14 March 2011

Visit to Camp Thar, Osian

Last week (7-12 March 2011) we were in Camp Thar, Osian via Club Mahindra's experimental tie-up with them for three months (January-March 2011). The stay, after initial hiccups, was nice and the three of us (Nerika, Nandini and I) had a good break. Thanks to Munna, my brother, who facilitated this.

We had planned to go slightly early to the Mumbai airport expecting longer queues, but belying our expectations, Air India check-in and security was smooth.One did observe that Kingfisher gets its passengers scheduled for a later flight to break the queue, which is unfair, as an Air India staff pointed out.  These operational details should be worked out at an appropriate level.

Our hopping flight via Udaipur to Jodhpur was delayed making us reach in the post-lunch period. Sandwiches  offered in the first segment of the flight were not enough and we had another quick bite of sandwiches, the only thing available in the airport, and then took a pre-paid taxi ride for another one hour and forty-five minutes to reach our destination.  And, when we wanted some food and were told that we could get some sandwiches... we realized that we are not at Club Mahindra!

The evening music by traditional folk artists was refreshing. After dinner, we retired for the day.

Not knowing what to do the next day we decided to go to Jodhpur.We had lunch 'On-the-rocks', an open-air restaurant with reasonable priced food and is frequented by foreigners. However, if you are in a hurry to have a quick grab and do not drink then consider avoiding this place.

Our next stop was Umaid Bhavan palace, part of it is allowed for public visit, part of it is occupied by the Maharaja Gaj Singh II and his family and almost half of it is a heritage hotel under the Taj group. The first thing we were told is the relationship of the royal family with the movie Zubeidaa, based on the current Maharaja's step-mother. The palace itself was built as a drought relief measure that provided employment for 3000 people for 15 years. Our last stop was Mehrangarh fort, a must see in anybody's itinerary going to Jodhpur, where we heard from the guide about sati, also did some shopping and after buying some fruits returned back to Camp Thar.

Ideally, one should stay put in Jodhpur for a day or two, finish sight seeing in and around and do some shopping and then leave for a two/three night stay at Camp Thar.

It is on the third day that we took a jeep safari ride. Sighting of peacock and deer was common. First we went to the village Khetasar where we met an oil presser, a potter, and a weaver. Second, we went to Dabri village and spent time in the sand dunes seeing the setting sun and talking with village children. Met a girl Vimla, her sister and younger brother - the girls are not sent to school. The girl child being not sent to school was more common a decade ago, but it still does exist today.

Another thing that we observed and which was reiterated by fellow travelers as a common feature in this part of Rajasthan is that children come up and ask for money or pen. Even though the latter is identified with education it does give an impression of begging and definitely not a good picture for tourism. The minimum that Club Mahindra/Camp Thar can consider is to do something tangible for the children and residents of these villages whereby they live with dignity.

On the fourth day evening we went to Sachi Mata temple, a 12th century monument, and the Jain temple at Osian. Devotees come from far and wide to this temple. If you want to enjoy the architectural beauty then do look out for Babloo guide (Prithiviraj). In fact, archeologist KK Maheswari is planning to write about Osian with his inputs.

The fifth evening was a camel cart ride on Pappu (the name of our camel) guided by Mahipal to Khetasar to their house were we had tea, clicked photographs and then returned to our base camp. The story of struggle is eminent when we hear about Mahipal's grandmother bringing up her two sons (when they were two/three years old) after her husband passed away. She used to close the house and leave at wee hours and travel ten kilometers to fetch water. She would cook and feed her children and then go to work in other people's houses and then come back in the evening and again go to fetch water and would retire late in the night to get up early again. When her elder son, Ganga Ram (Mahipal's father) was ten years old she had saved Rs.500/- to buy a camel. This they used to fetch water for others at Re.1 per household per day and this they saved to make two, then three, then four, and now fifty years down the line, they have five camels (one with a cart - Pappu), and a jeep. Now a lot of tourists visit their house.

A social custom that needs mention as a footnote is the prevalence of child marriage. Ganga Ram has four sons and a daughter, all of them are married. The wives of the younger three brothers stay at their natal place - they would come here when they are old enough.

In the third and fourth day our travel as evening sessions with a young couple (Nagesh and Rupa) from Bangalore with a passion for photography also added to the events. The fifth evening with the Goyals (Abhishek and Shalu) from Chandigarh almost stretched till midnight. Nerika enjoyed the latter most with their two daughters (Nandini and Amisha), which started for her from fourth evening and continued till the sixth morning, but then it was time to bid adieu. On our way back to the airport, we picked up Mawakachodi and Makhanvada from Jodhpur Sweets for the memories to linger on.

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