Travel: Offbeat road trip destinations in Rajasthan

Mar 31, 2016, 08:00 IST | Suprita Mitter

Seeped in history and folklore, five interesting stops in between the busy Jodhpur-Jaisalmer stretch take you off the beaten track. Summer holidays are here. Ready?

When we watched the recent campaign launched by Rajasthan Tourism that said ‘Jaane kya dikh jaaye’, we couldn’t have agreed more. While planning a short road trip centred between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, we found ourselves spoilt for choice along the way. If you are time-strapped, and are a seasoned traveller with a ‘been-there-done-that’ attitude towards all things tourist-y, you might want to plot some of these destinations for your next road adventure.

STOP 1  Nagaur

Damaged frescos are being restored with global support
Damaged frescos are being restored with global support

The architecture of the Ahhichatragarh Fort, which was originally built by the Nagavanshi clan (hence the name that means fort of the hooded cobra) around 500 AD as a mud fort but rebuilt in stone in the 12th century by the Ghaznis to include palaces and mosques, is a mix of Mughal and Rajput styles. Since Emperor Akbar’s rule, the princes of Rajasthan held the Nagaur Fort complex.

Even today, it is managed by trust funds belonging to the erstwhile royal families. What makes this fort special is that it has undergone a two-decade long UNESCO award-winning restoration with help from Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Museum Trust and supported by grants from The Getty Foundation (US), Helen Hamlyn Trust (UK), consultants from Ahmedabad and New Delhi and local artisans.

We witnessed the ongoing restoration efforts by a group of students from Europe  reworking frescos and parts of the fort that were damaged by plastering and white-washing during the time the BSF (Border Security Force) was billeted there. The before-after frames in the picture gallery that display the results of the renovation are worth checking out. The architecture reflects a culture where people used their minds to create comfort, luxury and day-to-day necessities with the limited means available.

You will be amazed at the complex system of channels and ducts that brought water to the fountains and bathhouses and managed to even perfume the area. Our visit made us wonder if our minds have progressed or regressed along the way to the digital age. There is a small portion consisting of 14 rooms from the original zenana (women’s section), which has been converted into a hotel.

Getting there Nagaur is 145 kms by road from Jodhpur and takes over 2.5 hours to reach. A further 150 kms north is Bikaner. Roads from Jodhpur are well maintained.

STOP 2  Osian

The majestic Ahhichatragarh Fort in Nagaur. Pics/Probal Mitter
The majestic Ahhichatragarh Fort in Nagaur. Pics/Probal Mitter

When we told our driver we wanted to go to the town to see a ‘baori’ (well), he had no idea what we were talking about, and advised us against it. The desert town located north of Jodhpur is home to a 9th century stepwell with steps that cut a beautiful criss-cross pattern. There is a board outside that reads ‘protected monument’ but the place is anything but maintained. Located next to a large parking lot, and with many visitors frequenting a nearby Jain temple, nobody gives the baori a second look. If better protected the site can be a crowd puller.

Getting there: Osian is 67 kms from Jodhpur by road and takes 1.5 hours to reach. A further 114 kms north of Osian is Nagaur (2.2 hours). Ajmer lies 253 kms east of Osian.

STOP 3  Pali

Bullet Banna. Pics/ Probal Mitter
Bullet Banna. Pics/ Probal Mitter

There is not much to see in Pali except the under construction Om Ashram in the shape of ‘Om’ at Jadan nearby. But we were kicked to see the Om Banna temple (also called the Bullet Banna temple) not too far from it. The unique shrine is devoted to a 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle. The story goes that a local named Om Singh Rathore was travelling from the town of Bangdi near Sanderao and lost control of his motorcycle, struck a tree and died instantly in 1988.

His motorcycle fell into a nearby ditch. The morning after the accident, the local police took the motorcycle to a nearby police station. However, the bike disappeared the next day and was found back at the site of the accident. This re occurred several times despite the police emptying the fuel tank and putting it under lock. This came to be seen as a miracle by the locals and they began to worship the Bullet  since they believe that Om Banna’s spirit helps distressed travellers.

We saw many newly married couples in their wedding outfits arrive to seek blessings and we couldn’t resist the urge to take a selfie with Bullet Banna.

Getting there: Om Banna temple is 23 kms from Pali by road and takes 30 mins to reach. A further 55 kms northwest (1 hour) is Jodhpur

STOP 4  Pokhran

Brought into prominence by the nuclear tests conducted in the area, Pokhran (also spelt as Pokaran) is also home to a gorgeous fort. “The film Dor directed by Nagesh Kukunoor and television series, Jodha Akbar was shot here,” said a guide who also doubled up as photographer. We found ourselves posing for all sorts of pictures as he used mirrors and different openings in the wall to create visual illusions in the photos (the sort that you see in wedding albums of '90s). Pokhran means the place of five mirages. Made from red sandstone, the fort stood on the ancient trade route to carry salt, silk and spices to Persia and beyond. Parts of the fort have now been converted into a hotel. You might also want to drop by a museum that displays the royal family’s collection of armoury, garments, miniature paintings and handicrafts.

STOP 5  Kuldhara

Promoted as a ‘haunted’ tourist attraction, we found Kuldhara eerie as the entire area was deserted. According to the back story, 200 years ago, Kuldhara was home to the Paliwal sect of Brahmins. Salim Singh, the Diwan of Jaisalmer, set his eyes on the young daughter of the village chief. The Diwan was hell bent on marrying the girl and told the villagers that if they opposed him, he would levy huge taxes. Fearing his wrath, the entire village and 84 villages around it, packed up and left overnight.  We stayed on till after dark, much to the dismay of our driver. The Archeological Survey of India maintains the area as a heritage site. We climbed up the steps of one of the few intact houses. From the terrace, we spotted neatly laid out homes and a temple. The guards who took money from us on the assurance that we would get entry tickets, disappeared. They told us that there were several cars on the premises. We found none.

Other notable mentions

Fort Chanwa Luni: In 1992, inspired by a wave of successful restorations to heritage properties Maharaj Dalip Singh, the 24th generation of direct descent from Rao Jodha, (ruler and founder of Jodhpur in the 15th century) decided to convert this gorgeous fort into a hotel which is great for a quick stopover an hour away from Jodhpur city (40 kms).

Luni is also popular for its Rasgullas. (Two other forts converted to hotels that are a must visit are Fort Khejarla, an imposing 17th-century fort made of red sandstone 14 km from Jodhpur Airport and the Khimsar fort built in the 16th century and partially defaced by Moghul ruler Aurangzeb.. The staffs here are direct descendants of courtiers who have served the royal family for generations

Block Printing and carpet weaving at Kankani Village: We were lucky to be taken in by a weaver’s family who demonstrated carpet weaving and block printing for us.

Pick a quick souvenier at reasonable rates directly from the artisans. (32 kms from Jodhpur, 10 kms from Luni)

Jain temple and havelis at Phalodi: Added last minute to our itinerary, the glass and mirror work Jain temple and intricately carved havelis make Phalodi a great stop. (53 kms from Jodhpur)

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