A shrine is built for a bullet and his owner

Navroze Contractor | Features | November 29, 2012
A shrine is built for a bullet and his owner

I never give up an opportunity to visit Rajasthan. It holds special interest for me as I shot my first film there that made me into a cinematographer. When you have spent a long time in Karnataka the first thing that impresses you is the quality of the roads in Gujarat and Rajasthan. I fail to understand why, if one state can do, the other can’t! You will hear more of this as the journey progresses. I started from Ahmedabad and my first stop was Sirohi at the famous Ramdev Baba Dhaba. I covered 245 kilometers in 3 hours, effortlessly, in a Ford Figo diesel. The dhaba is a must stop for excellent Rajasthani fast food. All kinds of chapattis, parathas and rotis with fresh curd, for me are the in thing.

No Yoga here. It's all about eating yummy food at Baba Ramdev Dhaba

Next stop, after the Pali turn off is the motorcycle shrine! Yes, I saw it first many years ago and made it famous in one of my writings. Om Banna was the son of a local zamindar who rode his Royal Enfield up and down this stretch of road after several drinks. One day the booze got the better of him, he crashed and died. The cops took the bike to the station a few kilometers away while Om’s body was cremated. Legend goes, next morning the bike was back at the accident spot. The cops were confused to say the least. They brought the bike back to the station but next morning again the bike was at the same spot! This was too much for the superstitious and a small temple was built round it, right on the edge of the highway.

The famous Bullet Baba shrine!

The Prasad to be offered was booze! So next to it started a liquor shop. Over the years this has become a big place and this time I saw it was shifted further inside to accommodate a four-lane highway, with ‘take off your shoes’ signs, a small office for donations. The highway authorities have removed the booze shop as it was causing more damage than the blessings received.

“Only in India”

A few kilometers ahead is Luni, just small shops but again famous for kachori, samosa and hot tea, where people stop for sure. That’s all you get and it is awesome. Fifty kilometers and you are in bustling Jodhpur. 465 kilometers, 6 hours, effortless even after all the stops. No three speed breakers throughout the entire journey. (Karnataka! Take note.) I was alone in the Ford Figo and was impressively cruising from 120-140.

Jodhpur is a fascinating 14th century city spread out under the magnificent Mehrangar Fort. The sight of the fort from the city and the view of the city from the fort are stunning. As it was the holiday season the fort was full of tourists. Our Indian middle class tourists are probably the noisiest and most ill-behaved in the world. Why they have to push each other and talk at the top of their voices is beyond me! The fort has a nice restaurant serving western and Indian food. We settled for a thali meal and it was superb. My mantra: always eat what the locals eat and you never go wrong.

The stunning view from the top of magnificent Mehrangar Fort

After lunch we drove out to the Desert Museum, Arna Jharna or the Broom Museum, located 20 kilometers on the Jaisalmer road. This little museum is tucked away in the most beautiful location and is most unique because it exhibits over 140 types of brooms, all made in Rajasthan. In contrast to the bustle of the Fort this is serene, quiet and peaceful and watching the sunset with a steaming cup of tea is worth everything.

Navroze with his American friends in front of the Arna Jharna museum

My friends stayed at Shahi Guest House, one of the many houses made into hotels in the middle of the old city. Those, who don’t mind the bustle of the city and adventurous enough to commute in auto rickshaws and keen to climb steep steps should try it. It has a spectacular view of the fort and the city, once you have mountaineered to the terrace. Rajasthan has so many foreign tourists, and I guess some must have come after travelling the Far East they call the autos tuk tuk, just like in Thailand!

Fancy little souveneirs at Nathdwara

Two nights later we drove to Nathdwara through NH8. This is a beautiful route to take to reach Udaipur from Jodhpur. The road goes through some divine country, there is hardly any traffic and you see the Aravali Mountains through a patch of forest. Rajasthan is basically a pastoral state and one can see cattle, camel and goats migrating during seasons. Now the locals who migrated to cities and became rich have come back and bought off vast areas of land. They have built walls or barbed wire fences and this has stopped the traditional migrating routs. So you see animals migrating on the highway. It is a terrible ecological mistake. Animals when they walk through fields leave behind precious manure, now the same fields have to use chemical fertilizers.

The cattle migration is a common sight on the way

Semi arid lands and desert ecology are extremely fragile. Camels were a major part of Rajasthan’s ecology. There are some non governmental organizations (NGOs) trying to save them. Camel milk is extraordinary in taste. Jaisalmer and some other towns have started camel milk ice cream, hoping that such endeavors will protect the animals. Never miss camel milk, if you find it. On the way, through the forest, a group of langur monkeys stopped our car and sat on top almost like a group of bandits ambushing us. My American friends loved it while I hoped that they wouldn’t hang on the windshield wipers and twist them. It was fun.

Not a scene from the Planet of Apes. Just the usual monkey business!

At Nathdwara, the temple town is famous for the idol, ‘Shrinathji’ the infant incarnation of Lord Krishna. After a long trek from the dusty parking lot to the temple door, a big sign said ‘foreigners not allowed’. All pilgrimage places are full of interesting, colorful, crazy shops and interesting people, so that made up for ‘no entry to the temple’.  We reached Udaipur, 275 km, in five hours including the Nathdwara stop. The Figo took the hills fully loaded like a breeze. We settled in Chunda Palace Hotel, a newly built structure imitating the old palaces of the beautiful city.

The serene view of Udaipur from the boat

To our bad luck the main palace was closed, as there was a ‘royal’ wedding! But we took a long boat ride round the lake that was relaxing and the sites took us back to the medieval days. Udaipur is very well preserved and walks through the lanes selling bangles, jewelry, traditional shoes, saris, textiles, craft and art works is fascinating. Our ‘new’ palace had good food and excellent service and we had to wrench ourselves out of there next morning to go to Ahmedabad.

Udaipur to Himmatnagar could be one of the fifty great drives of India. What makes a great drive for me? Excellent quality of tarmac, mountainous terrain, eye popping scenery and minimum traffic. This road is a must for all who love driving. From Himmatnagar to Ahmedabad, the drive is in the planes and straight. Again, it took just under 3 hours for covering 255km.

The only other car I can compare to the Ford Figo is the Maruti Swift. The Swift is wider, the engine tuned to be peppier and no car can beat the Suzuki gearbox for it’s smoothness of shift. The Figo has a firmer drive and gives good confidence through corners and rolls less. Both seem as economical as all through the journey the Figo delivered a constant 20.25 kmpl of diesel. The journey was a mix of highways, small towns, city traffic and mountains, so this average is outstanding. I enjoyed the drive on Ford Figo.

 
 

Older Comments ( 1)

Rajesh Nair's picture

Makes get on my bike and do the journey right away....

 
 
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