Chapter 2 – Ranthambore

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A continued chapter from Jaipur…

I was to leave my hotel at 5am as the train was to reach Jaipur station at 5.40am. I had requested my hotel manager to send any of  their staff along with me to the station. It was a 7-minute walk from the hotel and I thought it was unnecessary to book a cab or a rickshaw for this. Though the manager agreed the previous night, he  showed no intention of sending someone with me when I was checking out, and thanks to my ego, I didn’t ask him again either. So I walked through the alleys of Jaipur wrapped up in warm clothes with my face covered so that people can’t judge me as a girl from distance.

The train was on time, thankfully! For the first time I was traveling a long distance in a general compartment outside West Bengal, and boy, there was no one except me in the nearby seats! I took the window seat and threw open the windows to experience the morning breeze. After a 3.5-hour journey, I was at Sawai Madhopur. This time, my hotel manager was kind enough to send a rickshaw for pickup.

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On the way from Sawai Madhopur Station to hotel..
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On the way from Sawai Madhopur Station to hotel

I caught up with some sleep after breakfast as my safari was scheduled at 2.30PM. The jeeps for safari pick up tourists from different hotels before heading to the National Park. As I waited for my jeep to arrive, the manager of the hotel took me through his small souvenir shop and promised me to have laal maas cooked for dinner! 🙂

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Outside the hotel where we went to pick up a few tourists for the safari

The safari began at about 3PM, and by 3.30PM, we were inside the Park. I was quite sure that I was God’s special child and there was no way I would be deprived of a tiger sighting. Felt more so because it was Valentine’s Day and I was optimistic of a date with the Tiger 😀

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Captured her while picking up a few co-riders on our jeep

As we waded through the bumpy roads in the forest and sighted dozens of deers, birds etc etc, an old Aussie fellow in the jeep mumbled to the guide, “I’m least interested in deers and birds now. This is my 5th and last safari, all I want to see is a tiger!”

Hearing him, my hopes disappeared in thin air. Will I have to spend my V Day without a date even this year? As the time drew closer to the exit time, our search got more intense. However, as luck would have it, we failed to spot one. I was disappointed and angry with God but that’s how wildlife is. And I guess that’s why people say, shooting wildlife is the most difficult job as a photographer!

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Wading through the jungle roads
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Deers Deers everywhere!
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And a few more…

The next morning I had to leave for Ajmer/Pushkar. Though there were vacant seats on canters and my manager was willing to do a last-minute arrangement to have me on board in one of them, I chose to explore the rest of Sawai Madhopur instead of going for the safari.

I requested the hotel jeep to take me to the Ranthambore fort which is one of the biggest in Rajasthan, before the break of dawn as I wanted capture a sunrise timelapse. The route to the fort lies through the National Park and my hope hadn’t abandoned me that I might just end up seeing a tiger. There were dozens of peacocks strolling around the fort and monkeys jumping over my head. Everything but a tiger!

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Peacocks and other animals flock near a water body .. sigh! no tiger but!

The driver accompanied me as I scaled the fort quickly to avoid missing the Sun breaking out. Both of us were gasping for breath by the time we reached the top but we were on time! I captured a series of shots of the sun rise over hills next to the forest and then headed to the three-eyed Ganesh temple, which you won’t find anywhere else.

If you are wondering where the images are, let me disappoint you. I accidentally formatted my camera memory card without copying the files and didn’t even realise it till I reached Bombay and sat with rest of the images 😦 Yeah I spent 1000 bucks on a jeep to go and shoot, and I forgot to copy the files! That’s me, a careless lass! Those who know me, are welcome to abuse me in the comments. Never mind, the memories are with me and will never be formatted! 🙂

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One of my favourite clicks! This was clicked during the safari on Day 1

My train to Ajmer was delayed by 5 hours. My hotel manager was considerate enough to let me stay in the hotel, free of charge. He was extremely helpful even in finding a good camp stay at Jaisalmer. Thanks Mr Mahendra Saini for all the help! I strongly recommend Saini Guest House, if you want a peaceful budget stay at Sawai Madhopur. You will receive all kinds of assistance from this man!

