Desert Safari in Jaisalmer – Sand, Stars and Solitude

I lay under the surreal blanket, of brightly glittering stars, shining like beacons in the sea of emptiness, the gentle cold breeze whispering in my ears and the velvet sand covering the landscape. With no light and no sound, feeling my heart beat, leaving behind all my problems, insecurities and enjoying the present not caring about what the next day will bring, I close my eyes in peace, tranquility and a deep sense of wellbeing in this eternal desert night….

…. Is how I imagined my “Night Under the Stars” be like…

Having experienced a rustic camel ride in a village of Osian, I now wanted to witness the cultural extravaganza, the enchanting experience Jaisalmer is best known for. We choose the Real Desert Man Safari for a Night Under the Stars coupled with the music and dance.

Geared up for the Desert Safari on our 2nd day in Jaisalmer

The ball of flame had risen cheerfully again, right from behind the fort. Morning was spent lazing around at the roof-top cafe, enjoying the soft winter sun while the crisp breeze whizzed pass my hair, leaving behind a trail of sheer happiness. As the day progressed, we got decked up to immerse ourselves into experiencing the life in the desert and we set off for an exotic escape in the mighty Thar desert to indulge in the Camel and Jeep Safari amidst the beautiful Khuri Dunes. Our guide and driver Michael picked us up at 2.00pm from our hotel and we hopped on the jeep to be driven about an hour from the city for the safari.

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oasis

Whizzing through the vast landscape, at one point we could see our jeep approaching an oasis, yes! Right in the middle of the deserted Thar land, a small pond of water, reflecting the sky-blue color of the sky was welcoming us. Excitedly we capped the remaining distance and got off the jeep walking aimlessly around the oasis for a while, absorbing the aura, a symbol of hope and duality in life.

Out next stop was the majestic Amar Sagar Jain Temple, located right next to the famous Amar Sagar lake. Amar Sagar was once a water reservoir but is largely dry now. Dedicated to Lord Parshwanath, Amar Sagar temple has a captivating architecture, the elegance of which is further enhanced with the intricate design cravings all across its walls and ceilings. Stepping into the courtyard with water fountains, surrounded by trees, an air of royalty, grace and serenity surrounded us, symbolic of this place’s splendor. Breezing through its delicately carved archways, and majestic stairs, we felt as if we were transported to a different era altogether! And the photographs! This place was indeed a photographer’s delight. The dark blue sky was in perfect contrast, yet harmony with the temple’s ivory marble structure and made for breathtakingly beautiful pictures on the camera!

Ahead of the much-anticipated desert safari, we took a last stop at Kuldhara, the abandoned village in the Jaisalmer, which is now a mere collection of decadent houses, shrines and schools. And oh! It has rumored that it is haunted!

When I asked my friend Sakina if she believed that the place was indeed haunted, her reply was a prompt “Of course”; but something in me wasn’t convinced. I asked the same question to Michael, who chose a mysterious silence, accompanied by a i-don’t-want-to-answer-this- look on his face, as a response to my question!

Legend has it that over 200 years ago, Salim Singh, the Diwan of Jaisalmer set his eyes on the young and beautiful daughter of the village chief and threatened anyone who came in his way with heavy taxes. Fearing the consequences, one night, all residents flew the village, leave their houses and everything else behind, along with a curse that no one would ever be able to settle in Kuldhara.

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posing at kuldhara
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Taikhana

Touring the ruins of Kuldhara, we entered one of the rooms of an abandoned house, and guess what caught my attention!

“Taikhaana” (An underground Dungeon) I said excitedly.

Sakina nodded in acknowledgment and walked towards it, before saying “I wonder what’s there inside” and she bent to peep in.

To add to the air of eeriness, I said, “What if someone just comes out of there suddenly and attacks us!”

Ha-ha! I was acting as if we were the protagonists from the 1986 horror film by Shyam Ramsay, Tahkhana; slightly scared and uncertain about what lies ahead.

A while later, in another room of another abandoned house, I asked Sakina to click the obligatory picture, as I sit on the window that had background of the decadent houses. All set with my pose to get clicked, all of a sudden Sakina interrupted

“Did you hear that”

“What?” I asked.

“The creaky sound from the ceiling”

And I could feel goosebumps! I told Sakina to quickly get done with the picture, but we being spooked out was evident in the not-so-great outcome of the picture!

As we explored the place further, our goosebumps subsided and we found ourselves getting at ease with the area, with just occasional spikes of spookiness!

Embarking on the Sunset Safari

A long yet captivating drive had landed us at the camp site where the camels awaited us. We were welcomed by the crew with some refreshments before making the headway for the desert caravan on the camel back.

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raju, my camel

Khaitan, my guide for the safari introduced me to my camel Raju who would take me out to witness the magical desert sunset. Raju was tied to another camel. Quizzed, I asked Khaitan, “Why do we have two camels with us”

“They are lovers, and always travel together” he quipped!

One by one, Khaitan coerced the camels to lay down and helped me hop into Raju’s saddle while he hoped on another one and we began our thrilling ride through the desert grassland sprawling towards the distant horizon, glowing under the mid-afternoon sun with barely a soul in sight! As we went deeper into the heart of the Thar Desert, with the wind whistling around us, I was overwhelmed by the stillness around, while gazing into nothingness. Taking a ride through the rippling, windswept desert on camel back, enjoying the romance of solitude in the middle of nowhere, Ah! Absolute joy and bliss!

Khaitan’s camel led the way for us into the desert. We travelled deeper into the eternal  desert and so did our conversation. He and I chatted at length about life in the desert, about his family and how his family constraints forced him to start working as a helper and then a guide at a very early age. He said he is one of their best camel guides and one day he wants to start his own Desert Camp.

