Tag Archives: Jaipur

Desert to Desert : Old charm continues in New Year

Too late to come with the first post of the New Year! It is never too late!!

Chill is settling down and fog has engulfed almost whole of north India. Its snowing in the hills. Time to pack the bags for some adventure! If you need a reason than there are lot from cold deserts of Ladakh to deserts of Thar (although they will be equally cold this time). First month of the calendar year also comes with a number of festivals celebrating India’s dance and musical traditions. Not to be forgotten that this month also has Makar Sakranti (14th January), considered to be one of the most auspicious days of the year and also an occasion of many travels and pilgrimages. Here are my picks for the month.

Mukteshwar and Rajarani Festivals

Let’s start from Odisha. Mukteshwar Dance Festival (14-16 January), organised by Odisha Tourism is all about dance, especially Odissi dance. This festival is staged in front of the 1100-years-old Mukteswar temple in Bhubaneswar. Renowned Odissi dancers from around the world take part in this festival performing solo, duet and group presentations. Mukteshwar temple, one of the most prominent temples of Bhubaneswar, has been constructed in the style that is quite similar to the one used in the Kalinga School of Temple Architecture. The splendid Torana of the temple, an ornamental arched gateway, is very much reminiscent of the influence of Buddhism in Orissa. This temple is a very important part of cultural life of the people of Orissa as the architecture at the temple entrance is considered to be one of the most beautiful specimens of the Orissan School of architecture. This temple signifies the transitional phase of the architecture of Orissa between the initial and the later stages of Kalinga architectural style. The beautiful architectural works of the temple add to the splendour of the Mukteshwar Utsav. This festival should not be missed by the people who take interest in the traditional dance forms of India. This festival is followed by Rajarani Music Festival two days later. Mukteshwar festival is all about dance while Rajarani festival is about classical music.

Entrancing performances by well-known Odissi and Hindustani vocal and music maestros bring alive the architectural beauty of the 11th century Rajarani temple at this festival. To show case the glorious tradition of Indian classical music, the Rajarani Music Festival was conceived to be organised by the Department of Tourism in association with Bhubaneswar Music Circle.
Celestial music, sublime surroundings and soothing climes of late winter—soul traverses to an elevated sphere leaving you utterly relaxed. The musical evenings are resplendent with excellent performances by the great maestros of Indian classical music creating an allegory of darbari gayans (musical performances in an Indian king’s court) of age old histories. Eminent instrumentalists and vocalists of India have rendered scintillating performance in this festival over the years. The temple, often referred to as the Khajuraho of the east, is famous for its elaborate erotic sculptured figurines. It’s remarkable for the absence any presiding deity in it. The temple is famous for its ornate deul or compass and the statues of eight Dikpals guarding the eight cardinal directions of the temple.

  • When: January 14-16 & 18-20, 2018
  • Where: Mukteshwar & Rajarani temples, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha

Swathi Sangeethotsavam

Photo Credit : imalayalee.org

Continuing with tradition of music festivals, come January and the mighty pillars of the Kuthiramalika Palace in the Kerala’s capital city of Thiruvananthapuram will pulsate with the mellifluous notes sung at the Swathi Sangeetholsavam or Swathi Music Festival. This musical extravaganza lets you listen to the spellbinding compositions of Swathi Thirunal, the erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore. Organised every year to pay tribute to Swathi Thirunal, the concert celebrates the brilliant notes composed by this legendary maestro which continue to enthrall music lovers even now. A patron of music and a musician himself, Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma has to his credit more than 400 compositions in Carnatic music as well as Hindustani music. He set a new course and direction to the musical tradition of Kerala. The concert held in the Kuthiramalika Palace adjoining the famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, sees musical performances in both Hindustani and Carnatic styles. The musical festival which is attended by eminent musicians from across the country brings together those passionate about classical music and the experts as well. Entry is free.

  • When: January 4-13, 2018
  • Where: Kuthiramalika Palace, East Fort, Thiruvananthapuram

Adoor Gajmela, first of the year

Adoor Gajamela

Well, let’s still be in Kerala. The picture of a huge tusker in all his adornment is something that catches the mind of all. If you are an elephant lover then don’t miss this wonderful elephant pageant at the Parthasarathy Temple in Adoor. Popular as Adoor Gajamela, the festival is part of the ten-day annual celebration held at the temple. Kerala’s first elephant pageant for the year, the end of the 10 day festival at Parthasarathy Temple features a procession of nine decorated elephants. Traditional art forms such a panchavadyam (a musical ensemble with five different types of instruments) accompany the parade. Hundreds of people throng the temple premises to witness this spectacle where nine tuskers come in their ceremonial attire to entice all. Parthasarathy Temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna, who is also known as Parthasarathy – the charioteer of Parthan, another name for Arjuna. Arjuna is one of the five Pandava princes, in the Indian epic Mahabharata.

