Thursday, 31 January 2013

Jaipur Has Something for Everyone!

Jaipur is prominently placed on India’s tourism map and is a popular stop for both domestic and international tourists. After all Jaipur Tourism has much to offer, monuments on a grand scale, food that is particular to the region and shopping that entices even the non-shoppers.

Among the monuments my personal favorites are Amber Fort and Nahargarh Fort. I find Amber delightful for its variety; it has features for protection against war as well as elaborate gardens and glass palaces. I adore Nahargarh for its view of the city. If you ever go to Nahargarh get out of the fort and follow the signs towards a canteen and see the sun set over the panorama of the city. There are other many beautiful monuments like Jaigarh Fort, Jal Mahal, Hawa Mahal, City Palace and many other places. I just picked up two of my favorites. Both Jal Mahal and Hawa Mahal are also a photographer’s delight.

Inside Hawa Mahal

Navigating in and around Jaipur city is easy as most of the cell phones nowadays have maps and finding out a decent Jaipur map should not be a problem. There are online map options as well. Better still when in India ask around and people will tell you the way. However, commonsense is to be used when interacting with strangers.

The typical Rajasthani food you could find at Jaipur is Daal Bati Churma and it has to be tried once at least. You could also try Kadhi, papad ki saabzi or baajre ki roti when in Rajasthan.

The Rajasthani colors are really bright. I am not a big fan of bright colors but somehow in Rajasthan they do not look loud. There is something about the landscape that makes the colors blend rather than stand out. Wearing them in your own country or state should be done at your own risk. Handicrafts and gems are also unique to the region. Overall, even though very mainstream, Jaipur retains some of its old world charm.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Guda Bishnoi

Recently I was in Jodhpur on a vacation. Though I knew that around Jodhpur one can see lots of deer and other wildlife I was surprised to see also several water bodies where the migratory birds come in winters from as far as Siberia.


We used the google maps to search for water bodies and saw that a place called Guda Bishnoi has some water bodies. So we headed out to the place.

A flock resting after a long flight

Guda Bishnoi is about 25 kms from Jodhpur and once we crossed the village we saw two lakes visible from the road but since we were carrying the GPS enabled mobile we were also able to detect water bodies which otherwise we would have missed completely. And what a feast these water bodies were to our eyes!

Indian Pond Heron

The second lake (an artificial one in which during summers water is pumped so that the local wildlife as well as cattle of the nearby villages have water to drink) was full of Flamingos, Siberian Cranes - called Khurja in the local language- waterfowls etc. I was also able to spot a solitary Indian Pond Heron and few Shell Ducks as well.

Shell Ducks

The best season to visit Guda Bishnoi is the winter season from October to March as lots of migratory birds from colder climes come to this area.

Indian Gazelle

Around the lake there were several Chinkara or the Indian Gazelle and some of them were in quite a playful mood locking horns and having a mock fight as well!

Chinkaras locking horns

And of course I saw several blackbucks. The area has lots of them as the Bishnoi community protects them with gusto. One may remember a case where one of the Bollywood actors  - Salman Khan - killed blackbucks and was arrested due to pressure from the community.


A male blackbuck is brown-black with and white underbelly with twisted long horns whereas the female blackbucks are fawn coloured and do not have horns. One of the blackbucks crossed in front of my car just five feet away!

A male & Female Blackbuck

The Bishnoi's also protect Khejri tree (also known as 'Janti' in Hindi) as they worship it and therefore help in preserving the ecosystem of this semi-arid land.

Black Winged Stilt

Though there were several other varieties of birds, I could recognize only a few of them like the Black Winged Stilt in the above photo.

Birds in flight

The third water body which was actually hidden from view and also had lots of weeds in the water was a perfect watering hole for several birds for nesting. A brief glance and you will notice nothing, but wait a few moments and you will see a bird take flight like this Siberian Crane in the photo below.

Siberian Crane

In the fourth water body, I also saw, besides several waterfowls this one huge Purple Pond Heron. It seems that these birds do not stay in flocks like others.

Purple Pond Heron

Overall it was a fantastic tour and in some ways better than my visit to Sambhar Lake as here in Guda Bishnoi I could see the birds and animals from a really close distance. Certainly a very good place for bird watchers. Binoculars are a big help.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Story of a Circuit House: Sambhar

While on a vacation to Sambhar Salt Lake I had stayed at the Circuit House managed by the Sambhar Salts Ltd., a joint venture of the Hindustan Salts Ltd. and the government of Rajasthan. Sambhar is about 350 kms from Delhi.

