The mid-day sun in July is hot and harsh as is the landscape around. I am somewhere in the Thar Desert — about 30-40 km west of Jaisalmer city — and the ground is hard, dry, and stony in most parts with some sandy patches. It is the end of summer in this region and I scan the skies for signs of monsoon clouds, but there are none to be seen.
All around me are limestone and sandstone ridges with the meanders of rivers and streams that once flowed here cutting through the rock layers. In the distance, cenotaphs and memorial stones to the dead can be seen. The occasional pops of green from the desert flora provides visual relief (and shade !) in the otherwise arid and barren landscape (see photograph below).
Millions of years in this one frame !
It is a sight that leaves me awestruck for this one frame encapsulates millions of years of history of the region — natural as well as human. A history that is as rich as it is varied and one that has changed and evolved through space and time.
For example, the Jaisalmer region wasn’t always arid like it is today. In fact, there was a time when it was hot, humid and wet. There was no Thar desert; instead, this was the site of a luxuriant forest of towering trees about 180 million years ago or during the Jurassic Period, when Jaisalmer region was speck in the super-continent known as Pangea.
To say I was surprised when I received the invite from Suryagarh to visit them in July 2016 is an understatement. The reason? I had already visited them in 2013 as part of a group of bloggers and was puzzled as to why I was being invited again. My first reaction was that the invite had been sent to me by mistake, and I re-read the mail just to confirm!
The invite brought back memories of a visit of many firsts for me. Suryagarh was my first invite as a travel blogger; it was also my first stay at a luxury hotel — a memorable, if somewhat overwhelming, stay. Like many firsts, the Suryagarh experience also set a benchmark for many things — the attention to detail, the hospitality, the warmth, the music, the celebration of all things local, and the food.
Curiosity soon replaced the surprise over the invite. A curiosity about whether Suryagarh had changed in the three years since I’d been there or if it was still the same. Added to this curiosity was the tempting itinerary sent with the mail that included a visit to the temples of Kiradu near Barmer, about 160 km away. This ‘deadly’ combination of curiosity and temptation was enough to make me accept the very gracious invite.
And on the 20th of July, after a flight from Mumbai to Jodhpur and a road journey from there to Jaisalmer, I reached Suryagarh where familiar faces and a traditional welcome by the Manganiyar singers and dancers awaited me. The chandan ka tikka and the fresh, chilled watermelon juice followed. The Suryagarh experience began. Again.🙂
Nothing seems to have changed, I thought to myself happily. I was both right and wrong about this as I was to find out during the course of my stay at Suryagarh.
I had very unusual local travelling companions during my visit to Landour and Mussoorie earlier this year in June — the mist or rather the clouds that accompanied me wherever I went. They were a constant companion from the time I arrived in the area till I left.
Sometimes the clouds would be wispy and scraggly; but mostly they were the kind that covered everything, obscured visibility and lent an air of mystery to everything and everyone it enveloped. It was magical to see the clouds descend and disperse and descend and disperse… Most of the time they were the perfect companion for leisurely walks and strolls; at other times, a spoil sport of sorts like on my first day there which was all about exploring Mussoorie.
I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with Rokeby Manor in Landour.
It was about 7.00 in the morning and I had just arrived at Rokeby after an overnight journey from New Delhi to Dehradun and a lovely drive from there. Since I was early and the hotel was fully occupied, the room meant for me was not ready. I was, therefore, offered the use of another room till my ‘real’ room was ready.
I agreed and once the registration formalities were completed was led up a flight of wooden stairs and shown to Room 11 — a cosy little room, with a single bed, a tiny writing desk, windows with a view of the valley, and a bathroom that was probably as big as the room itself. One look around the room and I knew that I wouldn’t be shifting to another room. I was in love with Rokeby Manor.🙂
My Room – Room No. 11 at Rokeby Manor
Later on in the day, the hotel did try to persuade me to shift to a better, more comfortable room, but I declined for Room 11 was just perfect for me to read, write, look out of that window with a view, dream, and generally relax. Room 11 wasn’t also the only reason I liked Rokeby — its history, heritage, decor and the people who manage it contributed just as much to make my stay a memorable one.🙂 Continue reading →
Here I was on a short holiday at Landour and a few hours after arriving there, was stuck in a traffic jam. I thought I had left traffic jams and noisy cities behind me in Mumbai, but the honking, the slamming of car doors and the fact that my vehicle hadn’t moved an inch in the last 15 minutes brought a sense of déjà vu.
My car driver had switched off the engine and gone off to investigate what was holding the traffic up. It had started raining by then and after waiting impatiently for some ‘progress’, gave up and started looking around. School had just got over and the narrow road was filled with school children returning home and were having to do it by squeezing between the vehicles stuck in the traffic jam to find a ‘route’ to get through.
Then I turned left and looked out of my car window into this.
The morning of June 26th dawned grey and bleak and wet in Mumbai. It was a Monday and normally, I would have had a touch of Monday morning blues. But on that day I woke up feeling very happy and I bounded out of bed for I would soon be on a flight heading out of Mumbai for a short holiday in the hills. It was a break that I was looking forward to after weeks of chasing deadlines and more deadlines at work.
The countdown to this holiday in the hills had begun in early May when I accepted an invitation from Rokeby Manor at Landour in Uttarakhand to stay with them and explore the area. I had the travel details all planned out — fly to New Delhi from Mumbai, take the overnight Nanda Devi Express from New Delhi to Dehradun, and then make the short road trip to Landour from there. On my return journey, I would spend a couple of days with my friends in Dehradun, before taking the Shatabdi to New Delhi and then a flight to Mumbai.
Yes, I had it all planned out. I applied for leave from work, booked the necessary air and rail tickets, and informed Rokeby Manor of my itinerary so that they could make the necessary arrangements of picking me up and dropping me to Dehradun. All I had to do now was to wait (rather impatiently like a kid) for the holiday to begin.
And the holiday began with the cab ride to the airport. It normally takes an hour and a half to the airport from my residence, but being particular about arriving early, I left home a full three hours before the check in counter closed at 12.15 pm for the flight at 1.00 pm. I didn’t know when I set out that morning that Murphy’s Law was at work for me, in the sense that “everything that can possibly go wrong, will go wrong”.