The FREEDOM Trip Ep 1/4:
It was 15th August weekend with four holidays and no plans till two weeks back. Thats when i came across that India –Pak border BP 609 (near Jaisalmer) being accessible to civilians (with permits). There is also one hallowed Tanot Mata temple which was indestructible in 1965 India-Pak war. Plus some 40 kms away is the Longewala war museum which houses the actual Pakistani tanks which they left back as they ran away after the loss in 1971 war ( The place where the war in the BORDER movie actually happened). Enroute the border is Ranau- a beautiful village surrounded by great sand dunes everywhere.
I was hell bent to get this plan right and camp near the border on Independence weekend. My most patriotic trip till date.
Two day Plan:
To visit tourist places in first half of the day
- Gadisar lake
- Jaisalmer fort
- Patwon ki Haveli
Hire a bullet and with a little maps study and a bit of food stocking, start off for the Border. The first stop would be the petrol pump. The next pitstop would be Ramgarh (70kms from Jaislamer , Ghantiavali Mandir (at 114th) & the final pitstop at Tanot Mata Mandir ( 120th km). Camp for the night in my newly bought 2 person tent. (My tent)
Next day we would go to the India- Pak Border pillar BP 609 some 15 kms from Tanot Mandir. Return back to Tanot and head to Longewala for the 1965 war memorial. Return to Jaisalmer by say 1500 hrs. Visit Kuldhara enroute if time permits & complete the remaining havelis by evening . Have a good dinner and take the midnight train to Mumbai.
( I had gone near India China border two months back- Read it Here )
“But then, then what is a good trip with so much planning. The fun starts when the plan fails .”
It did become a lot of fun in the end.
24 hrs train journey From Mumbai to Jaisalmer . we took the BDTS- BGKT express on Friday night 23:55 hrs to reach Bhagat ki Kothi by say 1800 hrs. Bhagat ki Kothi is last station before Jodhpur. The connecting train was at 1830 hrs from BGKT to Jaisalmer.
Since we didn’t plan in advance we did this journey in General. Many fellow commuters supported me throughout the journey. Reached Jaisalmer by midnight . I had not booked any hotel. There are lots of agents at the station itself who chauffer us to their hotels. Saw a decent agent and went to the paradise hotel for some Rs 600 per night room. YOU can book the hotel after reeaching here in off season. Its better to pre book during peak seasons. Jaisalmer fort shone in the moonlight.
Started the day early with a quick breakfast on the hotels balcony. Jaislamer fort made up for a terrific background.
Headed to Gadisar lake for a silent start to the day. Instead of taking a rickshaw we walked to the lake. It only took us 10 minutes to reach there. Everything in Jaisalmer is at walkable distance if you can bear the heat.
The entrance of the lake was very welcoming. Many temples around the lake make for a very silent and peaceful ambience.
My mind was however focussed on the beautiful waves of the peaceful lake
The soothing waters of the Gadisar lake acted as a beautiful canvas for many pics. For moments i felt to screw with the plan and to just laze around the beautiful lake for the day. But the freedom trip was on and nothing could stop me from reaching the India Pak border.
Couple of hours whizzed past us and with a heavy heart we waived good bye & headed towards the fort.
Before we could reach the fort our hungry tummies made us walk in search of food. The rickshawallah pointed us towards the most authentic jaisalmer hotel he knew. The food was good. But after a thorough enquiry that we found that the owner was indeed a Bihari. #AuthenticFoodMyAss
Bullets for the Trip
Before we headed to the fort we enquired about the bikes in front of the fort. There is this shop named Shiva Bikes besides a carpet seller ( I would rather not suggest his name to anyone as you will also understand as you read ahead ) The bull outside the carper seller had such swag. So did the carpet seller.
Enfield was for Rs 1000 per day. Hero Impulse was for Rs 800. Activa was for Rs 500 i guess. Everything was too damn costly considering this is an off season in the middle of August . But lack of options and the even lesser time on hand persuaded us to go ahead with the Enfield. Being a long journey we went ahead with Classic 350.
On further discussion with locals we found that the bike plan was risky so we should better start with some time buffer. As an offset the fort visit was cancelled and we set of for the bike journey to Tanot couple of hours early. After haggling with the shop keeper he finally gave the Enfield for Rs 1800 for two days. Still too costly i think. Collected the bike and went back to the hotel to collect the backpack from the cloak room.
No longer did we reach the hotel there was a unique sound from the back tyre. On observation we found that the brake lining was an issue and needed to be attended. Back at the bike shop we demanded a replacement as we were short on time.
