Sleep is the perfect answer to a day marked by hard work and overeating, and sleep i did. I had a long day ahead. We were to leave Guwahati and head across the Brahmaputra to the north bank and follow the National Highway 52 to Tezpur with a halt at the Madan Kamdev Temple. From Tezpur, we were to cross the Brahmaputra again to the south bank over the Kalia Bhomora Bridge and join National Highway 37 to Kohora in Kaziranga National Park.
We turned right from NH 52 at the village of Baihata Chariali and continued on a unpaved road for two kms to reach the base of the hill on top of which is the Madan Kamdev Temple. None of the seven temples in the complex are extant and are identifies by their plinth and foundation and the numerous exquisite sculptural fragments. The misty morning air and the strangely golden vegetation made for rather interesting ambiance.
After about an hour at Madan Kamdev, we resumed our onward journey towards Tezpur. The roads passed through Assam’s idyllic rural heartland. We kept stopping every now and then to capture the life around us.
Tezpur was wrapped up at a feverish pace and we could not wait to reach Kaziranga. We were to stop here for the night and were booked at the Jhupuri Ghor, a resort run by Assam Tourism. The resort consisted of a number of independent cottages built in the traditional style with cane and bamboo. We checked in around 2:30 in the afternoon and took off immediately to the Baghori range for a jeep safari.
The safari took us the the westernmost range of the park, Baghori. When we met the Managing Director of Assam Tourism for dinner on the first night, he had told us that “Rhinos in Kaziranga are like cattle… they graze everywhere”. At first we thought that we was simply building it up for us, but then when we spotted four rhinos from the highway itself, we started getting hopeful.
Rhino spotting seems to be the easiest thing at Kaziranga. I actually saw so many of them that by the end of it i started wondering if there are any other animals except them. At one point of time, i was staring at a field and i could count 26 of them. No, but seriously, it was amazing. Considering this is one of the few places in the world, you can see the Indian, Rhino, may their numbers increase ever so steadily. The Managing Director was right. He was not only building it up for us, but was complimenting himself on a job very well done!
After the delightful evening in Kaziranga, went to check out some of the local hotels and collect the details for inclusion into the book. One place that stood out was Wild Grass Resort. It had a small hut which acted as a namghor (a place of worship for Assamese Vaishnavites) where a priest was reading the kirtan (devotional hymns). The feel of the place was completely out of the world and i could not resist clicking some.
That was that for the day. Tomorrow we are to head eastwards towards our next destination, Jorhat.
The next morning, we could afford to conduct our businesses at a more relaxed pace as our next destination, Jorhat was only 97 kms away. But as is the rule, we never travel at one go. We stop for pictures,conversation and most critically, food!
Anyway, our first stop en route Jorhat was a little village on the way. The village was populated by people of the Mishing tribe. They have lived for centuries along the basin of the Brahmaputra and their history, culture and tradition are intricately linked to the great river. The trademark of Mishing people are their unique houses. Built on stilts, the houses help avoid the rising water levels of the river during the floods.
After the Mishing village we stopped at a little eatery in Bokakhat, the last settlement in Kaziranga and ordered puri sabzi. Interestingly it came on banana leaves and was accompanied by a very hot, and very tasty chilly achar.
Around 25 kms from Bokakhat, after the town of Dergaon is a small village called Negheriting. It is home to a dol (derived from deul, meaning temple) built in the 17th century by the Ahom kings in the panchayatana ( where the main shrine is accompanied by four subsidiary shrines, usually in the four cardinal directions) style. Located on top of a hill, the main garbhagriha enshrines a shivalinga while the four subsidiary shines were dedicated to Durga, Vishnu, Surya and Ganesh.
By the time we reached Jorhat it was well past 2 in the afternoon and we decided to go pay a visit to the Hoolock Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, 20 kms from Jorhat. As the name suggests, the park protects India’s only ape, the Hoolock Gibbon. We did not see any apes but i got some interesting pics.
