This article was published in BIKE India Magazine (April 2007). The follwing is the article script.
The Desert Kingdom
Text: Sundeep Gajjar (Sunny)
Photography: Sundeep Gajjar (Sunny) and Kulpreet Singh
Ever since The Great Indian Roadtrip concluded in December 2006 I was in a state of suspended animation as far as real biking went. I was sad that a great adventure had come to an end. As I was going through the thousands of photographs that we clicked on the trip, I was in fact unconsciously seeking a reason and a place to do another bike trip. After convincing myself that the real Northern India won’t be possible at this time of the year I decided on Rajasthan. I chose Rajasthan because of many reasons including Good Roads, Rolling Hills, Colorful people with their costumes and the Fantastic Forts or Palaces. There is this general feeling of being in an arid land flanked with wide open spaces with golden hues all around. Add to this, our previous visits to Rajasthan had been sort of as a transit through to the other parts of India or had been a weekend visit to Jaipur. Now the time had come to explore what Rajasthan has to offer to us on two wheels.
The route that we chose was Delhi-Bikaner-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur-Udaipur-Chittorgarh-Jaipur-Delhi for a total of 2400kms in 9 days. One of the main aims was to see how good was the Nokia N73 phone for imaging with it’s 3.2 MP. Of course we were carrying the bazooka of a camera in the form of two Canon 350Ds.
Day 1 : Delhi – Bikaner
I certainly did not imagine that I would be riding on absolutely fantastic roads for hundereds of kilometers without a soul in sight through a desert. Yes, this is the real Rajasthan.
We got off to a good start in the morning from Delhi. Me and Kulpreet were on two Karizmas. The recently opened series of flyovers in Gurgaon really gave us a hint of the world class roads that were inviting us ahead. Although I had been on NH8 to Jaipur to Udaipur and beyond on the Golden Quadrilateral, nothing had me prepared for the rustic beauty of this golden hued state and the roads in it. We were thoroughly enjoying the 4-6 lane roads and after a max throttle ride to 40kms before Jaipur I got a puncture in the rear just as we stopped to ask directions for Bikaner from Chomu. It seems that lady luck was sitting as a pillion. The puncture wallah was just across the road. A good 30 minutes went poof without riding time.
The time was 3 PM and the distance left : 300kms. We assumed that daylight would last till 6PM and none of us wanted to ride in the dark, the time where the zillions of flying insect population wakes up.
We decided to keep the photography breaks to a minimum and only when we spot something interesting.
What I experienced next was nothing short of confirmation of what I believed. Rajasthan is one of the, if not the, most beautiful states in India. The arrow straight roads were simply mind boggling. It was this when I thought what am I doing on a machine with 17 bhp! The awesome smooth laid tarmac never seemed to end. Both sides there was wide open flatlands with scrubs and bushes scattered with mystifying consistency. This was for three hundred kilometers until we arrived in Bikaner – at 7 PM. Surprise, surprise, the sun hadn’t completely set even till now! We had constantly been hovering between 100 – 110 on the speedo. We lodged in Bhairon Vilas behind Junagarh fort in Bikaner. That’s what we exactly did. And boy did we take the correct decision. It was simply ultra fab over there. It was a heritage hotel, a huge mansion with many rooms built over 170 years ago converted into a hotel. It was beautiful, stunning and majestic. low hung celing fans, painted glass windows, old kind of sweet smell and priceless furniture and decorations that screamed – this was the real India before British looted us!
Day 2 : Bikaner – Jaisalmer
At the end of this day Kulpreet made one of his usual witty comments – “Bikaner se nikle, naak ki seedh pe chale, aur pahooch gaye Jaiselmer”. ( We started from Bikaner, kept following our noses, and arrived in Jaiselmer”. )
Starting off after a brief photography session of the Bhairon Vilas Heritage hotel in which were staying in Bikaner, and then the Junagarh fort, we then hit the highway.
Whoever made the roads, I wish to hug him. There is nothing really to write about the riding part. The road quality and surrounding desert beauty exceeded yesterday’s ride. At many points it reminded me of the single long road that I saw in Long Way Round in Mongolia leading to Ulaan Bataar. As far as the eye could see there was this single long straight stretch of tarmac piercing the horizon. Perspective is a neat thing.
