Bhujiawala’s humble abode – Bikaner

Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

Of Haveli’s and forts and temples we talk, as we try to picture Rajasthan, but we forget that the most used snacks without which the drinks gets boring is also a gift of Rajasthan, mainly Bikaner, within 200kms of Pakistan, amidst the desert.

Bikaner was called Jangladesh, it is in the Thar desert and was completely baron but the one thing which made it an oasis on the trade route between the Gujarat coast and central Asia, were its natural springs.

Rao Bika was the eldest son of Maharaja Rao Jodha of the Rathore clan of Jodhpur and wanted a kingdom for himself. So he built a fort in Bikaner 250 kms north-west of Jodhpur and established a city. As any city in the trade route, Bikaner prospered but it was not until the times of the sixth Raja, Rai Singhji, when the city’s fortune flourished. Raja Rai Singhji was an army general at the court of Emperor Akbar and Jahangir. He had won many accolades in the war fought for the Mughals and thus received jagirs from the emperor.

These jagirs earned him huge revenues and he was able to build the beautiful Junagarh Fort (Chintamani Durg). Subsequent rajas added new palaces to the fort and decorated it further. The Bikaner Rajas accepted the suzerainty of the British after the Mughals and thus have been always wealthy and prosperous. After independence the then Maharaja, Lieutenant General Sir Sadul Singh acceded the princely state of Bikaner to the Union of India. The last Raja Dr. Karani Singh had fought in the Second World War and was member of the Indian parliament for 25years. Now the royal family lives in a suit at the Lalgarh palace which they have turned into a luxury hotel.

Rajas, royalty and their prosperity, more or less the same story all over the world but Bhujiyas and bhujiyawalas are unique to Bikaner. It all started here. Bhujiyas, delicious, can be preserved for days and a little quells the hunger, made a wonderful carry on food through the desert where caravanserais are distant and infrequent.

Born in 1877, when the first moth bean, chana daal, powdered cellulose, red chilli, black pepper, cardamom and so many other condiments mixed together, went through the sieve into the frying pan, the Bhujiya finally got the Geographical Indications rights and patents in 2010, so none other than the local manufacturers can call their bhujiya, Bikaneri Bhujiya.

Mouth watering kulfi, crispy kachori, tasty puri and multicoloured dry sweets are among the tourist attractions in Bikaner.

The casse-croûte is one of the major cottage industries in Bikaner employing more than 2.5 million people, the other things people are involved in is making kundan jewellery, lac ornaments, leather products, wool craft, carpets, leheriya and tie and dye fabric, quills and bedspreads.

These skills have been passed on for generations, from the intricate carvings in the palaces and temples to the precision of the needle as it moves and the mixture as it goes through the sieve.

Camel is another important element of dwelling in Bikaner. Ganga Risala an elite camel corps unit in the Bikaner Army participated in both the World Wars and for the Indian Army in the Indo-Pak war. Bikaner is the only place to have a camel research farm and breeding centre in India and one of the biggest in the world. Varied varieties of camels are housed in the research centre, one humped, two humped, kachchi, Jaisalmeri, Bikaneri and many more. Camel milk products are available at the research centre for the tourist which is extremely delicious. Camel bones from the dead camels can replace ivory and stop the killing of the tuskers.

Bikaner, a vertex of the golden triangle is a thriving city of more than 6.5Lakhs people is distinctly divided into the old and the new city. The old city boasts of exquisitely carved and intelligently designed Havelis of the rich, narrow galis (lanes), bazaars and tightly packed houses of the common man most likely to fend against the heat and desert storms. It is bordered by the Gorgeous Junagarh Fort. The new city has wide roads, havelis and palaces converted into luxury hotels lining them, eateries with an old world charm and glittering street lights.

Many a beautiful and unique attraction can be attempted with Bikaner as the starting point, like Karani Mata temple, the safest haven for the rodents some 35kms away towards Nagaur, Gajner palace by the lake, once a hunting lodge of the maharajas, now converted into an opulent hotel, another 35 kms on road to Phalodi, the first monument constructed by Rao Bika, the Kodamdeshwar Temple some 24kms to the west and ofcourse the beautiful cenotaphs in a serene surrounding.

Delighted to have visited this colourful and humble abode of the Bhujiawalas.

Taramati Baradari – Far from the madding crowd in Hyderabad

Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

December is pleasant everywhere in India, well almost. Except for the extreme north where temperatures dip to sub zero, it is the time of the year to definitely book a trip.

