Riding across the Thar

After about two years of ‘situational procrastination’ , I finally managed to embark on the journey through Rajasthan on my trusted RE with my friend Karan (@grasskode). This was in no way an easy decision, especially this time around as my trip was short with a lot on the agenda but it had to be done for the sake of my sanity. This was a short four day trip with both of us on our bikes, mine RE Thunderbird Silver, 350 and his RE Thunderbird Black, 500. The route we traced was something like shown below which cuts right through the center of the largest state in the country, across the Thar desert and arguably the best place to travel during an Indian winters. We rode about 1500 KM in those four days. Add 500KM (and two days) more for Karan as he rode in from Delhi for this.

As far as I’m concerned, I love the desert and riding through barren landscapes. Next preference is the mountains and then forests and/or coastlines. There’s something about the infinite nothingness that attracts me. I’ve only had short experiences of such sort quite early in my life, usually on a different(and more comfortable) medium of transportation. I’m going to deviate slightly to inflict my thoughts on the reader on why I (or anyone for that matter) would want to write/speak about a long journey where all I did was ride a motorcycle. Robert Pirsig captures the emotion behind being in love with riding in the first few pages of his famous book ‘Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenence‘. This is my attempt to build on top of the foundation he laid.

I’ve always argued with people about my passion for riding a bike by maintaining that its not about utility or comfort, so any comparison with a car absolutely fails there. Being in a car is equivalent to being in a self-sufficient environment where the comfort provided is directly proportional to the price tag of said environment. The basic premise is to create an illusion of the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ even though the inhabitant is always outside. The focus then is to fill the ‘inside’ up with as many comforts as possible in order to keep the attention of the occupant from wandering to anything that belongs to the ‘outside’. These can be basic things as a windshield, doors and windows and as complex as the sound systems with an endless list of features, automatic weather control, hi-tech HUD’s, giant screens, a mini-bar, power steering and so on. If you take a moment to think about it, any new feature being paid for by the consumer strengthens the barrier between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’. And it goes to a point (so called luxury cars), where the driving pleasure just means staring at the road and watching the dashboard numbers go up and down quickly. One might as well do this on a high definition TV while playing one of the many racing games available, at the fraction of the cost. The car doesn’t talk to you the way bike does. Twisting that throttle results in way more changes than pressing the peddle. The sound changes, the wind pushes you back a bit further, the road zips below your feet more quickly,  and there is a “visible” sense of speed.

When you’re on a bike, all boundaries fade away. You’re one with everything around you. The road, wind, sun, heat, cold, smell of rain on sand, sound of the river flowing under that bridge, the subtle temperature changes when you cross that small patch of forest, the dust on your face when off-roading and yes even the occasional potholes. Its all very real. Only while riding can you realize the warmth of the sun on a winter afternoon when you’ve been riding since frigid morning and appreciate the coolness of the evening after being on the road on hot day.  This is the way I define ‘being on the road’. There’s another sort of people that have this behavior, the hikers. For them, its the way you reach the top of the mountain that defines what you feel there. No hiker ever said ‘I wish there was a cable car to get to this place’. Its never about the destination. The journey is the part we skip over or want to get over with as soon as possible when we’re travelling in the concept of the ‘inside’. The bike makes you live the journey so that you enjoy the destination even more.

From Rajasthan

Snap !!! Time to move on with the narration.

Leg 1, Jaisalmer:

We started off from my home in Jaipur on a chilly morning at about 0700 hoping to reach Jaisalmer by sundown, or a maximum of 12 hours. This was supposed to be the toughest leg of the journey as we were targeting more than 550KM in a single day. Any snag, and we would’ve wasted a day. Luckily, that never happened. The air got cooler, terrain flatter, roads smoother, landscape arid, population scarce and views picturesque. This was an amazing change from what a city has to offer nowadays. We were still 100KM from the destination when the sun went down and the next couple of hours were quite frustrating. Pitch black darkness with a constant stream of oncoming heavy vehicles, all on high beams. On reaching the city limits, we decided to first figure out the best place to eat, hog there and then find somewhere to crash for the night. Jaisalmer is famous for Lal Mass(red meat) which is basically mutton in red chilly gravy. After a few google searches and asking locals for the best restaurant in town serving the delicacy, we ended up at the unanimous choice, Milan Restaurant. The place is inexpensive and modest, unlike other restaurants in the area with 20 ft banners and Christmas lights all over them. The food totally lived up to its reputation. For me, it was one of the best mutton preparations I’ve had. After spending a good hour there and cleaning up every morsel on our plates, we found a decent place to stay for the night. So Jaisalmer has one of the few forts in the country(probably the only one) where the fort is still inhabited. As a consequence, families have converted their centuries old homes into guest houses and hotels. For people like us, it means being able to live in fort, with room window overlooking a beautiful ancient city and a rooftop restaurant that gives 360 degree panoramic view for about INR 700 (USD 12). View from the rooftop restaurant of the Golden City.

From Rajasthan

 

Leg 2, The Border:

The plan for day 2 was to visit the famous Longewala border post and Tanot Temple. This was the leg I was looking forward to the most. This is where it all comes together. The civilization fades away and the only traces of it are the machine you’re on and traces of road ahead. I finally found the “nothingness” i was looking for. We stopped many times on this 250KM loop, sometimes for the pictures and sometimes just to be there. I knew there was no picture I could take that would capture it all.

