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Old 20th January 2009, 13:49   #1
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Cool Xmas in The Great Indian Thar Desert

Prologue

It all started in November end when I observed that Xmas was falling on a Thursday and taking a leave on Friday would make it 4 day holiday, a suitable timeframe to head out for a vacation in the mountains. Maybe catch snowfall and play in it. Unfortunately, wifey had her MBA exams going on during that time, which kind of took out quite some part of the enjoyment but my mind was set to head somewhere peaceful and quite. Finally it was me and a real long friend of mine, Rahul, who decided for the trip. Then came the question of where to go. I was all gung-ho for the mountains, someplace like Narkanda/Kharapathar/Mukhteshwar, but my friend had some other plans to which he managed to make me a perpetrator too. And out came the plan to head for the Great Indian Desert, spend a night each, in Pokhran Fort, on the sand dunes of Khuri and one in Jaisalmer.

Day 1
So off we headed around 5 AM Xmas day for Pokhran. The route we took was pretty straightforward, Delhi-Jaipur-Ajmer-Jodhpur-Pokhran and the drive through it was a breeze. I really fell in love with the roads of Rajasthan after Ajmer, they were just so smooth, broad and devoid of traffic. At many a times, I was ripping at speeds exceeding 140 Km/hr, but usually staying at the 120 mark. Alas, what I thought won't happen on this trip happened, and we managed to get lost after Jodhpur.

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We'd asked one local for directions to Pokhran Fort just to confirm our bearing and he, in greed to get a ride, took us off the main highway and through some inner roads took us to his destination and described the route to Pokhran from there on. Overall, we lost couple of hours in that charade. One thing I noticed while driving through Rajasthan is that the locals are all too willing to direct you, but also are equally eager for a drop. And for that reason, every other person tells you a different route to the same place. Anyways, we reached Pokhran Fort by 5 PM with a hunger enough to devour a Camel as we hadn't had anything to eat all day, not even breakfast. As soon as we'd checked in and dumped our stuff inside the room, we rushed off to the hotel's mess and hogged on the Lal Maas, Dal and couple of vegetables that had been prepared for us. The fun part was to watch each other with eyes & nose watering and the constant high speed inhaling/exhaling of air. The food was just too darn hot, but we still gobbled it all up. Our immediate quest completed, we retired for a Siesta to our room, which actually looked pretty royal and made us feel like important guests of a King with the service of the staff to match.After resting (and boozing) for a while, it was time to explore the fort and click some snaps.

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I decided not to carry my camera as my friend was already carrying his, a decision I had to rue later as his batteries (or rather lack of them) prevented us from taking any pics on our great exploration. The fort was larger than we had anticipated and quite interesting. There were many small passages hidden in the walls, but all of them lead us to dead ends pretty quickly. Soon it was time for dinner, which was again delicious, and was accompanied by live performance of folk songs. Post dinner, we decided to have some adventure and again started exploring the place in complete dark with the aid of light from our cellphones. After banging our heads on doorways and walls a few times, we decided to give it up and return to the safety of our room. Soon we dozed off with the knowledge that we'd be amongst the sand dunes the next day.

Day 2
Woke up lazily and got ready even slower, just felt so relaxed then and there. I think having a taste of royalty was spoiling me. Checked out of the Fort at 12 noon after a nice breakfast of 2 chilly filled omelets with toast, sheep milk and mixed fruit juice, which was enough to take me to Khuri. On we went, keeping in mind not to ask anyone for further directions, for Jaisalmer. Nearing Jaisalmer, we were forced to ask a local for directions to Khuri, and bang on target he asked us for a lift. To tell you frankly, it's kind of hard to refuse their request as we discovered that Rajasthani people are very courteous, polite and helpful. So again we had a hitcher with us, and our fingers crossed. Anyways, I was too engrossed by the road and its surroundings all the while I was driving (with Psy Trance in the background).

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As it'd been, he took us through a longer way (which we realized later), but finally we reached Khuri around 3:30 and stopped my car outside Mr. Badal's place (aptly called Badal House).

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He already had things rolling for our desert safari and the night out. Our camels were sitting there doing what they do most of the time, munching on something. Their handlers (Laxman & Vikram) were busy gathering and arranging the necessities for the night. We made ourselves busy by arranging what we'd need for the safari/night. Shortly, about 30 minutes (and a lot of thinking) later, we were ready with our cameras, booze, jackets, water and ciggs. Didn't need anything else being the nomads we were. My friend perched himself on his Camel's back, while I, to the surprise of our fellow trip mates, decided to walk with them. They're cool with that, so we set off. Some distance from the village, we saw this group of people filling up water from a well.