Well, folks, that is as much as i got for you this time. Next up, we discover more of Jorhat and the amazing Shivaagar.
It has hardly been a week since i came back from the Andamans. Normally, people would not feel like travelling, let alone on a motorcycle so soon. But then you know me! Where normal people stop, i begin!
The idea of doing a weekend ride occured to me as Aamir and I were sitting and chilling at my place. We had two days off and i had some (very little, mind you) spare cash. I could have saved it, but the amount was so insignificant that i decided to fuck it. I thought that if i did the ride, the experience would be much more worth it than the money in the bank. There were two major hurdles to the successful completion of the trip. First, to get Aamir (who’s fast approaching thirty and has the mentality very similar to, say, a turnip) up on his ass and preparing him for the trip; and secondly the constant nagging voice in my head which said that Pushkar and back in two days is impossible.
All doubts laid to rest, the day of the trip fast approached. By the time i got home after work, sorting out small mechanical issues on the bike, buying spares and collecting back-packs, it was nearly one in the morning. As per plan we were supposed to be out by 3:30, so we packed fast and settled down for an hour’s sleep.
Thanks to calls from a very supportive girlfriend and a very worried mother, we were up an running on schedule. Our first stop was at the ATM near IIT. From there we hit the NH8, which we would be following all the way to Ajmer.
We crossed Gurgaon at 4:15 in the morning. The expressway is a pleasure to drive in even during peak traffic and at this godforsaken hour of the day when we were practically the only people on the road, it was a whole new feeling altogether. The needle on the speedo stayed still at 120 kmph. Originally (and i attribute it to a late waking-up habit) i had thought that the sun would be out by five, around the time we are out of the NCR and hit the open stretches. But 5 rolled to 5:30 and 5:30 rolled to 6 and there was no signs of the sun. At one point of time i was even thinking that maybe we left at 2:30 instead of 3:30. But anyway, the sky lightened sometime after 6 and by 6:30, we were already within a 100 kms of Jaipur when we stooped at this dhaba for tea and smokes and some photos.
As we approached Jaipur, the highway got prettier and prettier. The landscape was increasingly getting rugged and we started seeing the first signs of the Aravallis.
Soon we hit the turn which would allow us to by-pass Jaipur and continue on our way towards Ajmer. As soon as we hit the by-pass, the shy darkened and it started drizzling. I was seriously disappointed…first Andamans and now this! The rains must have a serious issue with me. No! Not this time, i pressed on the throttle and began speeding away…. for the next half an hour, we literally outran the storm brewing behind us. What a feeling!
If the Delhi-Jaipur stretch of the highway is ‘smooth’ then from Jaipur to Ajmer, it is a veritable Autobahn. Hills flank the wide tarmac on both sides and for the longest stretch, the surroundings were devoid of any human presence. I have never been on roads like this. The road eventually leads to Mumbai which is 1200 kms from Jaipur. The urge was great to keep driving and not stopping till i reached Mumbai…but not this time. Very soon, though!
By the time we crossed Jaipur on the by-pass it was 9:30 in the morning and our stomachs had started to growl in symphony. Aamir at this point started acting like a bitch that he is. He rejected all the highway dhabas that i wanted to go to. He wanted a nice, sanitised, clean, ‘family’ place. So after much searching, we stopped at this dhaba and got ourselves stuffed on some awesome pakodas and paneer paranthas.
After this dhaba stop, we had to go on for another 80-85 kms where a state highway branched off from the NH8 towards Ajmer, and guess what… we completed this stretch in under 40 mins.
Aamir had been a very good boy to this point. But when he saw a Cafe Coffee Day outlet on the highway, he just could not resist himself. He started flailing his arms about, jumping on the backseat, threatening to jump off if i did not stop. So i had to. He marched in, sat on the most comfortable couch and ordered a cold coffee! Road tripping with such people is such a pain, i tell you!
