Thursday, January 30, 2014

Trip to Western Rajastahn - Part-1 : Jodhpur, Bishnoi Villages and Osiyan - December 2013

The first time we made a visit to Rajasthan was in February 2007 when we covered Jaipur-Ajmer-Udaipur-Chittorgarh-Kumbhalgarh-Ranakpur circuit. In February 2013, we made a second visit to Rajasthan covering Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu districts of Shekhawati region. But I never thought that we would make one more visit to Rajasthan in the year 2013 itself. The trigger was my grand children's demand for a trip during the Christmas vacation. Also, my son could manage leave during Christmas week. So we had 7 days in our hand for the trip including the travelling time. So I decided to to cover Jodhpur-Jaisalmer-Bikaner circuit. But that would have been a fast paced trip giving us only two days each for these three places. Finally, we dropped Bikaner to make it 3 days each at Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. To cut short the travelling time, we took the onward journey by flight.

Day-1 : Mandore Gardens ( 10 kms)
We reached Jodhpur by flight in early afternoon. The temperature at the the airport was 20C as announced in the flight. From the airport, we took a pre-paid Indigo taxi to RTDC's Hotel Ghoomer (Rs.500/-, 9 kms). After freshening up, we booked the same vehicle for half a day tour to Mandore Garden (Rs.800/-, 12 kms). There are autos available from hotels to Mandore Garden and back which would be a cheaper alternative provided the traveller is not allergic to dust.
After a 20 minute drive on a good road, we reached Mandore Garden.The entry fee per adult is Rs.10/- with no camera charges. The Garden is maintained by the Government of Rajasthan while the monuments in the garden complex are maintained by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). My first impression of the Mandore Garden is that while the garden is  not properly maintained, the architectures of monuments mainly the chattries (cenotaphs)  of former kings of Jodhpur are rich. It is definitely a place for photography enthusiasts. I found the garden being used by locals as a place for a day picnic with litter and rubbish associated with such visits. Inside the garden, there are hundred of langoors but surprisingly, they did not bothered the tourists. In my view, the 'must see' places in Mandore Garden are chattri of Ajit Singh, Ek Thambha Mahal (actually a tower), Zanana Mahal (under restoration work) and a temple in Indo-islamic architecture.
Some pictures with captions given below  on Mandore Garden would give some more insights of the place.

The temples and cenotaphs. Mandore was once the capital of Rathore dynasty. 
Chattri  (cenotaph or memorial) of Ajit Singh in temple architecture. This is the best chatri among others which was built in 1793.
 Intricately stone carved pillars and railings of Ajit Singh's Chattri.
The stone carved ceiling of the dome of Ajit Singh's Chattri.
One of the stone sculptures on the door frame of Ajit Singh's chatri.
Sculptures on the wall of Ajit Singh's chatri.
A heroin looking for the fish sitting on the parapet wall of the pond
Two temple like chattris - on the left is of Ajit Singh's chattri.
 A collage of squirrels on the parapet wall.
Zanana Mahal under restoration.
 Ek Thamba Mahal seen from Zanana Mahal.
Miniature paintings on display in a museum in Zanana Mahal complex.
Painting on display in the museum in Zanana Mahal complex.

