SK’s Travelogue: Wg Cdr SK Singh (Retd)

Wg Cdr SK Singh has sent a nostalgic account of his recent sojourn to Jodhpur which will strike a chord with most of us.

‘The last few times that I had gone to Jodhpur , I had driven down on the motor bike , the new Honda “Twister”. It is OK as a city bike , for driving through the chaotic lanes of Udaipur , but a highway bike it is not. For one, the stance is not conducive to squatting for long. Half an hour and you are ready to throw In  the towel. If you have eight hours to go it’s  an ordeal. The pleasure of the wind on your face and the thrill of tearing down  winding roads fast begins to lose its charm and one longs for a comfortable bed. One also needs to get to the destination before dark and along with it the worry of having to find a suitable place for the night. No mean task taking into account the fact that one is on a budget.

Gone are the days when for a hundred rupees one could find a neat and clean room with an attached bathroom. Today for the very basic and barest of rooms one has to fork out at least 700 t0 800 and that too with a lot of running around in a new town. Admittedly one can get a bed in a dormitory type of room for about 250, but then at the end of the day you end up spending several thousands in getting rid of the bugs that you pick up there. Then the food. Eating at the cheapest of joints one ends up shelling out a small fortune and then spend the rest of the vacation  trying to figure out where you picked up the “loosies”. After having gone through these “killers of Joy” for the umpteenth time, I decided to take the car.

Knocking off the backseat and putting in a couple of mattresses, quilts and  blankets took care of the ‘Hotel’ problem. A stove ,Kerosene, pots and pans, and a mini kitchen stocked with rice, lentils, bread n butter, spices ,cooking oil etc took care of the “restaurant’ bit. As for the “loo” bit. That’s never a problem in India. A bottle of mineral water and the entire blessed country is one big loo. Take your choice of a good healthy bush and you are made. So having equipped my self for these contingencies I set course in the car. Of course by doing so, I lost out on the byroads of Rajasthan which can provide you with some really  stunning country side, but then one can’t have every thing.

Now that I had my own hotel with me I was no longer pressed for time and the need to sneak out of the house at 5 in the morning was done away with . But to beat the traffic I did decide to compromise and so set out a bit earlier than I would have liked to. With the sun just about rising, I was out of the city and comfortably settled on the spanking new highway on the way to Jodhpur. The highway was practically deserted and with a kisser of a road I was doing 100 without  a hitch till I hit the turnoff off for Jodhpur, a single lane state highway, which wasn’t too bad either.

The traffic from Jodhpur hadn’t picked up, so I could relax and look at the scenery in a comparatively free frame of mind cruising at a comfortable forty. At such times I do miss company, to be able to share the nice things even in silence, or even just to talk to. Somehow being alone, leaves a feeling of the whole outing being incomplete. Had the kids not had to go to school I would have loved to have had them with me. This is something I had promised myself during adversity. But as bad luck would have it, the kids did not have school because of some stupid holidays declared by the state govt. Had I known this, I could have brought Nanu along with me. How can a government be  so  dis-interested in the future of our children?  Just because it was cold they closed down the schools for a week!

Admittedly it was cold. When I reached a place called Tirpal, one of the higher portions on the drive. I found that the ground was covered with ice. This is the first time that I have seen ice in this part of the  country. The grass and low lying bushes were covered with a thin layer of fine crystals of ice. I didn’t feel the cold in the car but when I stopped to see the ice, the cold hit me with a pleasant bite and the cleanness of the air reminded me very much of a morning in Switzerland. A thermos of steaming hot coffee or hot chocolate would have been nice. Instead I settled for a cup of tea in a local tea stand which stank of goats milk  mixed with that of camel’s milk, which at the best of time also stinks like hell. But cold is cold. I could have made my self a cup of tea but the idea of pulling out the stove and the entire paraphernalia from the car put me off. This is where having a Jeeves to do all the dirty work would have been a definite help. Ahh yes if only my “ Thoots” had been there. As they say, my cup of joy would have been complete.

By eleven I had reached the highest point of the climb and was ready for the descent down to the Jain temples at Ranakpur. Even though I have done this trip over a hundred times I still enjoyed the drive through the forest and the sharp bends in the road, stopping now and then to let the forested hills seep in. Two hours later I was out of the hills and on to the plains and the bad roads that came with it. Looking at the scenery became secondary and watching for potholes and crazy drivers trying to play ‘chicken’ took most of the charm out of driving. In spite of that, I took several breaks to admire the flat lands and the sudden outcrops of rocks which have never failed to make an impact on me. This is what I have tried to capture in my paintings but never really succeeded. May be one day I will strike pay dirt. And get some of it in my paintings.

An hour away from Jodhpur, I suddenly decided to head for Bhadrajun, which is a good hundred kms form Jodhpur. This was the Thikana of my friend Gopal Singh Rathore who was the Raja Sahib of Bhadrajun. He had died a fortnight earlier so I thought it would be in order to go and pay my condolences. On the spur of the moment I turned off the main road and with the sun setting I took a side road heading for Bhadrajun. The road turned into a dirt track and after a while vanished into  nothingness. A few villagers confirmed that though there was no road to talk about as such, a few more kilometers of potholes and ditches would bring me on to the main road that would take me there. Throwing caution to the winds I took them at their word and pressed on hemmed in by thick bushes.

After two hours of crawling through ditches I did mange to hit a decent single tracked road which I was told would finally take me to Bhadrajun. It was close to nine at night and the place was still a good few hours away  – if the road held on. So ignoring my urge to take on the unknown I decided to bed down for the night at the first opportunity, which came in the guise of a small village at a crossroads heading out into vague places strung out in the desert ahead. Settling down involved just hopping over the seats in the front of my now spanking new bedroom. Parking the car in front of a shop that had downed shutters I decided to call it a day. All that was needed were a few drinks , a decent meal and I was all set. A bottle of rum provided the first and two fried eggs and a few slices of bread provided by Baba in the morning took care of the latter. Propped up against the pillows with a quilt covering my cold feet, I was ready for the night. Happy as a pig in chit.

Looking out of the window all I could see were the lights of one or two of the shops in the process of winding up for the night and the highway stretching out into the darkness. A wave of peacefulness engulfed me and for the first time in seven years I felt at peace with myself and the world. This was me. This is what I waned in life. Me, my car, and the pleasant thought of the unknown ahead and the silent desert. And with that I shut down for the night . Waking up only once some time near midnight to step out into the biting cold and then back into the warm cocoon of my bedroom.

Well before the crack of dawn the Great Bear showed that dawn was not far away and that I had to decide what to do next. The sober thought of work with the lawyer paid put to my desire to head out into the unknown. Bhadrajun could wait, not the lawyer. So before the traffic picked up, I headed out into the darkness for Jodhpur. Two hours of driving against the glare of oncoming trucks I found my self at the outskirts of Jodhpur and a posse of policemen who waved me over for a check. After prodding and wondering what I was up to and what all that household stuff was doing in my car, I was allowed to proceed but with a lot of muttering amongst themselves.

That was my entry into Jodhpur. Not a very good start. As it would turn out to be later.

With that I will sign off for now and continue with my story in the days to come.

Till then,regards……..’

SK

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