It took me an hour and a half of the spectacular visual ride, with commentary by Khaitan along the way, to finally reach the clear dunes. Sakina choose to cover this distance by the Jeep.

just arrived, for the sunset

Once at the dunes, excited to see the glorious sunset amidst the golden sand, I got off my Camel and painstakingly marched towards the tallest dune, and man! The efforts were worth it. Watching the sun dip below the desert horizon, marveling at the view of the sun turning the dunes different shades of orange, was one of those pinch-yourself moments Indeed! Michael and Khaitan made sure we had the best experience and offered to take our pictures with the backdrop of this mesmerizing natural painting.

sunset

We soaked in the impressive sunset, enjoying the last light of the day, until all that was left was the chill of twilight and the promise of a cold night to come. We then started our journey back to the camp site. Sakina chose the jeep, while I mounted my Camel’s back, just that this time I took a shorter route to avoid the serious ouchies, that had infact, already set in after the 1.5 hrs long ride earlier in the day.

Time to groove

After a warm welcome with tikka dastori, upon reaching the campsite, we flocked on the charpoy right in the center and gobbled on some pakoras, chips and pipping hot chai while eagerly awaiting the cultural program to begin. Fighting the dust and sand across the Thar for the entire day, it was now time to treat ourselves to the finer pleasures of this traditional yet vibrant land.

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welcoming us at the camp
with the folk musicians

The Langa Manganiars group, dressed in black sherwanis and colourful pagdis arrived with their musical instruments and set the tone for the evening singing melodious Rajasthani folk songs, playing their kamaichas and dhoklas. The Kalbeliya women followed soon after, traditionally dressed in black and red flowing lehengas(skirts), angrakhi (blouse) and Odhani (head cover) dancing and swirling all the way.

The soulful folk music and refreshing dance moves had us swinging in our seats all the while, and in no time, we found ourselves tapping our feet to its tunes.

Fully entertained & exhausted enjoying the open-air cultural extravaganza of rustic, earthy music and folk-dance performance, we hopped back into the charpoy with rumbling tummies all set for our next course of action – Dinner!

Yass, the next portion of the night was filled with culinary delights and dinner was served. It was a line-up buffet with many local dishes from Rajasthani curry, dal baati churma, ker sangri as well as rice, chapati (bread), Rajasthani garlic chutney, pickles and salads.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

The night wrapped up with some pictures with the troop and we retreated to meet our driver to be driven to the spot in the desert oasis where we would halt for the night. We had a couple and a bag packer with us by now, and we were all looking forward to spend some time sitting around the bonfire, knowing about each other, sharing our way of lives, and exchanging a dialogue on spooky real-life experiences 😀

The view was unreal. We were in the middle of nowhere, exactly what I had signed up for! No roof, no walls, no boundaries! In this velvet darkness the only source of light was of the glitter in the sky, of the sequin-silver stars looming over us.

The sand was cold, and I rambled around barefoot treating myself to some sand therapy while our Camp guide lit up the bonfire. Soaking in the warmth of the bonfire, it wasn’t long before the ghost stories began. After several chilling tales, gradually our conversation evolved into stories about life. We all came from different backgrounds and experiences but connected in that moment under the stars. Our chatter went on till late until we called it a night, retiring to our respective charpoys, huddled under layers of blankets to cut the desert chill.

It was nearly midnight, but sleep took long to come, because I knew I was to witness magic in the perfect silence of the desert.

Zillions of Stars!

Sparkling and Shimmering, Twinkling and Dazzling. It was like every star in the galaxy wanted to be seen.

Lying on my back, gazing at the midnight blue canvas covered with a canopy of stars, glittering like diamonds, I could feel myself in the free space all around. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe how that moment felt. It took away every thought from my mind, the usual carousel of worries was simply forgotten.

That night I fell asleep with a smile on my face, not thinking, not caring, about what the next day would bring, just reminding myself that I was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

The Morning Scene

That one star
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On my charpoy
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home for the night

At dawn, I woke up just in time, to witness the magical phenomenon of the sky filling with blended tones of rosy pinks and sandy yellows. Here I was, sitting on my charpoy, in the middle of this grand vista welcoming a new day, a new beginning. Gradually, the mighty sun rose like a flower over the desert horizon and the sky exploded with beautiful colors leaving me spellbound yet again.

Dawn in the desert

With light, also came the reality that it was time to ride back to the campsite and from there to the world that we knew. We took several photo shots of this stunning beauty of nature before proceeding to the camp. All, except myself, took the Jeep; while I chose to enjoy this ride on my Camel for one last time.

Back at the campsite, we sat down for a light yet filling breakfast, still dreaming of our time in the golden oasis. Soon, we set off to ride back to the city, bidding farewell to our camels and guides. This was also the day we were to move inside the fort.

Camping Under the Stars in Jaisalmer! Was it an incredible, life changing experience ? – Hell Yes!

I remember how excited I was the day I confirmed our Desert Safari. What a massive bucket list item to check off my list. This was truly one of those experiences which we all travel for, such moments in life are so exquisite and I feel so grateful that I got to live it. The feeling of gratitude, peace, joy, and stillness is not something that can be explained in words, leave alone being captured by the lens of a camera. You need to live it, to feel it.

Jaisalmer – Exploring the City Outside the Fort

The land of sand dunes, havelis and golden-hued landscape, Jaisalmer is an enchanting beauty with fairy tale architecture and regal charm! It was after my brother & sis-in-law visited the dreamy desert town and shared their experience, that I grew inquisitive about this place. “Jaisalmer”, the name itself was so intriguing, exotic and mysterious that in no time my imagination led me to visualize myself in this westernmost frontier of India, experiencing Sridevi’s “Morni baga Ma Bole Aadhi Raat Ma..lalala 😀 ” sequence from the movie Lamhe; rejoicing the vibrant folk music in the middle of bon-fire lit barren desert. 

A beautifully carved sandstone structure enroute, caught my attention

The city’s major attractions, the living fort, the havelis, palaces and museums, the Ornate Jain temples, gadisar lake and of course, the shopping markets formed my itinerary.

Although it was afternoon by the time we reached Jaisalmer, being winter, the air was brisk and fresh.  Our hotel was located in the vicinity of the fort, and on our way, I could easily spot the spectacular sandstone structure looming over the city, as we drove through the roads to reach our adobe. Our pad for the first day was the Shahi Palace Hotel, located near the walls of Jaisalmer’s living fort. Redolent of ancient havelis, the hotel is adorned with fine wood work furniture, windows and doorways, that give a rustic feel to this rather modern & comfortable space. We dropped off our bags and headed straight to the roof-top cafe as I’d read so much about the view from there.

