Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Day 1 - Royal Rajputana Rhapsody (Rajasthan) - On the way to Bikaner - Feb 2012

Rajasthan, the land of Kings, the grand forts, the mesmerizing desert, the big hearted people…I can keep on writting this and you’ll keep on reading this without complaining. We probably chose the best time to visit Rajasthan..the last 9 days of a February in leap year i.e.2012.  We however had a slightly unusual (though not so unusual) approach of not following a fixed itinerary for visiting different places. Since, February end is not a peak tourist season in Rajasthan, we even had the liberty of not booking the hotels in advance (or we thought so…) A call to over loyal chauffer in Delhi, Shib Kumar confirmed his availability as well as the vehicle’s.

Though the itinerary was not fixed, we at least needed to have a rough idea about our journey.  Initially, I was little unsure about going to Jaisalmer (a. for the distance we needed to cover and b. for the limited time we had with us!) Shib Kumar was aghast to hear that and exclaimed, “Sir, Jaisalmer nahi dekhe to kya Rajasthan dekhe?” (If you have not been to Jaisalmer then you haven’t been to Rajasthan!) And indeed, it would have been a blunder to drop Jaisalmer from the itinerary. So the plan was to cover following cities – Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaipur.

Delhi - From a height!
19th Feb 2012, the morning flight to Delhi, landed us at the Indira Gandhi International Airport at 10 am. Shib Kumar in his crisp driver’s uniform was ready with his vehicle – a white Maruti Dezire, both our companions for next 8 days. I always feel bad when I arrive in Delhi, the national as well as a gastronomical capital (for some recipes) as I have to make a quick exit since my destinations are always distant (Shimla Bikaner, Ranikhet etc). I promise you Delhi, I will specially come to stay with you and savour the goodies..sob!

Raj Kachori at Haldiram's, Gurgaon
Piggybacking Shib Kumar’s knowledge of Delhi, we arrived to have breakfast at Haldiram’s Gurgaon outlet. And my gastric juices were again on fire. Polished off the mighty Raj Kachori and Chole Bhature. I was surprised to see most of the families having a south Indian breakfast of idlis and dosas. I mean Haldiram’s is not the place for idlis..right?  It is like going to an Italian restaurant and ending up ordering ‘Paneer Satay with Hunan Sauce’! Anyways, I have no business telling the people what they should eat (but I really love to do so.. :P) 

We finished our breakfast and were on the way to Rajasthan. Barely 20 minutes after we left Haldiram’s,  faced the first obstacle. The high tension electricity supply wires were snapped and were lying on the road leading to a traffic jam. I probably gauged it – The going won’t be easy at least that day! After struggling for an hour, the situation eased. Shib Kumar’s choice of route was baffling as he decided to drive via Rewari and Narnaul which are less explored. It cost us terrible delay in the journey. We hit another terrible traffic jam near Narnaul in Haryana.

Dinner at Ratangarh Railway Crossing
In the google maps, there is a warning that “This route has restricted usage or includes private roads” for all the three options available to try from Delhi to Bikaner. And we actually experienced that. We were simply at sea at some places as we pondered if the road existed. With lot of grit, we managed to reach Jhunjhunu as the dusk was falling. Still 200 odd kilometers to go! We took a short tea break near Mandwa and stopped again only to have dinner at the Ratangarh Railway Crossing. The dinner of hot phulkas and freshly cooked vegetables was a much needed (as well as deserved) phase of the day’s journey.

For us it took less than 2 hours from Ratangarh railway crossing to reach Bikaner. But it was certainly late by Bikaner’s standards. 12 hours for 434 kilometers was a bad statistic for a road journey! Nobody on the road to ask for directions.  An advice- Though Rajasthan is a safe state to travel even in the dark hours, make sure that you reach your destinations by evenings. This time I was prepared and was carrying a Lonely Planet guide for Rajasthan. Enquiries to few hotels from the list didn’t come positive. And again…good old Shib Kumar drove us to Hotel Basant Vihar Palace (‘An Oasis in The Thar Desert’ as per the management). I was mighty happy though as I had finally made it to the beautiful Thar Desert J Got a very good deal due to low tourist season and we retired in the lovely heritage room of this heritage property. What a well deserved hot water shower at the end of the long and tiring day! 

Our Suite at Basant Vihar Palace, Bikaner

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