Next stop: Ajmer and Pushkar!

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Pushkar! Coming your way next!

to be continued

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Chapter 3 – Ajmer/Pushkar

… a continued chapter from Ranthambore

https://bongexpress.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/chapter-2-ranthambore/

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Pushkar lake

Ziyarat Express was running late by 5 hours and I was feeling restless in my hotel room at Sawai Madhopur. I had planned only half-a-day at Ajmer before starting for Pushkar. Stranded at the hotel, I knew my plans were going to be jeopardized. While I was supposed to reach Ajmer at 2.30PM, the train arrived at Sawai Madhopur only at 3pm, much to my dismay.

Reaching Ajmer took 5-and-a-half hours, and I knew I didn’t have any scope left to explore the city. I decided to keep my 80ltr backpack in the locker room. Though the keepers initially resisted as there was no lock on my backpack, I somehow managed to use my charm to convince them that majority of the backpacks don’t have locks and that I be allowed to keep it only for an hour so that I could visit the dargah.

I chose to take a brisk walk to the dargah. It was about a 20-minute walk through some dingy gullies, kind of reminding me of Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. Up on reaching the holy site, I had a new problem to sort! My other bag which had my laptop and camera was apparently not going to be allowed inside the dargah and I was repeatedly asked by local shopkeepers to keep it in their ‘safe’ custody. I was adamant and didn’t have any intention to trust anyone in a city which is not quite famous in terms of safety, especially when it came to my camera! I don’t mind getting lost, but losing my camera is more like a death knell to me! I was so paranoid that I didn’t take out the camera even once as long as I was in Ajmer.

Being a solo traveler and that too a girl can be a boon at times. I walked up to the cops who were patrolling the entry point and requested them, “Uncle, I am traveling alone from Mumbai and there is no way I can risk keeping this bag with any of the shopkeepers. It has items worth over a lakh. Kindly keep it with you till I come back.”

The cops were really sweet to me and immediately paid heed to my request. After the darshan (meeting the lord) I thanked them, spoke to them for a while as one of them happily chatted about his older days in Calcutta, and left for the station to pick up my luggage. The toto-rickshawallahs never leave a chance to mint money out of the tourists, especially when they know you are in a hurry. I fell into the trap as I was running late and was charged 90 bucks for 1-and-a-half kms. Nonetheless, I picked up my luggage, greeted the keepers and proceeded towards the exit to board a bus for Pushkar.

The bus stop was 2 kms away and I had to take a rickshaw to reach the boarding point. It was late and there was only one bus leaving for Pushkar. Here I met a gentleman who helped me out when I was extremely panic-stricken. It was the last bus and unexpectedly packed. It was so badly crowded that forget getting in with two big bags, I couldn’t even keep a foot on the bus steps. The gentleman was to board the same bus and insisted that I get in somehow. It was an impossible task for me, so I humbly told him, “I can’t choose to die or get stampeded just because it’s the last bus. You please proceed, I will make my way to Pushkar somehow.”

The man chose not to leave me, nor did the bus. The driver was a Sikh and we all know how helpful Sikh people can be in such critical situations. I was dumbfounded by the assistance I received from that man, the conductor of the bus and the driver. Just to have me in the bus, the driver threw open his door. Two people lifted me as I kept my legs on the tyre and the driver pulled me in. I flung myself over the steering wheel, stretching my legs as much as my yoga sessions had prepared me for, and found myself in the seat next to the driver. My luggage was pushed through the same door and the man chose to stand in that damned crowded space for the rest of the journey. Who says humanity doesn’t exist anymore? 🙂

I reached Pushkar at 11.30PM and the man ensured that I got a rickshaw to reach my hotel before bidding adieu. I had already phoned the hotel guys to keep my dinner, and I slept early knowing that I had to be prepared for a long tomorrow.

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Market outside Brahma temple

Pushkar had its own charm but I was not very comfortable with it. I got up a little late and after a brunch, set out to explore. I started from the market place where I was nearly stalked by a philanthropist tourist guide who was ready to offer his services for free. I entertained him for a while before telling him off. After visiting the Brahma temple, I decided to go for the camel safari. Boy! It was my first time on a camel and I simply loved it! There are gypsies all over and would ask for money if you click them; yeah! even kids and the men too! I ended up spending around 150 bucks just to click a few of them!