The part of Mandore garden with 3 chattris from left to right and a temple on the extreme right.
The side view of the intricately red stone carved temple.
Langoors in side Mandore Garden which were well behaving and were not nuisance to the tourists.
(1) Umaid Bhavan Palace and Museum
 Since we found our driver of Indigo taxi to be very helpful and reasonable, we engaged him for a full day tour of Jodhpur ( 8 hours, Rs.1800/-). Our first place of visit was Umaid Bhavan Palace located about 9 kms south east of Jodhpur. We reached around 10.00 a.m. The palace is divided into 3 parts. The part facing the main gate has been converted into a super luxury hotel which is managed by Taj Group. Tourists are prohibited from visiting this part except those who can afford to use their restaurant. The back side of the hotel is the resident of the present royal family of Jodhpur. The portion of the palace left of the hotel part has been converted into museum where tourists are permitted. 
Being the peak season, there were hundred of cars and buses parked outside the side gate of the palace visiting palace museum. The entry fee for the museum is @Rs.25/- (children @Rs.10/-). There is no camera fee.The museum has the royal collections of paintings, ceramic items, clocks, armoury items, oil lamps etc. A couple of rooms such as dinning and visitors' rooms have been created to show case the way royal family lived. There is a separate enclosure in which cars used by the royal family have been displayed. Overall, it should not take more than an hour (including a tea break at the fast food counter) to complete the visit. The real things to see in Umaid Bhavan are in the hotel section. But one need to be the guest of the hotel or can use their restaurant for tea/coffee which would give opportunity to view much of the magnificent palace.  
Some pictures of Umaid Bhavan and Museum are uploaded below:
Umaid Bhavan was constructed during 1929-1943 by Maharaja Umaid Singh to provide employment to thousands of local people during the famine.
The centre dome of Umaid Palace
The close up of the top of the central dome.
The logo of the Maharaja of Jodhpur (Marwar).
Close up of the war scene painting on the top of the main gallery of Museum.
Another painting on the eastern wall inside the main hall of the museum.
 A brass cum bone china based  oil lamp in the museum.
Another set of brass cum bone china based oil lamps.
Sets of oil lamp on display
 A designer gold painted  jug.

Dinning table and chairs with utensils.
Painting in Visitors room..
Painting in Visitors room.
Painting in Visitors room.
A clock and a barometer in the shape of a steam railway engine.
A clock and a barometer in the shape of a steam ship.
One of about 10 exotic cars of royal family on display. The car appears to be a Roll Royce.  Due to very bad glass reflections, full picture of the car could not be captured. But this car is as big as a 14 seat mini- bus.

(2) Jaswant Thada
After lunch, we proceeded to Jaswant Thada (6 kms from Umaid Bhavan Palace). Jaswant Thada is a traditional cremation place for the royal family of Jodhpur. There are a dozen or so major cenotaphs of royal family of which Jaswant Thada is more famous for its intricate marble architecture. It is the biggest among the cenotaphs here. The walls are constructed with thin marble slabs so that they can emit the glow from the sun light.  The cenotaph was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in 1899 in the memory of his father Maharaja Jaswant Singh. Entry fee is Rs.15/- per head and camera fee is Rs.20/-. 

Jaswant Thada has got an excellent location. Perched on a high rock filled ground, one can have a nice view of Jodhpur city from the terrace of the cenotaph. To its left is the massive Mehrangarh fort and   to its right is a small natural lake. We finished the round of the cenotaphs in about 30 minutes. There is a well maintained garden in front of  the main cenotaph to spend some leisure moments including listening to some Rajasthani folk songs sung by a middle age singer who has been singing in front of this cenotaph for years as a means of his livelihood.
A few pictures of Jaswant Thada are uploaded below:
The view from the entrance to Jaswant Thada
Jaswant Thada was a crematorium place for the royal family of Jodhpur.  This one is a cenotaph (chattri or memorial)  build by  Maharaja Sardar Singh of Jodhpur in the memory of his father Jaswant Singh.
Archway of the main entrance to cenotaph.
The side view of the archway of cenotaph.
The cenotaph is built at the shore of a small lake. View of the lake from Jaswant Thada.
Ducks in the lake seen from Jaswant Thada cenotaphs.
A line of cenotaphs of royal family.
A fountain in front of the main cenotaph.