Once we took the turn from the National Highway into the state highway, ther was a perceptable change in the landscape. Dhabas and petrol pumps were few and far between, as were the villages. Soon we reached Kishangarh, which marks the beginning of the ‘Marble Belt’. For centuries the hills in this area have been quarried for their white marble. 4o kms down the road branching towards the right are the fabled mines of Makrana, that supplied the unblemished white marble used for the construction of the Taj Mahal.
Soon after Kishangarh, we entered Ajmer. It is a rugged yet serene town located along the base of a line of lofty hills. At the centre of the town is the sprawling Maharana Pratap Sagar lake. Our plan was to go to the Dargah Sharif before continuing towards Pushkar, 15 kms from here. The Dargah is located insuide of the Ajmer’s busiest markets and since it was also Diwali, the crowd was unbelievable. So we decided to skip it and continue towards Pushkar. We would come back for the darshan the next day, on our way back to Delhi. We stopped for some time on the lawns beside the lake and took some pictures
In Pushkar, we were booked into the Pink Floyd Cafe, where the decor is psychadelic and the rooms are named after Pink Floyd albums. As Luck would have it, we were given the room called “Animals”. Anindita had a good laugh when i told her about it!
The hotel was spread across three floors. All floors had a hall into which all the surrounding rooms opened. The top floor was the restaurant cum lounge and on the terrace there is a landscaped garden as well as another seating area. The terrace provided amazing view of Pushkar and the surrounding hills.
When we reached the hotel, we were quite exhausted having slept for hardly an hour in the last day and a half. Aamir was all for going to sleep and i had to push the old man along. So tired of me prodding his ass, he came up to the restaurant where we sat flicking through magazines and taking pictures while we waited for our lunch to show itself.
The best part about the hotel though was this little girl called Appu. She is hardly two years old and is all over the place. She, without hesitation enters rooms of strangers and every half an hour, there is someone or the other returning her to the reception to her dad. She came to me and settled down on my lap and narrated me a story in her own language, made up of a lot of different undistinguishable sounds and hand gestures.
After a rather satisfactory and surprisingly delicious lunch, we went off to explore the town. To our great dismay, the lake was quite dry except for a puddle here and a puddle there. But on the upside, the ghats were gloriously deserted. There were hardly 10 people there and the architecture was brilliant. It is like Benaras, scaled down, built around a lake.
There are more than 52 ghats at Pushkar. Each of the ghats leads either to a temple and in some cases, the courtyards of rich landowners and merchants.
Among the larger things in the picture like the clear blue sky and the deserted ghats there were these innocuous little corners which are equally attractive. This jaali window once had a view, but has since been blocked up by a wall of bricks.
People have various methods of making a wish. In this case, some leave hand prints of themselves on the walls in vermillion. The last place i had seen this was at the Mmahamaya Temple, a shaktipeeth near Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh
This babaji claims to have walked down from Rishikesh!
This tree was the trippiest thing in all of Pushkar. Reminded me of the gnarled tree on the ramparts of the Hall of Gondor in Minos Terith.
The old man was feeding his piegeons. Sometimes they ate from his hands while others sat on his shoulders and sometimes even on his head.
Thats Aamir surveying the scene from his vantage point on the ghats
More signs of worship!
From the ghats we wandered off through the markets to the Brahma temple that makes Pushkar so unique. Apparantly, it is one of the only four Brahma Temples in the world. I thought it would be different from the other temples i had seen, but i was grossly disappointed. It was as commercial as any other big temple. There was nothing striking about its architecture too. I preferred to stay out while Aamir went in.
We walked a lot through the markets and the bylanes. I have seen lots of markets like this and there was hardly anything unique about it, except for the stalls that were selling a vast array of swords, daggers and other hacking / slashing / cutting paraphernelia.Owing to the huge influx of Israeli tourists, a lot of the shops had hoardings or posters in Hebrew! I hace heard about stuff like this in Himachal..but the first time that i am seeing one.