I wanted to revisit Golconda Fort and my hubby acquiesced. After having travelled for so many years and living in one or the other city in India since birth now he feels that yet another Indian city is not worth visiting, and second time is out of question. Yet he agreed, was it something to blush blush!! Or some architecture which he found was not covered last time, I wonder now??

A three day trip was planned. If possible we prefer trains as our son has flight allergy. It is not just the load of sickness bags that we would like to avoid it is also the inconvenience caused to the other passengers owning to the horrendous sound accompanied with the spew.

We de-boarded the express at Kachiguda station. It was early morning and the breeze had a slight chill. Our destination was 16 kms away on the outskirts of the city near the Golconda Fort. It is called Taramati Baradari. All through the city traffic was thin, owning to the hour of the day. The neatly done flyovers and pedestrian bridges were impressive enough and then we left the city behind to enter the military area. The greens, wide roads with divider and the highway experience, were all whispering a good start.

The signage indicated Golconda Fort to the left and Taramati straight ahead, 2 more kms. Confused? Why we are heading towards a tourist attraction without checking in somewhere? That’s what this write up is all about. I chose Haritha Hotel by Telangana Tourism which is housed in the same complex as that of Taramati Baradari to be far from the city limits and yet be near our major attraction – The Fort!

The Taramati complex is a treat to nature lovers, trees lined up in harmony with the well maintained lawns, clean path ways and ample opportunity to create frames.

Photography is allowed anytime and is free for residents of the monument complex and has a monumental fee of 3000 INR for visitors within restricted hours. The double storied livings quarters are lined up in a semicircle, with all rooms facing the manicured lawns. The rooms are basic with a geyser, TV and AC. All are double bedded with a provision of an extra bedding if need be.

The pleasant weather, chirping birds, smell of wild flowers and a hungry belly! We freshened up and rushed to the restaurant which was to the right of the entry gate and gobbled up some idli and puri that was on offer. The food I must caution all and one is a dampener. To begin with, the menu is very restricted. The taste is average and the staff is reluctant to serve.

After a not so happening breakfast but a filled stomach we went on to explore the Baradari. A little short of 200 stone steps up, up and way above the ground is a big hall with pillars. Apparently it was a Serai (caravan station) on the banks of Musi River. The second sultan of Golconda, Ibrahim Quli Qutub Shah built a beautiful Persian garden called Ibrahim Bagh. This Serai was part of it. A Serai typically provides the much needed refreshment and entertainment for the wary traders after a long and tedious journey. The ancient structure more than 500 yrs old is naturally ventilated with 12 arched doorways which must have been beautifully painted to the delight of the temporary boarders.

This Serai gets its special name and is romanticised by popularising the stories of romance between Abdullah Qutub Shah, the seventh sultan and his favourite courtesan Taramati. An unbelievable but fantastic fable is that Taramati used to sing at the Baradari and the gentle breeze used to carry it to the fort 2kms away reaching the Prince’s ears. Some say Taramati and Premamati were two beautiful dancing girls who would tie a rope to their waist and dance between their pavilion and the king’s balcony. Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could and thence there must be some truth in the fables whatsoever. As a token of love and tribute Taramati and Premamati were buried in the royal cemetery.

One of the domes of the royal cemetery more popularly known as the Qutub Shahi Tombs can be seen from the Baradari and whether or not the breeze could carry the melody so far, the eyes can reach the top quarters of the Fort and vice versa.

The journey from the light and sound show at the fort was quick, easy and breezy as we carried the melodies back to the hotel. The lack of gourmet gratification was compensated by the ambiance. The silent night, magical light, historical site all combined into a concoction of pure delight.

Click here to read a blog on Chowmahalla Palace

Over the next two days we hogged on authentic Hyderabadi Biriyani from the original “Paradise” at Secunderabad, visited Charminar and the ornate palaces half circling the Hussain Sagar at least 4 times, and finally having a gala lunch at the Tansen beside it, each time coming back to our sanctum, the Serai.

Apart from the hotel, keeping in tradition of the Serai, Taramati Baradari today caters to a wide array of entertainment and literary programs, for which its open air auditorium and AC theatre can be hired. It is assuredly a lair, far from the madding crowd and pollution of a city.

