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Friday, April 17, 2015

Rajasthan 2015 - Feb 10th - Day 7: Jaisalmer Sight-seeing and Sam Sand Dunes

Before I relate my account of the 7th day of our amazing Rajasthan trip, I must tell you about the Golden Palace Hotel where we spent yesterday evening and today until after breakfast, when we checked out to go for local sight-seeing. Golden Palace Hotel is a new hotel in the city. It was really golden in colour! Inside, we had one large, deluxe room and one slightly smaller room, both on the same floor. The host was both the receptionist as well as the owner, and within the limits of what he was offering, I must say that this hotel has the most colourful and well-decorated rooms.

Here are some pictures of the hotel and the rooms:

Our door
The decorative mirror and table
The seating area of our room
A view of our large room (the left half of it)
Another view of our room (the other half)
A wall hanging inside our room
The outside corridor
The facade of the hotel
They served us freshly cooked light dinner on the previous night, and, in the morning, we were served poha, omelettes and so on on the terrace of the building.

After our breakfast, we set out in our car for local sight-seeing. The chief attraction of the city are the "havelis" of the erstwhile patwas. Nathmal's Haveli is the biggest and the best known of all. This is part of a 5-brother chain of houses located inside a lane. We visited this haveli, and then a few more, until we were exhausted from visiting so many residences. At one of the havelis, their original iron-cast locks, lights, etc. was on sale, and we bought a few of these. Here are memories of this journey.

The exterior of the Nathmal Haveli

Sitting room wall

Dolls

The business ledgers of the patwas

Looking down upon the courtyard (where there is a shop for buying carpets etc.)

A sample of  locks
A game of old chess

Kitchen
Looking out of an internal balcony

A Musical instrument

Another haveli

Carvings detail

A lovely ceiling light
After those havelis, we also visited a Jain temple in Jaisalmer. They had excellent sculptures on the walls, torans, ceilings, etc. I will just add a few pictures for your consumption.







It was time now to move out of Jaisalmer city and proceed to Sam Sand dunes for the rest of the day and a night in the tents in the desert. The car ride takes just under a few hours. You reach an area of the desert where there are multiple camping sites run by different owners. The camping site where we stayed was owned by the brother of the guy who ran a similar camping site in Ranthambor. This one was better; they had a real campfire at night, much better Rajasthani folk dance and song, and better tents as well - but I am getting a little ahead of myself. 

The first thing we did after a ceremonial check-in was to have tea and then proceed by our own car to the dunes where the hotel's own manager awaited us with two camels. The camel safari was included in our package, and the ride across the dunes was something we would cherish for a long time to come. As the shadows lengthened, our desire to stay there became even more keen, but it was time to go as the skies darkened. The time we had included romping about on the dunes, a viewing of a desert sunset, a folk show by a poor dad-daughter couple who performed a song, dance and music routine of about 1 minute for just 20 rupees, and some excellent photographs for posterity. Additionally welcome was the awkwardness of a camel that stands up from the sitting position to start the ride, and sits down with you (and your partner in the back-seat) ... an unique experience!










After this, we returned to our camp, where, after dinner, a female dancer and a native orchestra of singers entertained us for the next few hours. The management even served starters free at the campfire site. A few pictures. This ends this entry. I hope you liked it! Do comment ...





That is all in this lengthy entry. Thank you for reading!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Dinner with friends, awaiting my London visit, and more

The good news first: I got my business visa to London. I am travelling there in the last week of April for a total of 51/2 days. This trip is a freebie to me, and this is all thanks to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), a study resource that ran an online contest last year in which I won the first prize. I will be attending the 20th International Forum on Quality and Patient Safety at ExCel London as part of my prize. In the evenings, I plan to see what I can see of London in the 4-5 days that I will be there. 

My daughter Hannah got a job with an online premium retail portal called Go Gappa (check it out here). She will be one of their core staff, looking after both, content writing AND digital media marketing. I am so happy for her. She is still busy preparing for her boards, which start next week. Good luck and good wishes to her.

Inas is, since some time now, a senior hair-stylist at the Juice salon, Colaba. She has acquired quite a reputation among her clients for her clean and good cuts, styling, colouring and other hair management skills.

Nishrin continues to run her beauty salon same as before.

Now that the rest of my family is so industrious, I should also do something, right? ;-D

A few days ago, I went out for dinner with my doctor friends Muhbeen Shaikh and Ashfaq Ubharay. Our triumvirate is always meeting ... I mean, whenever I come to India from my job in KSA. This time, we went to Shalimar Restaurant at Bhindi Bazaar. We ordered a "Tiranga Platter" (consisting of red sholay kabab, white chicken malai tikka and green chicken pahadi tikka), followed by a chicken garlic sizzler and a nalli nahari mutton gravy. We had all these with rotis ... and had a great experience.

Is anything else happening? Well, nothing to crow about or regret, but small things are happening. I will write about these as they develop into something share-worthy.

Coming now to bad news ... the situation in Yemen continues to alarm everyone who cares. I was seeing a photo-album of Yemen and was saddened to know that the civil war may permanently scar a wonderful nation. I am not too sure why Saudi Arabia is attacking Yemen, unless it is because their best friend U.S. has asked it to. The thing is, Saudi troops will not do a ground attack ... it does not have the will to do so. But even amidst this bit of bad news was the story of how Indian air forces, navy and even some merchant ships made a great effort to evacuate its own citizens, as well as helping citizens of other countries to leave war-torn Yemen. I am proud to tell you that the captain of one of the merchant ships that evacuated citizens of India and others from the port city of Aden was my childhood friend Mr. Shabbir Badsha ... great effort, sir. My greetings to you. 