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Things I could spot during my camel safari

 

The camel man dropped me near the Savitri temple where I had planned my sunset. The ropeways didn’t interest me much as I had better previous experiences but just to avoid climbing thousand odd steps and save time, I got into one. The view of Pushkar from the temple premises is exquisite. I had all the time of the world to click photos and enjoy a beautiful sunset.

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Sunset at Savitri temple

The next day I had to return to Ajmer to board my train to Jaisalmer. A very kind rickshawallah helped me explore a couple of more places quickly, including the lake, before I headed out. I had quite a poor experience with the people around the lake. They were extremely arrogant and rude, and lacked sense of basic courtesy. My love for photography turned out to be a sin as I ended up walking on the banks without reading the message that stated, “remove your shoes while walking around.” I was reprimanded by a woman as an ‘uneducated heroine who didn’t know how to read placards”! That’s all I have got to write about my experience at the Lake. The below slideshow will give you a better image of the lake which I’m sure interests you more! Adios! 🙂

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Chapter 1: Jaipur – Rajasthan

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Jal Mahal, early morning

Disclaimer: My Rajasthan trip was 14-day long at I will split it up into 8 chapters to avoid being too long for a read! And yeah, you will find more photos in my blog than text 🙂

I had some pre-conceived notion about Rajasthan which were busted during the course of the trip.

Day 1:

Jaipur, India’s Pink City, was my first destination. I knew it would be quite a deal to explore the city and the outskirts in a day or two, so I had given it the maximum number of days among all my destinations, three days to be precise. I had my itinerary in place for the three days, and being a solo traveler, had my freedom to choose what all I wanted to do. I always hate early morning flights but had to take one to fit my budget and by the time I reached the hotel it was 10 AM. After taking a quick nap, I set out with my camera to click a few things here and there and ensured I returned to hotel by 5 PM to leave for Chowki Dhani.

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Kids outside the hotel I stayed in

Chowki Dhani was almost everything that I wanted to experience in a Rajasthan village. An entry of 700 bucks comes with complementary food that is typically Rajasthani. The lads wearing pagdis serve you some lip-smacking daal baati churma, Malpua, gatthi ki sabji, bajre ki roti etc, almost everything dipped in unlimited ghee or butter! Don’t even expect them to understand your diet plan. If you are there, you got to eat it love!

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Dinner at Chowki Dhani

It is always advisable to eat first and then explore as it can get really crowded later in the evening. There are many activities, including elephant and camel rides. Women performing kalbelia is a treat to the eyes.

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Chowki Dhani all lit up
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A kalbelia dancer performs at Chowki Dhani

After spending about 4 hours in the village, I headed home.

Day 2:

I woke up before the sunrise, took a rickshaw and visited Jal Mahal, which was approximately 10km from the hotel. The place is right on the main road and can be crowded early in the morning too. I made the rickshawallah wait as I kept clicking for close to 30 mins.

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I set out for Bhangarh after returning to the hotel. The cab driver was the same as last night, so I happily took the front seat and requested him to stop on the way if I could see something worth capturing. Bhangarh is about 85km from Jaipur but the cab drivers charge you for 300km (running). I made sure I use up the distance I was being charged for and asked the driver to take me to Chand Bawri first, which has one of the most amazing stepwells in the country.

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Chand Bawri Stepwell, about 95km from Jaipur

After visiting the stepwell, I headed back to Bhangarh, which evoked the greatest interest in me for being known as the most haunted place in India. To my dismay, I hardly felt anything eerie about the place. The fort is in ruins and not maintained properly. People say you should visit it in the evening and stay there hideously at night to experience paranormal activities. I had no time or the leisure to do that. So without further ado, I asked the driver to start towards Jaipur

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Bhangarh fort
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View from the fort

As we had wrapped up early from Bhangarh, the driver suggested I visit the Monkey Temple. This temple in particular of all the ones I would visit later is special as I got plenty of photography scopes. You really have to climb a lot to reach the zenith but the view you get from there is scintillating. You have to pay here 50 bucks if you want to take your camera in.

