What Will You Talk About To A Camel Rider In Rajasthan

Sam is a village in Jaisalmer district close to the India – Pakistan border, Sam is known due to the popular Sam dunes which is a tourist spot brimming with dessert camps and tents. The dunes themselves are amazing when it is quiet and natural and sans the hustle of tourists. I know at the time we were tourists too but one can always hope to have a place all to ourselves.

When we reached Sam dunes and our desert camp, we were briefed by the manager who proceeded to tell us with precision what our next 24 hours would look like down to the hour. It was a good thing that we did not listen to him after the first itinerary point because who wants to be told what one should be doing during a vacation, I can’t put up with such pressure (*sigh).

The first thing on the itinerary was a camel ride, it was hilarious for the camel rider as he watched us flip and flop as we tried to mount. After a few attempts he offered us his salwar clad knee so that we could scramble up the camel. He was an old man who said that he is farmer and some of this land belongs to him but this year there were no crops. Considering the sand around us it was difficult to fathom any type of cultivation there. He wore a turban loosely tied on his head and a pastel colored loose salwar kurta, his lips were pan stained and his camel wore polka dots with distinction.

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He led his camel almost stoically across the sand towards the dunes where the desert air carried the sounds of people squealing in merriment on the sand buggy rides. One of the first questions he asked us, after asking where we were coming from was whether there were muslims in Bangalore. He spoke Hindi with us but with a distinct tilt to it much different than the accent one hears in the marwadi heartland. I wanted to know what his camels name was because after all the camel was carrying us two city folks and I felt obliged to make a connection. Turns out that the camel was called Pappu.

At the dunes, we met a kohl lined camel rider who insisted that we try the sand buggy or jeep ride, he seemed amused by my apparent disinterest that he took it as an affront. He spoke at length at how all the tourists who came had ‘majaa’ on the sand buggy. Soon the conversation turned to when Bajrangi Bhaijan was shot at location near there and how the crew did not allow locals to see the shoot. The locals apparently decided that this was their land and no one can keep them off it and barged in at the shoot to which the crew amended that the locals can see the shoot but needed to be quiet which was something more amicable to locals there.

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Watching the sun setting at Sam dunes over the fairy tale that is Rajasthan

The conversation also took us to their village in Sam and how it was off limits to tourists because of permits that were required as a border town. A specific village that had gone to Pakistan during the war and then came back to Indian territory. He also insisted that the dessert camps are a sham and are only manufactured experiences. I was quite on board with this particular assessment as I found that the dessert camp experience while good seemed a bit forced with its banjara dances to Bollywood music, rich food and alcohol while the dessert lay silent and the camels hmmphed all around us.

We continued talking as our camel was ferrying a few other passengers and our elderly camel rider promised to come back for us shortly leaving us alone on the dunes. It gave us a chance to soak in the cold dessert air, the stars beginning to twinkle above us and an offer for tea from the kohl lined camel rider. He then spoke about how we should actually stay at a village where people will be more than welcoming and sleep on a charpoy under the stars and then claim to have had an authentic dessert experience. The premise was very tempting but unfortunately we weren’t the type to walk into a village and ask to be fed.

As we watched our camel rider come back for us with the camel against the backdrop of the setting dessert sun, I felt grateful for having stolen this moment away from the regular tourist trappings and feel the sand run down my fingers.

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Coming Across An Abandoned Village- Kuldhara

After having spent a ridiculous amount of money on a silver earring that I was probably going to wear twice in my lifetime, we went to a restaurant to have lunch. The idea was to spend some time relaxing in the restaurant before driving to the dessert camp at Sam. The decor of the restaurant was a bit overdone with all the mirrors and artifacts and was getting a tad bit claustrophobic, so we decided to push off to the dessert.

Since we still had some extra hours in hand, we searched online for nearby places and found the description for Kuldhara, en route from Jaisalmer to Sam sand dunes. Kuldhara is also known as the ghost village or the abandoned village. Kuldhara owns a spooky tale of a beautiful girl and a king who fell in love with her. The villagers opposed the union (not sure if the girl had a say in all this) which angered the king. The king then attacked the village and the villagers were either killed or they deserted the village en mass. It is said to be haunted since.

The road towards Sam dunes and Kuldhara is an arid dessert with the bright yellow sand reflecting the golden rays of the sun in all intensity. The road snakes across this flat sandy land rendering itself to mirages. A rickety sign on the road says turn left for Kuldhara, we quite animatedly asked our driver who ran a non coperation movement for the 9 days and 2000 kms across Rajasthan, to take a turn to Kuldhara.

Kuldhara was derelict as one can expect from an abandoned village, the tourism board is working on recreating some of the buildings, complete with the intricate stone work which is characteristic of Jaisalmer. This haunted village plays right into the fairy tale that is Rajasthan. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

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Inside a house in Kuldhara
The well laid out but abandoned village roads
A glimpse of Kuldhara
A window into another era and the lives of people who lived and loved.

 

The sand stone against the blue
Watching the sun setting at Sam dunes over the fairy tale that is Rajasthan

Pictures credited to Razor Rasu. Copyright material do not re purpose without permission.