We covered 340 kms in around 7 hours with numerous butt breaks, water breaks, khan paan( eating ) and of course the photography detours from the main road. Even after this the real big sand dunes evaded us till the end. The dunes had lots of shrubs due to the recent heavy rains in these parts.
And here rode two strange men into Jaisalmer, armed from head to toe with strange gear carrying arms and ammunition to shoot everything beautiful at sight. People were staring at the bikes like they were MV Augustas.
When we arrived in Jaiselmer it was a little strange to see most of the houses in a golden brown hue. It was as if everyone was following an implicit color code rule. The odd colored houses stood out like an eye sore.
I really took a heavy liking to the golden city of Jaiselmer. It was fantastic seeing everything in brown and the people wearing colorful clothes, like dabs of color on a painter’s palette.
After checking in we decided to head for the Jaiselmer fort. It was not the usual forts that are only for tourists. It was not converted to a hotel either, like the Neemrana. It was a living fort. People are still living in houses passed on to them from generations. It had clean alleys made of a smooth stone which were real slippery for the bike, and quite steep for comfort too. We passed through narrow lanes bordered with shops selling all sorts of beautiful handicrafts. They were the residents of the fort city. The place was teeming with foreigners and locals. It was surreal to see an entire social system running inside the fort made in light brown colored brick and stone. It wouldn’t be hard to convince oneself that he has been transported back in time.
Day 3 : Around Jaisalmer
The first option was Longewalla post ( indo – pak border ), after the Tanot Devi temple. It was a 130kms long ride one way effectively meaning that we will lose at least half a day on this. Then there were the Sam dunes and the Garisagar Lake. We decided to drop the Longewalla post from our plan and head towards the ‘real-deal’ sand dunes. Sam is a village 40 kms from Jaiselmer and sports dunes of the Thar desert where man a bollywood movies have been shot. The road leading to it has the same quality as yesterdays’ and were very inviting. This time we had left our Cramsters and extra luggage back n the hotel room which translated to more speed.
A lovely 38kms odd ride presented us with a smooth tarmac road and the ‘real-deal’ sand dunes on both sides interspersed with lots of camels ready to take the tourists inside the Thar. We took a brief Camer ride and the ride back was the usual high speed one with some photography breaks. The weather was pleasant with constant cloud cover shielding us from the hot sun. We took a short break at Lake Gadisagar with some nice monuments in the middle of the waters.
Day 4 : Jaisalmer – Jodhpur
After a good night’s sleep we woke up and lazily started off for Jodhpur. I was feeling a little sad in leaving Jaisalmer. It is a beautiful city. The highway to Jodhpur was beautiful as usual. The wide open plains. The arrow straight roads. However, today we came across some population in an otherwise desolate desert landscape. We met a German couple touring some parts of India on bicycles. Then there were two Israeli couples touring on Enfields.
And we met one more guy, he was driving an old jeep stuffed with passengers and he pushed off Kulpreet Paaji off the road which resulted in a slip on the sand and Kulpreet swearing some words very softly. No harm to the bike, no harm to the last Sikh warrior. And we rode on. Some spice at last…
En route we stopped in Pokhran for a small chain maintainence ( oiling and tightening ) session from a roadside mechanic. We reached Jodhpur at around 4.00 PM and checked into the RTDC hotel Ghumar. Hurriedly we set out for the Mehrangar fort in a bid to reach before 4.30 PM, the final entry time in the fort. We managed to get inside the fort in time. The location was fantastic. The forts were built by the kings in a place with was not easily accessible and hidden from the enemies. This was no different. The modern man had cut through the mountains to give us smooth tarmac road leading to the fort. Imagine if you had to access the fort way back when there were no roads and the fort was on top of a very steep and high hill.
We also met up with Neera, a xBhp member who had SMSed us from Jodhpur. She is also a motorycle stylist in addition to being a computer graphics designer for the web. She rides a CBZ and wanted to own a Superbike soon enough.
