The best trips are the ones we dont plan- and so it is, yet again.
I had been after my friend- Vigyaan- who runs a rural tourism venture- to do some justice to his venture and spend some time on the road- exploring Kutchh and other beautiful places on the way. After almost 3 weeks of cajoling, taunts and mild abuses, we were on. The trip was initially to be over the weekend but then the 3rd guy-Ritesh- wanted to bring his new ride for this highway trip across Rajasthan & Gujarat. So he got his new Swift serviced on Saturday and we were to start from Jaipur on Sunday morning.
I took the night bus into Jaipur and managed to freshen up at my friend’s place before we hit the roads at 7 a.m. We made our first stop in Jaipur for chai-maska. I dont know where exactly we stopped, but apparently this chai-wala baba has a reputation- one which made people queue for tea/bfast at 6.30.
We started from Jaipur and Vigyaan managed to get himself behind the wheels, when Ritesh lit his first one. And we soon realised that you cant risk putting a guy who drives an automatic, behind the wheels of a manual drive- esp on the highway. Twice in the first 30 mins, Ritesh had to remind Vigyaan that the car had a 5th gear too !
Now Ritesh, is a wildlife enthusiast- or so we discovered. And he started convincing us slowly but surely, that if we are headed upto Kutchh, might as well go to Gir Forests and try our luck at Lion sightings. He had me on his side, when he said that this would mean another 200-300 kms. Vigyaan was worried about getting back to work on Monday (he didnt realise that Monday was not happening, even if we were going till Kutchh).
So by the time, we crossed Ajmer and reached Udaipur, we were trying to fix a place at Gir for us to stay. Couple of minutes on Google & Lonely Planet and we realised that this was the “off-season” – something we would hear a few more times on the trip. Ritesh was sad and i had to sell what was waiting for us at the Kutchh – dried river beds, villagers in colorful attires, flamingoes and wild ass.
So after a really spicy lunch, we set our coordinates for Ahmedabad via Himmatnagar. Great thing is, Ritesh is not too enthusiastic about driving and Vigyaan prefers to catch up on his beauty sleep whenever time permits. So yours truly was behind the wheels most of the time and i was enjoying it completely. We were cruising at almost 100-120 kmph averaging 80-90kmph and it was hard not to appreciate the amazing quality of roads. The weather was also good, with a nice cloud cover and the only two things one could complain about were toll-plazas and quality of tea.
When we had just crossed Himmatnagar and taken the turn towards Ahmedabad, Ritesh took out the Lonely Planet and started reading about Kutchh and which town to head into. He found a guide’s number and dialled his number to be told, that this is not the season for Kutchh. We insisted, it doesnt matter, whats the worst that would happen, no flamingoes- right? we could live with that. But the good man that this guide was, insisted that the roads that go into Kutchh are flooded and there is no way we are seeing even the salt-beds or the wild-asses (not even wild ass !!!!)
This was crisis! We had just driven 600 kms and Kutchh was out. We cleared our minds with another round of tea and did a you turn. Ritesh and Vigyaan insisted we should go to Mt Abu and that was one place I wasnt keen on going. We reached Himmatnagar by-pass and asked for Abu Road- and while we were trying to get there, we found ourselves at Mota Ambaji. Now I know a lot of places- religious and otherwise and I had never heard of this place.Apparently its a very famous temple of Goddess Durga and the whole town & its economy revolves around pilgrims- much like Shirdi.
We were glad to have discovered this place, spent 2 hrs in line and when we were finally out of the temple, it was almost 8pm on our first day on the road. We decided to spend the night at one of the hotels in town and also managed to catch the 9.30 movie at the local theatre – Lamhaa.
The movie was a complete disaster, but the hotel staff was amazing. We were told that the kitchen closes at 10.00 pm and we would not get anything anywhere in town after the movie. Ritesh, the smooth talker that he is, managed to convince the hotel staff to get our dinner for us at the theatre during intermission- how many of you have had dinner brought to a cinema hall.
By next morning, I had convinced the duo to go to Jaisalmer, my logic was that I had never seen the real desert- sand dunes et al. So plan was to drive through the day and somehow manage to reach Sam in Jaisalmer district. We drove past a nice stretch of road that connects Mota Ambaji to Abu Road and from there to the NH. By the time we hit our first toll plaza, Ritesh was low on adventure and probably nicotine too. He insisted that Jaisalmer in this season is not worth the additional 900-1000 Kms we are planning to drive. Guess the lack of sleep had made me weak, but I soon conceded to his not-the-right-season logic and we stopped to decide where to go. Vigyaan pulled out his laptop to check with uncle Google for options, I dished out my LP and we had options ranging from Mt abu,Haldi Ghati, Chittorgarh, Udaipur to what not. It went on for almost 15 minutes without any clarity on our next destination, so i decided to take matters in my own hands. MtAbu was vetoed and i started driving straight ahead saying they could decide where we need to go until we make our next stop on the same road- which was at SawaiSagar lake near Udaipur. So we drove for the next couple of hours, by when Ritesh had proposed that we go to Sawai Madhopur. He mentioned that the Ranthambore National Park would be closed, but there was a white river bed stretch where one could see crocs- so Sawai Madhopur it was!
Ritesh is a regular at Ranthambore (claims to have visited it more than 50 times) and by the time we settled into his regular resort, he had figured out that there was a male tiger which had strayed from the park boundary into the nearby sanctuary and had been sighted there for the last 2 days. So we decided to say a little prayer and go on a safari the next morning- into this small sanctuary which was open when it was off season everywhere else. And bingo, there it was – a male tiger lounging in the mud!
My first sight of the majestic creature, and all i wanted to do was get a closer look. Unfortunately our driver didn’t share the same passion for closed-range viewing and hushed my requests mid-way. For the next 25-30 minutes the cat looked at us, ignored us and slept while we took turns clicking and looking through the zoom lens. We then decided to take a quick tour of the rest of the jungle and come back for the stripey. So a couple of wild boar, jackal and buck sightings later, we headed back to the same spot- but as luck would have it, we were shooed away by the rangers. It seems they had been trying to tranquilise this tiger (T12) for the last 18 months and today was a great opportunity.
Though we were outraged at not being allowed the magnificent view, we were told how lucky we were to have sighted T12 in the first place. It seems the male tiger’s territory is much bigger and hence its tougher to locate/sight.
We came back to the resort, rested and started on our way back to Jaipur- thanking Ritesh for the first tiger sightings of our lives. While tracing our path back via Dausa, Vigyaan found his opportunity to prove that he runs a tourism venture. According to him, if we took a de-tour of about 30 kms, we would be able to see India’s biggest baori (waterwell) which was made famous by the Shahrukh movie- Paheli.
So off we went to Chand Baori at Abaneri (you can read about it on GoPlaces). The magnificent structure needs to be seen with one’s own eyes as I am not too confident of doing justice to it with my words or shots.
From Abaneri we went off straight to Jaipur to finish a roadtrip which had taken us almost in circles around Rajasthan and Gujarat- a trip where luckily no one insisted on making plans or sticking to them. Travelling just for the sake of being on the road.