(3) Meharangarh Fort
Meharangarh Fort is located on a rocky cliff very close to Jaswant Thada. The Fort is opened from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. The ticket window closes at 5.00 p.m. which means that one can roam around the fort beyond 5.00 p.m. and also witness sunset from the rampart of the Fort. The entry fee is Rs.60/- per head and camera fee is Rs.100/-.
We reached at the gate of the Fort at around 3.30 p.m. While the entry into the Fort is free, one has to buy tickets for entry into its museum which is 'a must see' place inside the Fort. The elevator is available for those who have problem in climbing three long staircases of the museum with a separate ticket. There was a big queue for buying museum/elevator tickets despite there being two two ticket windows. It took me about 45 minutes to buy tickets.
Meharangarh Fort and Jodhpur city was eastablished by  Maharaja Rao Jodha Singh. It was his idea to shift the capital of Rathores from Mandore to Jodhpur as the Mandore fort had become insecure. The foundation stone of Meharangarh Fort was laid in 1459. It was during the rule of Maharaja Jaswant Singh(C.17th century)  that the Fort was shaped as it appears today.
As soon as one enters through the first gate, the gigantic proportion of one of the largest forts in India becomes apparent. It would give a pain in the neck to look up to see the top most part of the fort which is almost perpendicular to the pathway of the fort. The fort appears to be meticulously planned by whoever be the architecture. It has seven formidable gates which in those days, the powerful force of even elephants would not be able to break them. Then there are the narrow alleys between the fort's wide and high walls and the inner walls. On top of the outer walls are bastions with cannons fixed on them. There are ramparts with a wide pathway in the front of the Fort with several cannons lined up, some of which are said to be historical ones. At one time the entire fort was surrounded by water canals which have now dried up.
Inside the Fort, there are palaces with large courtyards. They have been constructed with red sand stones having intricate carvings. The important among them which are now part of the museum circuit are Moti Mahal, Zanana Mahal, Phool Mahal and Sheesh Mahal. They are well maintained even now and they are awesome. The museum has separate sections displaying Rajput armouries, palanquins, elephant howdahs (seats), designer royal cradles, daulat khana (treasury), paintings etc.
It took us more than two hours to go through the displays in the museum spread over three floors. From the top floor, one can have a excellent view of entire Jodhpur city. Since sun was about to set in, we walked to the rampart of the Fort to view the sunset. More than viewing the sunset, the place gives an aura of a bygone era with several cannons line up on the rampart pointing towards the city. This is also a good place to view the vast expanse of Jodhpur city. When we  were out of the last gate of the Fort, it was already dark. We left the Fort now lit by the flood lights  drive towards our hotel with Fort behind us.
The pictures uploaded below gives more details of what we saw in the Meharangarh Fort.

 Mehrangarh Fort as seen from the road side.

The main gate of Mehrangarh Fort
The wall fresco at the main entrance of Mehrangarh Fort
Mehrangarh Fort seen from the inside of the main gate.
The close up of the windows of Meharangarh Fort.
The vertical shot of a part of Mehrangarh Fort. Note how the supports have been provided stone pillars from outside.
The intricately carved pillars and balconies.
One of large courtyards of Mehrangarh Fort.
The intricately carved balcony.
The intricately carved balconies and jharokas.
The gold and silver plated elephant howdahs (elephant seat). The king seats on the front seat protected by a cover and the back seat is meant for his security personal.
The gold plated palanquin. This was a booty from the war with Gujarat Sultan.
The cloth painted and decorated dhal.
Jugs and Hukkas.
Cosmic paintings.
Sheesh Mahal. At the base (middle), lamps are lit whose lights are reflected in the mirrors on the side walls as well as on the roofs.
One of the paintings inside Sheesh Mahal.
Mehfil Khana adjunct to Sheesh Mahal for entertainment of the King and his close relatives and friends.
Gold paintings on the ceiling of the sitting room.
View of Jaswant Thada and the lake from the terrace of Mehrangarh Fort.
View of Clock Tower (middle) and Umaid Bhavan Palace (far end) from Mehrangarh Fort.
A zoomed view of Umaid Bhavan Palace from the terrace of Mehrangarh Fort.
Takhat Vilas, Maharaja Takhat Singh's Chamber.
One of the royal cradles on display.
Puppets on sale inside Mehrangarh Fort.
View of Jodhpur city from the rampart of Mehrangarh Fort.
Sun is about to set as seen from the rampart of Mehrangarh Fort.

Day-3 : Bishnoi Villages and Osiyan
Trip to Bishnoi villages was not in our list.  Since we had  free time for half a day, we decided to make a half a day trip to some important Bishnoi villages. Due to peak period, it was difficult to get a driver-cum-guide for this trip. Fortunately, our driver who had no experience of Bishnoi village trip, arranged a middle aged driver who had years of experience in taking tourists to Bishnoi villages (Rs.1200/- for 5 hour trip).