Climbing the fleet of stairs to reach the rooftop, I could see the fort shining like a burnished beacon, perched atop the Trikuta hill, emerging in front of me, the sight I’d never forget.

Rest of our day was spent just chilling at the cafe, talking our hearts out, and enjoying the wondrous sight of the Sonar Quila. Behind me, was the sun setting, and in front of me, was this majestic fort camouflaged by the natural sunlight, transforming in to a honey-gold fortress lit up from within and outside, embodying vibrancy, colors, and splendor! The magical bliss of nature’s beauty consumed me with a feeling of inexplicable stillness. I witnessed the panoramic fortress in all its shades – at the dawn, at the crack of the twilight, illuminated in the evening; and each sight was a beauty to behold!

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Chilling at the Roof-top Cafe

Maneuvering the narrow city lanes later that evening, we took a pitstop at Mandir Palace, an erstwhile palace that now serves as luxury hotel; sections of which have been converted into a museum and are available to the tourists for a fee. We set out exploring the palace complex from a Giridhari temple in the compound, where a few old ladies were enjoying the simple pleasures of life, engaged in daily chores and bonding over conversations about their day. Whizzing around the museum in the palace for some more time, discovering the glorious historical trivias while marveling at the relics kept in there, we made our way towards The Thar Heritage Museum. This small but fascinating museum houses ancient artifacts, reminiscent of the evolution of Jaisalmer’s culture. Instead of the Royals, the curios here depict the tales of history and culture of local people and their daily lives in their day and age.

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Exhibits at Mandir Palace
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Posing at Mandir Palace
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Exhibits at Thar Desert Museum

Wandering around Gandhi Chowk, to catch a glimpse of the rustic lifestyle we breezed through several colossal sandcastles, old havelis and vibrant shops selling everything from Rajasthani artifacts, leather accessories, hand-looms and jewellery. The area was buzzing with vibrancy, hustle-bustle, and colors; symbolizing the festive and colorful spirit of Rajasthan. Amidst all the market chaos, the aroma of the street-food tempted our taste buds to indulge in some local savories and I relished on some mirchi bhajiyas (local savoury) with spicy and lip-smacking chutney that made up for our snack accompanied with Bhaang (a local brew).

Back in our pad, unwinding in the café over a candle light meal, under the open sky, with its borderless flow of clarity, I cherished the feeling of soft breeze inlaying the cafe with an aura of tranquility, witnessing the moon-lit sky and yellow-lit fort. The peaceful ambience made us feel so much at home, that we were there long enough for the hotel staff to assume that we were planning to spend the night there and as a gesture to delight us they gave us blankets, maybe as a signal to either pass out, or crash in our room 😀

The Day of our Desert Experience

Reveling in the early morning breeze at the roof-top café the next morning, I could feel my veins being filled with adrenaline rush, thinking of the “Night Under the Stars” Desert Safari experience that I was to live later that day. We set out at 2.00 pm in a jeep that had only the 2 of us (me and my friend) along with the driver of course. Whizzing through the desert landscape, we took a brief stop on our way to enjoy the beauty of being surrounded by the magical vibes of an Oasis, before heading to the Amar Sagar Jain Temple, a picturesque temple located right next to the famous Amar Sagar lake. Any photographer’s delight, this temple usually serves as a beautiful backdrop for those mesmerizing photographs, that you would want to share on your Instagram! And just before our Desert Safari experience, we took a tour of Kuldhara, the abandoned village in Jaisalmer. Over the years this place has earned a reputation of being haunted and as we were entering the area, a feeling of errie took over us too; the spooky vibes did make us feel the uncomfortable coldness of this place!

Mandatory posing at the beautiful Patwa Haveli

Moving inside the fort, yet exploring outside 😀

The morning after our Desert Safari experience, we were taken back to the city in the same Jeep, this time shared by a few others. It’s not always that you stick by your itinerary and the same was the case with us. We were yet to explore a few places outside the fort this day. Out of the four days that we had our stay booked in Jaisalmer, one was right outside the fort, other was the Desert Safari, one being inside the fort in the vicinity of the Jain temples and the last one was a little further inside the fort, overlooking the city outside.

For this day, we picked Hotel Suraj, located in the close proximity of the Jain temples, by virtue of which, I would literally wake to the sight of these majestic heritage temples, standing tall whenever I peeked out of my window. These Jain temples were the first exploration I did that day and I had the privilege to meet a Jain sage who familiarized me with the history of this ancient religion and shared the significance of several idols and symbols adoring the complex.

Just out from the surreal environment in the temple complex, we made our way outside the fort. Tip-toeing our way through the lively local lanes, we reached Pansari bazaar, Jaisalmer’s oldest market and is also known as Villager’s market. The vibrant street had an array of offerings on display from Rajasthani ethnic ghagra-cholis, beaded jewelry, brightly colored dupattas, handcrafted items, to leather bags, there was something for everyone’s or let’s say a woman’s taste 😀 . It’s like being in the middle of a mosaic neighborhood filled with colors, beauty and festivity! Goes with out saying that it was an exotic escape for me.

Rooving through the narrow lanes after our retail therapy indulgence, we landed at the Main Entrance of the “Patwon ki Haveli”, one of the most popular and also the first ever haveli to be erected in the city. This cluster of five havelis, standing proudly in a narrow lane, is the largest in the city, and also houses the office of Archaeological Survey of India. The lane outside the haveli itself is a riot of colors and craft with outlets selling wooden handicrafts, toys, Rajasthani souvenirs and the colorful puppets.

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We visited the one that had an entry fees. Besides splendid archs and gateways, what caught our attention were the beautiful paintings and stunning mirror work adorning the walls of the haveli. The museum inside, showcased the lifestyle of the erstwhile business family that constructed it. From ornaments, to furniture, to utensils, to clothes, the museum preserves and displays authentically, the merchant family life in those days! Fascinated by the intricate architecture and engraves on the ceilings, Colorful frescos and murals on the walls, we lingered around the architectural marvel for a while more, to just soak in all the beauty, splendidness and history around us!