The new bike that we got from Bike centre looked better. We checked it for brakes,headlights, gears which seemed proper. This bike seemed to be the one that would get us to the border. Our hope that this is a well built bike were dashed later on.
Highway to Hell:
The back pack had our clothes, a two person tent , lots of food & water. Carrying the backpack was always going to be an issue so we had tried to carry the least possible things. Still it somehow got heavy. With the petrol tank full we started of the journey. At the start itself we felt the gear shifter foot rest was a bit off and loose.
This road has scant vegetation and even scantier traffic. Only thing continuously accompanying us are these wind mills which dot the scenery.
Just as we started whizzing away from the city we came across Badabagh some 6kms away. It contains a set of royal cenotaphs of Maharajas of Jaisalmer starting with Jai Singh II. He is the founder of Jaisalmer. He created this small dam and his son built his cenotaph near to this dam to honour his dad.
The site looked wonderful but the Rs 100 entry fee (its a budget trip till now) and the time required was an issue. Half an hour for this monument wont do justice to this master piece. Decided to do this on the way back the next day. But a quick glimpse and the monument made me realise we were missing on something very beautiful.
The beautiful landscape was adorned with windmills all over the place. The entire place seemed surreal. But the Enfield’s foot rest was definitely unstable for real. We stopped for a quick inconclusive check.
Back on track we started back the journey in the Great Indian Thar desert.This place was Ladakh Deja vu as the straight lifeless roads made me felt lost.
Next pitstop was Ramgarh, from where the routes forks to Tanot & Longewala. We reached Ramgarh pretty easily and the trip seemed to be on track for attending the hallowed evening prayer at Tanot ( done by Army guys). This was supposed to be the last spot for stocking food. We filled our bags with whatever we could lay our hands on. If you don’t have a liking for Rajasthani food it is better to stock up before visiting here( I had carried my food from Mumbai itself) . After our bags were full we binged on everything we could the spicy Mirchi vada, the famous sweets till we could have no more. All set for the next leg of the trip.
Found this very tall TV tower enroute Tanot. This tower is 300m high and is the third highest TV tower in India.
The journey started of swiftly after small altercation with my friend on who would drive the Enfield. I won. The route was as lifeless as it could get – a la Ladakh.
The road slithered through the silent desert undulating across what appeared as dunes covered with scarce vegetation. None the less the greenery lacked the authentic feel of the golden desert as portrayed in famous literature. The thoughts that i had for the golden desert being huge sand dunes all over the place were swiftly dashed off as the recent rains had infused life in the desert turning it GREEN.
We drifted through this Green desert with relative ease and top speed reaching 100kmph. Its heaven for any bike junkie.
After a while the route did started to feel like a bit of desert.We stopped to witness the sand floating across the roads. This the only desert along with Africa’s great Sahara desert to showcase the “Shifting Dunes” phenomenon. Took a video of the shifting sands, didn’t take any pics. Will put up the video in the next blog.
The endless road finally seemed to reach destination as we arrived at Ranau – the last village before Tanot. This is where the DESERT CAME ALIVE IN ALL ITS GLORY.
We were down from 100kmph to 60 to 40. We stopped. Hands had swiftly reached for the DSLR. The vast expanse of this great Thar desert had appeared in front of us in all its glory. Eyes didn’t blink for the next 15 minutes.
Clickety Clicks. I emptied ( read filled) a 4GB card, firing bullets( read clicks) all over the place. Mind was going bonkers on this surreal deal.
Ranau had such tanquility, such vast endless expanse of wavy dunes. The sun had painted the dunes golden. Perfect atmosphere for a shoot.
This turned out to be the CALM BEFORE THE STORM. As while clicking photographs we finally did locate what was amiss with the bike.
If you fancy my cameras
The bike had a BROKEN CHASIS. A rider’s worst nighmare had come true. This was the worst possible way our journey could have been hampered. The problem was congenital . we had rode a broken machine all the way in the No Man’s Land. Worst nightmare.
All the excitement we had about Ranau, just flushed down the drain. The peaceful silence at this last village Ranau before the border had suddenly turned dreadful. In the middle of nowhere , without network, without anyone around and no garage for at least 30 kms back, we were dumbstruck as to what to do. The entire Freedom Trip on Independence weekend was hinged on our next decision.
Weighing our pros and risks we made a sad decision to go back from Ranau to Jaisalmer, kill (not literally) the bike provider and return back tomorrow and cover our planned itinerary in half the time.
I really wished i was a free bird and could have just flown ahead by myself.
The return journey was a sort of anti climax as we took almost 4-5 hrs to reach back to Jaisalmer at about 10-15kmph with extreme caution.
Have a look at some of my memorable moments
But i was hell bent on getting it right the next day.
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