Winter of 1992

In my previous post on the “Summer of 1992“, I shared with you one of the reasons why that year was so important for me. I continue with another post on the same theme, but set in the winter of 1992. Once again, this involves travel for the purpose of study as part requirement of the Master’s programme in Geology I was pursuing at that time.


“Right. Everyone take off every single piece of metal on your body and keep it in your bags. No belts, earrings, chains, rings, loose change, metal rimmed spectacles, etc. You cannot carry any metal inside as it is dangerous. Also, no lighters or matchsticks or any combustible substance.”

I listened to these instructions carefully and started taking off the metal items on my body. My classmates did the same.

“Once you’re done, please keep your bags in this corner of the room. Don’t worry about its safety for the room will be locked and a security guard will be stationed outside.”

It took us a while to remove all metal and combustible items items from our person and pockets, put them in our backpacks, and then stow them in the corner indicated. Finally, we were done.

“Everyone done? Good. Come and collect these hard hats and headlamps from me. I’ll show you how to wear them.”

All of us lined up to collect out ‘gear’ and get ‘kitted’ out with a growing sense of excitement and wide grins on our faces.

“All set, everyone? Good. Follow me.”

And we followed him as led us down a flight of stairs going into the earth. Deep into the earth.

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Summer of 1992

1992 was a very important year for me. A turning point, you could say. I can’t pinpoint to a particular moment or event for there were many that made the year so memorable. But two of them were really special and, interestingly (or maybe not !) both involved travel. It was not the kind of travel I do today; rather, it was travel for the purpose of study as part requirement of the Master’s programme in Geology I was pursuing at that time.

In May 1992, I arrived in Bhuj (in Kachchh district region of Gujarat) with AK, a classmate, to undertake a 15-day field trip for our Master’s dissertation in Geology. Though both of us were based in Bhuj, we had separate sites of field work (about 15 km away) and our field work was individual. We had a common faculty guide, who was to join us in Bhuj after about 10 days. This would have given us time to finish the bulk of our field work and present our preliminary findings to him.

I was quite excited as this was to be my first solo field trip — in the previous field trips I had been part of a larger group of classmates. Having a geological hammer, compass, and topographical map all to myself made me feel quite important. Not to mention grown-up and empowered as well ! :P

Bhuj, Smainarayan Talav, Mandvi Road, Geology field work, Summer of 1992, Sudha Ganapathi

First day of field work in May 1992. Just look at how delighted I am !

The first day of field work was exhilarating and as perfect as a young geologist like me could hope for — excellent rock exposures, variety in rock structures and textures, fossils, some intriguing geological puzzles… It was also very distracting, but I soon settled down and within the next day or two established a field work routine.

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The stepwell at Lohargal

One place that everyone I spoke to in Shekhawati said I must visit was Lohargal. And all gave different reasons for visiting it.

It is our hill station, said one. You get the best pickles in the world there, said another. It is a holy place and a dip in the tank will remove your sins, said the third person. There is an ancient sun temple there, said the fourth. The mention of the sun temple got me intrigued. Then another person said, “There’s a stepwell at Lohargal. If you’re interested in history, you must go there.” The stepwell was the clincher to visit Lohargal.

That’s how on my return journey to Jaipur from Nawalgarh, at the end of my Shekhawati trip, I took a detour to visit the stepwell at Lohargal. It was an hour’s drive from Nawalgarh through steady rain, narrow roads skirting the Aravali ranges, and some beautiful scenery.

When we arrived at the stepwell, which is on the road, the rain had lessened to a light drizzle.

Lohagal stepwell, Chetan Das ki Bawri, Travel, Rajasthan, Shekhawati

The stepwell. At the far end is the well and the well shaft and beyond that are the Aravali mountains

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Messages on the wall: The graffiti of Nawalgarh

When I arrived in Nawalgarh, the first work of ‘art’ I noticed was not its famed frescoes or even its grand havelis — it was a piece of graffiti.

I was looking out of the window of the car I was travelling in, hoping to catch a glimpse of a fresco, when the car suddenly braked to let a cow pass. That’s when I saw the graffiti — a yellow rectangular patch with blue lettering on a cracked and patched surface. It was the contrast of the freshness of the graffiti against a dull and old surface that attracted me and I took a picture of it for that reason. The words (for those who can’t read the Devanagari script or understand Hindi) can be roughly translated to:

Even if it means losing your life, don’t give in to anything improper or immoral.

Graffiti, Nawalgarh, New Art, Morals, Gayatri Shaktipeeth

As the car moved ahead, I dismissed the graffiti as a one-off and resumed my search for the frescoes. Little did I know at that time that along with the frescoes and the havelis, I would be seeing other graffiti all over Nawalgarh.

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The painter of murals

Every traveller has a story or two or maybe more about chance happenings that led to something more, something interesting. This is one such story. :)


I had just finished my tour of the Dr. Ramnath A. Podar Haveli Museum at Nawalgarh and had walked out of the main door. Unlike other havelis, the entrance to the Podar Haveli Museum is not level with the road and is situated about 15-20 feet above ground. From where I stood, I had the advantage of height and could look around and into the compounds of neighbouring havelis.

One such pastel-coloured haveli caught my attention. Located opposite the Podar Haveli Museum, its architecture exhibited colonial influences. It also had a large painting on one of its walls which, from where I stood, looked pretty interesting. But the high walls, closed gate and the freshly painted look of the haveli indicated that it was perhaps inhabited. I decided to check with the Museum staff if they knew anything about that haveli and if it would be possible for me to visit it.

Podar Haveli, Private House, Nawalgarh, Painter of Murals, SwarnkarTurned out that the Museum staff knew quite a bit. The haveli was the private residence of the Podars, the very family that owned the Museum. This was where the family members and their friends stayed whenever they visited Nawalgarh. Currently, the haveli was undergoing repairs and renovation and was, therefore, unoccupied. And yes, I could go and see the haveli if I wished to.

Of course I wished to ! I didn’t need any further encouragement and off I went. :)

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The Shekhawati trip planner

In case it wasn’t apparent in the last few posts, I had a blast conceptualising and writing the series on “The Painted Towns of Shekhawati“. The series is done for now (at least till I visit Shekhawati again in the future). I do have a couple of more posts on Shekhawati to be written, but those can wait. For now, at least. :)

The response to the series has been surprisingly good. I expected interest, yes, considering that this series is quite detailed, but not so much as generally people are not that interested in art. In fact, one of my friends had asked on seeing my initial photos, “Didn’t you get tired of seeing the painted havelis all the time?” No, I didn’t get tired of them; if anything, I wanted to see more of them.

And that’s what the response on the blog and shares across social media also seemed to indicate. In fact, for the first time since I started blogging, I have received so many emails and messages asking for details with regard to my trip plan, where I stayed, the itinerary, how I travelled, was it safe, etc., that it has been gratifying.

Slowly, very slowly, the idea of writing a trip planner as a blog post grew. But it was easier thought than actually written ! I struggled to put a draft together under the conventional heads of where I stayed, how I travelled, what I did, etc. One read later, the draft was trashed. It was that bad. That’s when I considered writing the Shekhawati trip planner in a Q&A format — a trip planner based on the questions I got asked in the mails and messages and my answers to them. Club Mahindra, Nawalgarh, Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Fresco, Art Gallery, Painting, Heritage, Travel, Rajasthan, trip PlannerThe more I thought about the Q&A format, the more I liked it. It took a while to get written though, and after some tweaking and editing, presenting and sharing my very first trip planner.

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