Day 5 : Jodhpur – Udaipur
We were sure that the ride to Udaipur would be a quick one considering the previous days where we had arow straight highways. However, that was not to be. We started from the hotel at 10 AM and paid a quick visit to Umaid Bhawan. We got some candid shots of the palace from the outer road with the guard getting hyper over us keeping the bikes a 10 metres from the gate for 10 seconds! The ride towards Udaipur began. Trucks, lots of trucks but good roads. After asking several people about the route and distance to Udaipur and getting figures from 200 - 380kms ( from a point where it should have been only 180 kms ) we finally got it. We need to turn left from Sanderao and from Pali and Ranakpur reach Udaipur. And thats what we did. Had a small lunch break at a nice road side upbeat dhabha called Manvar at Sanderao. I wasnt expecting mindblowing twisties and equalling natural beauty and greenery through Ranakpur. Some 70 odd kilometres of heaven. Who could have believed its Rajasthan! I say after the Kambhakti Ghats ( Pune ) I have never enjoyed twisties so much ( excellent roads too ). The surrounding scenery truly deserves a second mention. This section is must for anyone who does Rajasthan by road. But then every rose has a thorn. A few kilometres after the twisties the road merges into nothingness. For the next 40 odd kms highway constructions were going on and it was dusty, sandy, off road with lots of trucks creating a sand storm for The Mummy Part 4.
We finally reached Udaipur at around 4.30 PM. The city seemed more developed and modern than other Rajasthani cities that we had visited. We were searching for a hotel to crash. It was almost half and hour since we were looking when we met this guy on a Victor. He was a guide and let us to a hotel in one of the bylanes. Hotel Dayal then it was. It was almost 5 PM and we had to quickly see some points in the city. We decided to hired him as our guide for 50 bucks. He showed us Swaroop Sagar Lake, Fateh Sagar Lake, Picholia Lake, Aravali Gardens, Chetak Smarak, Gangaur Ghat and a pretty impressive fountain (cant recollect the name). Our guide was literally flyng on his Victor as he expected us to be able to keep up with him in the city traffic on our ‘more’ powerful bikes. It was a funny sight seeing the guide like this. The bikers are coming of age everywhere it seems.
On our way back we halted in a Cafe Coffee Day and I had a nice Devil’s Own and a Chocolate Fantasy relaxing on the comfy sofa in a corner…
Day 6 : Udaipur – Chittorgarh
Today we had to cover 120 odd kms. Considering this we first decided to visit the Sajjangarh palace near Udaipur. Sajjangarh is also known as the Monsoon palace and situated at 1100ft and has a very nice ride from Udaipur. Before continuing our journey we stopped for an oil change, got Castrol Power1. We were also not sure of the roads connecting Udaipur to Chittorgarh, although it was a mere 115 kms. All our worries were lost when we were greeted by NH76, which is a part of the Golden Quadrilateral. 4 lane highway with divider was rather unexpected but of course most welcome. Nothing much to document about the ride then, the highway was smooth and we wee max throttle at most places. After reaching Chittorgarh we first checked in to Hotel Pratap Palace which was actually a British guesthouse before independence.
After an hour’s rest we left for Chittorgarh fort. The first view from the approach road 150 metres below it’s level made me think that how big this fort was. Some research told me that it has a peripheral length of 13 kms and is spread over 60 acres. Now thats some architecture. I was specially astounded to see the Tower of Victory ( Vijay Stambha ) which had been uniquely built. After climbing it we got a beautiful view of the surrounding area. There were lots of monuments, temples and other architectural masterpieces to see but we decided to see what we could and headed back for the day…
Day 7 : Chittorgarh – Jaipur
After having a sumptuous breakfast at the Pratap Palace Hotel we headed towards Jaipur after tanking up. We were apprehensive about the roads but were dumbstruck to discover that it was all four lane superhighway a mere 25kms from the hotel. It was the usual cruising at 100 and sometimes to drive away the sleep me and Kulpreet used to try our hand in a full streamlined crouch mode drag ( streamlining only hampered by the cramsters, my backpack and Kulpreet’s turtle bag ). The real dangers on roads like these are sleep due to boredom, the big trucks, vehicles coming from the wrong side ( specially tractors ), animals, villagers crossing the road and of course the crosswinds which can throw one off the road if not careful. We hit Jaipur at around 1.30 PM and straight away headed for our favorite hangout joint The Rock in C Scheme. There was a cricket net laid out in the driveway and of course a silver C class merc, a maruti gypsy with Hanknook 295 tyres and loud bass exhaust. The red AMG merc and the 1000RR owned by the proprietors of the restaurant were missing.