  • When: January 27, 2018
  • Where: Parthasarathy Temple, Adoor, Pathanamthitta district, Kerala

Arthunkal Perunnal

Kerala always loves to give you more. The Arthunkal Perunnal (perunnal meaning feast) is the annual feast of St. Sebastian held in the St. Andrew’s Forane Church at Arthunkal in Alappuzha. The event sees devotees from across the state throng the church to participate in the feast which is held in January every year. One of the main events during the feast involves a ceremonial procession wherein the statue of St. Sebastian is taken out from the church to the beach and back. Another intriguing event is the ceremony on the final day when devotees crawl on their knees all the way from the nearby beach to the church. Church built by Portuguese missionaries in a coastal hamlet near here is a model of religious harmony with a tradition of hosting Sabari pilgrims returning after worshipping Lord Ayyappa. Pilgrims from across the state visit the St Andrew’s Church at Arthunkal here and pay their respects to the idol of Saint Sebastian between the months of November and January during the Mandala and Makaravilakku season of the Sabarimala temple. Legend has it that one of the early priests of the church, popularly called Arthunkal Veluthachan (fair skinned father), was a friend of Lord Ayyappa. The visit of the pilgrims commemorates the bond they shared, especially as the priest was loved by the local people who believed he had healing powers.

  • When: January 27, 2018
  • Where: St. Andrew’s Forane Church, Arthunkal, Alappuzha. Nearest railway station Cherthala is about 8 km from here and Alappuzha is about 22 km from here.

But if you think that that is all from Kerala fo the month, than you are wrong. Actually there are lot more. Kerala Tourism has recently started another unique annual event- Utsavam which is a festival of traditional performing art forms of Kerala. It will be held from January 6 to 12 across Kerala. Simultaneously, from January 7 to 14 Vasantholsavam will be celebrated at Kanakakkunnu Palace in Thiruvanathpuram. It will be basically a flower show. Same Kanakakkunnu Palace will also host Nishagandhi Festival from January 20 to 26, which will be a seven day cultural fiesta.

Jaipur Literature Festival

Photo Credit: dumbbellsanddrama.com

Lets move from down south to west in Rajasthan. From modest beginnings in 2006, the Jaipur Literature Festival has grown into the largest literary festival in Asia-Pacific. This is the 11th edition of the festival this year. Both Indian authors as well as those from abroad appear at the festival. The sessions consist of readings, discussions, and questions and answers. It’s possible to buy the authors’ books and get them signed. In addition, there’s a range of stalls selling everything from food to handicrafts. There’s also an outdoor lounge bar, for relaxing. Music performances are held in the evenings, after the literary sessions are over. In recent years, the festival has turned into quite a fashionable occasion, and attracts plenty of socialites from Delhi and Jaipur. Authors will discuss works related to topic. There will also be emphasis on poetry, the literature of Southeast Asia, and the seven states of northeast India. There will be live music events, heritage walks and much more.

  • When: January 24-29, 2018
  • Where: At the historic Diggi Palace hotel in Jaipur. The hotel is located in Sangram Colony, Ashok Nagar, which is just off M.I. Road, around 10 minutes walk from the Old City of Jaipur. Since 2012, the music stage has been shifted to a different venue at The Clarks Amer lawns (around 15 minutes drive south of Diggi Palace).

Colours of desert in Rajasthan

Photo Credit: rajasthanvisit.com

There is lot in Rajasthan this month. January is just the right month for a desert spree, and Bikaner and Jaisalmer are just the right places to see the ships of the desert. In the camel country Bikaner, these desert leviathans pull heavy cartloads, transport grain and even work at the wells. Held on second Saturday-Sunday of January every year, the Camel Festival begins with a colourful procession of bedecked camels against the red sandstone backdrop of the Junagarh Fort, the festivity advances to the open sand-spreads of the grounds, followed by the best breed competition, the tug-of-war contest, camel dance,  acrobatics, etc. The camels display amazing footwork, dancing gracefully to the slightest direction of their trainers. Bridal, bridles, bejewelled necks, jingling anklets and long, lanky camel shadow on dusky sands cast a magical spell. Hundreds of tourists and thousands of locals and dignitaries revel in this man-and-animal affair organised especially for the tourists. The evenings close with a different tenor and tempo altogether: a traditional rendezvous of renowned artistes of Rajasthan and the local folk performers. The jubilant skirt-swirling dancers, the awe-inspiring fire dance, and the dazzling fireworks light up the fortified desert city of Bikaner.