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Then saw this huge number of people gathered on a sand dune and I promptly asked Laxman, "I hope we're not heading that way?", and he quickly dispelled my fears by saying no, we're going a lot deeper into the desert. Then they had a word, and Vikram set off looking for female goats to squeeze some milk for tea out of them.

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He didn't have much luck though. Shortly, Laxman asked me to mount the Camel as it was starting to get dark and he told that we need to find the right spot to spend the night soon. So all four of us were on the camels now, and the handlers started making the camels walk faster and soon they were trotting and we were bouncing in the wilderness. About half an hour went by, and then we're in total isolation, other than desert foxes and deers. Rode over a few dunes, but Laxman didn't like them much, so we moved on. Around 6, we're on another set of dunes and it's here that we decided to park ourselves. The camels sat down, we gladly dismounted and stretched
our backs.

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Rahul and I went for a reconnaissance mission, while our 2 companions got busy chopping wood and laying the blankets that were to serve as our lounges/beds. Below is what we saw during our mission:

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Soon it was past sunset, and it got dark enough to prevent us from leaving our base camp. Then began the talks among us four wanderers, which included Indo-Pak conflicts, Hindu Mythology and an exchange of attributes about city 'n village lives. They wanted us (India) to bomb Pak outta the map, but we told them about our helplessness, explaining things like Nuclear Bombs and what not. I think that left them in a state of confusion as they went silent for sometime. But then there were so many other things to talk about. Soon tea (without milk) was ready, and it felt so good sipping it in the cold. I'd say, almost as good as rum. Then food was prepared shortly, but we weren't ready to dine, so asked them to not wait for us and go ahead. We decided to be adventurous again, and got ready to go for a walk on the dunes with no source of light as we had none. So we dropped a few more pieces of wood into the fire and set off, always keeping one eye on the light of the fire. Soon we're pretty far away, the light seemed a distant speck. There was this sand dune which didn't allow us to climb it. We kept falling and rolling down it. After a few futile attempts, we decided to head back as the speck had started to shrink. Soon we're scampering over the sand and managed to get there just as the last lit stick was nearing exhaustion. Threw in another big log and settled down to have reheated Daal, Rice and Bajra roti. And we gobbled everything up at light speed. Then I took a few photographs of the sky and us lying next to the fire.

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It felt amazing lying on the sand and gazing at the star studded sky, and I almost went to sleep. Then decided to lie on the blanket and put one on myself too as it was starting to get cold. Sometime during the night, I went to sleep watching the stars twinkling above me.

Day 3
Woke up early, around 6:30 next morning only to find that it was still kind of dark. I was surprised by the fact that it was a lot less cold than I was expecting. Around 9, after a hearty breakfast of Gobi paranthas, we set off for the journey back to the village. I've made it a point to go for a multiple day trip inside the desert now. Anyways, reached Khuri uneventfully contemplating the next steps. On reaching Badal house, and after couple of glasses of Chajh, we decided to stay there only and Jaisalmer became a day trip instead (which eventually was a good decision). This was because the places we wanted to visit, Kuldhara & Fossil Park, were closer to Khuri then Jaisalmer. So off we went in search of Kuldhara and again managed to get lost. Did some off-roading over stone/gravel/sand filled roads and ended up next to a temple atop a hill. The road condition was just good enough for my car, though there were couple of tight spots. Anyways, asked the temple priest for directions and strictly followed them. On reaching Kuldhara, we're kinda disappointed to find that it's a regular touristy place but luckily they were all gathered around this single building only (it was some kinda mansion). So we had the whole remaining place to ourselves for exploring, which didn't take much time.

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We're starting to get hungry and deliberated going to the fossil park or Jaisalmer. Ultimately Jaisalmer won for its sheer attraction of eateries. My first reaction on reaching the city was, "Man, it's a lot more crowded than what I'd expected". I parked the car outside the fort and we set off on foot in search of good food. After a long search, we found this great place called Nachana Haveli that had a nice rooftop restaraunt. The patrons were mostly foreigners which had also influenced our decision. The menu was great, having continental/mughlai/rajasthani cuisine and they're serving booze too. So we swiftly ordered cold beers. Those were followed by an interesting dish named Junglee Chicken, a desert speciality. It was an amazing dish with a thick gravy full of red paprika. BY the time we're done, it was begining to get dark and our plan to visit the park was dropped. Bought a Kg of meat along the way as we're planning to have some home cooked Laal Maas that night. The drive to Khuri was exciting with the car's headlights piercing the dark and illuminating a white road, surrounded by blackness, for us. I was feeling good that I'd changed them to Philips Rallyrange 90/100 some days earlier. On reaching our host's place, the wait began for dinner. During the time, Mr. Badal Singh decided to join us for a few round of drinks and we chatted about Khuri, it's village life, lonely planet (whose members come to his place a lot) and ofcourse the food in making. When it came, we just jumped on it and devored it within no time. We're so full that staying up wasn't possible anymore and we literally crashed on our beds.