From Rajasthan

As one of the inane activities, we decided to click a few “working remotely” #workingremotely shots. Here’s one of Karan

From Rajasthan

and mine …

From Rajasthan

Had another ‘brainwave’ while taking a short break to off road on the sand. Now none of us had done it before and wisdom suggested, rather dictated, that such activities be avoided when no help is near. Stupidity prevailed, although partially, and we decided to give it a shot. Karan was the more enthusiastic one, so he took a shot at it and this is where he ended up. Rear wheel right into the sand.

From Rajasthan

That expression is a hundred percent real. It took us about half an hour to push this damn thing out on the road. Oh, did I tell you, we’d gotten just 15 short steps off the road !!! Moral of the story, if you have a cruiser, make sure it doesn’t leave the road. With all off roading intentions gone from every cell of our brains, we moved ahead and reached Tanot. This is a tiny tourist spot known for the temple here and its significance in the Indo-Pak war of 1971. We had some snacks from the military canteen and the moved towards Longewala post that is around 50KM from here. Instead of writing about that short journey, I’ll just post a few pics.

From Rajasthan
From Rajasthan

 

From Rajasthan
From Rajasthan
From Rajasthan

We reached the border post in about an hour. This place is where the actual battle was fought in the 1971 war. The border fence is about 19 KM from here and, as expected, restricted.  There is a small memorial and a theater where a movie is played every hour with details of the war that took place. Slightly dramatized, but good watch.

From Rajasthan

Then there are a bunch of destroyed enemy tanks and other artillery that adds a nice touch.

From Rajasthan

This was as westward as we could get without being shot down by the military so we headed back to Jaisalmer. Next time we’ll probably get a permit to visit the actual border. Reaching Jaisalmer didn’t take long this time around because of less halts and no bike-stuck-in-sand fiascoes. We weren’t very tired this time around, so decided to take a stroll into the city and try out some more local food. I was surprised to see how clean the city was considering its a major tourist attraction this time of the year. Roaming through small streets, we ended up at another recommended restaurant. This was way more upscale than what we’d tried the night before so the expectations came down a bit. Post dinner, a long walk back to the hotel. We packed up as we had to leave early the next day to Jodhpur. The distance wan’t much but we wanted to reach early to be able to see the city too.

Leg 3, Jodhpur:

After a good night sleep, we woke up just before the sunrise to capture the view we’d missed the morning before. Not to mention, this was totally worth it. Sipping tea on the rooftop with a chill breeze and watching the morning grow warmer is probably the best part of winters.

From Rajasthan

An ideal morning is Rajasthan is incomplete without having Poha so before leaving the city, we stopped by a street hawker for the amazing snack.

From Rajasthan

We were not disappointed and after filling ourselves up, headed to Jodhpur, also known as the Blue City and home to one of the largest forts in the country. This was a relatively smooth ride for about 300KM. Taking longer than expected, we finally reached the city later in the afternoon. Took us a while to wade through the narrow streets to find a hotel room, but we did end up in one of the rooms of a comfy little place dead center of the old city with a view like this of Meherangarh Fort.

From Rajasthan

The fort gate itself was only 10 minute walk from the place. Anyway, we missed out on reading the timings of the fort and were just about 10 minutes late (last ticket is sold at 1700). So with access being denied, the other option was to roam around the lower parts of the fort which are not closed until late. These also provide a good view of the city itself. Sun was about to set in a few minutes so our best bet was to get a few pics and head to the city to eat. After a lot of trial and error, we got a decent shot of both the sunset and the city.

From Rajasthan

We walked around the streets and had some of the best chaat. Then after asking a few people for recommendations, went for traditional Rajasthani main course: Dal Baati. Now I usually have this made at home and have probably had all version of it, so I’m a very skeptical of having it in a restaurant. The place we ended up in was a small restaurant by the road side and didn’t have many people around. It was probably too early for dinner. Anyway, after having i-dont-know-how-many ghee-soaked baati’s we were done for the day. We crashed early since there was a lot of distance to cover the next one plus the traffic now was going to get worse since we would hit the main highway.

Leg 4, …and Back:

This was, for me at least, the boring part of the journey mainly because of the traffic and the quality of roads. Most of the stretch was smooth but there were unexpected patches that were quite frustrating. And once we were on the national highway, it was mostly about navigation between the large number of trucks, smaller traffic and tractors, all moving at a snails pace and occupying most of the space. I was still a great ride though. Our last stop before entering Jaipur was a small, shoddy dhaba mainly for truckers. This kind of a place comes with its perks. Good food is one of them. Do not venture out in such places if you’re stomach cannot handle this. You can also doze off on one of the charpai‘s for as long as you want. So the menu was well made 4 items and bread with a lot of ghee on it. The reason these dhaba’s have charpais instead of chairs is that you’re supposed to take a nap after the meal. Following the convention, we did the same, woke up after about half and hour and were off. Reached my home at about 1600 on a Sunday evening.

This was a short and quick trip and there were a lot of places we skipped, Bikaner, Barmer, Ajmer, Udaipur, Pushkar, Sambhar and many more. A two to three week trip is probably the best way to actually enjoy what Rajasthan has to offer. I’ll be definitely coming back again next year to strike a few off the list.

Thanks for reading through the long post and do leave your comments/suggestions. Happy travelling 🙂

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