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After spending the sunset there, I realised I was at a way too high an altitude to get down before dark and also didn’t have the energy to walk down. I took a ride from a friendly local guy on his two-wheeler to get back to my cab.

Day 3:

Knowing this was my last day in Jaipur, and having the entire city to cover, I rented a bike and rode across the length and breadth to save time. The traffic both in the day and evening was chaotic around the market areas, and to my woes, the Hawa Mahal perched right at the heart of the Pink City market. Parking even a bike was a pain.

I must have spent close to an hour and a half, exploring the nooks and corners of this palace. The craft seemed quite enthralling and the shutterbug in me happily indulged in clicking.

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Hawa Mahal, top floor. A pretty sight, isn’t it?

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My next stop was City Palace, which had the most expensive entry (250 bucks) after Sheesh Mahal (500 bucks) at Nahargarh Fort (Don’t confuse this with Amber Fort’s Sheesh Mahal). As I didn’t have a guide with me, I quickly wrapped up from here. It does have a great museum that flaunts arms and artefacts of the histroical eras. There is also a photo and painting gallery comprising work of different artists of yesteryear, most of them focusing on the emperors and their queens.

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City Palace, inside

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My next stop was Amber Fort, which sits atop a hill and is about a 30-minute ride from the City Palace. I skipped Jantar Mantar as I was running against time. For the first time I had a guide at my disposal, that too a Bengali! There was nothing exceptional in the fort that was visually pleasing. I found the Sheesh Mahal to be extremely hyped. Apart from growing my historical knowledge, I found nothing beneficial to me.

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It was already 5 PM and I didn’t want to miss out on Nahargarh Fort which was a 10km ride from Amer. The guide misguided me and told me the fort was open till late evening. The jungle route from Amer to Nahargarh is pretty scenic. On reaching the fort at 5.30, I realised it was closed, but the restaurant and Sheesh Mahal were open. I wanted to check out the Sheesh Mahal but 500 bucks for an entry was way too beyond my budget as photography wasn’t permitted. So I chose to sit near the area and shoot a beautiful sunset.

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Sunset at Nahargarh

A little after the sunset, I headed to the restaurant (Padao) for some snacks. The view of the city from the restaurant is perhaps the best you will get in Jaipur. As the dusk set in and moved towards night, I sipped a hot cup of tea and immersed myself in the tiny dots of lights which started blinking across the landscape.

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View from Padao Restaurant at Nahargarh

It was pretty late when I decided to ride back towards the city, must be 8PM. I had to return the bike by 9PM and I was around 25km away from my destination. As I took the bike out of parking, the caretaker said, “Madam, the route is pretty scary and unsafe at night and you are alone. Should I join you till you reach the main road?” I knew only one thing, human beings are scarier than a deserted road at night. I didn’t want to trust a man I hardly knew. Not many know but there is a shortcut route that takes you to the city, where I had to ride barely 2 kilometres to reach civilization. The road indeed was scary, and I had never ridden on as narrow and steep a road as this one. It was as steep as a rollercoaster track and barely smooth. I kept praying for the 15 odd minutes that took me to come down entirely. It was the scariest yet most adventurous ride till date. I got back to the hotel after returning the bike and went early to bed. I had a 5.40 AM train to catch to Ranthambore.

to be continued

Alibaug — A Short Solo Ride and a ‘Baug’ful of fun

An abandoned canoe at Revas

Woman? Alone? New City? Not sure how to venture out in this forever-hungry, cruel world?

If that’s you, then let me tell you that’s me too!

Most of the girls/women out there feel dreaded to even think of traveling alone in the city, forget setting out to unknown destinations without a companion.

When I came to Mumbai seven months ago, I thought it would be really easy to make friends. But an employment with a media platform can cost you big time on the personal front, thanks to no weekend-offs and weird working hours. After seven months of continuous effort to socialize and keep in touch with people I had met, I realized it was almost impossible to team up for trips as most of my offs would fall on week days. So, I mustered some courage and decided to give my wings some air.