Almost a fortnight later is Desert Festival at Jaisalmer (January 29-31, 2018). Its one of Rajasthan’s premier showcase festivals. Once a year, the empty sands around Jaisalmer come alive with a mesmerising performance on the sand dunes in the form of the Desert Festival. The festival, organised by the Department of Tourism around January-February, goes on for three whole days and lets you enjoy the rich and colourful Rajasthani folk culture. Rajasthani men and tall, beautiful women dressed in their best and brightest costumes dance and sing ballads of valour, romance and tragedy, while traditional musicians attempt to outdo each other to showcase their musical superiority. The high points of the festival are puppeteers, acrobats, camel tattoo shows, camel races, camel polo, traditional processions, camel mounted bands, folk dances, etc.

  • When: January 13-14 & 29-31, 2018
  • Where: Bikaner and Jaisalmer are connected by rail and road with all the major cities. The nearest airport is at Jodhpur (243 kms).

Tribal Kumbh at Beneshwar

From west of Rajasthan, now we move to south of Rajasthan. Almost 70 kilometre from Dungarpur in South Rajasthan, Beneshwar temple at Sabla is located at the confluence of three rivers- Mahi, Som and Jakham. This region is the tribal belt that stretched to neighbouring parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat as well. Every year this place is host to Beneshwar Fair. This festival, held on the full moon day or Magh Shukla Purnima, attracts a large number of tourists along with tribals from the region. On this pious occasion, Bhils travel all the way from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to take a dip at the confluence of three rivers. The number of people coming to the festival often crosses half a million, hence it is rightfully known as the Tribal Mahakumbh of ‘Vangad’ region. A true reflection of tribal traditions and culture. This place has got many mythological associations making it one of the most revered places of the region. There is a fair and a flea market as well. Even the erstwhile royal family of Dungarpur had close association with this festival.

  • When: January 27-31, 2018
  • Where: Beneshwar Temple, Sabla, Dungarpur. Dungarpur is the southernmost district of Rajasthan, accessible from Udaipur very easily or even Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

Similarly Nagaur in Rajasthan will also have its Nagaur Fair from 22 January to 25 January. Nagaur Fair is said to be second biggest fair in India. It is basically a cattle fair, where every year around 70,000 bullocks, camels and horses are traded. All traditional colours of Rajasthan are here at full display in dresses, shops, games and art forms. This fair is also known for its Mirchi Bazaar, which is said not be largest red chilli market in India.

Joydev Fair, Kenduli

Photo Credit: flickr.com

Now jump from west to east. For an unforgettable dose of West Bengal folk music don’t miss the Kenduli Mela, where the mystical wandering Baul musicians gather to perform. Dressed in saffron robes, and playing a distinctive instrument called the Ektara, they sing uniquely about life’s philosophy. Joydev-Kenduli is renowned as the birth place of great Sanskrit poet Joydev who flourished in 12th Century and composed the well known Geet – Govinda, a Sanskrit Lyrical poem. Annual- Mela is held in the village Kenduli in the last day of Bengali month Pous and first 2 days of Magh and is attended by thousands of pilgrims including Bauls. The word ‘Baul’  is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Batul’ which means ‘mad’. Baul philosophy emphasises love for all human beings as the path leading to divine love. The Joydeb-Kenduli mela (fair), held every year in West Bengal’s Birbhum district on Makar Sankranti in mid-January. It is a gathering of wandering minstrels (Bauls, primarily) like no other in India. Gathering in almost equal numbers are lay aficionados addicted to the Baul and Fakir ways of life. Joydev Mela is mainly a music festival but as the Poush Mela it attracts craftsmen from the whole region, mainly selling wooden kitchen supplies, handmade covers or cheap jewellery. During five days, the 3 000 inhabitants of Kenduli Village welcome thousand and thousand of pilgrims who come mostly to listen to the bauls, the Wandering minstrels, the Mad Ones, bearers of a unique musical tradition, included in the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. The fair is held on the banks of the Ajay River which is not only of some historical interest – the fair celebrates the great poet Joydev on the day he is claimed to have taken a bath at the Kadaambokhandi ghat of the river around 800 years ago.

  • When: January 14-16, 2018
  • Where: Kenduli village, around 30 kilometers from Shantiniketan in West Bengal.