With time for the twilight to take over the sky, we set off to Gadisar lake, to experience the onset of sunset while boating in the serene calmness of this huge lake, surrounded by artistically carved temples and shrines. Gazing at the sun, sinking below the horizon, with the sky turning to a purple-tinged grey and the breeze fingering my hair, whilst experiencing every bit of tranquility of this lake was nothing but spellbinding.

Shrines at the Gadisar Lake
NK Sharma at the desert culture & folklore museum

A few rounds of photo sessions around the lake and we made our way to visit the Desert Culture & Folklore Museum, placed on the banks of the lake. Just in time for the Puppet Show & Live Folk Singing to begin, we grabbed our seats in the middle and gradually made our way to the first row to get the best view :D. The commentary by NK Sharma (the founder) the intriguing puppet show and amazingly choreographed live folk performances had us glued to our seats. It was quite amazing to witness this ancient art thanks to N.K Sharma, a retired teacher, who is striving to preserve this dying culture. We toured the museum after the show and also exchanged a dialogue with the local musician “”. The museum was indeed a treasure house with unique exhibits of souvenirs and artefacts of bygone years ranging from old to present folk art including hairstyle presentations, costumes, photographs, paintings, manuscripts, coins and rare ornaments. We closed the day on a high note, enjoying the raw Rajasthani music and countryside experiences.

Hacra –  At the Back of Beyond

In pursuit of an “Off the beaten path” experience in the desert state I started digging on the Trip Advisor forums, is when I stumbled up on a post recommending HACRA Dhani in the Osian region to explore the essence of Rural Rajasthan.

The Family

With all guns blazing, in the wee hours of Dec 10th, we hit the road, with our eyes glued on the route surrounded by the desert land. A few hours on the road and Phew.., finally the sight of some biological beings, at a tea stall, somewhere between Pushkar and Jodhpur, was like seeing a flash of light at the end of the tunnel. A quick halt for tea and we yawned into slumber for the rest of the journey.

Enroute to HACRA, we stopped by to visit the ancient Sachiya Mata Temple. A flight of steps led us to the main sanctum of this majestic temple. The captivating sight of the temple complex and the view of the Thar desert and the Sand Dunes from the top was rewarding. We spent some time admiring its grand architecture, enamored by the intricate cravings and sculptures. The monument was an architectural splendor indeed.

A short drive further, Gemar Singh, our host, arrived in his jeep and we exchanged our customary hello, how are you and then a get set go… Eager to arrive to catch a glimpse of where we were heading, curiosity took the better of me.

Enroute to HACRA in Gemar’s Jeep

We drove through narrow countryside unpaved roads surrounded by weeds and bushes that blossom in the desert, with one or two vehicles pass through, the houses which were far from one to another for as far as we could see. Occasionally to be greeted by a small hill of sand in the middle of the road was not a surprise. This minimalistic lifestyle is where a tiny civilization exists, I thought to myself. While the older village folks who crossed our path did not bother about us, the eyes of kids playing in the area lit up at the sight of a jeep carrying women who were visibly not locals. The kids would run behind the jeep and wave their hands, shouting “bye-bye”, making me feel as if am the Deepika Padukone of the Desert! 😀

Having interacted with Gemar on a call while planning this detour, I learnt that he was very well spoken. Rest of our conversations were over the email, and oh boy, he was prompt! In my head, I was puzzled at first, trying to put together an image of this man from a village, promising an authentic rural experience, speaks good English and uses tech for communication. Upon our usual chit-chat in his jeep I found out that he is in fact, a university graduate.

HACRA was set up by Gemar promoting a sustainable tourism model that is in interest of the tourist and benefits the community. The locals act as guides for village walks, those who own a camel, contribute by providing a sunset safari experience to the guests. The revenue that is generated is reinvested into village community.

Soon enough we arrived at Gemar’s Dhani to be greeted by his wife adorning a vibrant pink saree with her face half covered in a Ghonghat and all I could see was her appealing smile.

The Dhani (hamlet) is where he hosts visitors in the small yet beautiful cottages, a round thatched hut made with mud, straw and cow dung, locally called Jhumpa.

Our abode had two country made cots with mattresses and blankets, a metal pot for trash, sandstone slabs gutted in the wall and a side table. With no electricity and running water this was sure an adventurous stay that I was eagerly looking forward to.

Gemar showed us around the courtyard and also shared his plans of building more cottages to accommodate the soaring number of curious travelers. We also learnt about the flora and fauna of the area, and how it plays a major role in livelihood of the villagers.

So here we were, on a village excursion with no plans and no itinerary, making ourselves comfortable into the country made cane chairs (locally called Muda), sipping a cup of chai(tea) under the open sky, rejuvenating in the warmth of the soft winter sun, with the wind blowing gently and the leaves rustling as if whispering and inviting us to feel the beautiful nature. The goats and deers strolled around us not bothered, as if, we were folks of their breed.

Although a welcome change from our fast-paced and thinly scheduled city lives, the feeling of not knowing what to do next was unsettling at first. It is not very often that you get an opportunity to sit in a serene environment, without any worry about having to rush somewhere.

With nothing else to do, we chatted at leisure, catching up on life, discussing everything from soups to nuts. This was the first holiday ever, where I was aware of each passing moment, living it with every breath. With this awareness, also came a sense of gratitude, gratitude for all that we have, but in our fast-paced city life, we take for granted, because that is the normal. What is normal to us, is a luxury to many, and this realization was humbling.

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Chilling under the open sky

After our delicious supper carefully cooked by Gemar’s wife, we set out for an hour-long walking expedition. I was heading to one of the most authentic and unforgettable experience for sure. We joined our host for the community walk (a relative of Gemar Singh) on a stroll through the village, learnt more about their way of life, the crops, their season and local farming practices. Words may not do enough justice, so here are some pictures of our experience:

What followed, was a ride on the Ship of the Desert. The Sunset Camel Safari!

