Looney Dunes: Quirky Rajasthan

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Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Rajasthan has the uncanny ability to surprise you. On a 10 day road trip, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY discover ‘Suryavanshi’ lampposts, turbaned men with outrageous moustaches and camels named after celebrities… Here’s a list of Top 10 offbeat experiences.

1. Bullet Banna and his 350 cc Temple

Most people know about Deshnok’s Karni Mata Temple where locals worship rats as their ancestors. But the shrine of Motorcycle Baba? Near Rohet, along NH-65 to Jodhpur, is the roadside temple of Bullet Banna, dedicated to Om Singh Rathore of Chotilla village, who died here in a bike crash in 1988. The cops seized the bike, but the next morning it disappeared from the police station. After a frantic search, it was found parked at the crash site. Strangely, every time the bike was impounded, it returned to the accident-prone spot. Recognizing it as divine will, a temple was built in Om Banna’s memory. The 350 cc Bullet (BNJ 7773) is enshrined alongside his garlanded photo, where travelers stop to pray for a safe passage.

Don’t Miss: Bishnoi villages at Rohet and Guda Bishnoi near Jodhpur, Participate in an opium ceremony, Khejarli Memorial where 363 people sacrificed their lives to protect a grove of the sacred khejri tree

2. More Bhang for your Buck: Jaisalmer’s famous Bhang Shop

Move over Dr. Dang, Dr. Bhang is here! He has a YouTube video, a Facebook page and a killer dialogue to hawk his wares – ‘We start from Baby Lassi, special for Japani-Korean because they have small baby eyes, then we have Medium, Strong, Super Duper Sexy Strong and then Full Power, 24 Hour. No toilet, no shower!’ Doctor Bhang or Chander Prakash Vyas aka Babu, represents the savvy third generation of the Govt. Authorized Bhang Shop, located at the base of Jaisalmer fort since the early 1970s. The Banana Lassi (Strong) is strongly recommended. Bhang chocolates (lasts 2-3 days) Bhang cookies (lasts few weeks) and CDs of Anthony Bourdain’s visit to the shop are good take-aways.

Don’t miss: Jaisalmer Fort, India’s only ‘living’ fort with a maze of houses, hotels, eateries, exquisite Jain temples & Mr. Parekh’s gemstone shop ‘Light of the East’, Photograph Dhanna Ram’s 4.5 ft long moustache outside Patwon ki Haveli 

3. The Ghost town of Kuldhara 

The skeletal remains of Kuldhara represent a Golden Age gone to dust. Located 18 km west of Jaisalmer off the highway to Sam, this was one of the 84 villages of Paliwal Brahmins which were abandoned overnight! The large houses, wide streets, excellent drainage and water harvesting to grow wheat in a desolate land speak of an advanced society. Paliwal Brahmins were wealthy agriculturists who traded along the Silk Route to the north, contributing hefty taxes to the kings and often giving them loans! However, when trade routes changed and the river Kak ran dry, the community bore the brunt of unjust taxes imposed by Salim Singh, the ruthless dewan. Continuous harassment and threat to their women resulted in a mass exodus of the Paliwals. They left in the dead of the night, never to be heard of again. Fearing their curse, nobody has ever settled in their villages till date.

Don’t Miss: The 80-year-old caretaker Sumer Ram narrates the legend of Kuldhara and also plays the algoja (Rajasthani double flute) very well… sometimes, with his nose! Similar ruins at Khaba (10 km away)

4. Ranthambhore Ganesh ji: Postcards to God

Atop Ranthambhore’s historic 1000-year-old fort is a unique temple of trinetra (three-eyed) Ganesha. Every day, the Lord receives 10 kg of mail from across the globe. This isn’t fan mail or supplications; as per tradition the first wedding invitation card for any marriage is sent here. Temple priest Ramavtar explained that the first wedding invite sent here was ‘Krishna weds Rukmini’, roughly dating the temple to 6500 years. So um… what happens to all the wedding cards? The envelopes are recycled for giving prasad and the cards are cleared annually! Wednesdays (Lord Ganesha’s Day) tend to be crowded and the annual Ganesh Chaturthi fair attracts thousands.