Uttarayan Kite Festival

Photo Credit: event-carnival.com

Well, looking around for other events on Makar Sankranti, lets come back to west. Gujarat is vibrant with the Kite Festival (Makar Sankranti) which is celebrated with colors of joy, colors of life. The Kite Festival signify Gujarat’s ‘Cultural Strength’ and like the kites, Gujarat soars high to touch the skies to be the ‘best in the world.’ All over the State, in the Month of January, the serene blue sky with colorful kites look splendid and since morning to evening remains dotted with vivid splashes of color with kites in a variety of hues, shapes and sizes. The excitement continues with the onset of night. As the sun sets and darkness hovers over, youngsters continue competing each other in supremacy in the sky, now with the paper lanterns tied to their kite-strings. These lanterns known as tukkal swaying at the mild stroke of wind presents a lovely image while some try to cut off these tukkals and enjoy the fun. Makar Sankranti (Kite Flying Day) marks the end of a long winter with the return of the sun to the Northern Hemisphere. According to the Hindu astronomy the sun enters the zodiac of Makara (Capricorn). Hence, it is called Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. The special significance attached to the celebration of Makar sankranti, is Kite Flying. The gods who are believed to have slumbered for six long months are now awake and the portals of heaven are thrown open! Uttarayan is celebrated all over Gujarat but the excitement is high at Ahmedabad, Surat, Nadiad and Vadodara. Surat, especially is known particularly for the strong string which is made by applying glass powder on the row thread to provide it a cutting edge. To be in any one of these places during this festival is to feel the heart and pulse of Gujarat and its people.On a night prior to the festival special markets are held and you need a gujju skill for bargaining and clinch a right deal in the crushing crowd of kite enthusiasts. Gujarat Tourism also hosts the International Kite Festival drawing crowds to witness the show of eminent kitists from many states and countries. This International Kite Festival is held at Ahmedabad , to coincide with the festival of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. People from all over the world display their exotic kites of various designs. It is a splendid spectacular show to see the sky with colourful kites, huge size and varied designs and shapes This gives the people of Ahmedabad the change to see the unusual kites brought by the visitors some of which are truly works of art. Cuisine and Crafts display are also enjoyed by the participants and spectators. The International Kite Festival in Gujarat has become a major tourist attraction.

  • When: January 14, 2018
  • Where: Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Modhera Dance Festival

We will still like to be in Gujarat. Psychedelic hues of red, yellow, green lights illuminating nooks and corners of intricately carved the Sun Temple of Modhera, during dark and breezy nights of January, create a Chiaroscuro effect of time and space! The Sun Temple of Modhera is a masterpiece of the Golden Age of the Solanki Empire, which hosts the annual Dance Festival and flaunts the glory and splendor of that era. The Modhera Dance Festival which is also prevalently known as the Uttarardh Mahotsavor Modhera Utsavis is one of the most famous celebration of art, music, dance and culture, in this part of the country. This unique occurrence showcases traditional dance forms of the region as well as acts as a platform bringing together the cultural ethos of other regions expressed in form of dance or nritya. Modhera, the temple of the Sun narrating the history and grandeur of its patrons, the Solankis, is an architectural marvel. This peerless temple space acts as a grandiose backdrop for the vibrant expression of dancers and aesthetic ethnicity of the country. Dance troupes and performers from all regions of the nation bring along a panorama of varied dance forms and styles, interlaced with the essence of their origins. The performers blend in the ambience and bring life to the sandstone figurines carved on the edifice of the temple, singing and narrating legends of times bygone. The three day festival of Uttarardh Mahotsavis is organised on third weekend of January every year by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (TCGL), to venerate and celebrate the inherited treasure of performing arts of the country. The Modhera festival is an ideal opportunity to experience living heritage of Indian dance and music while traversing back in time sitting in the lap of golden history.

  • When: January 19-21, 2018
  • Where: The environs of the Sun Temple in Modhera act a venue and host of this enchanting festival. Modhera is located in the South-west of Mehsana District and is 25 km away from the town of Mehsana.

Gustor of Spituk

Spituk Monastery

Then as I promised, we move to cold deserts of north in Ladakh. Although this time is ripe to have a Chadar Trek, but there is lot more. Spituk is an interesting monastery, on the hill top near Indus about 18 kms. from Leh on Srinagar road. The Spituk monastery offers a commanding view of Indus. It has a totally new Gompa within the monastery as well as the old Gompa has also been restored meanwhile. It is constructed in a series of tiers with courtyards and steps. Higher up in the hill is a chamber which houses the enormous statue of goddess. Its face is covered and uncovered only once in a year during the festival time. Every year, on the 17th and 19th day of the 11th of the Bodhi month, the Gelukpa order of monks celebrate the Spituk festival known as Gustor. During the festival, the lamas wear the masks of religious deities and perform the dances, which is normally about good and evil and mythological stories related to the Buddhism. The Spituk Gompa was founded in 11th century by Od-De, the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub-od. The Gompa was named Spituk (exemplary) by Rinchen Zangpo, a translator came to that place and said that exemplary religious community would rise. Initially the Gompa was run according to the Kadampa school then during the reign of king Gragspa Bumide he converted it to Gayluk Pa order. Many icons of Buddha and 5 thangkas can be visited in this 15th century monastery. The Dukhang Hall is the largest building and has two rows of seats running the length of the walls to a throne at the far end. Sculptures and miniature chortens are displayed on the altar. There is also a collection of ancient masks, antique arms and fine thangkas. Higher up the hill is the Mahakal Temple, containing the shrine of Vajrabhairava. The terrifying face of Vajrabhairva is unveiled only at the annual festival in January.

