After the first year of MBA, I got through to the second year. Thank god for that, for a multitude of reasons. First, obviously it is quite satisfying to complete the first year in the first year itself. Second, once the first year is done, the second year is a cakewalk. [ And the number of birthdays that one can attend on campus, does give it a literal meaning as well]. Given that there is infinite free time in the second year, I figured it would be a good idea to have conveyance to be able to visit places around Ahmedabad. My car was in Amritsar, which is not an optimal base location to visit areas around Ahmedabad, so I figured I should get it to Ahd. So I drove from Asr to Ahd in Dec end 2011.
Initially there were supposed to be five of us, Karanvir, Mayur, Neeraj, Sangeetesh and me. As it turned out, three of them dropped the plans at (almost) the last moment, but Neeraj had already committed himself to it. His lives in Guwahati, he had already reached Delhi, so it was the two of us. Good for us, cause as we realized later, luggage might have been an issue with more people.
We charted out the plan, and then conveniently forgot it. We could have taken Asr-Delhi-Ahd route or taken the route through Ganganagar, Bikaner etc. The latter is relatively closer to the western border, and passes through many non descript places. So we took decided to the latter route, it fitted the idea of a road trip much better than going along major cities.
The plan for day 1 was to cover the Asr-Bikaner stretch [ 500 km], it looked reasonable for a day; start at 6 or 7 am from Asr, reach Bikaner in the evening. Look for a place to stay using expert guidance of a friend who hails from Bikaner, and then start off the next day from Bikaner.
We forgot to factor in the paratha and lassi breakfast and last minute preparations at home. We got up late, and then figured it might be a good idea to have a GPS enabled phone or a data card to be able to check directions. So we searched for a suitable phone online. Then we went out to look for the phone in the market. While at it, we were told that it would take a day or two to activate a new SIM and get data connectivity on it. So we bought some oranges.
So we had lunch at home and started off at 1pm.
There are a couple of things that happen when one starts off late. One, there is obviously lesser time to travel Two, there is way more traffic on the roads and the average speed comes out to ~40 kmph.
Driving through the night was not on the cards, it did not make sense. One , with oncoming vehicles and bright headlights, one needs to be a lot more careful. Two, it is tougher to ask for direction cause there are not many people around. Three, night driving would translate into sleeping through the day, so what was the point of it ?
Net net, it got dark, and we were nowhere close to Bikaner. We stopped at a petrol pump, to get a full fuel tank. Also because there was a dhaba opposite to it, and we were hungry.
Neeraj to the petrol pump guy: “ bhaiya yeh saamne waal dhaba kaisa hai? Khana accha hai ?”
Pump guy: sirjee sahi batao to yeh achha to nahin hai
Pump guy: phir aap aage chale jao, Char rasta paar kar ke do dhabe hain, aamne saamne, who acche hein
Neeraj: theek hai. thank you.
So we went up ahead, and stopped at the suggested dhaba. We asked the guy of we would get dinner there, on getting an affirmation, we sat down. And then we asked him where could we get a place to stay, the motive also being to slyly get to know where exactly we were. It turned out that 40 km ahead, there was Sri Ganganagar[200km from short of Bikaner], and we could get a place to stay there.
Cool, so I called up home, and asked them to check on the net if there were places to stay in SriGanganagar. As it turned out, Ganganagar is quite a religious place with many gurudwaras, and they seemed to be the recommended places to stay.
So we reached Ganganagar, stopped at random shop, and asked him if we could find a place somewhere to stay. There were three people at the shop, the shopkeeper, a customer and an onlooker. The customer turned out to be the good Samaritan.
Me: yahan koi rehne ki jagah hai kya?
Guy: Aapko hotel mein rehna hai ya dharmshala mein ?
Me: Night stay hi karna hai, to kuchh bhi theek thaak chalega
Guy: Aap dono gents hi ho, to dharmshala chale jao. Aage sanatan dharmshala hai. Badhiya jagah milegi. Attachd bathroom, geyser, sab. 800-900 kharch karne hai ho hotel bhi mil jaaega , per faayda koi nahin.
Me: parking hogi vahan?
Guy: hanji hanji, badhiya parking hai, dharmshaale ke andar hi.
Me: Theek hai, rasta kya hai?
Guy :(explain the directions, and then) mmm..aap mere peechhe aa jao,main dikha deta hoon. ( and he actually led us on his bike to the dharmshala)
And the guy was right !!!
It was a very apt place for us to stay, the value proposition was amazing. Neeraj was wonder eyed, and later resolved to stay only in dharmshalas while travelling. Though I am not sure how relevant was the samaritan’s comment ‘you are all guys, so dharmshala is good’, as there were quite a few families staying there as well.
