A few days ago, in October 2019, on my way home from work, I heard an e-rickshaw driver calling out in Hindi,
“Chahiye ek savari,
Halki ho ya bhari,
Nar ho ya nari!”
His co-passengers were giggling. I also chuckled as I mentally translated this into English. The translated version too sounded very good.
Here it is.
“Need just one more passenger.
Of whatever gender.
Lighter or heavier.”
Like plants, even poems sometimes spring up in the most unlikely places, don’t they?
Well, I stretched the poem a little bit more. It was so much fun! Here you go.
We will move further,
Ahead, past the boulder.
You are sadder or happier
Today, it doesn’t matter.
See if you can add some more lines to it. I would love to know.
On the night of 28 February 2019, my family and I began our 4-day journey to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer from Delhi Cantonment Railway Station.
I had lots of apprehensions even before we began. But I didn’t want to be a spoilsport, so I just flowed along with the tide.
Our tour of Jaisalmer included a day of Jeep and camel safari in the sand dunes followed by a night in an outdoor camp; not really my idea of an ideal holiday, to be honest, especially after barely recovering from a severe back injury from a fall on the stairs at home.
All the planning and execution was done by my husband Sukhangshu, right down to the smallest detail. It was meant to be a birthday gift for both of us (his 2nd March, mine 4th March).
My daughter Suroshri, on the other hand, was super excited and looked forward to it. As they say in Africa, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
Our previous visit to Rajasthan was in around 2013 for a safari tour in the jungle of Ranthambore. We were part of a big group of friends and family members. One of them, Amitabh Bose, a highly accomplished photographer, clicked lots of gorgeous pics of the lovely landscape and all those exotic plants and animals. But things became awry for me when we were half way through. I ended up writing a poem about it. URL:
I was super worried this time and I took extra precautions. I drank only mineral water, avoided food items that don’t suit me, such as citrus fruits and dairy products, and always used hand sanitizer before popping anything into my mouth. While I was packing my things, Sukhangshu reminded me to keep a scarf “to protect from sand.”
Here is a day-wise account.
28 February 2019: Both the railway station and the train’s washroom appeared to be much cleaner this time. Around midnight, I woke up suddenly to find Sukhangshu wide awake. He told me that the train door kept opening and it was raining outside. He was shivering. We had 2 sleeping bags only. Suroshri was inside one and I was using the other. I quickly came out of my sleeping bag and I made him slip into it. We were in this together and couldn’t afford to have him falling sick. That won’t do, I thought.
While Sukhangshu slept, I lay down on the other berth and tried all the different ways possible to keep myself warm. Thrusting my legs into a backpack, wrapping myself in a shawl, etc, etc. When nothing worked, I sat up and tried to distract myself by looking out of the window, as the light was too dim for reading and writing. Hmmm, so another Ranthambore lay ahead, I thought, with dark clouds gathering in my mind…
I was quite unaware that Suroshri had been watching me. Like a loving, guardian angel, she quietly came down and wrapped her sleeping bag around the two of us. She thrust a ear plug into my ear and tried to make me watch a movie with her on her mobile phone. That was how we managed and the night passed peacefully.
Around 5 AM, the chaiwallahs came in and we felt better after having some chai…
Later on, Suroshri showed me the pic she clicked with her cellphone of me before coming down…See below.
1 March 2019: We reached Jodhpur around 10 AM. The sun was shining brightly and it was no longer very chilly.
While climbing the stairs, my gaze fell on the Tricolor standing tall within the station premises. It was fluttering merrily in the clear, blue sky with gay abandon. And then I saw a large group of people sporting pink turbans, colorful dresses, and garlands of Marigold flowers around their necks with red tilak on their foreheads moving slowly towards the exit. They were apparently on their way to a wedding. They were laughing and chatting. It was all a very heady combo indeed, the blue sky, the huge flag dancing joyfully with the breeze, the red tilaks, and the marigold garlands. I could not help stopping by to admire the scene and click lots of pics. I could already feel my urban blues evaporating from my tired body. When I finally caught up with Sukhangshu and Suroshri impatiently waiting for me ahead, they smiled and had this to say.
“You have already taken off, Jasbir, and our tour hasn’t even begun.”
“Mom, don’t wander like this alone. You may get lost.”
That felt nice. Suroshri has grown up now, I reminded myself.
That morning, we checked into the Jodhpur Railway Station dormitory where we had a prior booking. We were the only ones around, so we had enough space and privacy. It was clean and tidy too. The washroom didn’t have a geyser, though, but the water that emerged from the tap was warm.