Day4
We'd decided to move out of Khuri around 5 AM as we wanted to reach Noida before night. But when 5 AM came, we're too darn sleepy and it was completely dark and bit foggy outside, so we decided to sleep couple of hours more. Eventually we moved from there around 9. Saw these huge trucks carrying even bigger loads which looked like boilers or something like that. Just look how a bus looks like a car next to them. Driving was again smooth and zippy till Jodhpur where we caught heavy traffic. This really slowed our speed down and to our disgust, we got stuck in a big traffic jam around Ajmer. After an hour later we're out of it, but the traffic was again crawling. It took us almost 11 hours to get to Jaipur itself and now the concern of meeting fog on the road was there. To top it up, there's this long jam around 140 Km outta Delhi where we got stuck for almost 2 hours. After that it was hell as fog completely enveloped the road. I remember reading in the newspaper next day that it was the heaviest fog in North India until then. Due to that, our speed (if it can be called that) was reduced to a crawl, say 20 Km/hr. All the trucks, buses, cars were just following each other with a few spirited souls trying to speed things up but failing soonafter. Then we had the Cheeta (nicknamed by us), which was this big container truck, and it started running away at 40-50 Km/hr and we joined the line of vehicles going after it. Things went like this for sometime and then came this moroon in a Scorpio who broke the whole convoy and ended up making a fool of himself. First he muscled his way through the line to get behind our Cheeta, and then managed to fall so back from the truck that it got away. I believe I wasn't the only one cursing the driver. But then came the Sheroo (another nick), a regular truck which overtaked the whole line with horns blaring and doing around 60. Luckily it passed us with no one following it and I decided to hang on to it like hanging on to my life. This guy was a great driver and got us to Gurgaon pretty fast. After G'Gaon, the fog's intensity reduced and we reached Noida without any stress around 4:30 AM. By this time, we'd been so tired 'n wired, that we just managed to pull our stuff out of the car and drag it back to our places and crash.
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Old 20th January 2009, 13:54   #2
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My Lord, what a coincidence. Two threads going on simultaneously on nearly the same subject. Great narration and some amazing pics...
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Old 20th January 2009, 13:57   #3
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Hey, nice crisp travelogue! Loved the picturescheers:
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Old 20th January 2009, 14:04   #4
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Lovely! Enjoyed that very much!

LOL, I loved the first pic - reminded me of myself! Holding breath in so that the rotundity around the middle does not show too much!
Nice to see we're all getting there!
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Old 20th January 2009, 14:24   #5
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LOL...stopped doing that long time ago, when PYTs said that rotund mid-riff and receding crown are signs of prosperity and that they love such men....

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Originally Posted by anupmathur View Post
LOL, I loved the first pic - reminded me of myself! Holding breath in so that the rotundity around the middle does not show too much!
Nice to see we're all getting there!
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Old 20th January 2009, 14:29   #6
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Nice travelogue, more pictures appreciated, I think you missed the bus next to the car picture.
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Old 20th January 2009, 14:40   #7
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Originally Posted by gd1418 View Post
My Lord, what a coincidence. Two threads going on simultaneously on nearly the same subject. Great narration and some amazing pics...
Yeah buddy it sure is. While going through your travelogue, I could see many parallels. Loved the B/W pics.

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Originally Posted by suman View Post
Hey, nice crisp travelogue! Loved the picturescheers:
Hey there, thanks for the appreciation.

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Originally Posted by anupmathur View Post
Lovely! Enjoyed that very much!

LOL, I loved the first pic - reminded me of myself! Holding breath in so that the rotundity around the middle does not show too much!
Nice to see we're all getting there!
You got me partner!
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Old 20th January 2009, 14:58   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dadu View Post
Nice travelogue, more pictures appreciated, I think you missed the bus next to the car picture.
Thanks man. Yeah I missed placing in lotta pictures as I was unaware of the 20 pics/post rule and wrote the complete log in one go. Anyways, more pics on their way. And here's the pic of the truck, the bus and the car. Took this one for getting a relative frame of reference for the truck's and its cargo's size.

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The area around our campsite just before sunrise

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Saw these burrows of desert fox along the dunes

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Time to wine and dine

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I think my camel was beginning to understand me!

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Emptiness of Kuldhara

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Old 16th May 2012, 13:51   #9
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Lovely trip that and superbly well written. Had my share of fun when I visited Rajasthan 2 years back.

Well thought of posting, as it might be helpful for someone planning to visit Khuri.

Badal Singh's new number is +91-8107339097.

His earlier SIM card is having issues and hence this will be his number henceforth.
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