Road to the West (Part I)
Updated: Mar 4, 2022
A ten day experience to interiors of Rajasthan and Gujarat; on a personal vehicle
There is no shortage of gems in India and almost every state boast of attraction that puts it on the world map. We went off on a journey to explore some of the roads less traveled and experience magnificent architecture, natural wonders and connect with nature at the same time. Some of these places we had visited years back, however, it stayed back in our minds, and we always thought of visiting them again. This time we had company with us @Oblong shots. The simmering sun of December meant perfect weather for travel and enjoying roads with good company.
One State, many wonders, silky roads and one of the finest food offerings, that's right, and above all changing landscape with blink of eye and this is Rajasthan for you.
We planned to cover some of the architectural jewels of Rajasthan, embrace nature’s phenomenon in Gujarat at Kutch concluding with the pristine beaches of Diu while spending 10 days on road and traveling approximately 3250 KMs.
We hit and enjoyed the following cities on the trip:
1. Jodhpur (Small Detour – Ajmer Dargah and Bullet baba temple)
3. Bhuj / Rann of Kutch
5. Chittaurgarh (via Ahmedabad)
Day wise itinerary:
Day 1: Get set Jodhpur: As always, we planned to leave early in the morning and cover maximum journey with the sun hanging on the top. So we left around 5:00 AM from Gurugram (Gurgaon) and took a breakfast halt around Kothputli (Old Rao Hotel) before reaching Ajmer around 10/11 AM. This was our first-time visit to a Muslim holy place (Ajmer Sharif Dargah), so had some struggle in adapting to rituals and practice. It was a good experience overall and we left little enriched in our culture and heritage. Our next detour was Bullet Baba temple, an unusual deity in remembrance of Om Banna, where people offer whiskey as devotional offerings. It's hardly a ten fifteen-minute detour however worth it.
Our next halt was for lunch at Pali and then straight to the elegant structure, Mehrangarh fort. It’s hard to overlook such an immense fort Overlooking the blue city. In vicinity to the fort is Jaswant Thada, a resting place for many noblemen and members of the erstwhile royal family of Jodhpur. We also had plans for visiting Umaid Bhawan Singh palace however it was shut for tourists due to Covid-19. Our day ended with finger-licking Pyaaz Kachoris and Mirchi Vada from Shahi Samosa
Day 2: Onwards toward Jaisalmer: We started our day early around 7 AM towards Mandore (known for its Ravana temples built inside a garden full of monkeys) enjoying the architecture of Mandore garden, and further on to Jaisalmer. You will not be disappointed in your travel as roads are as smooth as butter and worth swooshing over. We reached Jaisalmer by noon and had ample time exploring the “living” fort. Our first visit was to the ancient Jain temples inside the fort and its amazing carvings. The temple follows strict opening/closing timelines. The wall cravings in all these temples will leave you in awe of the architecture and the peace will easily port you into another dimension. King and Queen palace are in the vicinity of the temple. However, its upkeep and maintenance are at a lower level in comparison to Jodhpur palace (maybe because it is a living palace). The place is swarmed by guides, and it's totally at one's whim to either visit the palace on your own or take a guide. If you are very much interested in knowing more about royalties, I suggest taking a guide package to cover the palace, Patwaon ki Haveli, and few more locations in the 3km radius of the fort. One can have delicious food around the palace, there are multiple restaurants, and you can choose from Indian, Continental, Italian, Chinese cuisines. We covered the temples, Cannon point (there are two, please visit the only one which is on the left of the king/queen palace) followed by Patwaon ki Haveli (around 2 km walk one side from the palace or you can take an auto, do not take the parked car out, or else the probability of getting stuck in traffic is high). In between, you can do shopping as well, the streets inside the fort are filled with shops selling souvenirs and more.
The perfect end of the day will be with a perfect sunset and there is no better place than Bara Bagh just outside the city for one. It is a block of cenotaphs (or chhatris as fondly called by locals built) in remembrance of late royals and it is said that they were built on banks of a lake which has now dried up and greenery has taken over. You can sit back and relax and watch the sun melt over and passing through a horde of windmills, leaving behind the best of the orange hue with clouds colored with a tinge and floating like huge cotton balls.
Day 3: Paradise roads of Jaisalmer: We left early in the morning and had breakfast near the castle (Pakwaan), and left for Tanot temple via Longewala. It is a feeling of unusual calmness traveling on the roads which have desert as far as your eyes can see. What makes the roads of Jaisalmer even more picturesque are the inline humongous windmills marking the horizon. Curvy roads make you sing at top of your voice and enjoy the serenity. Those empty road shots that you have been craving will be satisfied here. There are two routes that you can take from here. Either visit the Tanot temple first and then cover Longewala or the other way round. In our case as the direct road from Jaisalmer to Tanot temple was under repair we had to take Jaisalmer – Longewala – Tanot and backtrack it. We went on to Longewala and experienced the “Indian” in us while enjoying history, relating to the “Border” movie as if everything you saw in that movie has come to life. Drive from Longewala to Tanot used to be a single-lane road however it has been now renovated to a four-lane highway and you will swim with the wind as you travel, and it will be nothing short of surfing in your dreams. Tanot temple holds a lot of significance and history of miraculous events during the infamous Indo-Pak war as none of the missiles/warheads that landed inside the temple premise went off. The temple is maintained by Army and is a must-visit as you may come across a warhead skeleton kept there. On the return, we took a small detour in between Longewala and Tanot and it was a narrow road, single lane, with huge sandhills as you move. This single-lane driving is something that you will never come across anywhere. It was like taking a car for a ride in heaven. Some of you may relate to it and some may not but this drive is something that we are going to take with us when we depart from this world.