  • When: January 14-15, 2018
  • Where: Spituk Monastery, Leh, Ladakh

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Sambhar is a unique destination

Well, this is final post on this trip to Sambhar. This is a sort of a first for me. First time six posts in six days on trot and also for the first time six posts on a trot on a single destination.  Sambhar is on most accounts a sleepy town in Jaipur district. Would have been a village some time back, but has gone bigger now to be called as town.

Sambhar Lake and the town on the left side
Sambhar Lake and the town on the left side

How to reach: There are two ways to reach Sambhar- by road and by train. Sambhar Lake actually in its vast expanse touches three district of Rajasthan- Jaipur, Ajmer and Nagaur. Sambhar railway station is right inside the town. This railway station falls on Jaipur-Jodhpur railway line. While coming from Jaipur, this railway station is next to Phulera junction railway station. But express trains don’t stop at Sambhar Lake railway station. There are a couple of passenger trains from Sambhar to Jaipur as well, if you are really interested in going to Sambhar by train. But if one actually takes a passenger train then should perhaps travel from Sambhar to Nawa so that the vast expanse of salt lake can be crossed by train and then can return back to Sambhar for other experiences.

By road, main approach is through National Highway 8. It will depend that you are travelling on NH 8 from Jaipur side or Ajmer side. If you are coming from Jaipur side, drive till Mokhampura, which is almost 50 kms from Jaipur. From here turn right towards Phulera. Phulera is 22 kms from here and after crossing two railway level crossings before and after Phulera, move towards Sambhar town which is just six kms from Phulera. That means Sambhar is just 28 kms off the NH 8 from Mokhampura. But if you are coming from Ajmer side, then after Kishangarh when you enter the Jaipur district than comes a place called Dudu. Turn left from here towards Sambhar which is less than 25 kms from there. Both Mokhampura and Dudu are on NH 8, hence you can use any point to turn towards Sambhar, as per convenience.

Salt fields in Sambhar
Salt fields in Sambhar

Where to stay: Staying depends lot on your purpose, duration and choice of convenience for stay. I wanted to have a feel of the town, so I desperately wanted to stay here. But then you can’t expect luxury.  There are four types of stay options. I stayed at Krishna guesthouse which is just on the start of the town on the right side. There are couple of more such guesthouses. They have clean but basic facilities- bed and attached bathrooms. I paid 500 INR for a one night, just for stay. Since this is also a religious town, it also has a couple of what we call as dharamshalas (place for pilgrims to stay). They are cheaper than guesthouses and might even be same in facilities. These dharamshalas are close to bus stand. Then there is also a PWD rest house which has two sets. So if available tourists can stay there. It is cheaper (currently 275 INR per room per day) and best. This PWD rest house is right opposite the bus stand. Lastly,  if you want to be adventurous, you can pitch tent on dry bed of the salt lake. The night sky here is very beautiful, which people leaving in metros or bigger towns will never get to see. So, if you intend to do that, than go prepared. Those who don’t want to stay in Sambhar, can get better accommodations in Phulera town, six kms from Sambhar. Many tourists will come to Sambhar just for a day visit from either Jaipur or Ajmer. So it all depends, how long you want to stay here.

cenotaph of Daadu Dayal
cenotaph of Daadu Dayal

What to do: Sambhar is biggest inland saline lake in India. Its is also a wintering destination for migratory birds. It is second largest breeding ground for flamingos in India after Rann of Kutch. It is also a religious town with mythological importance. There is also another  prominent temple here- Shakambari temple, located some 22 kms from the town in midst of lake bed. I wanted to go there but couldn’t squeeze it within the time in hand. Sambhar is said to have got its name because of the this goddess. I was more interested in going there to see that side of the salt bed.

So lot of things to do. You can even try to fit all of them in a day trip, but to enjoy more and soak yourself in the atmosphere, better to keep some time in hand. I spent two half days and actually longed for more.

Sambhar lake and the town
Sambhar lake and the town

What to eat: You can try local dishes here. There are few restaurants close to bus stand, which serve tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner. You need to search for some authentic local cuisine. Phinni (फिन्नी) is the sweet, this place is famous for. Many shops near bus stand are good to buy them. That is actually also the main market of the town.

A lot of interest has recently been developed in the place. With many films already shot here including PK, there seems to be increase in the popularity. Soon enough, it is going to come up with lots of developed infrastructure. Rajasthan tourism is already panning a luxury train for bringing high-end tourists to Sambhar. Although, not everything is welcomed by the environmentalists and the bird lovers.
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Lot more than flamingos at Sambhar

Though flamingos were my primary interest and they were who actually pulled my all the way to Sambhar, but wintering at Sambhar is not all about flamingos. Flamingos might be very high in count and attraction but there are many other birds coming for winter migration. As I said in my last post, there are more than 70 species of birds coming here every year.

Pied avocet at Sambhar Lake
Pied avocet at Sambhar Lake

So while I was busy admiring flamingos at Sambhar lake, I couldn’t have failed to notice and try to click few other migratory birds. Pied avocet (pictured above) was the among the first one to come across and was quite attractive because of its distinctive beak and black & white appearance.