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Geared up for the Camel Ride

My camel was a notorious fellow. I clumsily got onto the saddle, chanting “Ram Ram Ram” with the cameleer constantly petting the grumpy beast and Phew… there I was about 10 feet above the ground geared up for the bumpy ride. As the camels leisurely wandered around the pristine landscape, my soul basked in the desolate silence of these winding dunes. With the sapphire blue sky above, the shrubs, goats and antelopes in sight and the breeze brushing my face, it was like I had the world to myself.

Come sunset, I found myself gazing at the lustrous view of a fiery red orb of light slowly sinking beneath the horizon, and the threads of light lingering in the sky, mingling with the rolling clouds. The pure beauty beholded here overwhelmed me. There was a chill in the air now and we made our way back to Gemar’s Dhani.

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Gemar Singh and his beautiful wife

Later that evening, we invited ourselves to help Gemar’s wife in the kitchen and also learn some ways of the Rajasthani Cooking. Our feast, was the local farm produce “Ker Sangri” which was appetizing and flavorsome. Moving out of our dinner hall, we gathered around the campfire to enjoy the winter chill while talking to Gemar and other guests at Hacra, but alas! It started drizzling and instead of lighting the campfire, we had to light the lamp in our jhumpa, and retire for the day.

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Morning Bliss

The Morning Scene was breath-taking with grey fluffy clouds gliding across the pale blue sky. The sun awakened, promptly emerging through the hazy sky signaling the end of rain. The cloudy layer creates a pleasant blanket from the sun. The ground was damp and mossy like, watered by the rain and dew. The fresh air filled my lungs and I felt refreshed and exhilarated as I moved out of the Jhumpa.

Strolling outside, admiring the captivating view of the landscape, I see Gemar approaching our Jhumpa. He invited me to get some lessons from his wife in milking the goat. Excited, i leaped at the chance and headed straight to the hut. At first, his wife demonstrated the procedure and then I followed.

A while later, we were sipping a cup of tea made out of fresh milk with our yummy breakfast of porridge and fruits watching Gemar’s son and other kids play in the courtyard.

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Let’s Play

It was now time to sign-off from the place and proceed for our onward journey to Jaisalmer, with an ambition to return soon.

Beautiful scenes of nature, fresh air, hospitable people, and quiet life is the souvenir I was taking along with me as I bid adieu to this beautiful hamlet.

The Farm at HACRAThe Farm at HACRAWater StorageShepherds still tend SheepsShepherds still tend SheepsAnd CowsA Village HomeA Village HomeThe Chakki (Millet Grinder)The Chulla (Stove for Cooking)Millet(Bajra)Millet storage, made of cow dung & mud. Villagers store to feed animals or for the next yearA Farmer loading MilletKids still play OUTSIDE instead of gluing to smartphones or in front of the TVA Village local and also our guide for the community walkThe friendly localsThe LandscapeAnd the beautiful sunset

Pushkar Day 2 – The Expedition Continues

We plucked up courage to slide out of our beds, and set off at 6.30 am looking for some piping hot chai (tea), before our trek to Savitri Mata temple, and spent the next few minutes, soaking in the soft winter vibe before the sunrise. We walked down a few kilometers, to take the ropeway (cable car) to reach the temple.

View of Savitri Mata Temple from the road

Savitri Mata temple is located on the top of Ratnagiri Hill, behind the Brahma Temple. The temple has 2 idols. One of Savitri Mata and the other of Goddess Saraswati, her daughter (I was told). We offered our prayers at the temple, and spent some time in the vicinity, enjoying the picturesque view of Pushkar. Since the temple is at an elevation of 750 feet, it offers a mesmerizing view of the ancient city, Pushkar lake, and its surrounding villages.

On our way back, we hopped on to a Tuk Tuk for Rs. 40/- to drop us around the Brahma Temple road. We were hungry as a hippo by now, and walked towards the Choti Basti to begin our food indulgence. Spoiled for choice, we eventually settled for a combination of savory and sweet starting with Pizza Pakwan to Curry Pakodi and the Rabdi Malpua. Pushkar is indeed a food connoisseur delight.

The distinguished flavors of Rajasthani cuisine comes from a culture that has churned the best from its neighboring states of Sindh, Gujrat, Haryana and Punjab and so, you may find lots of Rajasthani delicacies influenced by the cuisines of these states.

This day also offered me a glimpse of simpler life, as I spent time getting lost in the alleys and the lanes, admiring the art wall murals, interacting with the locals and discovering the magic of this tranquil town.

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Wandering in the lanes of this city

Walking through these lanes, I landed up in a residential courtyard with several women clad in colorful sarees, celebrating the pre-wedding festivities of an impending wedding. I spent some time chatting up with the ladies, and the groom who had his hands colored with Mehendi(a traditional Indian practice applied in beautiful intricate designs, similar to a temporary tattoo).

Well I also received an invite for an evening function, but I had a lot to cover on my agenda and couldn’t make it there ☹

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It was past noon by now, and most temples in Pushkar are shut between 1.00 pm to 4.00 pm and so, we started our temple hopping tour visiting the Gurudwara Singh Sabha. The magnificent complex of the gurudwara, made up of white marble, had an air of divinity surrounding it. Walking through the gurudwara premises, the calm and serene energy of the place grounded us and made us feel at peace. We paid our homage, received the customary blessings in the form of khara-prasad from a sevadar (voluntary helpers), who also led us to the langar (free kitchen) hall, where we had a humble yet delicious meal, that also doubled up as our lunch for the day.

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The humble langar meal

We spent the next few hours admiring the Rangji temples, adobe of Lord Vishnu. A rather rare appearance, the New Rangji and the Old Rangji temple display a unique confluence of Tamil, Rajput and Mughal style of architecture.

Offering our prayers to the deities, we made our way to visit the Varaha temple, after. This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu’s third incarnation i.e Varaha or boar. It is a very old temple and must have been a big and important temple in ancient age. It seems to have lost its importance and popularity since we were the only folks hanging around in the premises. Since it was a part of my to-do, we went searching for it.

It was time for some quick snack and refreshments before starting for the evening aarti at the Brahma Ghat this day. Aarti around the Pushkar lake takes place at Varaha, Gau and Brahma Ghat (at the Savitri Ghat that is next to the Brahma Ghat).