Before i came to Pushkar, i read some blogs and all of the raved about the malpuas at the sweet shops. So we decided to check it out. The sweet shops had spilled into the streets and there were heaps of Bangali sweets in makeshift stands in front of the shops. A little conversation with the halwaii inoformed us that Pushkar sweets are so famous that people come here from Ajmer. We asked for two plates of malpus and that stuff was outright delicious. I am not a big fan of sweets and crazy as it may sound, i hate if my sweets are… well..too sweet! But not this. It was soft and chewey and just the right amount of sweet. It was excellent. Aamir wanted to pack some for home, but as usual, he forgot!
From the markets, we drove to the base of a hill on the top of which is a temple dedicated to goddess Savitri, Brahma’s consort. A board at the base of the hill where the stairs start, informed us that we would have to climb 702 stairs to reach the temple. In the beginning the steps were of concrete and very comfortably spaced. About halfway up, the concrete disappears and the stairs are just made of the hillside rock, chiselled to have footholds. And very steep!
As you climb on, more and more of the surrounding wastelands show up. You can see the gap in the mountains through which the road from Ajmer enters Pushkar. You can see the town, so tiny that it seemed to fit in the fold of your hand. On the other side of the saucer shaped valley where Pushkar is located, you can see hills, one of them even topped by a temple. As you go higher, you can feel the vertical distance between you and the town increasing. What a place to build a temple!
There were a group of Vaishnav pilgrims from Bengal. Most of them were elderly couples from a lower middle class background. Many of them were visually aged while some were bent over and walked with sticks. All of them were climbing the steps… people who were slightly more able were helping the others. Others were shouting words of encouragement to others. A few of them chugged on, chanting ‘shakti dao, Ma!’
We finally made it to the top and so exhilerated were we about doing this, that we forgot about at least going to the temple. I guess, sometimes the test of faith (for lack of a proper word) is maybe, just to reach the right place. A sojourn that i am more than willing to make…where the journey itself becomes the destination.
We soent a lot of time on the top of the hill. The sun was just going down and the entire valley was bathed in the glorious orange light. There was a little cafe there and we just ordered large servings of water! The climb had completely drained. We sat on the chairs and looked at the sights unfold in front of our eyes. One by one and often in little groups pilgrims reached the top and were visuallly happy at the achievement. We decided it was time to go down when it started getting dark. The steps leading down looked even scarier while climbing down. The rocks were slippery and it was difficult to find a flat piece of stone. Help came in the form of a Sikh babaji (in the pic) advising me ‘Radhey, chappal utar lo’. It worked!
When we came down to the parking there was a man playing the instrument (i must find out the name). He stared off with hindi fil tunes. I asked him to play some folk tune and he obliged.
I had to get the rear brakes worked on so i took Dope to the “Shreeram Enfild Gairaj and Sarvice Canter”
We decided that we would go out for dinner again and we had seen this restaurant in the market which we kinda liked. It was a shack made on the terrace of a building. So we went ot the almost-empty Hard Rock Restaurant and ordered some sphaghetti and macaronis. Le less we say about the food, the better!
Reeling from tiredness and lack of sleep, we went to bed at 9:30 and woke up 12 hours later, fresh as flowers bathed in the autumn dew! All that was left for us to do was visit the Dargah and then head back to Delhi. So we decided to have a laid back Breakfast. We went up to the cafe upstairs and ordered the creamy lasagnas. While i waited a saw a copy of the book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ that someone must have left behind. I picked it up and started reading. It was turning out quite interestingly actually, but can you blame a guy for putting down a book when a hot cheesy platter is laid in front of him?
On the road from Almer to Pushkar, you have to cross a mountain. There comes a point in the road, the highest pint from were you can see the land for miles and the road snaking through it across all impossible angles. While going to Pushkar we stopped here too but something went wrong with the camera and it just didnt click! Not this time, though!
The road cuts through solid rock at this point, creating a gateway of sorts. This photo was so overexposed that i had to convert to b/w just to make it visible!
We reached the main bazaar at Ajmer from where the road to the dargah begins and parked the bike. We deposited our luggage and helmets at a flower shop and proceeded towards the shrine. The road was covered with tinsel streamers which made it a very pretty sight!