After a quick bath, which was quite refreshing, we had our breakfast at the Station’s restaurant located just right next to our dormitory. The food was very tasty and very reasonably priced. A plate each of alu-parantha, bread-omlette, and toasted bread with two cups of tea and a cup of coffee got us a bill of just Rs.107!
Immediately after breakfast, we re-packed our suitcases and parked them in the locker room. Finally, around 12:30 PM, we were ready for our Jodhpur tour. Our autowallah doubled up as our guide. Jodhpur is not a very big city like Delhi and we managed to see all the major attractions in one day.
We visited the Mehrangarh Fort museum, Umaid Palace, Jaswant Thada, and the huge garden nearby. It’s a great wonder indeed that more than 1000 years ago, people managed to create such strong, majestic buildings and works of art with lasting value without any access to the kind of technology we have now.
On our way back to the railway station, we had our lunch and did some shopping. We bought a Rajasthani quilt too, which is well-known for being warm, lightweight, and easily foldable. We had another journey ahead of us at night and we couldn’t afford to shiver again like last time.
Here are some of our Jodhpur pics. They were clicked by Sukhangshu. Mine got accidentally deleted because of insufficient memory.
After returning to our dormitory room at the railway station, we rested for a while and had our dinner later at the station restaurant. Around 11:30 PM, we were inside the train on our way to Jaisalmer.
Most of our co-passengers, we discovered, were tourists. One girl casually told her group that all the berths were dusty and she dusted hers with a newspaper. I rubbed my forefinger on my berth and I found that she was right. That was enough to give me a sense of impending doom. Apart from getting tossed about on a jeep and a camel, I now had an additional worry about falling severely sick again because of dust allergy. But there was obviously no point in talking about it now. Better to cross the bridge when we reach it, I told myself. So, with a strong determination, I kicked all the negative thoughts aside and let God handle this…I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.
2 March 2019: I woke up all of a sudden with a start. I thought I had gone to bed only five minutes ago! The train was still. People were walking slowly with shuffling feet and pushing their luggage out. I heard Sukhangshu murmuring, “We’ve reached Jaisalmer. It’s 7 AM.”
I quickly snapped out of the sleeping bag and exclaimed, “But I need to go to the washroom first.”
“Don’t worry. The train will stand here for a while. Go ahead, but come soon.”
When I returned, I was relieved to see our things all rolled up and properly packed. Five minutes later, we were ready to move out.
We boarded a pre-booked cab at the station and reached our hotel (Desert Pride) in less than 15 minutes. Our room was quite clean, not at all dusty as I had imagined.
While reading the newspapers and having our morning tea, Suroshri remarked, “Mom, you forgot something. It’s Papa’s birthday today.”
Oh dear, how silly of me, I thought. It was the first time that we were away from home on our birthdays and everything was topsy-turvy. Every moment held a big surprise.
Suroshri and I hugged and kissed Sukhangshu. It was his turn that day to gather all the love and best wishes.
After changing into fresh clothes, we stepped out for our Jaisalmer tour. Sukhangshu asked our cab wallah to drive us first to a restaurant for breakfast and then to all the places we were going to visit that day. We kept our luggage in the boot as we were going to need it at the camp at night.
To my pleasant surprise, Jaisalmer turned out to be a very picturesque town with huge forts and lots of ancient, beautiful works of art lurking in every corner. Certainly not a dusty, irritating town that I imagined it would be! I soon realized that desert sand, unlike dust, doesn’t stick anywhere, not even to clothes. So it doesn’t cause any harm and you can easily shake it off from wherever it is.
The people in Jaisalmer too are very nice, tourist-friendly, and honest. While sightseeing inside the Jain Temple, I forgot to pick up my purse from one of the alcoves where I had kept it while listening to our guide. It contained a lot of valuables. I got it back from their office later with a gentle fatherly advice to “Be very careful while moving around in the city. Elsewhere you may not be so lucky.” Later, after returning to Delhi, we found one packet missing in our suitcase. It contained a jacket and a pair of Rajasthani jutties. We called up at Desert Pride and they told us that, yes, they found it in our room and would courier it. We received it in less than a week’s time…
From the Fort area, we came to the desert camp, where we were given a ceremonial welcome in the typical Rajasthani style. It felt very good indeed, refreshingly different from an uncaring Delhi. From here, we headed to the place from where our safari was to begin.