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Walking down the vivid ghats soaking in the sound of temple bells and hymns alongside the ghats, greeted by Pandas (Priest) clad in dhoti’s and tikka on their forehead, witnessing the aarti, watching the evening filled with the gold of setting sun and the lake looking gorgeous with numerous floating diyas was blissful.

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We proceeded to visit the Brahma Temple from here. The last and the most important of our temple hopping expedition. The temple is built on a high plinth, so we had to climb a flight of marble stairs to enter the temple. This entrance opened into a huge outdoor hall, built up of blue-colored pillars. As we walked through this hall, towards the sanctum, we were in awe of the ancient architecture and the surreal vibe of the place. The sanctum housed the image of four headed Brahma, along with his consort, Gayatri. Although crowded, the temple complex had an aura of peace, as devotees from several parts of the world offered their prayers and basked in the tranquility of the place. We paid obeisance to Lord Brahma and it was time to do our favorite thing, Shopping and make use of our “Art of Haggling”

We shopped for everything we could lay our hands on, from apparels to rose products, leather goods, handicrafts, silver jewelry, shawls and returned to our hotel with a sense of accomplishment.

Our late evening craving for chai after relishing on some yummy Italian food at the hotel’s roof top restaurant led us to a chai wala at the Main Square. To our surprise, the stall was packed with tourist, some holding chai and some holding a chillum. With the beats of loud music from nearby cafes we wondered if we are sitting under an open sky or a disco.

The chai scene brought me back to a brief interaction I had with a guest in our hotel who asked me out for a beer the previous night. That’s when It was revealed to me that it was “Party Time” in Pushkar.

Although the town shuts by 11.00 p.m, as the sun sets, the city transforms into a Party place with numerous tourists flocking to the hostels and cafes that are open until late in the night. Several of these hostels and cafes have live music or karaoke to keep the night alive, along with some lip-smacking food, where people can spend the night smoking and enjoying themselves in the company of fellow trippers.

Well, for us poor souls, it was time to hit the sack and take an early morning ride to Osian with a promise to this magnificent city that we shall return. Very Soon!

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C you Soon

Pushkar Day 1 – Immersing in the Serene Chaos

The City of Pushkar

Famous for its temples and Pushkar Lake, the town surrounded by the Aravali hills is one of the five holy cities mentioned in Hindu scriptures. The town is replete with 52 Ghats surrounding the Pushkar lake and over 400 temples, the most prominent one being the Brahma Temple. Pushkar is also known to come alive during its Annual Camel & Livestock Fair, locally called as Kartik Mela or Pushkar ka Mela. The fair is organized around October or November, depending upon the occasion of Kartik Purnima (Hindu Lunar Month of Kartik or Full Moon Day).

Arriving in Pushkar

A breezy 40-minute auto ride from the Ajmer Dargah to Pushkar cost us Rs. 200/- and here we were stepping into our hotel at around 1.00 pm.

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Inn Seventh Heaven, the property, is an old heritage haveli converted in to a hotel and, this adds the old-world charm to this rather comfortable hotel. The heavy wooden doors opened into a beautiful courtyard with a marble fountain in the center, sprinkled with rose petals. Adding to the charm were the green vines, hanging across the length of the hotel, adorning the walls.

The stairs leading to our room were decorated with marble bowls filled with rose petals at the corners. As we entered our room, we were enchanted with the beautiful décor furnished with Turkish lamps complementing the pristine white walls, a traditional wooden bench at the corner enhanced with colorful cushions, a huge poster style bed and windows capturing the view of the streets and the Gayatri temple. We stayed in this hotel for 2 nights and occupied a different room each night.

I was keen at holding the fort in the central part of Pushkar to have easy, in fact anytime access to the main attractions, temples, markets and the culinary joints. I picked Inn Seventh Heaven for its ideal location and also because of the outstanding reviews the hotel had managed to gather on trip advisor.

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Holding the Fort 😀 (Naahh :p) Ramesh Avar, A local from the Gujar Basti of Ajmer

And begins the Exploration

We dropped our bags off and got dressed for a quick photo shoot of the ambience and ourselves of course and then head out to immerse in the serene chaos of this eclectic town.

As we venture out to explore this heritage city, the feeling of finally making it here filled my heart with joy. Walking around women wearing ghagras (long skirt) and kanchlis (blouse) and men in Dhotis (bottoms), engaged in their daily chores was a refreshing sight indeed.

A few meters from our hotel, a brief halt at Mahalaxmi Kangan Store got me conversing with the store’s owner, Dhruv Narayan Mangadi. Dressed in a shirt and dhoti, he was pleasant and friendly, reflecting the true Rajasthani culture of hospitality. We exchanged dialogues about the ghats (steps surrounding the lake) that host the evening aarti, the best spots to get a panoramic view of the Pushkar lake and also the best retailers in town selling rose products.

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Dhruv – The generous man (in the middle)

For the uninitiated, Pushkar is known for its Roses. Pushkar annually grows more roses than any other part of India, nearly 698 hectares of land is dedicated to Rose Cultivation in the town. These Roses then find their way into temples, dargahs, perfume and oil laboratories, food laboratories etc.

Interacting with locals has been of my interest while travelling. Nothing enables you to literally live the city more knowing the pulse of the people who make it! And maybe that is why someone once said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. It’s best to follow the leads of those who know the ropes.

Walking down the lane, i see a familiar face right across the street.

Me: Hey, are you the You Tube Vlogger, Mr. Ravi Uuumm…

He: Oh yes, Ravi Sharma, pointing his finger to a huge hoarding with his face on it, advertising his You Tube Channel.

Me (muttering to myself): Thank god he din’t take offence in me forgetting his name, LOL!

Me: So glad to bump into you right here, I have been following your You tube channel while planning my itinerary to Pushkar.

He: Pleased to know that. I am also going to do Jodhpur soon.

Me: Ahh nice, I shall continue to follow your channel for more updates on your travels.

He: Do attend the Aarti at Varaha Ghat. I will be there too. Smiles.

Some more chitter – chatter, here and there, we bid Ta-Ta (bye bye) to each other and I proceed to walk further into the market.