The place had central quadrangle, and rooms all around it, a four storey building. The car got parked in the quadrangle, which could have accommodated 50 cars I think. The reception if this dharmshala was behind grilled window. It reminded me of the cashier window at banks when I was a kid, and the liquor shops when I grew up.
So we had options of the kind of accommodation we wanted.. Dorms for Rs 50 per person, a two bedded Delux room for Rs 150, and a super deluxe room for Rs 230. After much deliberation :D, we took the super deluxe room. The room was huge, the floor area would have been around 400 sq feet I guess. The fact that the room had nothing by the way of furniture apart from the beds is a different matter. Two single beds were positioned along one edge of the room, and at the other end, stood a lonesome cot. So we ate some oranges.
So having learnt the lesson of the day i.e. we should start early, we had an early night and got up early next morning. We checked out around 7am I guess, got into the car and asked for directions from a bystander to get on the highway for Bikaner.
We were informed to go straight, then as soon as we see a main road, turn left and it would lead us to the highway. Simple enough, so straight we went for a while, and it seemed a lot more than what we had been led to believe, so we asked for directions again. It turned out that we had missed the main road, but there was another main road which could take if we went straight. We went straight, and seemed to have missed the main road again. So we checked with the next bystander, and indeed, we had missed two main roads, but the next turn (which we could see from where were) was another main road which would lead us to the highway. As it turns out, the ‘main road’ idea was a cemented road, 30 feet wide, with houses on either side. But well, we went on our way to Bikaner.
The highways (state/national/district) in Rajasthan are amazing. They are very well maintained, and have very little traffic, and fewer turns. In fact, on the map,, the road from Ganganagar to Suratgarh looks as if it has been drawn using a ruler. So I reached speeds which I could not have reached in other states, and were beyond even the imagination of Neeraj. And we cruised at 140kmph .
So we reached Bikaner around 11am I guess. And then we called up Manpreet to check if it was worth going into Bikaner. There was temple famous for rats, but that is about it. So we bypassed Bikaner, and took a turn towards Pokhran. It sounded much more interesting.
So we reached Pokhran. Obviously we were not allowed into the military area to check out the nuclear blast site, so we ate some oranges. Now we have is a happy pic of us at the gates of the army camp. Next possibility was Jaisalmer, but neither was too keen to go there as we thought it would be too touristy, but we really wanted to see the desert, so we called up Manpreet again. He suggested we go to Barmer. “Main kabhi gaya to nahin hoon, per log jaate hain, to achha hoga”
Pokhran is a village; so somewhat populated. There was an auto-rickshaw full of people which stopped on the road close to us. So we asked for directions. All of the guys in the autorickshaw decided to answer our call, simultaneously. Then one by one, their voices faded, and in the end the lone survivor was the guy who was giving directions in angrezi.
Guy: (explains directions)
I: (nod), theek hai, so ..( I repeat the directions.)
Guy: Haan. Chalo. Thank you very much.
Me: (amused) Thank you
And with smiles all around, the auto went away.
So we skipped Jaisalmer and passed through many rural roads (which were brilliant as well), and saw many many camels, and many many army tanks being ferried on trucks, and we reached Barmer some time before dusk.
Barmer is, let’s say, an upcoming city. It is the district headquarters and has a court as well. We had homed in on dharmshalas as a generic place to stay. So as soon as we got into Barmer, asked an autorickshaw guy for information.
Me: bhaiya yahan koi rehne ke liye dharmshala hai
Rickshaw guy: yahan to nahin, aage hai ( I guess his frame of reference defined for “here” was much narrower than mine)
Me : kaunsi, kahan hai?
Rickshaw guy: Ek seva sadan, aur ek ranchhod. Dono aage hain, paas paas hi hain
Me: Acchi kaunsi hai?
Rickshaw guy (punchline): Jahan jagah mil jaaye wohi achhi hai.
So we went ahead, asked the directions a couple of time more, reached Ranchhod dharmshala, did not like it as it did not have parking space and we were supposed to park in car park of a nearby national handloom shopping centre. So we went to Seva Sadan dharmshala and got us the ‘deluxe suite’ there.
Interesting fact: And while taking noting down our details in his old registers, the guy at the counter of the dharmshala asked us Naam, Pita ka naam, kahan se aaye ho , address phone no etc and jati. That was a shocker. I am not even sure what my jati is, so replied “garg, baniya, hindu”, assuming that he would pick up whatever was relevant; and then asked him if it they allowed only certain castes or something of the sort. I think he did say that they allow all, but “formality hai, poori to karni parti hai”.