Northern shovelers and gadwalls at Sambhar lake
Northern shovelers and gadwalls at Sambhar lake

Though there were some northern pintail and pochards as well, but I could manage to get close view of only these northern shovelers and gadwalls.

Black-tailed godwits in flight at Sambhar lake
Black-tailed godwits in flight at Sambhar lake

Black-tailed godwits gave me some very nice shots while  flying as above and some wonderful reflections like below. It was indeed one of my favourite photos.

Black tailed godwits make a good reflection
Black tailed godwits make a good reflection

Among the pink glare of flamingos, these migratory birds also had their marked presence. Actually besides the lesser flamingos, eurasian curlew and black-tailed godwits have also among the threatened species of birds of Sambhar.

other migratory birds at Sambhar
other migratory birds at Sambhar

Among the common birds often found on backyard shorelines to be seen here were black-winged stilts (below). This thin legged bird is often considered to be cutest among the waders.

Sambhar Flamingos14
a pair of black winged stilt at Sambhar lake

And, then when I covered whole distance from ramp (where I parked my bike) to the railway track, then across the railway track on a high tension power line, I suddenly saw this crested lark (below). It looked so fascinating and keen to give me some cool poses.

Sambhar Flamingos18
Crested lark

I finished with the flamingos and was on my bike again on way back to the main city. I crossed the salt fields and deserted railway stations. Just when I though that I had finished everything at Sambhar for this trip, then suddenly few metres before the railway crossing I noticed another marshy area to my right and there were more birds and in fairly good numbers.

a flock of marsh sandpipers flying over the Sambhar lake
a flock of marsh sandpipers flying over the Sambhar lake

A flock of flying marsh sandpipers caught my notice and in a flash my bike was parked and camera was out. They looked so fascinating in their flight.

a group of Bar headed geese
a group of Bar headed geese

Also with them was a small group os bar-headed geese. I had recently seen them in Kankwari Lake in Sariska and it was easy for me to recognise them. I tried to go closer but they were quick to avoid and flew away at a distance (below). So cute! Isn’t it!

bar-headed geese in flight
bar-headed geese in flight

In the same group of bar-headed goose, I was also able to notice two Brahminy shelduck. This distinctively beautiful bird migrates from south-east Europe and central Asia and winters in Indian sub-continent. But I could see only two of them.

a pair of Brahminy Shelduck
a pair of Brahminy Shelduck

With this shot of marsh sandpipers, I reluctantly switched off my camera and was back on my bike.

marsh sandpipers
marsh sandpipers

It was indeed a great mini photo-tour. Quite satisfying for me in terms of number of birds as well as number os species, that I was able to capture in my images. The feeling made the return journey a bit less tiring.

and finally… the pink flamingos

Moving ahead from Devayani, I was asking every other guy the way to Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal. The way wasn’t far from Devayani. Just half a kilometre ahead was a railway crossing and the just before the railway line was a dusty path going inside the salt fields along side the now unused railway track. There were many structures in the area, all of them actually remnants of a very well-planned rail network meant for the salt extraction. It looked like a no-man’s land. I kept on moving ahead till there was a way. Till that time I didn’t even had an idea that how the chatri of Daadu Dayal looked like. Track wasn’t easy, but still negotiable and enjoyable. Then, I suddenly saw a man out of nowhere and asked him about the exact location of the cenotaph, and luckily also about the possibility of birds.

Chatri (canatoph) of Daadu Dayal
Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal

Thankfully enough, that man told exactly about both the things and all of a sudden I had wings in my wheels. My primary interest was in birds. Cenotaph was bit ahead in the salt fields and I needed to walk. Bird site was towards left. I unhesitatingly turned towards the lake. I was so anxiously waiting for that moment. Already had pink salt and pink sunset as prelude to this. There was a ramp being built to connect the village directly presumably to the cenotaph. Ramp actually bifurcated the water body which sheltered the birds. I parked my bike on the ramp and then walked alongside the mud-mounded wall to separate the salt fields from the normal water body. And then I was filled with joy on seeing this-

Flamingo colony close to railway track
Flamingo colony close to railway track

That was how the flamingos looked from the distance while lake water was filled with different types of waterfowls. I laughed out at the fact that this was the same railway track from where I and Sohan Singh turned left towards the salt fields last evening. We were searching for birds, hardly aware that they were just on the other side of the railway track, but were not visible from that side as track was on high earthen mound. Now, they were, right in front of me.

I kept moving closer to the colony-

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closer-

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and yet more-

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until they decided to move away a bit farther-

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I will admit that my primary objective to go to Sambhar was to see some pink flamingos. The reports of their dwindling numbers were already making rounds for past many years. So I wanted to be there at the earliest available opportunity. Had seen flamingos earlier at few places in India, including Chilika and Rameshwaram. But Sambhar was ought to be quite different from others.