We still hadn’t taken any lunch and it was 3 PM. We decide to first check in the hotel and then search for a restaurant which we eventually found one. After some noodles we decided to head for Nahargarh. A word of caution here. Ride through Chandpole and the pink city shops can be really taxing on your bike’s clutch plates as well the wellbeing of your mental balance. The traffic was unbelievable and congestion was perhaps the name of the road as spelt in English. However after a brief stop at Hawa Mahal and some pictures later we headed towards the Rajasthan Gram Udyog in the Rani Palace on the same street to shop for some tie and die cotton stuff.
Down the road Jal Mahal was incidentally was devoid of any liquid as such known as water. Too bad for us and even bad for the poor tourists expecting to see the same grandeur as in the postcard pictures back in their countries.
Soon dinner followed at a roadside restaurant ( The Tandoor ) and it was time for us to relax for the day.
Day 8 : Around Jaipur
Today we woke up at quarter to ten. For the first time in the trip we had proper sleep. With the AC working overtime and yielding less than satisfactory results we were expecting some real hot sun outside.
The ride to Nahargarh is an excellent one. First you have to cross the hustle bustle of the Chandpole, across the Hawa Mahal, via the Jal Mahal road and 13kms of twisties with an excellent view of the Jaipur city exposing itself more and more as you continue to ride up. This is perhaps my favorite fort in Rajasthan. It allows me to have ample places and time for photography and provides a breathtaking view of the modern architecture ( the Jaipur city concrete houses ) from a relatively incomparably superior four centuries old architecture. Today we were determined to have lunch on time. Reluctantly we read the menu of the Durg Cafeteria ( a government run restaurant inside the fort one level up ). Surprisingly, the menu was very much affordable we had Veg thalis in an ancient courtyard. Absolutely superb.
On the way back we decided to see the Amber fort too. Unexpectedly, two wheelers were not allowed inside the fort but four wheelers were. But another instance of stupid laws. We chucked the fort and went back to Jaipur again passing besides the waterless Jal Mahal ( Water Palace ). We reached the hotel room at 4.30 PM leaving us hardly an hour before we had the G2G at The Rock. Quickly we got fresh and hurried ourselves to the lounge to arrive at 5.40 PM. Some xBhpians were waiting for us there and gave us a warm welcome. After the initial meet and greet we went inside the Rock and had a nice time watching the GIR Wallpapers on the TV using the iPod and chatted away about bikes.
A quick suggestion came to have a ride to another lounge known as The Mocha some 8 kms away. We were all game. Around 6 of us went full throttle to the place and came back in almost no time. It was sure a high speed ride. A last session of photos followed before we decided to disperse. The end of this eventful day saw us pay a quick visit to my mamaji in Jaipur and a budget but delicious dinner in an upbeat dhabha.
Tomorrow it will be a quick and boring ride back to Delhi on the Golden Quadrilateral.
Day 9 : Jaipur – Delhi
The ride back home was around 265kms and was covered in 4 odd hours with a breakfast break. There is nothing in it much really, you just evade the trucks, keep full throttle and wish that the machine is fast enough.
It is Rajasthan which I will recommend, that every biker should do once in a lifetime – at least. And if you have a superbike then this is the best state to ride in India. All in all a very satisfying trip and my second best after the GIR in my life till now. I will cherish this one for days to come…
We have been using Castrol Power1 in the trip and have constantly ripped the Bike at 120kmph+ on ASRs ( arrow straight roads ) for almost 5 minutes at a stretch ( pun intended ), the bikes still were smooth after that.