It was 4.00 pm by now and we were feeling peckish and wanted to nibble on something along with a cup of piping hot chai (tea). We stopped by at a Laffa & Falafel Outlet, also a part of my bucket list of places to eat in Pushkar. We ordered for Pizza Rolls and Chai and stayed there for a while talking to the folks at the outlet and watching the tourists and locals twinning around.

The spiritual town of Rajasthan hosts thousands of tourists every day. Yeah, nothing different from any other touristy town in India, I know!

However, few know about the presence of Israeli culture in its everyday life. At any given time, you will find around several Israelis in Pushkar, either for the purpose of recreation, or for rejuvenation after their harsh military training. Pushkar even has a Chabad house on the main road (A place of worship/offering prayers for Jews), local shopkeepers (and others too) speak Hebrew and greet people with a “Shallom”, several name plates and commercial posters are mentioned/translated in Hebrew too! Goes without saying, Lebanese cuisine is big in the town, with several outlets dedicated to it.

We continued wandering around, and I found myself scouting for some funky and traditional pieces of jewelry and there I was at this popular jewelry shop, also a part of my bucket list, right at the end of the market, displaying a huge variety of authentic Rajasthani tribal jewelry, new age fusion jewelry, beaded necklaces and gemstones. By the time we finished admiring the array of offerings it was time for the sunset aarti.

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The Main Market

Another specialty of Pushkar is its silver jewelry. Pushkar is home to some of the finest silver jewelry makers in the country, known for their intricate designs, quality and craftsmanship.

Just a little before time, at the Varaha Ghat for the evening aarti, we made our way to take a seat on the steps closer to the lake. The idyllic scene of the lake capturing the molten-gold crown on top of the mountains was spellbinding. As the chants from various temples surrounding the lake filled the atmosphere, it felt as if being transported into another realm of divinity. Our senses further enhanced by the fragrance oozing out of the incense sticks and roses. A surreal experience, to say the least. We participated in the aarti, paid homage to our forefathers and also got to cascade some rose petals distributed by the priest into the lake.

The priest who led the evening aarti at Varaha Ghat was none other than Ravi Sharma ji, also the priest of the temple located at the Varaha Ghat. Multiple facets of one man. A priest aka Vlogger. Interesting, isn’t it?

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Ravi Sharmaji

We spent the rest of our leisure evening walking through the narrow lanes of the main market packed with several cafes serving Indian, Chinese, Continental, Lebanese on their menu, the shops selling everything from traditional Rajasthani outfits to bohemian clothing, handicrafts, leather goods, rose products, home décor and more. Adding to this already overwhelming experience were the music shops playing traditional bhajans to the fusions like the “Jai Jai Shiv Shambho” that had us grooving. The vibrancy of this beautiful town of Rajasthan comes alive as you walk across the lanes at dusk strolling through illuminated outlets in this lake city.

We closed our day with a lip smacking traditional Indian meal at a local Paratha (bread) joint and got back to our hotel to spend some time chatting on the swinging benches, whilst experiencing the relaxing vibes of the property.

Ajmer Dargah – A Fortuitous Visit

Stepping out of the Jaipur airport, under the soft winter sun, was a surreal feeling. I was now embarking on the holiday that I had been planning for weeks. From the airport, we (my friend Sakina and I) took a cab to Ajmer Sharif Dargah (Also known as Dargah Sharif). Although it was not a part of my plan, but as the saying goes, ‘what is meant to be, always finds a way’. Maybe, this was my calling. There are so many people, with sufficient resources and time, who wish to visit the Dargah but are unable to do so for one reason or the other. However, in my first attempt to visit the shrine, I had the good fortune to make it there.

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The Main Sanctum

Dargah Sharif is the shrine of a Sufi Saint, Moinuddin Chishti. It consists of several white marble buildings, two courtyards, a massive gate and the Akbari Mosque, which contains the tomb of the saint.

Our cab driver dropped us at a spot that was about a kilometers walk through the market to the Nizam gate, the first gate of the Dargah, other two being the Shah Jahan Gate and the Buland Darwaza.

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Nizam Gate, the first gate to enter the Dargah

The walk through the market was quite overwhelming for us. It’s one of the most vibrant and lively markets of Ajmer. The entire route houses many hotels and lodges, several shops selling clothing such as bandhini sarees and suits, Jaipuri mojaris, incense sticks, crockery, chaddar (blanket) and flowers for the Dargah. As we walked further, we realized that this place is actually a foodie’s paradise. Right from succulent kebabs to lip smacking biryanis; from yummy curries to jalebis and kachoris; the assortment of food available on the streets is easily any food lover’s delight. Add to it, the rich aroma of these delicacies being cooked engulfing the air. Bliss.

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Market around the Dargah

Just before we entered the Dargah premises, I first enquired about lockers to keep my backpack. The attendant there was helpful and informed that it would cost Rs. 20/- to keep the backpack in locker for 24 hours. While the tariff to rent the locker was pretty affordable, the route to the locker wasn’t that smooth.

The locker room was in the basement of the premises and the stairs leading to the cloak room were creepy, to say the least. Since I had little choice or say in this matter, we went ahead, locked our bags, took the bill and proceeded to the Dargah.

Ajmer Sharif is one of the Dargahs where women are granted access in the inner sanctum.All men and women are required to cover their heads and wear full sleeves clothing while visiting the Dargah. Dargah Sharif being a place of religious significance, no footwear are allowed inside.

We removed our shoes, kept them in the shoe rack and proceeded to the Dargah. Dargah premises has a lot of Khadims (helpers) who voluntarily act as your guide and take you around. The area between Nizam gate and Buland Darwaza is home to several shops that sell offerings for the Dargah, local handicrafts, ittars (perfumes) etc. The Khadim took us to one of the shops to buy offerings for the Dargah. I purchased flowers, and my friend bought a Chaddar along with flowers. These offerings came with a few incense sticks and mannat dhaga (a sacred thread that can be tied inside the Dargah premises to make a wish).

