Rajasthan – Exploring the Thar desert !!!
The first picture that comes to mind when you think of Rajasthan is the vast expanse of sand dunes and the colourful attire of ladies. I always thought the entire Rajasthan was covered with sand dunes. But in reality, only the western part of Rajasthan has dunes and according to data available, 40 % of people live in the desert. Even though Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaisalmer all come under desert region, only Bikaner and Jaisalmer have proper desert.
I decided to explore the thar desert of Jaisalmer, which lies around 35 kms from Jaisalmer town and is popularly known as the Sam sand dunes. There is no public transport available to reach the sand dunes and hence we have to either hire a taxi or use a share taxi. I set out with my senior, Asha and our guide, Ali in Ali’s vehicle around 2 pm. Our first stop was at the abandoned village of Kuldhara situated 18 kms from the city. An eerie silence prevailed all around. There was hardly any sign of human existence. Sudden appearance of a boy from among the ruins sent a chill down my spine. The boy explained he was from neighbouring village and he wanted to show us the ruins.
He told us that the village was set up in the 13th century and was inhabited by Paliwal Brahmins. Local legends claim that the villagers fleed to escape from the wrath of Salim Singh, a minister of Jaisalmer state who wanted to marry the village headman’s daughter. The Paliwals imposed a curse that no one would be able to reoccupy the village. Those who tried to re populate the village experienced para normal activities . Hence the village was branded as ‘haunted’ and left abandoned.
As Ali reminded us that we have to reach early to do the camel ride, we left. After a ride of half an hour, we reached the Sam sanddunes. All around there were tents and resorts. We stayed at the Thar desert resort. The camels which would take us to the desert were already in the camp.
I was getting on a camel for the first time. It was a scary experience especially when the camel rises or sits on the ground. When it rises from the ground, we will be thrown first backwards and then frontwards making your heart skip a beat or two. Camel walked nearly 2 kilometers through the shrubs and sands to reach the dunes. The journey was extremely unpleasant and my butt was sore by the time we reached. The beauty of the dunes were breathtaking. Miles after miles there were only these hills of sand with no vegetation in sight. Due to the clouds we couldn’t experience the sunset but we were happy to experience the desert for the first time. After some time we returned riding on the camel to our resort.
We stayed the night in swiss tent available in the resort. The walls were concrete with the roof made of tent material in a conical shape. Late in the evening, the organisers at the resort arranged for some entertainment of folk dances where professional dancers danced to enchanting folk songs and music. Hot pakoras and tea did their sounds and satisfied our taste buds. The women wore colourful Rajasthani lehenga and choli. The entertainment program lasted for an hour. After having a sumptuous meal of the famed ‘Daal Baati Churma’, we retired to bed.
Early morning around 6, we set out to experience the sunrise. This time we were in a jeep as we also wanted to try sand dune bashing. The jeep had a drivers cabin in front and an open rear end. We had to hold on to a rod fixed on the top of drivers cabin. Once we reached the dunes the driver started speeding the vehicle and also taking rash turns. With each turn, sand flew from both sides. We clung to the rod on the jeep in an effort not to fall from the speeding vehicle.
We sighed relief when the jeep finally stopped near a small tea shop. The sun was about to rise and we could experience one of the most lovely sunrise in the back drop of vast sand dunes.
Holding to the chai glass, it was an amazing experience to witness the sun riseup slowly and in the process light up the desert first in orange hue, then yellow and finally white.
Slowly the place started to get crowded and we left. On the way we visited a nomadic settlement of Banjaras and interacted with the kids. Most of the houses had only palm leaf roof erected on thick sticks. Some ‘houses’ were plastic sheets ercted on sticks curved to give the house a hemisphere appearance. There was no floor and people slept on sand.
Around 9 am we left the resort and went to Ali’s village which was located 12 kms from the dunes. Majority of the houses were made of mud and had a thatched roof. Some of the houses were brick houses. The villagers lived by rearing goats and camels.
The villagers have to walk to reach the town as no public transport option was available. It made me sad to learn that the villagers had no access to vegetables and their main diet was just roti and milk . The kids looked malnourished. People always slept outside on the sand and only during winter they slept inside.
They had scarcity of water in village and had to depend on private suppliers to purchase water. We distributed the biscuits, books and pencils that we had bought for the kids and they were very thrilled to receive it. By 11. 30 we were ready to go back to city. The visit to the village opened my eyes to the hard life of the people living in desert, overcoming the harsh climatic conditions and scarcity of even basic resources like water.
On our way back Ali let me drive his vehicle and it was fun to drive in the desert. At places we passed in midst of grazing sheeps. We reached Khaba fort by 12pm. It is a very small fort as compared to other forts of Rajasthan. Thas is another spooky place. It was deserted for some mysterious reasons. It houses a small museum of few ancient artefacts. From the fort window we can have a breath taking view of the ruins of Khaba village.
Ali, who was our guide at the start, and became our friend by the end of the trip fulfilled my long time wish of visiting an oasis. It was exactly what we learned in our geography classes – a water hole in the midst of burning sand lined by vegetation. The sight was soothing for both body and mind and the cool breeze was rejuvenating. We returned back to Jaisalmer by 1pm.
My Thar desert visit was an amazing experience. Thinking of it alone fills me with joy. Words cannot express the serenity I felt when I was in the desert especially watching the sunrise. It was once in a life experience and I’m really glad that I made this trip. Visit to Thar desert was the most memorable experience of my Rajasthan trip.