Not only did I pass through the jeep and camel safari with flying colors, to my great surprise, I had a great time dancing on the dunes too. Sukhangshu made a video of it. Click here and watch it. https://youtu.be/GpcsKgLEegA
We returned to our camp by sunset. We stepped out of our tent later for the main attraction, the Rajasthani Folk Cultural Program. It was very cold outside, but we managed to stay put because of the continuous flow of hot tea and snacks. The program, however, ended sooner than usual because it was about to rain. After a quick dinner, we returned to our tent. It had become chillier than before, so we asked the staff for additional blankets.
All through the night, the rain lashed on our tent mercilessly and it kept on getting colder and colder. When I woke up around 3 AM to go to the toilet, I discovered that the electricity supply was off. So I had to switch on my mobile phone torch, which I had fortuitously placed close by. When I returned, I was alarmed to find a small patch of moisture on the tent’s ceiling. I wondered if we were going to get drenched very soon and I went back to bed with my nerves on tenterhooks, ready to scream with the fall of the very first drop of water. But, thank God, nothing of the sort happened.
3 March: Just before sunrise, the rain stopped, although it was still very cloudy and chilly.
We were pleasantly surprised to find the hospitality standards reasonably good in spite of the bad weather and difficult conditions. We got our morning tea on time and the buffet breakfast, though cold, was very delicious. It was a typical Rajasthani breakfast consisting of poha, pooris, and potato gravy. It was so good that I had to remind myself to not overeat. Around 11 AM, we were back at Desert Pride.
This time, we got ready at a very leisurely pace as we were close to the end of our tour. Around lunch time, we strolled to a nearby restaurant, where Suroshri and Sukhangshu tried out the local Rajasthani non-veg food. I stuck to the simple vegetarian stuff as usual.
From here, we proceeded to the Gadisur Lake, where we had a boat ride. Sukhangshu decided that we would row the boat on our own. We found the place breathtakingly beautiful and we had a great time humming our favorite tunes while the boat moved on the placid lake.
Here also, we had a mini adventure. Another boatman had been whistling and trying to come close to our boat. We thought he was perhaps one of those touts who try to extort money from tourists. So we tried to row the boat away from him towards land on the opposite side.
Suddenly there was a loud sound and our boat refused to move. My heart skipped a beat. Were we about to go down the Titanic way? I wondered. Sukhangshu smiled and said, “Don’t worry. Look at those birds. Half of their legs are outside water. We won’t sink.”
He was right. The whistling boatman rushed to our side and said, “You guys refused to listen and are now too far into the shallow part of the lake. You will have to get your boat pushed back now. No other way out.”
We agreed. When our boat started moving again, he asked for some money as his fees and we gladly paid him.
On our way back to Desert Pride, we did some shopping for some clothes and jewellery. We did some more sightseeing and bought some snacks too, including the famous Rajasthan kachoris fresh out of the karahi. They taste better after cooling down. We had some kachoris with tea at a local tea stall and later at our hotel. We felt full and didn’t feel like having any dinner.
At around 12 AM, we boarded the train from Jaisalmer Railway Station to Delhi. While moving out of Desert Pride in the cab, we got a glimpse of the Jaisalmer Fort glowing with a golden light under a starlit sky. It looked ethereal. Satyajit Ray’s detective film Sonar Killa was inspired from Jaisalmer Fort.
4 March, 12:30 AM: The train was moving now on its way to Delhi, our home. It was the first time in my life that I celebrated my birthday at the stroke of midnight! We kept the cake part for home and had pastries, etc, in the train.
Here are a few random clicks from Jaisalmer.
Walking in my husband’s and daughter’s footsteps…
At the camp…
And now, here are some pics from Suroshri’s collection.
At Jodhpur Railway Station restaurant, at breakfast
View from a restaurant
Inside the museum
In the bazaar
Birthday celebration at Jaisalmer Railway Station at the stroke of midnight…
And finally, here’s our home-coming celebration, after reaching at late night of 4 March 2019…with birthday cake and food from outside…
I was, to my great surprise, fit enough next morning to go to office. I shared some of the birthday cake with my office pals as well…
Well, all is well that ends well, isn’t it?
Next time, when Sukhangshu plans another trip like this one, I am sure I would be very excited about it.☺️
Jago, Grahak Jago…(meaning in Hindi, “Wake up, Customer, wake up…”)
Recently, my husband Sukhangshu bagged a major role in Badalav, a short Youtube film by Ministry of Consumer Affairs on this subject. It made me feel very proud…Click here…https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=share&v=RYVbeqrJBxg