This winter, travel through the offbeat destinations in Rajasthan where fewer travellers venture into. Be there before these spots become a tourist magnet!
Every winter, the famous cities of Rajasthan attract tourists from across the world. However, few venture out to its rural landscapes. Hop on to the ever reliable Indian railways and make a journey to the far interiors of Rajasthan and discover the true beauty of this Royal State. In the process, you will also unearth the stories of man-animal harmony unique to this state.
Pushkar fair is one of the most popular cattle fairs in India. Hot air balloon rides, circus shows, sports events and world cuisine keep you busy for two days. I made sure I sample some Lahsoon ki Chutney and Gatte ki Sabzi in the many restaurants that line the streets. Some old world magic show had the audience enthralled. I was amused to see the spectacle. Even the snake charmer was quite a star here.
After sipping endless cups of tea from a kulhad, I decided to spend some time around the Pushkar lake. Equally claimed by people and pigeons around, the lake exuded spirituality as thousands thronged to bathe in the holy water.
As I left the lake, I joined a religious procession. Hundreds walked in colourful attires, crushing the fragrant marigold and rose flowers beneath their feet. Soaking all the floral smell, I made a move for a quick stop at Ajmer. After admiring the sunset at the Anna Sagar lake, I headed to Ajmer Sharif Dargah for a soul stirring qawwali session. But not before exploring the offerings of many sweet shops. A quick visit to ‘Dhai Din Ka Jhopra’ nearby is also a must.
In the nondescript dusty village Khichan, I met Sevaram Malli Parihar who has been awarded many times for his single handed wildlife conservation efforts. He has fought tooth and nail to ensure that the approximately 20,000 demoiselle cranes that migrate to his village from Siberia every winter are not harmed by electric poles, human intervention, etc. Every morning he feeds scores of cranes in a bird feeding house opposite his house. He also identifies any injured bird and takes them to animal hospital nearby, if there is a need. The birds feed in batches in a disciplined manner. It’s amusing how the second batch of cranes wait outside the feeding house patiently until the first batch is at least halfway through the feed.
It is admirable how a single person can bring about enormous change in the attitude towards wildlife conservation. I have always believed that only locals with the help of government can help sustain wildlife conservation. The unique cordial relationship the cranes share with the local villagers and animals of Khichan is heart-warming. Rajasthan extends its hospitality to people and animals alike.
Om Banna temple: Om Banna is a one-of-its kind temple in India. The god here is not a clay idol but a 350 cc motorbike. It is near Jodhpur on the highway towards Pali. The motorcycle belonged to Om Singh Rathore. He met with an accident at the same spot where today stands a temple. Legend has it that the police locked the bike many times in the station. However, the bike magically re-appeared at the accident site. Since then, the place is worshipped and the bike has finally been relocated to the spot owing to the sentiments of the pilgrims. A much revered tree exists at the same spot.
However, the temple has been shifted a little beyond in order to avoid disruption in traffic.
Devotees throng in thousands every day. Some of them offer alcohol too as a tradition. Many newlyweds also visit the temple. Most passers-by make a stop at the temple. It is said that doing so ensures safety on road. I was amazed to see customised Om Banna Aarti being belted out by local singers. Om Banna merchandise filled the roadside shops selling everything from Om Banna stickers, CDs to books and decorative pieces.
Bikaner is famous for its aloo bhujia, but few know about its many secrets. The old city boasts of beautiful havelis. As I entered the narrow winding lanes, I was struck with the grandeur of these ancient dwellings. Each haveli has exquisite carvings and embellishments. The architectural styles are varied. One can spot Rajput, Mughal and even British architecture style on the façade of the havelis. I craned my neck to appreciate the beauty of the delicate stone jaali, windows, chajjas, et al. The red sandstone gives the haveli a character of its own. The best time to make a visit is early morning since there is less crowd in the streets. It is easy to get lost in the serpentine roads as you admire one haveli after the other. Not many know that these havelis are unique to Bikaner. Though some are locked, the locals still live in many of these.
Karni Mata Temple: Rajasthan is the State that boasts of fascinating places to visit. Karni Mata Temple is popular for the thousands of black rats it shelters and worships. Just 30 km from Bikaner, Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke, also known as the Temple of Rats, is the place where rats rule. There are many theories on how and why the people of Rajasthan started worshipping the rats in the temple. It is said that despite such huge numbers, the place has never fallen prey to any epidemic. In this temple, if you step on a rat, you have to pay a hefty fine. It is believed that if a rat crosses your leg, luck will be on your side. That said, if you have been able to spot a rare white rat, it is said to bring you even better luck.
They were everywhere, feeding off the milk pot, resting in holes, fighting for a spot in these holes, and sharing the abundant food quietly!
There is a Heritage Rail Museum at Bikaner, opened in 2012, that displays items related to the Jodhpur and Bikaner Railway era.
Tal Chappar Sanctuary: This sanctuary in Churu, lets one walk sans a guide. This is exactly what I did one fine winter morning. A haven for blackbucks, wild boars, neelgai and many birds, Tal Chappar is an underrated delight. Early morning and evening is the best time to appreciate the beauty of this land and its inhabitants. Truly a bird lover’s paradise, the sanctuary comes alive with thousands of migratory birds, especially harriers, including Montagur’s Harriers, Marsh Harriers and Hen Harriers. The best months to visit are from September to March.
Written By : Abhinav Singh