1. Khejarli Village (25 kms from Jodhpur)
We started from Hotel Ghoomer at 9.30 a.m. Our first halt was Khejadli (also called Khejarli) village. There is an old temple of Guru Jambheshwar, the founder of the Bishnoi sect in the early 15th century. During his preaching, he laid down 29 principles (or commandments) for his followers. According to our guide, the word ‘Bishnoi’ is derived from the figure 29 (principles) – ‘Bish’ in Hindi=20 and ‘noi’ in local dialect=9, thus making it to 29. One of these principles is to protect animals, birds and trees.Bishnois meticulously follow this principle. One can see Blackbuck Deers, Gazelles, Neel Gai (Blue Bulls),  peacocks etc roaming freely around villages without any fear. It is said that Bishnoi’s become very aggressive if animals and birds are killed by poachers/hunters and trees are cut. So the danger to poachers/hunters is more from Bishnois than the wild animals.
Khejarli village is also known for the sacrifices of its villagers in protecting the Khejari trees. It is said that in early 18th century, 363 villagers sacrificed their lives for protecting Khejari trees which were sought to be cut by the soldiers of the Maharaja of Jodhpur for being used for burning the lime required for construction of his new royal palace. The motto of the villagers was that it was cheap to sacrifice a head then cut a tree. Soon Maharaja realised his mistake and ordered stoppage of felling Khejari trees. There is a memorial made in red sand stones in honour of the martyrs of Khejarli village.
2. Guda Bishnoi Village-Guda Lake ( 11 kms from Khejarli village).
Our next stop was Guda lake near Gudda Bishnoi village. Gudda lake is a home for many migratory birds during October-March. The lake is also a waterhole for Blackbuck Deers and Gazelles. We were rewarded with the sighting of many Blackbuck Deers, Gazelles, Kingfishers, Cranes, Ducks and some other unidentified birds. On the road side shore of the lake, there is a small mud hillock which gives a grandstand view of the lake. There are a couple of tourist huts available on this hillock. For a serious birds and animal watchers, it is advisable to stay overnight in the village and visit the lake in the morning for a good bird and animal sightings.
3. Kakani Village ( 10 kms from Guda Bishnoi village).
The next stop was Kakani village known for its pottery and hand printing works. We visited one pottery show room with a live pottery work. We saw a potter with a loaf of mud preparing three different items in one round – the flower pot, a vessel and a simple pot. There were varieties of pottery items available in the show room at fixed prices. There was no pressure from the pottery makers to buy anything from them. To me, the prices appeared quite reasonable. We also visited a showroom of hand printed bed sheets and covers. These painters use hand blocks made of soft wood in various designs and use natural colours. Hence, the bed sheets and covers are costlier than what we get at the shops which are made of chemical printing. Again, here also there was no pressure from the makers to buy the bed sheets etc.
If we had a full day tour, we would have gone to their adjoining villages to see them making handicrafts in their real work situation. In fact, the makers invited us to visit their work places but due to short time at our disposal, we could not make it.
4. Salawar Village (10 kms from Kakani Village).
This was our last village before returning to Jodhpur. This village is famous for hand woven cotton rugs. We visited a house of weavers and saw a rug making process. They buy the ready made yarns from the nearby cotton mills and use it for rug making.  It takes about 20 days to make 3 cotton rugs from a fully stretched length of the handloom. The process becomes more time consuming if complex designs are made on the rugs. We also saw some of the completed rugs in many sizes and designs.
It was past 1.00 p.m. We decided to have lunch in weavers’ house of whatever they prepare for their daily lunch. Accordingly, we were served lunch with menu exactly the same which they would normally have – Bajra (black millet) rotis with butter and jaggery, ker sangri ( the local variety of a vegetable), cucumber chutney, kadi, and butter milk. We only requested them to add a small quantity of rice in the menu which they rarely eat. We paid Rs.150/- per head with lunches for my two grandchildren not charged.  
It was around 2.00 p.m. when we started return journey to Jodhpur (20 kms from Salasar Village. In all, it was 75 kms of round trip. It was a great experience  particularly, after our over-exposures of forts, havelis, cenotaphs etc of previous Rajasthan trips as well as a day before in Jodhpur.
I felt that it would have been a great experience if we had stayed overnight in one of the home stays or even one of the resorts run by the villagers themselves to get a better experience of the Bishnoi villages. One could have spent more time at Guda Lake for birds and animal sightings, mingled with villagers to get to know more about them and also the camel safaris in around Bishnoi villages.
Some pictures of Bishnoi Villages are uploaded below :