Circuit House at Sambhar

The Circuit House has been built by the Britishers way back in 1880 and even after 133 years it stands majestic as ever despite the neglect by the agencies. It has the old system of very thick walls providing insulation from heat and cold.

Front View of the Circuit House

The Circuit House even has a mechanical dumbwaiter installed by the Britishers as they did not want the servants to come up to the first floor where the 'Sahibs' and 'Memsahibs' resided. Dumbwaiters are lift contraptions to carry stuff instead of people and are very common in hotels and other large buildings.

Mechanical Dumbwaiter

Mechanical dumbwaiters are however not very common now as they preceded the electric ones. In the mechanical dumbwaiters the ropes on pulleys are controlled by hand by rotating the handle (see the above photo).

View of the Living Room

The Circuit House has couple of rooms on the ground floor and the same number on the first floor with additional space for dining area and living room.There is no online booking system and one can only call and book a room but there is no guarantee that you will get it based on the verbal communication. The caretaker makes food for you which is a simple yet palatable fare of Dal (lentil), Roti (Indian bread), vegetable, rice and yogurt.

View of Sambhar Town from Circuit House

The Circuit House has a strategic advantage if you stay there. As it is located at the highest point one can see from here the town itself as well as large parts of the lake. The Sambhar Salts Ltd., however, should pay more attention toward the upkeep of the place as the linen etc. are not too clean.

Sambhar Salt Museum as seen from the Circuit House

Just in front of the Circuit House is located a very old building housing the Salt Museum. Of course, the building remains closed and one can only see either the exterior of the building or the model of the Salt Lake Works.

It is essential that one carries a good quality of binocular and big zoom camera to Sambhar if one is interested to see the bird life in and around Sambhar lake. Sambhar Lake is also a Ramsar site.

If you are interested in bird-watching then do read my earlier post on Sambhar Lake.

And if you are also interested in Salt tourism then do read my post on Sambhar Salt.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

International Holidays are Fun!

Attend any travel event or glance through a newspaper and chances are that you will hear about the growth in the outbound tourists from India to international destinations. With the disposable income on the rise in India, international tourism is also bound to increase. 

One of the favorite discussions for the Indian tourists traveling abroad has been the reluctance to experiment with food! The issue of being a vegetarian or non-vegetarian comes after that. Even those who have preference for non-vegetarian food still struggle because the food tastes so different. And vegetarians any way would struggle on many other counts. In some parts of the world, particularly as one move away from bigger cities vegetarianism as a concept may not be understood. Many of us would know of stories when someone asked for vegetarian food they were offered fish.

International Holidays

The other fascinating aspect of the travel is language. If we are traveling to an English speaking country we might be able to communicate but if we are going to a region where a common language is not spoken the entire game can change! The third bit I realized gradually- that asking for directions is not so common in many other parts of the world. Also what may be polite way of behaving in one culture (think queuing in India) could be an absolute no in other parts of the world!

Now when food and language itself can be so much fun in another country no wonder international holidays are becoming more and more popular. See I didn't even go close to sightseeing or culture or photography that we commonly relate with travel!

What do you think? Do you like to take international vacations? For me many visits have been due to work but I still manage to include a bit of travel on those as well.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Sambhar Salt

The Sambhar Lake is the largest inland salt lake and produces nearly nine percent of India's total salt. Salt here is produced by the evaporation process of brine.

I had stayed in the Circuit House of the Sambhar Salts Ltd. (SSL) which is a joint venture of the Hindustan Salts Ltd. and the State Government of Rajasthan.

Salt Museum 

Just in front of the Circuit House is an ancient structure which is the Salt Museum. The building though stays closed and one can only observe the model of the Salt Lake and the salt works which is out in the open.

View of the dawn

You get a wonderful view of the dawn from the Circuit House with the Salt Museum building providing an excellent outline against the backdrop of the golden dawn.

Snowfall in Rajasthan?

If you look at the photo above it gives the impression of snow lying on the earth (that also in Rajasthan?). This is salt that gives the impression of snow.

Salt Fields

Around the huge lake one can see the color of the earth in stretches is white indicating salt content.

Salt Evaporation Pond

The lake is divided into two main parts by five km long dam. Once the salt water reaches certain concentration it is released and stored on evaporation ponds and salt pans. Some ponds have red color of water due to the presence of algae.