Later, we ventured out to eat. We had to check out places to see, where to find the desert, and eat dinner. Non-veg was the food we wanted, so we checked eateries around, and all were vegetarian. So we asked a traffic policeman there on if there was place there that served non veg. He thought for a while and then he expanded his area under consideration and came with a place that was about 2km away. He detailed to us the directions as well.
While we were talking to him, we figured we might as well ask him about where to find sand.
Me: Amritsar se ahmedabad jaa rahe hain, to rajasthan mein registan dekh lete. Gaadi hai, kal jaayenge, so registan kahan hoga ?
Traffic guy: Bauji yahaan registan to nahin hai. Yahaan to tille-tulle hi hain. Tille dekh kar kya karoge?
(note: tille= hillocks)
Me: Haan, per aaye hain to dekh lete hain. Hamein bataya tha ke log barmer bhi aate hain
Traffic guy: Haan aate to hain, oer daftari kaam se aate hain. Yeh disctrict headquarters hai. asal registan to jaisalmer mein hi hai
Me: Oh,to yahaan kuchh nahin hai?
Traffic guy: Nahin, kuchh hai to nahin, Jaana hi hai to Chauhattan chale jao. Vahaan dikh jaayega.
Me : Theek hai. Shukriya
But immediate food matter at hand, we took an autorickshaw through closed markets to get to another highway which was dotted with vegetarian restaurants. We found the one we had been directed towards, and went in, sat down asked for the menu, and realized that it was a pure –veg place. Lesson learnt after a wasted hour. Do not try to find non veg in Rajasthan.
So we came back after having some dinner, got up early in the morning and went out to the reception to check out. We also asked for directions to Chauhattan, and other places to visit. We were told of a couple of temples that could be visited. A bunch of devi temples. It seems they have a fascination for goddesses. The gods must be feeling left out.
And we asked for a place to have breakfast, and we were told of the ‘Viratra Mata’ temple near Chauhattan as well. There should be good food available there.
Seva sadan dharmshala is on a major road, and we asked for direction to Chauhattan from the guy at the counter. He gave us directions, and then pointed towards the road where a bus was happened to pass by at that very moment. “yeh bus dekh rahe ho?” “hanji”. “bas issi ke peechhe peechhe chale jao. Yeh chauhattan ja rahi hai”. I guess he expected us to pay him, get into the car and get the car from the parking to the road in the split second that we had while the bus crossed us. Maybe they are used to, or believe strongly in miracles.
Anyhow, we drove towards Chauhattan. As usual, amazing roads, and it was cool morning. It used to get really hot by afternoon. We reached Chauhattan, asked for directions towards the temple, and moved towards it, reached there.
We were expecting it to be on a hillock, but no it was not. It was on level ground. So no good views from there. But we visited the temple and then looked around for the place temple kitchen and the promised good food. It turned out that they did not serve breakfast. Lunch was served in the afternoon, and one had to purchase a coupon in the morning for that. Obviously out.
But the signboard also said that there was milk and tea available through the day. So we waited for someone to come to the relevant counter and give us tea/milk. A little while later, one guy came, conveniently reached out to the glasses and teapot inside the counter and poured a cup for himself; and advised us to do the same. Unfortunately, he had taken the last cup that was within reach through the small counter window. So we longed as we saw the pile of cups that were out of reach. Anyhow, a while later, another person appeared, unlocked the door of the kitchen, and poured for us some tea and milk. And off we went, back towards Chauhattan.
So now that the possibility of having a good view from the temple had been dashed, we thought of alternative courses of action. There was a road that we had crossed near Chauhattan that said had a signboard “hilltop 10km”. It seemed promising. So we went up that hill. It turned out that the hill had an army camp and a helipad at the top, and we were forbidden to go there. But that was ok, we did not miss a lot of elevation due to that. We stopped where we were stopped, and the view there was good. So we ate oranges there. A vast expanse of arid land with nothing but shrubs and bushes, hillocks far far away; the town of Chauhattan at some distance, and yes.. the desert ! Should be around 4kms square, but sand. Sand and sand dunes ! And we chilled out there for a while, for we had seen the sand now.
And then we were hungry. So we went into Chauhattan looked for a place to eat and were directed to “ma bhawani hotel”, which was supposed to have (quote) “Chauhattan’s best first class a1 restaurant” So we went there. It was a shack, but good dhaba food. We had daal roti subji and asked then asked for shikanji, which he said they do not serve, or nimboo paani which they did not serve. But he was happy getting for us nimboo and sugar and water. And so we made the nimboo paani for ourselves. Lost revenue for the owner.
And then towards Ahmedabad we started. The original plan had included that we make a stop at Kumbhalgarh. There is a fort there, and many leopards, but then, in the spirit of bypassing places, we decided against Kumbhalgarh as well, and reached Ahd at night.
The roads are too good in Gujarat as well, but not the oranges.