I was so amused that passengers travelling from Jaipur to Jodhpur via train can always enjoy these birds next to their coaches. These images were so interesting-

Saline wetlands of Sambhar have supported large population of flamingos and more than 70 species of other wetland birds. Flamingos have been found to breed in this area. Sambhar is said to be unique ecological habitat for winter avian migrants.

But this place has many challenges which actually threaten its very existence. What can be a bigger irony than this, that though Sambhar Lake was designated as a wetland of International importance under Ramsar convention way back in 1990 and was also marked as an Important Bird Area (IBA) but this is neither a bird sanctuary, nor a wildlife sanctuary or a national park. Hence there is no protection to this site under wildlife protection act. Isn’t this disgraceful to these wonderful creatures-

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After Great Rann of Kutch, Sambhar Lake is the second largest wintering and breeding ground for flamingos in India. Its an ideal habitat. Its vast spread of open waters allows most aquatic birds to land in flocks and find for themselves enough space to remain aloof and separated with no resource competition.

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fall in line!

Sambhar has both-Lesser flamingos as well as Greater flamingos. But there has been considerable decline in number of Lesser Flamingos in last few years.

Flamingos were aware of my presence and they kept moving from one place to other. There were other disturbances as well- grazing cattle, dogs, trains, humans, as this part of the lake was right adjacent to the Sambhar town. What was interesting that they all moved in unison.

Fly away
Fly away

Feeling threatened they will fly together, not high enough-

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and then land to a safer place-

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Even while walking in shallow waters, their movements were very swift-

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All together-

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But what looked most fascinating was their flight. Normally they will daily take rounds of the region in afternoon and then come back in the evening-

Flying high
Flying high

But what gave me best shots of the day was a little game between dogs and the flamingos. Two young dogs first kept playing with each other in the water and then all of a sudden they thought to give the flock of flamingos a chase in shallow waters of the lake, although very aware that it was very futile. But than it was all in the game and to my delight, I was able to get some satisfying images of their flight. See for yourself (click on images to have full view and enjoy)-

These were some low moments but there was also few high and close ones-

I kept on clicking and clicking till I touched the deadline to leave for the return journey of another 350 kms. Otherwise, it was never enough for me-

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… and as if saying goodbye to me-

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I will surely be back, for more time perhaps. But still this isn’t all from Sambhar…

…the pink mystique

It was second day at Sambhar. Last day was interesting with engaging myself in pink salt of Sambhar and then soaking in some refreshing sights of a pink sunset. But as I said, my mind was still lurking in search of the pink flamingos. The other day Sohan Singh had suggested me to go towards the Devayani, where I can probably find the birds. One things I have learnt over the years of travelling is never to feel shy in asking locals about any doubt or any information- basic or may be additional. So, while riding my bike in the morning, I  asked my lodge owner about possible location of flamingos and he suggested me to go towards ‘chatri (canatoph) of Dadu Dayal (दादू दयाल की छतरी). I decided to try towards Devayani first.

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Temples at Devayani

This is third aspect of a trip to Sambhar. It was not in my agenda, at least not before the flamingos, but then as it was deemed to be, I had to explore Devayani first. Besides being home to salt and flamingos, Sambhar is also a religious town and mythologically a very important one. Devayani gets its name from daughter of guru Shukracharya of demons and was queen of king Yayati. This mythology dates quite earlier to even times of Mahabharata. I am not going to dwell upon story of Devayani and Yayati as it is there in scriptures as well as now online. As is believed, that this is the place, where Devayani used to live, hence it got the name. So, Sambhar has got this spiritual and religious value as well. Devayani temple is just two kilometres from the Sambhar bus stand.

Road to Devayani
deserted road to Devayani

Devayani is considered to be a pilgrimage and now there have been many efforts to develop religious tourism aspect of Sambhar. With lots of funds in tow, the area has been renovated and many facilities being developed. Devayani is actually a small artificial lake and there are temples all around. In this way, it is quite similar to Pushkar, though the later one is quite bigger than this. So, there are ghats and temples on all four sides. For long these have been neglected, and now there are efforts to clean the lake and reconstruct the ghats and temples.

Lake and temples around
Lake and temples around

Temples are dedicated to various deities, but the main temple is of Ganges or the Ganga. This temple is said to quite old and is being repaired now. Inner portion of the temple looks quite recently refurbished.

Regular prayers and worships are held at the temple. Every month on many auspicious days special religious events are being held and local people from around the region gather here in good numbers. Although, that morning I was the only visitor there.

For those in need!
For those in need!

Interestingly, this place is called as Devayani and though it is dedicated to a specific mythological character but the main temple here is of river Ganges. I was told that earlier there used to be no temple of Devayani here. Just recently, a temple of Devayani was built because many people will come and ask that where is the Devayani temple (but outside this temple it is written that it is an ancient one! Quite confusing!).