Alibaug which is around 4 hours’ journey by bike (distance is not a worry but the roads are pathetic) can be cut short to two-and-a-half hours with the ferry option. Bhaucha Dhakka lets you take your bike on board, unlike the Gateway ferry service. You just have to pay a nominal fee of Rs 150 to have your bike transported to Revas. I was told by a few that the folks responsible to take your bike up can damage it. So I chose to stay with them till I saw my bike well placed on top of the deck. They might insist you to take your seat before taking the bike, but I suggest stay with them! Oh I forgot! Do bring all your bike papers. You need to produce them to the cops there and fill in your details.

Image: Bhaucha Dhakka

Mine was a Hero Pleasure..a simple scooter..no fancy big bike. So, it was convenient for them to handle the weight but it turned out to be quite a deal for me later on when I started riding on those half-roads that lay between Revas and Alibaug. The 23km stretch took me 50 minutes, with a few patches really nicely done up and the rest not letting me go beyond 20km/hr.

The boat journey was splendid! Seagulls were all over us and being a photography enthusiast, it was a treat to me. I guess I must have spent 70% of the journey time taking pics with my new Sony Alpha out of the 1hr 20 minutes (approx). Here I should mention, anyone willing to take the ferry route must set out early. The boats don’t ply during low tides and the timings of the boat can be really erratic. The services start around 6am.

The boat journey!

I had started pretty late, at around 12.30 PM from home, and could only take the 1 O’clock ferry. I wasn’t prepared to stay over as I had thought there would be boats plying back in the evening too. But on reaching, I got to know that the last boat from Revas back to Mumbai would start at 3PM, which meant no way I could make it back that evening. I picked up the bare necessities from the shops around the dhakka, ie. tooth paste, brush, soap and some snacks to munch on.

Though the road conditions can really throw your spine out of your body if you are not used to off-roading, the visual treat is unparalleled. The scenic pleasure makes up for all the jerks that your bum has to withhold. 😁😁

In the lookout of a few fruits…. on my way from Revas to Alibaug 🙂

Reaching the destination has never been my goal. I enjoy the journey more, especially when I’m riding. When you are a girl traveling alone, you will receive plenty of help from people around you. Just make sure you be polite and greet them with a smile. But do be choosy as to whom to seek help from. Trust your instincts here.

The Alibaug beach was nothing that I hadn’t seen before, having lived in Goa for four years. There were camels, horses, carts and water sports rides to pamper you. I chose nothing but my camera to entertain me as I went happily clicking around.

Alibaug beach at Sunset

The stalls outside the beach provided me with pretty decent options for an evening snack. I chose to go with roasted Bhutta (corn) and the vendor happily let me click him in action 🙂

Snack time!

Budget hotel options near the main beach are not plenty. I roamed with my bike for close to half an hour before I found a decent hotel. The rates are pretty high if you consider the facilities they provide. I had found much better and yet cheaper options in Mahabaleshwar!

Once I got back to the hotel, I chose to stay indoors. I wanted to get up really early to not miss the Sunrise. And of course, I had to get back home by noon as I had an afternoon shift that day. I checked out at around 6.30 AM and decided to take the 10 AM boat. So, I had close to three hours to explore the places around and, most importantly, put my camera to good use.

Sunrise on the way to Varsoli beach

Varsoli beach was really close by and it is definitely a better one than Alibaug. No fancy stuff here, but it’s clean and calm. As the Sun showed its prominence, I decided to leave from Alibaug. I knew the morning light would let me click some really cool village-side images.

This place just next to the Varsoli beach is a visual treat!

Places to stop by on the way from Alibaug to Revas

I was at the Revas jetty at 9.42AM only to find that the boat actually starts at 9.45AM. Once I got my tickets, I rode from the entry to the end of the jetty like a racer. The rest of the journey was as good as it could get. I chose to sit on the top deck, my legs stretched out, and ear phones plugged in… with the best songs on my playlist to amplify the peace. As the breeze played with my short locks, the Sun shone bright on my face and the sea gulls flew over my head to say “See you again”, I knew my first solo trip was the start of a greater journey…a journey which you all will be part of in form of this blog!

For images otherwise, don’t hesitate to follow me on insta @bongexpress 🙂