata, who is known as Tanot Mata.

The temple was constructed and the idol of the reigning deity was installed by the Bhati Rajput King Tanu Rao in 828 AD. Since then, the temple has been revered and worshipped by the Bhati Rajputs and the people of Jaisalmer for generations.

Tanot was attacked by the Pakistan Army during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 during which 3,000 bombs were fired towards the temple. However, the bombs either missed their target or did not explode. The unexploded bomb shells still lie in the temple premises. After the 1965 war, India's Border Security Force (BSF) took charge of the temple and the responsibility of managing and maintenance.

After the 1971 war, the Indian Army built a Vijay Stambha (Victory tower) inside the temple compound to commemorate the victory in the Battle of Longewala.

We were blessed by the darshan of mother. We also saw the unexploded shells there.

Pakistan border is about 15 KMs from here. To go there one need permission from BSF officials. So we decided not to pursue that and took the road back to Longewala one the way to Sam sand dunes.

Sam sand dunes are about 125 KMs from Longewala and it us about 2 hours to reach there.

It was evenig as we reached there. There are many tent hotels/resorts who tries to surround you and negotiate the price. Heavy bargaining is required here.

Quickly we finalised one and took the jeep from them to dunes.

There are a total of 3 popular sand dune areas in Jaisalmer which are:

1.      Sam sand dunes

2.      Khuri sand dunes

3.      Lodhruva sand dunes

Here Sam Sand Dunes is quite popular among travellers, as this area of 3-5 km has pure sand with no plants, along with desert camps, camels & jeeps for Jaisalmer desert safari tours and a spot which is now called as Sam sunset point.

Evening I sat on the dunes looking at vast expense of land...far away the Sun was setting and glowing with its golden hue, making all the land shine like gold.

Even in midst of so many fellow travellers, there was peace!

As the night fell, we returned back to resort. There was cultural programs and dinner. A good sleep followed us.

It was bitter cold. Though we were packed with all woollens but still it felt chilled.


Day 4:

Morning, we again went to dunes, this time we took camels. Two folk sinegers approached us and sang a few songs delighting us with their skills and melody.

 Returning back, we took quick breakfast and packed our bags to the village of Kuldhara, about 40 KMs away.

Kuldhara is an abandoned village about 20 KMs from Jaisalmer. It was established around 13th century and was once a prosperous village inhabited by Paliwal Brahmins. It was abandoned by the early 19th century for unknown reasons, possibly because of dwindling water supply, or as a local legend claims, because of the atrocities by the Jaisalmer State's minister Salim Singh. People who migrated from Kuldhara have settled in different parts of India but the majority of people are living in Sirmaur of Himachal Pradesh. The Dutt's Clan of Sirmaur is believed to be the descendant of migrated Brahmins of Kuldhara.

Over years, Kuldhara acquired reputation as a haunted site, and the Government of Rajasthan decided to develop it as a tourist spot in the 2010s.

The local legend claims that while deserting the village, the Paliwals imposed a curse that no one would be able to re-occupy the village. Those who tried to re-populate the village experienced paranormal activities, and therefore, the village remains uninhabited.

We talked to many locals there and felt that they do not believe in the ghost stories, but propagate them in order to attract tourists. In the early 2010s, Gaurav Tiwari of Indian Paranormal Society claimed to have observed paranormal activities at the site. The 18-member team of the Society along with 12 other people spent a night at the village. They claimed to have encountered moving shadows, haunting voices, talking spirits, and other paranormal activities!

We roamed there for some time. A few tourists were there. Administration has reconstructed one house to give impression, how it would have looked like in those days. That’s a good initiative. Nearby temple is also in good condition.

From Kuldhara, we moved to Jaisalmer war museum.

The Jaisalmer War Museum was conceived by Lieutenant General Bobby Mathews, General Officer Commanding, Desert Corps and constructed by the Desert Corps of the Indian Army.

It was dedicated to the Nation by Lieutenant General Ashok Singh, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command, Indian Army, on 24 August 2015. The Museum displays war exhibits which include vehicles and equipment captured during the course of operations in 1965 and 1971. The Jaisalmer War Museum, has an Honour Wall engraved with the names of the Param Vir Chakra and Maha Vir Chakra gallantry award winners, two large Information Display Halls - Indian Army Hall and Longewala Hall, an Audio Visual Room, a souvenir shop and a cafeteria. A Hunter Aircraft of the Indian Air Force, which destroyed enemy tank columns during the Battle of Longewala is also displayed.