And, finally, something from Bollywood. After a long time, I saw a well-made Hindi feature film called "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy" a Yash Johar film set in the Calcutta of the nineteen-forties. The chief protagonist is Sushant Singh. The story is a detective who-dun-it that you will surely enjoy watching. However, a word of advice: do not miss the beginning, and do pay attention to the dialogue. It won't be worth it otherwise.

That's all for now.  

Monday, April 06, 2015

Two weeks later

Of course, my Saudi emergency leave is days away from its end, but I will probably need to stay here a little longer. Life is better and family circumstances are good, but more time is needed. Will keep posting details as and when feasible.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Rajasthan 2015 - Feb 9th - Day 6: Jodhpur sight-seeing and onward to Jaisalmer

Jodhpur is a small city, but it is, nevertheless, remarkable for several reasons. For one, it is a city with a rich historical background. Founded by Rao Jodha in mid-15th century, today, it is the second largest city in Rajasthan. Located nearly centrally within the state, it serves as a major pivot point for tourists traversing the culturally rich state. In the past, it was a prominent city linking Delhi and northern India to Gujarat and Western India. 

We began our sight-seeing by first visiting the Umaid Bhavan Palace. This is the current residence of the Prince of Jodhpur, and also serves as a five-star hotel run by the Taj group. Tourists who visit the UB Palace are shown around the well-maintained manicured lawns, a museum consisting of five major viewing rooms and then directed to a row of glass-cabin protected vintage cars owned by the royal family. If a visitor wishes to visit the hotel, they either have to be a guest of the hotel, or pay a hefty entrance fee. We, of course, chose to just view the museum and the other open places. The museum's main highlight was the elaborate clock collection of one of the previous kings. Other highlights were crockery, well-decorated "living" and "dining" rooms of the kings, some ornate furniture and some rather priceless paintings and sculptures. On the whole, though, it is the majesty of the entire structure that enthralls the visitor more than the stuff that is displayed within. The UB Palace, when viewed from the ramparts of the Mehrangarh fort looks much like a different-coloured Taj Mahal-like edifice, something the guides are proud to inform you about. Here are a few pictures of the UB Palace.

The current king of Jodhpur - Gaj Singh II

The Umaid Bhavan Palace

This and the next few are photos of some of the stuff displayed





After this, we moved on to Mehrangarh Fort. It is a huge fort that towers over all Jodhpur! As we neared it, it seemed to grow bigger and bigger in size, till it filled our field of vision almost completely! The fort entrance is an expensive affair, as they charge heavily even for still cameras. Inside, though, you realise that the price is well-worth it, as the fort and its various buildings are full of wonders that need to be captured in your camera for posterity.

The fort has 7 gates. Two of these are motorable; one is the Jay Pol and the other, on the back side, is the Fateh Pol. We enter via the Jay Pol, then go past a large ascending ramp with houses on both sides; soon, we are in a large open courtyard, from where we hire a guide, and he takes us on an unforgettable tour. We first saw the Howdah gallery, a collection of seats that are placed atop an elephant to carry the king and his aide; next, the Palkhi gallery where the main attraction was the Mahadol, the large King's palkhi that the erstwhile king acquired in a battle victory; next, the Daulat Khana with a veritable collection of garments, jewellery, miniature paintings, idols of gods and goddesses, ornate stuff that is used in normal living, silverware, a turban gallery, a shastra khana (armoury), and so on. Then, we were brought into a second courtyard, which was the one that lay under richly carved rooms above us, and this was the ladies' area or the zenana mahal. The entire palace here is carved from orange jodhpur stone, and looks simply marvellous. The tiny jharokhas that overlook the courtyard each look different from the other and the net result is a sensational area for tourists.

After this, we were taken to see the Sheesh Mahal, the Takhat Mahal, the Jhanki Mahal (this one had a very interesting collection of baby cribs and jhoolas for children), and many others that I cannot remember. When we finally stumbled out of the fort, it was past afternoon, and we were tired beyond comprehension. Some pictures of the fort:





A beautifully cast iron spiral staircase, not in use now


Displays in Shastra Mahal (the next one as well)



Detail of the Zenana building

A metal-cast model of the Fort
This is a howdah (as are the next two)




One of the ornate palkhis

The Mahadol


Takht (seat) Palace
From here, we continued our sight-seeing to visit a royal cemetery set up by Maharaja Jaswant Singh in the early 18th century: The Jaswant Thada. This is a lovely marble edifice with multiple external cenotaphs or "chhatris" where previous members of the royal families have been put to the pyre after death. Known by some locals as the equivalent of the Taj Mahal, the structure, they say, must be seen in the moon-light. Situated just a few kilometers from the fort, Jaswant Thada offers spectacular views of the edifice itself as also the artificial lake around it. Some pictures follow:









From here, we went to the city's Sardar Market where we visited the Ghanta Ghar or the Clock Tower. Apart from the structure itself, there was nothing much to see. We spent just a few minutes here before it was time to move on to our next destination: Jaisalmer. 

From Jodhpur to Jaisalmer is a long drive, and we stopped at a few places for tea and snacks. Other than that, nothing exciting happened. We arrived at our hotel, the Golden Palace Hotel at about 7 p.m.. More on this in my next post.