Let me tell you, Rajasthan never interested me as a likely place to travel. I always felt the state was just way too commercialized and the people were all cons trying to make a buck every which way possible. But the only thing that propelled me to even consider Rajasthan was the thought that the most famous landmark of India, if left unseen by me would deny me the credit of being a veteran traveler. With this thought in place, I always thought sometime someday I would make the customary trip and wouldn’t bother much about it.
If you know me at all, you’d know I am a landscape person. Nature and wilderness interest me to endless means and that’s about it. I was never a people person and let alone a culture person. Rajasthan as I knew was just these two – people and culture, all the more reason to keep it for later.
Then suddenly, out of the blue comes the intimation of the much awaited Desert Trek by Youth Hostels Association of India. Desert landscapes and sand dunes, you know who’d be up for such a thing. I registered for the trek without a second thought. And now, since I was going to Rajasthan already why not make the customary trip as well was the deliberation. Gujarat being so close to Rajasthan, I was itching to visit the exotic White Salt Flats of Rann of Kutch. That was arranged for and I couldn’t contain my excitement considering I was about to trek in the desert and visit White Rann. Amidst all this I also had a week to spend in Rajasthan sightseeing about which I was least bothered so far.
Found few people interested in the trip and soon the tickets were booked too. But I was still in no mood to do any bookings or chalk out the plan. I had a rough idea of the places and their location and the idea was to backpack and to see what we can get. If it were Himalayas I’d be going to, you should know I would’ve been neck deep doing research on locations and such but here I was least concerned. It is just forts and palaces after all, right? Wrong!
Rajasthan, as I discovered offers enough opportunities for the tourist and the traveler alike. There are popular, well known destinations and hidden jewels off the beaten track as well. Slowly a wealth of information on the lesser known places became known to me through facebook as I explained here - A Note of Thanks. We were just a week away from starting the journey when the detailed planning began and something very interesting began to take shape. I was beginning to like what I was finding. There seemed to places where the ethereal existed and where the blatant tourist didn’t invade yet. Now I was actually looking forward to the entire trip but somewhere at the back of my mind I felt I should control my expectations lest they be crushed under the weight of my unreal imaginations. But the need never be! Rajasthan fully lived upto my expectations and infact surpassed it too.
There, the first impression shattered to pieces as I stepped into the royal land. A missed flight caused lot of (mis)adventures and also provided a glimpse into the world of backpacking. We traveled 27 hours straight in all possible means of transport ranging from luxury to ordinary to reach the destination. The roller coaster ride ended only 18days later.
I found the people to be extremely hospitable and amiable. Once in their element, you’d be surprised by their kindness. This was the first time I interacted with so many people and most of them were memorable exchanges.
There was something special about this trip. I did not visit any of the tourist destinations in Rajasthan. It was an out and out off the beaten track exploration. 80% of the places I was in, were in rural Rajasthan. I did not see tourists for the major part of my trip. I loved being around locals and seeing their unpretentious lives unlike the tourist centered lives of their famous counterparts. Tourism has affected the lives of these people in various ways. They have completely adapted to the influx of foreign nationals visiting the cultural hub by the numbers. It may be for the good but I didn’t like what I saw.
It was equally amusing and alarming to see a person who cannot read or write English approaching us with a heavy American accented English. I asked another such person for some information and I am amused by his reply.
Let’s call him spikes (owing to his funky attire and the obvious spikes).
Me – What are the available options to go from Nawalgarh to Bikaner?
Him (seriously looking into his mobile and suddenly rises his head up) – Waaassssuuppp?!!
Half the people we met in Jaipur had this accent. All of them could speak atleast 5 different foreign languages. This was very impressive considering their knowledge is one got through the interaction with tourists only. The American accent seriously baffled us though. But once we crossed Jaipur and headed up north towards Shekhawati, the people got nicer and nicer. Then we met even more local people as camp leaders at YHAI campsites who were absolute kind souls with much generosity. I probably never enjoyed talking to so many people as I did here.
Then suddenly realization dawned. Two of us had covered Rajasthan on all possible means of transport – flight, luxury bus, sleeper bus, ordinary bus, motorbike, jeep, hatchback, SUV, in the bus, on the bus, on a camel, on foot, train, auto, phew! Amazing, isn’t it?
The painted havelis stole my heart though. The best part of the trip I’d say, three whole days exploring Shekhawati. Then commenced the Desert Trek which was a revelation. I loved the trek even more for taking us into the remoteness of Western Rajasthan into the Thar Desert. We went to remote villages and felt how the early explorers would’ve felt. The villagers were curious about us strange looking people. They asked us questions. I promised to send them their photos. Oh it was phenomenal. Then two days later I visited the most amazing dunes – unspoilt and pristine. I thought it couldn’t get any better than this.
But it did. The white salt flats of Rann of Kutch were nothing like I’d ever seen before. It was white all around and the most amazing sunset and sunrise I’d ever seen. I am a sucker for landscapes and something of such variety and rarity left me speechless. It was here that I met two more travelers – one veteran and one who just started. It was good time the four of us spent in Kutch discussing a thousand travel stories and experiences. This was the first time I was meeting someone who had traveled so much more than I did.
The last two days at Bhuj and Ahmedabad turned out to be very very interesting with unexpected instances and explorations. Most of the trip was backpacking with not much of a concrete plan. We lived a life of nomads. Endless journeys, sleepless nights on bumpy bus rides, cold cold nights and hot and sunny days, dark alleys, crazy shopping, shabby hotel rooms, luxurious tents, dirty water at campsites, clear skies, spectacular sunsets and sunrises – I saw it all in 18 days. 18 days was the longest I was ever on move constantly.
At the end of it, I realized my true calling. I have to be on the move, forever, until I find my peace. Until then I don’t want to stop. I want to keep walking, forever and ever and ever.