Don’t Miss: Tiger safaris, hand-feeding wild Rufous Tree-pies with biscuit crumbs, Shopping for traditional textiles and crafts at Dastkar

5. What makes Mehrangarh a formidable fort 

Easily the most spectacular fort in Rajasthan, Mehrangarh hides a grim tale under its magnificent facade. When Rao Jodha decided to move the Rathore citadel from Mandore in 1459, he selected the hillock of Bhaurcheeria (Mountain of Birds), home to an ascetic Cheeria Nathji. Though a temple was built to mark his dhuni (place of penance), the evicted sage cursed the place to be drought-ridden but conceded that the fort would be unassailable if a man was buried alive in its foundations. A skinner Rajaram Meghwal (or Rajiya Bhambi) volunteered, in return for the welfare of his family till perpetuity. To this day his descendants live in Raj Bagh. On Jodhpur’s founding day (May 12), the Maharaja worships the humble skinner’s tools and felicitates Rajiya’s kin. A stone tablet opposite Rao Jodhaji’s Phalsa (the original fort entrance) commemorates his supreme sacrifice.

Don’t Miss: The elevator inside the fort, Royal dinner at Chokelao Bagh, Stay inside the walled city at Pal Haveli, Visit Jaswant Thada (royal cenotaphs) and the old capital of Mandore 

6. Mishrilal’s Makhaniya Lassi, LMB & other culinary delights

If Dal-bati-churma and gatte ki sabzi seem passé, try Nutella pancakes, Marmite toast, Mexican enchiladas or Israeli cuisine in Rajasthan. At Pushkar, it’s not just the menu that’s offbeat. Eat at Pink Floyd Café, Out of the Blue, Funky Monkey, Meter Palace or Rainbow Café. Most rooftop cafes offer ‘panoramic lake views’, making Pushkar a novel experience. For conventional fare, try the Rajasthani Thali at Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar – Traditional Halwaies since 1727 (0141-2565844) at Johari Bazaar in Jaipur, or feast on Kachoris at Rawat’s. At Jodhpur, Mishrilal (0291-2540049) at Ghanta Ghar has been churning out their signature ‘Makhaniya lassi’ and Special Rabdi over five generations. Nearby, under the Sardar Market arch you’ll find an ‘Amalate (omelette) Shop – Recommended by Lonely Planet’!

Don’t Miss: Bikaneri Bhujiya, assorted gajak from Ajmer and tandoori parathas, dal and ker-sangri at the highway dhabas around Pokharan 

7. Why Michael Jackson will never Die

At the dunes of Sam, you don’t just listen to Michael Jackson, you ride him! And learn how to grab your crotch along the way. After all, a camel ride is often a ‘hump-and-grind’ routine. But there’s a reason why most of Sam’s camels are named after MJ. Our camel guy Bariyam Bhai had flawless logic, ‘If he was called Ramesh, would you have cared? Michael Jackson’s universal appeal makes the name quirky enough to amuse foreign tourists. Besides, climbing and alighting from a camel is like break-dance.’ You might also chance upon other superstars like Sean Connery, Hrithik Roshan, Shah Rukh, Salman and Raja Hindustani but the sudden demise of The King of Pop has resurrected his name. Out in these dunes, MJ still moonwalks on the sands of time.