You can find a lot of food options in Ramgarh, a small town between Tanot and Jaisalmer where we had our lunch munching Kachoris and Mirchi vada to our hearts desire. En route to Sam dunes, we went to the Kuldhara village (some claim haunted) and Khaba fort. These locations have mystery written all over their presence as these places are known to be abandoned overnight due to tussle with the feudal lord. The most amazing thing is no one knows where the villagers suddenly disappeared overnight in thin air. Location is not scary as the story however it gives a glimpse of how closely knitted people were. It is something very different from the royal life of Rajasthan. No doubt roads leading from these locations till Sam dunes are worth a drive.
Our last stop for the day was Sam sand dunes desert campsite. On reaching your camps you can take a camel ride to the top of dunes to enjoy a mesmerizing sunset (included in the deal with the stay) and by shelling few bucks more you can enjoy the ride deep into the dunes on camel carts. We stayed back and enjoyed the sun settling down for the night.
In the camp, you will enjoy entertaining performances and local singing, which is a delight, and for us, the next enjoyment session was the ultimate Night Desert Jeep Safari. We left around 7:30 PM right after snacks and we went on to drive of a lifetime across the desert, jumping and swaying over the dunes in pitch dark with nothing but the moon lighting up the sky. Deep inside the desert and rampaging on our jeep we took a break to enjoy a small bonfire out in nowhere which our jeep drive organized for a small sum. Our experience was like a sine wave, hitting max thrill on the crest and equal tranquillity on troughs. We ended our night on a high with the ultimate Rajasthani dinner – Dal Baati Choorma and moved to our tents.
Day 4: Bhuj awaits – We were now ready to leave Rajasthan behind and move on to Bhuj (we recommend you travel to Udaipur for this day and enjoy lakes, and castles before moving to Gujarat however we had personal reasons to skip Udaipur and march towards Bhuj). Road conditions take a 180-degree turn as soon as you move from Rajasthan to Gujarat. State borders roads are in a pathetic state. Bhuj is an industrial complex and there are multiple manufacturing sites in and around Bhuj. Bhuj city is just like any other city but one thing is for sure it feels very spacious when you enter the city. This day most of the time was spent on the road and it was late in the evening till we reached our destination and called it a day, as for the next day, white sand (salt lakes) were calling.
Enroute Jodhpur: There is no end to breakfast options on way to Jaipur and forward, even before reaching Jaipur, you can find all popular chains like KFC, Burger King, Dominos, Pizza Hut, CCD, Barista, now Starbucks as well, and the Dhabas offering Indian, Chinese to your desires.
Pali: GarhGirvar resort has become an unconventional stop for us in Rajasthan when going towards Jodhpur / Udaipur, it is an amazing rest over, with an amazingly ambient restaurant. Food is also worth the visit (maybe little on the expensive side) however the service is great.
Jodhpur: Without a doubt, kachoris are a staple diet in Jodhpur, even if you are following a diet, please skip it for the kachoris and which better place than Shahi Samosa for kachoris.
Jaisalmer: Restaurants are in abundance in Jaisalmer, we had our lunch at a restaurant behind Jain temples, Jaisalmer Oasis restaurant, though it was on the third floor in a nested society however staff is very courteous and the food is fresh and delightful. You can try other restaurants as well, however, do inform staff to make Indian food preparation as they are habitual of preparing meals to the likings of the foreign visitors.
All the cities that we covered in this writeup have some amazing stay options and as most of the time we were in the car travelling, stay actually meant to spend night in a comfy place and move to next city. So we picked economical locations throughout this trip and following are our suggestions:
Jodhpur: Preference in Jodhpur was to stay at a location that is near the attractions and not some distant resort so we picked up Fern Jodhpur for our stay. It is prime location located and provide parking space as well. We did not try food here so can’t say much about food however support staff is amazing and highly cooperative, and they do have Covid guidelines followed to the dot
Jaisalmer: As soon as you are trying to enter Jaisalmer you will be approached by bikers to assist you in finding hotel, caution: DO NOT STOP, many tourists have complained on harassment from these fellows, mind your driving and move towards your destination. Jaisalmer have some amazing properties listed and no doubt you will get good options if you explore. We chose Wanderlust Guest House as it was located outside the Fort hustle however still had multiple food joints nearby in case if you thought of exploring them. Mr. Padam, owner is very helpful and supportive, and you can get a packaged deal for desert camp as well.
For our stay at campsite, though almost all camps will offer you similar kind of package, it will have a free camel safari, dinner and breakfast, tents with common washroom / attached washroom. We have tried few camps before as well, however this time we went ahead with Melody Moonlight Desert Camp, and the best thing about this camp is it is exactly opposite of sand dunes where general audience from various camps "visit" sand dunes.
With this, we come to an end to the first half of the trip covering Rajasthan. Rajasthan’s beauty cannot be covered in six days however, you can be content by visiting three cities – Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur. We have made numerous visits to Rajasthan and sure we will be returning for more in time to come. Also, our spend and breakup will come as part of subsequent blog. Have a good read..