After buying the offerings, we, along with the Khadim, entered the Dargah through Buland Darwaza. On either side of the Darwaza there were Degis (Iron cauldron), one big and one small, where pilgrims donate dry fruits, rice, butter, sugar etc., which is then cooked together and distributed as blessings.

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Badi Degi

As we proceeded towards the main sanctum, we also witnessed a group of musicians reciting Qawallis. Qawalli is a form of inspirational Sufi Islamic devotional messages delivered to an assembly of devotees.

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Qawallas reciting the Sufi devotional messages

With each step closer to the shrine, the already existing scent of roses and sandalwood was getting stronger. The tomb is daily covered with sandalwood paste and locally manufactured perfume called ittar.

Inside the sanctum, the Khadim placed the Chaddar (Blanket) on our heads and made a few prayers before offering the Chaddar on the tomb. My friend and I then went near the tomb and offered our reverence by bowing our head on the tomb.

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Jannati Darwaza

According to the legends, when you visit the Dargah with a desire to manifest a specific wish, you tie the mannat dhaga at the Jannati Darwaza inside the Dargah, and then go to untie it when the wish is fulfilled. Since we din’t have any specific wishes, the Khadim tied the mannat dhaga, that we got along with the flowers, on our wrists.

As we came out of the Dargah, we spotted a tiny stall on the right of the Nizam gate, frying pakodas which looked delicious, so we hopped to the stall to grab a plate a pakodas with piping hot tea! After satisfying our taste buds, we walked across the market to negotiate a deal with the rickshaw drivers, to take us on our onward journey to Pushkar.

My Two Cents:

If possible, leave your bags in the hotel as leaving them with the shopkeepers from where you purchase the offerings is not a very safe option, and the route to the Cloak room may not be as per your likings.

Since Pushkar is just a few kilometers from Ajmer, there are several vendors near the Dargah market, that offer return trips for as affordable as Rs. 300 /-.

Rajasthan – A Quirky Jaunt

A Culture enthusiast, I had been wanting to experience the vibrancy, tranquility, and serenity of Pushkar & Jaisalmer for almost three years now. One reason or other always kept this desire of mine a step away from materializing, until one fine evening of October 2018, when I noticed Spicejet’s advertisement billboard, announcing direct Mumbai – Jaisalmer flights. In that instant, I knew that I had to do this. Soon.

In addition to being a culture enthusiast, I am a foodie and a shopaholic too! An explorer at heart, I have always loved the idea of assimilating in local culture of the places I visit and experience the locales as one among them. So in an endeavor to get a hang of what lies ahead, there I was – speaking to people who have visited Pushkar & Jaisalmer, reading literature, reviews, travel experiences etc. about these fascinating places- and by the end of it all, my research equipped me with enough information to plan the trip itinerary.

It was a week long trip to Pushkar, HACRA (Osian), Jaisalmer and the holy city of Ajmer!

Yes, Ajmer and HACRA (Osian) were never a part of the original plan, but as they say, “what is meant to be, always finds a way”. Maybe, this was my calling to visit the ‘Ajmer Dargah’ and experiencing the wilderness of Osian. More on that later.

So the plan was to do a Mumbai – Pushkar (via Jaipur) – Jaisalmer – Mumbai trip, without really pondering much over the 500 kilometer distance between Pushkar and Jaisalmer, that I was to cover by road! The thrill of visiting these two places overrode the thoughts of any possible minor discomforts.

Jaisalmer has a name for the Golden Fort and the Desert Safaris. While reading up and enquiring online about the options to have the most authentic experiences that capture the essence of Rajasthan, someone recommended using services from HACRA, an organization that specializes in providing authentic desert and other experiences in the Osian region of Rajasthan. As I read more about HACRA, I was more and more intrigued by its unique offerings, and eventually I decided to cut down on one day of Pushkar, to spend a day in Osian, staying in a hut called “Jhumpa”, with no electricity or running water connection, living an authentic village life. This experience also came with a village desert safari.

So I squeezed Osian in my trip, and then planned to proceed to Jaisalmer, to explore the various facets of the Golden City and another Desert Adventure 😁.Jaisalmer has two dunes for Desert Safari – Sam dunes and Khuri dunes. While Sam dunes is extremely popular, it is also very crowded. So I decided that I would head to Khuri dunes for my Desert/Camel Safari. Besides the Desert Safari, I was looking forward to experiencing both sides of Jaisalmer, as I had planned to stay both – Inside the Fort, and Outside.

I was to fly on December 08, but the travel bunny in me had started counting days, 10 days in advance. Yes, I was that excited!!! 😀 In the wee hours of December 08, when most people were in deep slumber, I was glowing with excitement. For this was the day I had been waiting for, since weeks now.

Why i Love to Travel

It’s taken me a while to realize how much I love to travel. For several years, while I hustled relentlessly to make a mark for myself, unconsciously I did miss out on taking some time off, doing things that would fill my heart with joy, eyes with glee and soul with happiness.

I didn’t really understand the importance of holidays, the leaves I can avail and then make the most of it to travel, to gain more exposure, to make new friends, to explore different cultures, different countries, cities and towns.

When I did, I haven’t stopped. I make sure to travel every year, preferably to a new destination I haven’t explored before and that, trust me, makes me very happy.

Once a Year, Go Someplace you’ve never been before — Dalai Lama

I guess, finally I am able to put down my thoughts on why I love to travel.

I think there isn’t anything like travelling. Exploring new places or even returning to your favorite place. Travel gives you the opportunity to meet new people, explore new places and eat good food too 😊. It gives you a new perspective towards life, all of which you have been missing out on being so wrapped up in your daily routines of working, eating, sleeping. Travel gets you out of your comfort zone and makes you more willing to push your boundaries. It’s easy to maintain your status quo at home but not at a new place among new people, you know.

Away from home, one learns to enjoy change and transition more than you used to. You realize you are stronger than you thought. You learn to appreciate the little things. You learn to be just more “Aware” and finally you understand what “home” actually is and what it means.

To conclude, travelling is good for a person of any age. You must travel to create new memories, to gain more knowledge, to meet new people and most importantly to form a better understanding of yourself and your beliefs and be able to live life to the fullest.

So people, do travel and eat yummy food I say 😊