It was long overdue. And, I was actually ashamed of myself for not having being there till now, despite being so close. Of late, it was almost decided in my mind that I would be biking to Sambhar, most probably alone. And it happened so. Almost 750 kms of biking in two days made it possible and enjoyable. Every minute was worth it.
Sambhar is between Jaipur and Ajmer cities of Rajasthan. Lake basin is spread at the confluence of three districts- Jaipur, Ajmer and Nagaur. You can call this place as one beyond imagination. It is, “a place where horizons stretch to infinity, water and sky merge in a shimmer of gauzy blue and civilisation goes back a long, long time and legends abounds it” (quoted from- ‘Conservation of Sambhar Lake – An important Waterfowl Habitat and A Ramsar Site in India‘ by Sanjeev Kumar, 2008). It has got a touch of pink everywhere- Pink Salt, Pink sunset and the Pink Flamingos. It creates a very different feeling. Salt is what, it has been known for since a long time.
I was also keen in going to Sambhar at the earliest as I am always anxious about future of such places located in a very fragile ecosystem. With already so many apprehensions on record, I didn’t want to rue any missed opportunity later. Hence I was here at Sambhar.
Sambhar Lake is the largest inland saline wetland in India. Its a huge lake covering an area of over 190 sq kms. The lake has been exploited for salt extraction for centuries. Actually desert lands of Rajasthan host a few other salt lakes as well other than Sambhar- Kanod, Didwana, Thob, Lawan and Pachpadra. Sambhar is biggest of them all.
Although there were no information available on staying options in Sambhar, I was keen to stay there. Search of options made me to talk to lot of people and one of them was a school lecturer- Sohan Singh, whom I met on the railway level crossing just before Sambhar, when we were waiting for the train to pass and gates to open. Conversation got friendly and the young teacher himself chose to be my guide for the evening. We straightway entered the Sambhar city and through the premises of the Sambhar Salts Limited, went towards the station and further towards the salt lake.
There is a railway line from Phulera to Nagaur through Sambhar. This line bisects the salt lake and runs through it for more than 10-15 kms. We crossed this line immediately after the railway station and went inside the salt fields. Biking was a bit tough as one has only to ride on the narrow beaten paths which had got hardened due to regular movements. Rest all land was wet and marshy. Inside the salt fields, we met a private salt extractor- Vijay Chaudahry who gave us an insight about the process of salt extraction as well as local economy and topography. We can easily see the pink salt. Gets whitish only after going through refining process.
We also got to know about the various facts and factors involved. It was indeed very interesting. Now look at the photo below to feel the uniqueness of this place-
We can easily see the area beyond the mud wall. Looks like water. Isn’t it? But you will be surprised, as much as I was that there isn’t even a drop of water, its all mirage. Even I couldn’t believe my eyes. It is said that in summers, the whole area will look like a sea, but actually without a water because of this mirage effect.
Besides the public sector Sambhar Salts Limited, there are many private industries extracting salt from the lake. A look at the salt bed of the lake-
This lake has seen days of glory. The Sambhar salt was all popular in the region far and wide. Salt extracted from here was sold in markets of Jaipur or taken to far off places. For different rulers in the region in medieval period, the control of the lake was considered to be major source of revenue. Salt traders of Sambhar were a respected lot. Then Britishers controlled it. And post independence public sector Sambhar Salt Limited was given the responsibility of extracting salt. Most of the infrastructure here was developed by Britishers, including the rail network, stations, yards, godowns etc. With Sambhar Salt Limited in poor condition and many private players coming in fray, most of the infrastructure is now in shambles.
Sambhar has always been known for its salt. The city used to get its livelihood from it and still depends a lot on it.
But these are changing times and many other things are at stake as well. What one needs to know, experience and enjoy is this absolutely fantastic ecosystem and help it preserve for generations to come.
This is no mirage but how aptly it guides us to reflect upon ourselves. Isn’t it-
Sun had moved westwards when we reached refinery and went ahead towards the dam on our bikes. I had many things in mind but for now my interest was in fast approaching sunset… how could I even miss this… now may be a… Pink Sunset!
(tune in for next post)