Guru Jambheshwar temple under construction at Khejarli village. In the foreground is a Khejari tree. 
Guda lake near Guda Bishnoi village.

Blackbuck Deers grazing on the opposite side of Guda Lake.
Two Blackbuck Deers fight as third one coolly grazes.
Two gazelles drinking water from Guda Lake.
A Kingfisher with a fish caught from the lake water.
The same Kingfisher waits for another catch.
This Blackbuck crossed the road as we are proceeding to another village. I caught up with it in the cover of bushes on the road side. 
A potter making pottery items in his show room in Kakani village.
Some pottery items on display in Kakani village. These have been  made in Potter's house 
Two handloom weavers are in the making of a cotton rug adjunct to their houses in Salasar village.
We had the traditional lunch in a house of the weaver.
The weavers' traditional huts with cotton rugs which have already been completed.

Day-3 : Afternoon Visit to Osiyan (65 kms).
We returned to hour hotel room from the trip of Bishnoi villages at 2.30 p.m. After 30 minutes of rest, we commenced our last trip of Jodhpur for Osiyan at 3.00 p.m. The road was excellent and the 65 kms distance to Osiyan was covered in about 75 minutes. In the town, there are about 18 minor and major temples of both Hindu and Jain. But the main temple for which many pilgrims come to this town is to pay obeisance to Sachiya Mata temple and the main Mahavir temple very close to it. Sachiya Mata which is the consort of rain God Indra is the 'kul devata' (family Deity) of many families of Rajasthan and Haryana.
To reach the main temple of Sachiya Mata, we had to climb more than 200 well laid out stairs covered with well carved arches which are the hall mark of Jain temples of Dilwara and Ranakpur. Being an important pilgrim centre, we were expecting a long queue of pilgrims. But after the climb, we could enter the temple in about 5 minutes. There are some subsidiary temples within the complex of Sachiya Mata temple of which two temples are of Durga Mata and Amba Mata. All these temples have the traditional architectures of Rajasthan and they have been constructed in red sand stones.
About 5 minutes walk from Sachiya temple is the main Jain temple of Lord Mahavir. We actually went with the intention of viewing this temple but since we were already getting late for the Camel Safari of Osiyan desert, we left hurriedly for the camel safari only to learn that it was not advisable to hire camels at such a late time (5.00 p.m.) as it would not be possible to complete the 4 kms stretch and be back before sunset. So we missed both the Jain temples and the camel safari. But we were not disappointed as we had planned a good number of Jain temples in Jaisalmer and the camel ride in Sam sand dunes in a couple of days later.
We returned to Jodhpur by 7.00 p.m. and got dropped near the Clock Tower to have some omelet from the world famous shop located here. We had masala-cheese omelet which were not only cheap but also very yummy. I had a second helping of masala omelet as a subsitute for a formal dinner. 
Sachiya temple complex, Osiyan seen from the road side.
Sachiya temple
Sachiya temple complex entrance through well carved arches and pillars.
Clock Tower in the night.
We returned to hotel after others in my family had dinner in a restaurant on Nai Sadak. We returned to our hotel at around 10.00 p.m. With this, our sight-seeing trip in Jodhpur was over. Next day, we left for Jaisalmer to commence  remaining 3 days of our trip.


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travelsenseindia said...

Hi Sir

I read the Bishnoi village experience you had written about and it sounds very interesting and a real look into the community and their life. I want to offer the same to my clients (I run a travel company) and I was wondering if you still have the drivers contact info who drive you around or some other point of contact that I can use for the tour.

Thanking you in anticipation