The Jaisalmer War Museum is located 10 km short of Jaisalmer on the Jaisalmer - Jodhpur Highway. The inauguration of the Museum took place in the Golden Jubilee Commemoration Year of the 1965 India Pakistan War.

There was a little queue and only a limited number of people were allowed inside to maintain social distancing. WE followed the norms and spend some good times going through each gallery and vehicles/guns/equipment’s displayed.

It was afternoon now, we returned back to Jaisalmer and looked for a good hotel. The hotel we chose also gave us a good view of Jaisalmer fort.

Evening, we spend some time at hotel, relaxing and shooting the glimpses of legendary fort.


Day 5:

Morning after breakfast, it was time to visit the Jaisalmer fort.

The fort is majestic and I am always eager to explain forts. But our enthusiasm dipped when we came to now that fort will remain closed due to death of the current Maharaja of Jaisalmer.

Still we went there. Its tough walls give the idea how it would have been in bygone days. As many of the civilians reside inside the fort, hence the door was open. We explored the fort as much possible. Buildings related to Royal family were closed.

There is a very beautiful Jain temple also inside the fort.

It is believed to be one of the very few "living forts" in the world (such as Carcassonne, France), as nearly one fourth of the old city's population still resides within the fort. For the better part of its 800-year history, the fort was the city of Jaisalmer. The first settlements outside the fort walls, to accommodate the growing population of Jaisalmer, are said to have come up in the 17th century.

Jaisalmer Fort was built in 1156 AD by the Rajput Rawal (ruler) Jaisal from whom it derives its name, and stood at the crossroads of important trade routes (including the ancient Silk road).

 The fort's massive yellow sandstone walls makes it famous as the Sonar Quila or Golden Fort. The fort stands amidst the sandy expanse of the great Thar Desert on Trikuta Hill. It is today located along the southern edge of the city that bears its name; its dominant hilltop location making the sprawling towers of its fortifications visible for many miles around

Many of the strategic places are still fortified with Guns, which adds to its majestic look.

Somehow I feel that residents who live inside need to leave the fort. Their presence is eroding the structure and thus eating its life.

After Jaisalmer fort, it was time to visit Akal Fossil Museum.

Akal Wood Fossil Park is a National Geological Monument. It is located in Akal village, about 15 KMs from Jaisalmer in a barren and rocky terrain.

The park contains fossils of wood and shells of the Early Jurassic period, that is almost 180 million of years old. There are about a dozen fossilised wood logs lying horizontally oriented in random directions.

The Geological Survey of India (GSI) declared the site a National Geological Monument in 1972. The park was maintained by GSI till 1985, when maintenance was handed over to the Forest Department of Government of Rajasthan. Now, the park is maintained by the authorities of the Desert National Park. The exposed tree trunks have been protected by iron grill cages with tin sheet roofing.

The fossils are considered to be of non-flowering trees such as Chir, Deodar and Redwood, as only non-flowering plants existed during the geological time when the fossilization took place.

Existence of fossils of shells also suggests that the region was a sea once upon a time.

Not many people were there. We climbed a small hillock and sat tere with a mesmeriasing 360 degree view of the surrounding!

That evening we also visited the dolls (Puppet) museum and then to Ghadiar lake.

There was a show of folk dance and song using puppets. It was quite good. Its a must visit place if you visit Jaisalmer.

Gadhisar Lake was built by the founder of Jaisalmer, King Rawal Jaisal in 1156 AD and later rebuilt by Gadsi Singh in the year around 1367 AD. It is said that this lake once provided water to the entire city. The lake also has many chhatris and shrines.

 We were there at lake for quite some time. We visited the lake twice, once in afternoon while returning from Akal Museum and then again in late evening. We saw the sun set from there as its golden hues illuminated the waters. The shrines and Chhatries around were glowing like gold!

It was our last day at Jaisalmer. WE returned back to hotel and did dinner there while witnessing the golden rampart and walls of the majestic fort!

Day 6:




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