About 180 km south-west of Jaisalmer, where the Thar Desert meets some isolated outcrops of the Aravalli mountain ranges, lie the ruins of the temples of Kiradu. It is believed that there were around 108 temples on this site, but today only 5 temples remain — 4 of those are dedicated to Shiva and 1 temple is believed to have been dedicated to to Vishnu.
I first heard about the temples at Kiradu when I received an invitation from Suryagarh. The itinerary attached with the mail included a visit to these temples. I was intrigued enough to look up for more information on the internet immediately — even before I accepted the invitation. To my surprise, I found little substantive information online. This only made the temples more intriguing and mysterious for me and I couldn’t wait to see them for myself when I visited Suryagarh in July 2016.
And after lunch on my last day at Suryagarh, we set off to see the Kiradu temples. It was a beautiful, but long, drive through the Thar, through dramatic changes in the landscape from desert to hilly.
It was around 6 pm when we arrived at the Kiradu temples, which meant I had an hour or so before sunset and before the light faded. The next hour saw me racing from temple to temple, pumped with adrenaline, trying to take in as much of the details as I could and photographing whatever I thought was interesting or significant.
It was around noon when our blogger group we reached Khaba Village near Jaisalmer city after a morning spent exploring the Thar as part of the Desert Exploration Trail organised by our hosts Suryagarh. The sight of cool drinks and light refreshments laid out for us at the village was a welcome sight in the heat.
I picked up some juice and walked over to explore what looked like an old temple nearby. It seemed to be an ordinary looking temple and not in use. At least that is what it seemed like until I peeked into the garbha griha of the temple where I saw the strangest-looking shiva lingam I have ever seen — one with its innards spilling out !
The shiva lingam appeared to have been fashioned out of mud and hay, covered with some kind of a plaster or clay layer and then painted over to give the finishing touches of a lingam. It may have looked like the real thing when ‘freshly made’, but looked like something out of a horror show then.
The ‘what’, how’, ‘where’, etc. of the strange lingam would have remained a mystery, if not for the Suryagarh staff who told me how this came to be.
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).
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.
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.
The topic of discussion on #TSBCfor Sunday, June 26th was “Literary Cities”. The discussion was an animated one and towards the end, one of the participants (I can’t remember who it was now) tweeted that the literary capital of India was Mussoorie or Landour, because that’s where many of the writers were based. If anybody wanted to meet writers, that’s where one had to go !
I couldn’t help smiling when I read the tweet for I was leaving for a much awaited short holiday in the hills to Landour and Mussoorie the very next day. My agenda for the holiday was to relax, read and generally chill out. Literary capital of the country or not, seeking out or meeting writers in Mussoorie / Landour was not on my agenda. I know this sounds strange coming from someone who loves books and all things bookish, but I prefer reading books to talking to their writers.
But Mussoorie / Landour had other plans in store for me as I was soon to find out. It began with my coming across a shelf full of books by Mussoorie-based writers at the Landour Bakehouse (see photograph below), which made me realise just how many writers were based there. It ended with me having a serendipitous and unexpected tête-à-têtes with two writers and exchanging greetings with a third.
Landour has to be, without doubt, one of the most beautiful and charming places I have been to.
With a picture postcard setting, fresh and invigorating mountain air, small and intimate size, Landour was just what I needed for a short holiday in the hills in June this year. Add to a this mix, two churches and a graveyard to explore, a scenic walking trail, friendly locals of the human, canine and feline varieties, cafes with some delicious food to get stuffed on, and Rokeby Manor as the place to stay in… Landour was just about perfect for me.
Landour is also very different from Mussoorie, which is just 5 km away, in the best possible way — very few tourists visit it and I often felt that I had Landour to myself. The only thing the two places have in common is the mist/clouds that cover everything. [PS: If you haven’t read my previous post on Mussoorie, then this is the time to do so before getting on with this one.]
Like most places, Landour is best explored on foot and that’s the way I’m going to take you around. Put on your walking shoes and lets set off on the Landour Loop or the Gol Chakkar, a walking trail that covers most of ‘sights’ 🙂