Salt Pans

Once the water dries the layers of salt is scrapped and collected as mounds of salt. From here it is again manually collected and put in the rail wagons. The Salt Works area is crisscrossed by railway network  - a narrow gauge - which was built by the Britishers in the 19th century to carry the salt to other destinations.

Salt Train

The rail wagons that you see in the photo above are made of wood not only because they are old wagons but they also serve another purpose i.e. since it is salt that they carry if they are made of iron they will rust away very quickly! Though the chassis is of course made of metal.

Salt being collected

I asked the workers how much they are paid for the work and I was astonished to find that they get paid a miserly Rs 300 for filling one wagon which after a whole days work one family (they operate in this manner here) is barely able to fill. One wagon can take upto six metric tons of salt.

Salt Hill

Salt around the lake gives employment of lot many persons. It is stored in huge mounds before it is sent to the factories for further processing.

As stated in my earlier post on Sambhar Lake the area is a key wintering site for several migratory birds like flamingos and waterfowls, among others, and is a designated Ramsar site.

The tourism infrastructure though is severely lacking in this area but I was pleased to read a Times of India (TOI) report that the Hindustan Salts Ltd. and the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) have signed an MOU to create tourism infrastructure in the Sambhar area.

Also read Sambhar Lake if you are in interested in bird watching.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Sambhar Lake

Sambhar Lake is located in the Jaipur and Nagaur districts of the state of Rajasthan and is the largest inland salt lake of India. It spreads over approximately 230 square kms with a circumference of nearly 100 kms. It is also a designated Ramsar Site is a wetland area of international importance especially as a waterfowl habitat.

It is due to this reason that I decided to go in winters as this area is a heaven for migratory birds from northern Asia when they come here in huge numbers from October to March each year.


Sambhar town is located about 100 kms from Jaipur. It took me nearly eight hours to reach (including breaks) due to the fact that Delhi- Jaipur National Highways nowadays in a complete mess due to the six laning project.


I stayed in the Sambhar Salt Works Circuit House which gives a wide angle view of the whole area as it is located at a height. But I would write about the Circuit House in another post.


The best time to see the birds and other wild life activity is the morning period as they are more active at this time therefore I ventured out before the dawn the next day.

A huge Banyan tree

Besides the migratory birds I was also able to see lots of pheasants, peafowls and peahens as well as several Nilgais. Nilgai is the biggest antelope that can be found on the Indian sub continent.

Nilgai giving a pose

The waterfowls and various kind of migratory ducks were in abundant numbers. The area is dotted with water bodies and some bodies have abundance of one variety whereas the other water bodies were home to other varieties.


Besides the waterfowls I was able to spot a few Indian Pond Herons as well.

A nesting Pond Heron 

Picture perfect

A paradise for birdwatchers

The area is also host to vast number of flamingos but they will not come near the human habitations and prefer the bigger water bodies which are surrounded by marsh land. Due to this one cannot go too near to view them properly. One can only make out flocks of them but cannot see them clearly with naked eyes so it is advisable to carry powerful binoculars and telephoto lenses.

Dried up part of the lake

I took my car on the dried part of the lake as far as possible before the marsh prevented me to go further. In the photo above the car can be seen on the lake bed with the Sakhambari temple and the cenotaph on the hill in the background.

Marsh land in front and the lake shimmering in the background 

To move around it is essential that you have a vehicle as the area is vast as for example the distance from the town to the Sakhambari temple is about 22 kms. Also one should avoid cars like Honda City which has very low clearance from the ground. As I knew that I can expect rough roads in the interiors of Rajasthan therefore I took the Swift for the journey.

Shakambari Temple at Sambhar

The Sakhambari temple does not receive many visitors on a normal day. It seems that only during the fair large number of people come and visit. I was the only visitor, for example, on the day I reached there. Like so many other temples in India, the vicinity has not been kept clean as one can see polythene packs lying around the temple area as well as in the small temple baoli (water reservoir).

Sakhambari Cenotaph

The cenotaph on the hill above the Sakhambari temple is an excellent spot to view the area far and wide. The trees in the photo below look like patches of grass as the photo was taken from above.

View from the cenotaph of the Sakhambari temple

Rajasthan Tourism has unfortunately not developed this area nor are they advertising about it though it is definitely a paradise for the ornithologists.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year 2013

I wish that the dawn of 2013 brings you closer to the respective horizons that you seek in your life.

Welcome the dawn of 2013

May you travel to the destination you so aspire to go to. May your dreams come true.

I also hope that we become a more civilized and democratic nation.

Have a great 2013!