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.
I am at my hotel’s reception in Jaisalmer and am trying to work out an itinerary for the day with Sushil, the car driver-cum-guide arranged for me by the hotel. The hotel’s owner and the receptionist are also there offering suggestions and advice.
Silence greets this statement of mine and three pairs of eyes turn to look at me. Since I receive no response, I repeat: “I want to go to the Wood Fossil Park at Akal.”
At this, the hotel owner clears his throat, puts on his most persuasive expression and says: “But why, Madam? There is nothing in Akal. Nobody goes there and it will be a waste of your time. You will be very disappointed.”
“I don’t think it will be a waste of time or that I will be disappointed.”
But the hotel owner, receptionist and Sushil do not agree and try their best to persuade me to drop Akal from the list of places I intend visiting. It takes them a while to realise that I have no intention of listening to their ‘advice’, and after about 15 minutes of back and forth, they grudgingly agree and send me off with dire warnings of grave disappointment in store for me.
Akal is about 17 km from Jaisalmer and after an uneventful drive, we are at the gates of the Wood Fossil Park. The gates are shut and when Sushil toots the horn, a security guard appears but does not open the gates and keeps staring at us.
Sushil gets off to find out the reason and comes back after a discussion involving a lot of looks in my direction. The security guard finally opens the gates, and Sushil gets back into the car. As drive into the Park, Sushil asks me: “What is so special about the place we have come to? Why did you want to come here?”