Don’t Miss: Camel safari in the Desert National Park, Stay at desert camps with Kalbeliya dancers and Rajasthani folk artists performing under a starlit sky

8. Deogarh Mahal: Royal attitude
The story of Deogarh is a tale of pride and honour. Chunda Sisodia, heir apparent to the throne of Mewar, was the most eligible bachelor of his time. When a proposal for Hansabai, the Rathore princess was brought to Chittor, Chundaji was away. His father Rana Lakha joked that the bride could surely not be for an old man like him. When the prince returned, he refused to accept a woman ‘spurned’ by his father. So the princess married the old king. The proud Chundaji renounced his claim to the throne and carved a new bastion for himself in the lawless lands north of Chittor. Deogarh Mahal, a legacy of this Chundawat clan, still bristles with the same centuries-old attitude. Its quirky signboards (London Raining, New York Snowing, Deogarh Fine Weather, Only 3 km), vintage cars like Thapero, Bhachero and Car-o-Bar (a renovated bar on wheels), clever ‘Duck or Grouse’ tags on low doors and the opulent rooms, make Deogarh Mahal a delightful indulgence!

Don’t Miss: Anjaneshwar Mahadev cave temple, Stay at ‘Khayyam’ luxurious tents in the wilderness or Seengh Sagar, the erstwhile royal recreation lodge overlooking a lake

9. Chacha, Lathi, Bap & other quirks on and off the highway

An uncle, a stick, a father, a child’s cry for milk – no, these aren’t clues to a treasure hunt in the desert, these are places you encounter on a road trip across Rajasthan. Chacha, Lathi, Bap, Dudu – milestones whizz by flashing strange names, making you wonder who or what could have inspired them. It’s really… Luni?! The monotony of the arid landscape is broken by distractions like large trailers carrying weird equipment from Kandla Port, pilgrims traveling to Ramdevra on foot and Hotel Shimla in Pokharan. Severe-looking men sport fluorescent turbans, veiled village belles dodge the camera with practiced ease while herds of camel hold up traffic as they nibble on trees by the wayside.

Don’t Miss: Milestones, signboards and photographic opportunities galore

10. The dhurrie that never catches fire

Horrified by the sight of a man trying to set fire to a beautiful rug, we protested wildly. Hansmukh, true to his name, smiled benignly as if nothing was amiss. He explained, ‘Pure wool fibre gathered from camel and goat hair is naturally fire resistant and closely-woven knots make the carpet fireproof’. As if on cue, the extra-long Karborised matchstick died out, bringing the show to a dramatic end. We were at Ranakpur Tribal Dhurrie Udyog (02934-285191), a humble venue with an array of hand-woven dhurries and carpets crafted since generations. Their popularity was apparent in the stack of cartons waiting to be shipped. In the low light, we squinted at the addresses – ‘Nagpur, Ahmedabad, New Delhi? Not bad!’ we mumbled. Hansmukh smiled. ‘No, it’s Norway, Australia, New Zealand.’

Don’t miss: Ranakpur’s 15th century Jain temple of Adinath with 29 halls and 1,444 intricately carved marble pillars; the elaborate Jain lunch served as prasad

Fact File

The route: Jaipur-Ajmer-Pushkar-Deogarh-Ranakpur-Jodhpur-Sam-Jaisalmer-Sawai Madhopur

Getting there: Jet Airways operates direct flights to Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur from Delhi and Mumbai.

When to visit: Winter months are ideal, but the festive season brings out the best in Rajasthan, with something special every month: Desert Festival in Jaisalmer (16-18 Feb), Elephant Festival at Jaipur (19 Mar), Mewar Festival at Udaipur (6-8 Apr) & Summer Festival at Mount Abu (15-17 May)

Where to Stay

Deogarh Mahal, Deogarh
02904-252777, 253333, 9314420016
info@deogarhmahal.com

Nachna Haveli, Jaisalmer
02992-251910, 255565
nachna_haveli@yahoo.com

Pal Haveli, Jodhpur
0291-3093328, 2638344, 9350408034
info@palhaveli.com

Ranthambhore Bagh, Sawai Madhopur
07462-221728, 224251
aditya@ranthambhore.com

Giri Sadan Homestay, Jaipur
0141-2371385, 2364191
girisadan@dataone.in

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the March, 2011 issue of JetWings International magazine.
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