Places To Stay in Bekal

I am writing this post because of the what we now call as ‘The Bekal Incident’. We had planned a budget road trip along coastal Karnataka between 25th December to 2 January from Bekal to Goa. This is of course a crazy time to travel because every single soul is traveling during this period.

We had pre booked most of our stays and had plans to stay at a budget hotel in Bekal through a popular travel site. Needless to say there was a major screw as we reached Bekal and found out while eating egg pakodas at the beach (which were yum).

We reached Bekal after a full days drive and called the hotel that we had booked only to realise that they had cancelled the booking and the travel website and neither the hotel contacted us to tell us the booking is cancelled. We parked at Bekal beach and decided to call the travel site which was the least helpful and we ended up loosing almost two hours just being put on wait with that annoying instrumental music.

We then decided to search and call hotels ourselves since Bekal has limited staying options we widen our search till Kannur but since it was peak tourist season it was hopeless. Finally we found room at the Taj Vivanta with a pricey tag which was basically the budget for our entire trip. However they gave us a discount and an upgrade to a villa once we reached the resort and we ended up celebrating Christmas in style. The next day however was a different story as I spent the day eating curd rice and bed ridden.

These hotels and resorts are the ones that are good places to stay in Bekal should you decide to travel there and see the Bekal fort (of Tu Hi Re, Bombay fame) among other attractions.

Chandralayam

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Chandralayam is a home stay in Bekal with coconut trees and tranquility as their charm.

Geetanjali

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Geetanjali is a heritage home which is true to the architecture of ancestral homes in Kerala.

Thalatoor Heritage Home Stay

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Thalatoor is slightly away from Bekal and is a heritage property.

Vivanta By Taj

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We found this property absolutely delightful, the house boat architecture with water and canals running near the resort adds to the charm. The beach is walking distance from the resort and has some select water sports. The villas at the resort have a central courtyard theme with an outdoor swing, bath tub and big bay window overlooking greenery.

Lalit Hotel

swimming-pool

Pictures credited to Trip Advisor.

 

 

 

Beyond Dal Batti Churma What Food To Eat In Rajasthan

Dal Bati Churma is almost synonymous with food in Rajasthan but my last trip to Rajasthan that spanned 2000 kms and 9 days was a gastronomic revelation. Rajasthani staple food I found to be quite simple and easy on the stomach and apt for the climate. We ate a lot of millets, gram flour, lentils, buttermilk and milk based products,meats and a few other vegetables that are indigenous to Rajasthan. Rajasthan being largely covered by the dessert has very few vegetable and green varieties and this reflects in the food.

 

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The winter crop of mustard in all its glory!

Breakfast in Rajasthan is mostly options like fafda, pyas kachori, methi pakodas which is fried gram flour balls with fenugreek leaves. In Jaisalmer we also saw Sindhi cuisine influences with dal pakwan and a few other interesting breakfast options. The dessert offered interesting snacks and breakfast options throughout the journey be it at a resort, a camp, a haveli or a street vendor. Biting into a methi pakoda and a fried chilly with chai on the old dessert morning was amazing.

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Yummy street food and snacks in Rajasthan
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Pyas Kachori which is quite famous in Rajasthan
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Dal Pakwan which is unique in Jaisalmer and shares its roots from across the border.

Rajasthan has quite a strong history with food, we glimpsed on this at a haveli inside the Jaisalmer fort. The kitchen and was right on top of the haveli, it looked like a constant in the palaces and havelis of Rajasthan where the kitchens were right on top of the 3-4 story buildings in some cases with the dining area adjoining it. This is a mere observation and I could be wrong.

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Dining area adjoining the kitchen in a haveli 

Note the large tiffin carriers kept in the corner which probably the men carried on long journey’s or to work. The seating was on the floor with the men and the elders being served first (which is not my jam )

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More on traditional dining

Some amazing restaurents we found on our journey across Rajasthan were Millets of Mewar in Udaipur which had a very relaxed atmosphere and had a very pleasing menu of authentic millet preparations from Mewar, Hari Ghar in Udaipur where we gorged on some amazing non vegetarian dishes, Good Hall restaurant in Barmer with mind blowing and truly yummy food. Since we are talking about amazing food one more place I can’t but mention is the home cooked meals we shared with our hosts in Siana Camps and Safari which found us in aristrocratic company in untouched rural Rajasthan.

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A vegetarian thali at Millets of Mewar (Udaipur)

Rajasthan also offers some very local delicacies such as pyas kachori, mirchi bada which is a delightful combination of mirchi, spicy potato mash which is batter fried. Another local delicacy from Jaisalmer which is not widely known is a sweet called Gotuwa which is a ladoo preparation made by one sweet shop in the inner fort area of Jaisalmer.

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Gotuwa a sweet popular in Jaisalmer
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A spicy breakfast of mirchi bada in Jodhpur

Food ofcourse is amazing in Rajasthan but the ambience, the hospitality and the settings from as different as jungle lodges to havelis, backpackers getaways to palaces to roadside pitstops, dessert camps to sparkling lakes makes one appreciate the nuances of the local cuisine and adds the magic.

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Breakfast at Kankarwa Haveli next to the Lake Palace Udaipur