The Great Indian Thar desert is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes you can imagine. The breathtakingly beautiful sand dunes of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan have always left me in awe.
I have longed to visit them, but owing to tight work schedules have not been able to set on a voyage to discover this side of our Incredible India. Do you know that Jaisalmer's forts are built from these very golden sands of the Thar Desert?
Thus, I have always longed to pen an adventure set amid these Sand Dunes which instigate a sense of loneliness at first sight, but have so many stories buried under.
So, when my god-brother Chetan Sahni gave me the opportunity to pen his journey, I lapped up the opportunity like a yummy dessert being served at this desert!
Well, I had to lap it up for you as well...yes YOU, had to lap it up to poke you to plan a holiday this winter amid this enchanting beauty-of-the-barren. Yes, October to early February is the perfect time to enjoy here.
Sam or as the locals refers to them as SAM SAND DUNES are in fact 45 km away from the Jaisalmer City Centre. But thanks to the joint efforts of the BSF and the Rajasthan govt, you can reach here in just 30 minutes by road or an hour atop a camel safari.
Chetan, his friend Jitendra and few others started early evening so reached here at a point when the local camps as well as resorts' lights were twinkling like stars in the barren desert. Aren't you getting the "Taare Zameen Par" feeling (Translation: Stars on Land)?!
Chetan suggests the best place to stay here are the local camps which charge INR 1000 or 60 Dollars onwards per night. He says go for the camp set up by the locals rather than tour-operators since they serve you authentic Rajasthani food as well as entertain you at night with the folklore.
An elated Chetan elaborates, "What more does one need?! If you have to experience real India, stay with its real people. Shut the comforts of the resorts and spend a night here.
It is an out of the world experience. You get to the our diverse culture very closely; you get to interact with our own people living in such harsh weather, fighting all odds; and above all you get motivation in life from such citizens of our country who forgetting their own fight-for-livelihood, welcome us with open arms."
Chetan is known to make friends at the drop of the hat. And now I know why and how. He picks up threads of life and knits them right from the root! No wonder, he has so many stories to share. Like that of the Camel Safari man who picks up water for his camel from about 50 miles everyday.
Like the story of a woman who sells 'sangri' to the tent-wale cooks for tourists. Sangri is a vegetable that grows in the arid regions but to water the plant she has to go hunting for it some 60 miles away from her small field.
Like the story of a tent-owner's son who goes to study at Jaisalmer, some 50 km away hitch-hiking or taking help from the BSF or for that matter even walking half the way, to save some hard earned money...but to ensure that he doesn't miss classes.
"Many such inspiring stories are hidden in this sand. All we need to do it connect with out own countrymen and then further try to connect them to people who can provide them a better way of living in these harsh conditions," says a very positive Chetan Sahni who has worked some 10 years in news media and has always thrived to bring about some positive change around him.
Photographs of sturdy men with fancy moustaches, village women with colourful ghoonghats and ornaments transported me to a world far away from my own urban clutter. Chetan had to shake me a couple of times, to literally drag me out of my wonderland of imagination--the one you see in films? Exactly, the same! I was lost there imagining myself having a holiday here! At times we laughed aloud at my antics.
Another mesmerising place to visit near Sam Sand Dunes is the Khuri village and the adjacent sand dunes with the same name. If you fancy spending a night under the stars lighting up a pollution-free, clear-dark-sky and that too while lying at a warm rug on a mattress laid out on the cold sand, then Khuri is the place for you.
Chetan informs, "Jaisalmer's sands particularly sparkle during the first week of February, when the Desert Festival organised by the State Tourism Corporation showcases the best of local traditions and culture. Sam Sand Dunes brighten up with this annual festival...another extension of the molten-gold hues of Jaisalmer."
History and Geology inform us that the THAR was once a waterway. With time, man grew kind towards its desires and cruel towards the environment....and thus this vast desert was formed with all the water receding to the Arabian Sea. And Chetan is quite disappointed about something very alarming, which is now harming this desert!
He informs that due to motor-ride or jeep-safari the Sam Sand Dunes are shrinking in height. The environment is getting polluted by the fumes of petrol and diesel as well. "The amazing Sam Sand Dunes are fast losing their charm and height. I could spot broken beer bottles, empty mineral water bottles, plastic wrappers and all sorts of environmental hazards. This is our country. Our prime minister is urging towards a SWATCHH BHARAT, pay heed to him at-least? Leave your footprints as a tourist and not as a terrorist to the lovely environs. Media must take this negative story up as well, after all it a matter of our country's pride," urges an extremely-worried Chetan who is also a cleanliness activist in New Delhi, besides being employed in allied media.
I agree with him. I bid him adieu, with fond memories, some deep thoughts and a whole lot of souvenirs that Chetan had brought back for me, to motivate me to embark on my own voyage.
I will reach Jaisalmer from New Delhi by air. Yes you heard it right, after 16 years Jaisalmer has been directly connected via flights. You can even catch a direct train or an AC-bus via Jaipur. What-more?! Women travellers get a 30% discount on fare!
So what are you waiting for? Just pack your bags. And once you reach Jaisalmer City Centre, there are many modes of transport from camel ride to private cabs to reach the Sand Dunes.
I bid adieu now and till we meet next, stay tuned to The India.
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Copyright: Mahima Sharma, Columnist, The India
Author is former News Editor with CNN-News18 & ANI (a collaboration with Reuters)