BIKANER – A CITY OF GOLDEN SANDS & STARRY SKIES

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For me, the desert town of Bikaner has always been synonymous with famed Bikaneri bhujia! Overshadowed by its celebrity cousins – Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, the remote town in Thar desert remains fairly under-explored as a holiday destination. The ravishing red is lost somewhere, amid hues of blue, pink and golden! However, only when I happen to explore the vibrant city on a long weekend break with my partner, I discover that it has a lot more to offer other than the sev-like, crunchy snack packed in shiny foil packets.
After alighting the small Air India flight at Nal airport which is also the Bikaner Air Force Station, we are on our way to Narendra Bhawan which is around 16 km from the airport.
Local woman in Bikaner
During the drive, we see camel carts treading on clean, wide roads, independent houses (each one constructed in its own unique style) awash with colour and village belles sauntering in flowing skirts, with a ghunghat drawn over their faces, right till the chin. Our very first impression of Bikaner says a lot about the flavour of the city! We are delighted to see that it has a genuine untramelled vibe and a certain rustic charm.

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JAISALMER – THE CHARMING SANDSTONE CITY

The rainy season certainly isn’t really the right time to visit Jaisalmer, especially if you wish to enjoy a camel safari and a night of camping under the starry sky. But that did not deter the curious rain chaser in me who desperately wanted to experience the monsoon magic in the ‘Golden City of India’. After living the Maharaja life at a 550-year-old haveli in Jodhpur, we decided to take off to Jaisalmer by road. I must say that our 300 km drive was quite rewarding. The highway was stark empty with open spaces on either side, and no visible economic activity for miles and miles; we almost felt like we privately owned the beautiful surroundings. To make the trip all the more pleasant, peacocks, camels and blackbucks occasionally made an appearance, gorging themselves on the fresh green grass, courtesy the random bursts of rain.
The city that is entirely constructed by yellow sandstone is much more laid-back and hassle-free as compared to cities like Jodhpur and Jaipur and untouched by globalisation. Retaining the rural Rajasthani aura and culture, the city has no fancy malls or popular food chains and is hugely dotted with ruins. We started our day with a walking tour of the city’s major heritage spots which are within the radius of 2 to 4 km. Even if you’ve hired a car or taxi, you’ll have to walk up to most of the places as the streets are quite narrow. When you look at the magnificent, carved havelis and the unique fort perforated with winding lanes and lined with houses and temples, you’ll be transformed to a bygone era and would never wish to return to reality.
After savoring a few local dishes like Ker Sangri and Daal Baati at one of the small joints near the fort, we proceeded to Sam Sand Dunes for a desert safari which was just the perfect way to end the evening on a delightful note. It wasn’t raining that evening and we just got lucky. When it rains, you can’t recognise the desert – heaps of sand are eroded, leaving behind bare nut-brown earth and a camel or jeep safari remains a distant dream. But we got to experience both and it was thoroughly enjoyable. Yes, the ride is likely to take a toll on your back if you tend to become too stiff and don’t move in the same rhythm. Post the safari, you can either get back to your hotel or book an overnight stay at one of the desert camps to witness the breathtaking sunset and spend the night around a bonfire or simply appreciate the rustic performances by the folk dancers of Rajasthan.
My trip to Jaisalmer was indeed a memorable one as it felt like I was travelling back in time. Too hard to believe? Here’s a glimpse

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A panoramic view of the Jaisalmer city from Canon Point
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Jaisalmer Fort Road enclosed by honey-coloured sandstones. Can’t take your eyes off the unsurpassed architectural marvel?

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