Thursday, August 19, 2010

ROYAL RAJASTHAN - JAISALMER

The drive from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer was fascinating in itself! We started out visiting the beautiful temples at Osian... The Jain temples there are exquisitely carved and a treat see. It is unfortunate that cameras are not allowed in the temple complexes therefore there are no pictures to show the striking beauty of the place.

From there, we headed via Phalodi to a village called Kheechan which is famous for the thousands of Demoiselle cranes that winter there. The villagers have played a huge part in the fact that the birds have made this their winter home since they feed and protect the birds. There are some ponds which are kept filled with water even if it means filling and transporting them by the truckload! The Rajasthan government has also now pitched in to help.
True to form, the cranes arrived just as we reached there and started their slow approach to land at the pond... Such large birds require endless circuits gradually reducing altitude to be able to land!

They stand tall at almost a metre in height but in spite of that they are beautiful, almost dainty birds.
After spending some time there, we moved on and had lunch at a dhaba near Phalodi where we had the best 'Dal-bati Churma' of our Rajasthan trip. The rest of the journey to Jaisalmer via Pokhran (which is nothing but a collection of sand dunes!) was uneventful.
The next day, we set off for Tanot. On the way is the legendary Longewala outpost of the Indo-Pak war made famous in the movie Border. All along the way, the Southern Grey Shrike was omnipresent as were the Brahmany Mynas, Babblers, Little green Bee Eaters, House Sparrows, European collared and Laughing Doves, White cheeked Bulbuls and the Indian Silverbills.
The thing that struck me most about the drives in this part of the country is that the roads are really endless, long, straight, monotonous journeys broken only by the numerous Camel, Black buck, Neelgai or Sambhar one encounters almost everywhere. I suspect the Bishnois have had a big role to play in the abundance of wildlife we see here.


On reaching the Tanot Mata Mandir, we were surprised to see the place buzzing with activity... we had hardly encountered any traffic on the road.. and the place is a remote outpost very close to the Pakistan border. For miles around, it is difficult to see habitation at all, except the BSF adn the Army. But there is a tranquillity about the place which, in spite of the bustle of tourists, is calming and peaceful.
The vast stretches of desert with a few hamlets along the way...

On the way back, we saw numerous vultures... Long billed, Egyptian Vultures in groups of 6 - 8 at small water holes and the Tawny, Short toed and Imperial Eagles .

The next day was dedicated to the Gadsisar Lake and the Jaisalmer Fort. The lake is a man-made one , made by the Maharawal Gadsi Singh as a water conservation tank supplying water to the entire city. We went to the lake about mid morning... we were led to believe that there is nothing to see there these days and the number of birds there were also not worth mentioning. When we reached the place, we were overwhelmed by the variety and the numbers of birds we saw there... Stilts, little ringed Plovers, Common and Spotted Redshanks, Greenshanks, Marsh and Common Sandpipers, Common and Ferruginous Pochards, Common Teal, Coots, Geese, Spoonbills, Egrets, Lapwings... in such a tiny place, it was amazing to see their numbers!

The Common and Ferruginous Pochards together..
The abundant Stilts along the shores..

One person feeding the Catfish at the lake produced this spectacle!

All around the lake are shrines and temples and as such, is a pilgrimage spot. The entrance is through the 'Tillon ki Pol', the Gatway made by the royal Courtesan Tillon. It's very beautiful.
Jaisalmer is known as the 'Golden City'. It is made entirely from the golden sandstone found locally giving the city it's 'golden' look. The Jaisalmer Fort is one of the biggest forts in the world. It has three concentric walls and at one time, the entire population of the city lived within the fort. A miniature model of the Fort...

Inside, there is the Raj Mahal where the royal family lived..

the Jain temples, the Lakshminath temple and the four massive gateways.


This fort was captured by Ala-ud-din Khilji in the 13th century and it was during this seige that the Rajput women committed Jauhar here. Again in the 16th century, the fort was attacked by the Emperor Humayun. This city continues to be of immence strategic importance as was amply demonstrated by the Indo - Pak wars of '65 and '71.
Jaisalmer was on the ancient silk and opium trade route and many a wealthy merchant settled there. The merchants built fine-looking houses (or havelis as they were called),

embellished with ornate sandstone 'jali' work and studded with cut glass and semi precious stones, but outside the main city (fort) since the King would not grant them permission to do so within.
Some say that the grandeur of the havelis would no doubt have generated comparisons between them and the Royal Mahal which the king obviously wanted to avoid!

We rounded off the day with a trip to see the sand dunes of Sam. The camel ride was something the children enjoyed and the sunset was spectacular!

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