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 elevator dings its arrival and the doors slide open noiselessly. I step in and look in fascination at the elevator’s interiors.
I am at Hotel Suryagarh, a luxury boutique hotel near Jaisalmer, and am being escorted to my second floor suite by a hotel attendant after completing the usual registration formalities.
“Why don’t you sit down, Ma’am?” the hotel attendant urges me.
This might have been a strange question considering we were in an elevator. But since the elevator had a large, cushioned seat upholstered in a velvet of bright pink, it really wasn’t that strange a question.
I politely decline as I feel a little stupid to sit down for a trip of two floors. But I do notice that the elevator speed is quite slow and discover later that this has been done deliberately to encourage guests to relax and sit down.
And over the over the two days that I spend at the hotel and the numerous trips that I make between my room and wherever I was headed to, I would use the elevator. Get in. Sit down. Relax. Take pictures. Normally, I would have used the stairs, but not this time.
To this day, the luxurious elevator with the pink seat at Hotel Suryagarh remains unique. I have never come across anything like this before, and doubt it I will.
Have you come across unique hotel elevators? Do share.
It has been almost 3 weeks since my Suryagarh trip, a trip that will go down as one of those trips of a lifetime. Being able to see the incredible monsoon desertscape, to visiting lesser known and popular sights in Jaisalmer, to the food feast laid out for us, to the pampering … everything was special.
But the reason that makes Suryagarh really special was an experience that stood over and above everything else and one that remains with me even today — the incredible music I heard at Suryagarh. Right from the Padhaaro Mhaaro Desh (please click on the song to hear it being rendered by Meelu Khan and Maqsood Khan) that welcomed me to the hotel or the performance of Manganiar musicians during dinner on the first day or the Langha musicians performing during dinner on the second day or hearing Algoza for the first time or discussing Rajasthani folk music…it was music, music and more music all the way.
Music is a quiet passion for me. While I enjoy hearing new kinds of music and am always open to hearing different kinds of music, I rarely seek music, local or pre-recorded, during my travels and Suryagarh was no different. But music was everywhere at Suryagarh and one that enveloped me in its melodious magic. While all the music I heard was truly incredible, two performances stood out for the sheer quality and for the interaction I was able to have with the musicians concerned.
I’ll introduce them to you a little later but for now let us call them the singer at the sand dunes and the musician at the window. Because that is how I first saw them and heard their magical music. My interactions with both of them left me feeling truly blessed and like the chosen one 🙂
The ochre yellow of the desert stretches out in all directions for as far my eye can see, dotted here and there with green vegetation. At first glance, the green appears random, but then one can trace lines and curves and clusters of green, marking places where there must be water channels and water bodies which fill up when it rains.
The fast-moving clouds in the sky cast large, moving and constantly shifting shadows on the desert floor and leave me mesmerised. I am torn between watching the shadow play on the ground and the hide-and-seek game that the clouds and blue sky are up to.
In the distance are some windmills and further still, some 70 odd kilometres away, lies the border with Pakistan. I know it’s silly, but I stand on tip toes almost expecting to see the border. A harsh caw breaks into my thoughts and I turn around to see a large raven regarding me with, what I think, is a mocking look at my action.