Devayani temple
Devayani temple

On the four sides of lake are said to also four ancient Shiva temples and one of them is this Jageshwar temple. It is believed the the lingam at this temple is very deep and actually no one has been able to know its actual depth.

Jageshwar temple
Jageshwar temple

Interestingly enough, just adjacent to Devayani temple is a tomb and  a small mosque nearby. There was no information on who’s tomb it is or may be religious fault lines prohibit people to divulge too much. But in the medieval times there has been known history of muslim salt traders from Sambhar trading salt at nearby cities. There was even a mosque in Jaipur’s Kishanpole area known as ‘mosque of Sambharias’ (सांभरियों की मसजिद). Irony is that in all the construction and renovation around, no care was being taken of that tomb.

Although I was focused to look for flamingos, this place indeed looked interesting to me and had many things to reflect upon.

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…the pink sunset

We had already crossed the visible stretch of the Sambhar Lake from railway station to the refinery close to dam. Charmed by the Pink Salt we were on the next part of our evening trail. While crossing the lake bed, we were slowly and cautiously following the path created by jeep tyres, as any attempt to deviate would have been dangerous for our bikes in that slushy mud. Winter sun was quickly moving westwards and I was now getting anxious for some sunset shots in the vast expanse of the lake bed. After pink salt, was it the turn for a pink sunset? You would see for yourself-

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I somehow believed that sunset would be splendidly beautiful and quite different from sunsets that I have experienced so far at other places. Colours in the sky and on the land had started changing.

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The appetite for a wonderful sunset has been increased by shots like these on the way to Sambhar Salt refinery-

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…and also this, just ahead of above-

Just past refinery, me and my lecturer guide Sohan Singh ji rode upto the dam. Private salt operator Vijay Chaudhary had asked us to go till dam to see if there is any water on the other side and I am able to locate any flamingos (my primary motive to be here).

On to the dam
On to the dam

The lake is actually divided into to unequal parts by this dam that runs through almost five kms. An old railway line runs through almost full length of the dam. This rail track was earlier used by salt trains. But it is no longer in use. So our journey to the dam involved biking along that old railway line through some wide stretches like above and some tricky ones like below-

Sohan Singh, a senior secondary school lecturer from Sambhar guiding me on his bike.
Sohan Singh, a senior secondary school lecturer from Sambhar guiding me on his bike.

Interestingly enough, even Sohan Singh had not visited this part of the lake ever earlier despite being resident of this area for quite a long. Actually, this was the reason that kept him motivated to travel with me throughout the evening.

Western side of Sambhar Lake
Western side of Sambhar Lake

Across the dam is the western part of the lake which is more of a open water undisturbed natural lake ecosystem. Shakambari temple is almost 20 kms far in this lake bed. There are also some villages (dhanis) and occasional salt fields. There have been many dredging channels created on the lake bed for salt extraction. On the north-western side is the Gudha village and further 10-15 kms is Nawa. Lake runs upto there. There is a railway line to Nagaur from Sambhar on that route. There are number of brine reservoirs for salt extraction all along.

Pink Sunset11By the time we reached the dam sun was getting ready to take the plunge. I was looking for some open place where trees and shrubs don’t obstruct my view of the sunset and I can find a comfortable place to click the photos.

It was rather easy as there were not many people (actually rarely anybody) passing through that way. I expected some of the colours of the lake bed to show up in sunset and they actually did. See for yourself-

The vastness of the lake bed actually made the foreground similar to a sea or ocean, perfect for the sunset. And then, colours started to show up, interchanging between pink and orange-

Finally, I decided to go closer to sun, not literally but optically, and the results were again very pleasing. And I kept clicking till sun itself said, it was enough. And what colours the sky kept throwing, I was amazed-

As the sun went into hide, it was time to move. Sohan Singh ji had already spent more than three hours with me. He was also getting late perhaps, although he never got anxious on my photographing capabilities! It was time to find some resting place for the night. We had come quite a distance from the Sambhar town. We headed back.  After reaching town, we had a parting tea together at the bus stop. We said goodbye to each other but not before, my search for a night shelter ended.

Day was over. Not a bad one by many counts. But I was still restless due to missing those, for whom I had come all the way along. Will I see them or- not?

The Pink Salt…

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.

A mound of salt
A mound of salt

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.

 

Pink Salt8Sambhar 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.

Vast expanse of lake
Vast expanse of lake

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.

Railway track bisecting the salt lake
Railway track bisecting 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.

Salt fields of Vijay Chaudhary
Salt fields of Vijay Chaudhary

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-

No water... all mirage!
No water… all mirage!

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.

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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.

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Workers from Sambhar Salt Limited refinery returning to city after day’s work. This british-era rail road car takes them home through the dried lake bed.

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)