Kanha Tiger Reserve

Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

With growing popularity Kanha is teeming with people, increasing substantially every season. The nearest airports being Jabalpur and Nagpur, which is fairly well connected with the rest of India, Kanha is exceedingly accessible.

The part of the park opened to public has been divided into four zones, namely Kanha, Kisli, Sarhi, and Mukki for better administration although there are no physical boundaries. There are two access points to enter the park, Mukki gate and Khatia gate. Mukki gate is nearer to Nagpur, but it is more convenient to visit all the zones from Khatia gate.

Once we entered the park, the temperature dropped a few more degrees. The vegetation is dense and picturesque. The jeeps are open gypsies and very apt for witnessing wildlife, as they are four wheel drive petrol vehicle making least noise and pollution. Some zones are frequented more and thus the spotted deer which are abundant in the park do not run away at the sight of the vehicles. The Sambhar deer is shy by nature and loves to stay amidst the vegetation, occasionally crossing the pathway or grazing nearby. We sighted a female barking deer, which is an extremely rare sighting. Golden Jackals were always seen in pairs and only a single couple in an area. Gaur (Indian Bison) herds have plenty to graze on and they looked fabulous. All the animals had shinny coats and well nourished looks. Gray Langur and spotted deer live in perfect harmony and are a joy to watch.

There is an abundance of bird species in all the zones, but Sarhi we found is like a repository. Sarhi seemed to be least visited but has an awe-inspiring landscape with huge open grasslands and virgin dense forests, even the animals looked petrified to see us at a distance of 200mts, jerked and vanished into the forest as fast as possible. We got a glimpse of the female blue bulls, which looked more like small horses, much bigger than the deer.

The water body in Kisli zone on the right of the pathway as we enter the park is a good place for bird watching. Also there are specific trees where the hawks, the vultures or the cranes love to perch. The experienced guides are well versed and can identify such places. We got to know a gentleman called Salim (09425417436) who drives his own jeep into the forest and is a naturalist in his own right. He can also help with the park bookings and stay at Khatia.

Finally the big cat sighting, the question one faces as soon as they reconnect with peers and anybody who had been aware of the jungle visit. The answer is Veni vidi vici and it wasn’t just a sighting. We were blessed with witnessing two occurrences of Bhima the tiger deciding to show up and flaunt his royal self.

The second sighting was more like a show where in an invisible director was directing his moves. Bhima moved in the bushes adjacent to the pathway towards a water body called “baba thenga”, sat there for a while, got up, moved around the water body taking in the scent of a women (Tigress) he was desperately in search of. Well he is in the prime of his youth and its mating season, got to give it to him guys. He marked a tree, slipped into the water to cool it off, you know ! Then straight came out of the water at us. Not attacking though, actually we seemed to be oblivious to him. He walked a little, sat, rolled over and kept on trying to smell her.

The park timings are to be followed so strictly that you got to leave a TIGER on the road wanting to give more… shots I mean.

Apart from the mesmerizing jungle with its inhabitants there are the beautiful “Baiga” and the “Gownd” tribes who are trying to fit into the so called civilized fabric of our lives. We visited their villages, saw their rhythmic dance and tried some mahua too !

Both the gates are flanked by resorts and eateries of all levels. Khatia gate has Club Mahindra whereas Mukki gate has the Taj. We stayed at a place called Windsor Tiger Resort (Contact Santosh Yadav – 09424339613, 09644145995, 07649-0277243) near Khatia gate and at INR1500/- a night; it was a fairly decent place with facilities of dining, bonfire and very responsive and cooperative staff.

The safari timings change depending on the season. Around November the morning safari starts at 6:15 AM, which in the warmer months starts at 5:30 AM.

The jeeps that go in for the safari must return to the gate by 11:00 AM sharp. Now here comes the explanation for the convenience of visiting the zones through the Khatia gate. The first camp once we enter the park through Khatia gate is 10 mnts away, called Kisli. This is also the entrance to the all the zones. MTDC has log huts here which can be booked online or otherwise. Also there is Baghira lodge and other administrative offices. This camp has restrooms and tea / coffee. Kisli zone is spread on the left and right of the pathway that the jeep has to take. On the left are Kisli and Sarhi zones, on the right are Kisli and Mukki zones, straight ahead is Kanha zone. Thus it takes less time to come back to this Kisli camp, from any of the zones, which the vehicles must pass back at 10:45AM.

The evening safari starts at 3:00PM and has to wrap up by 5:30PM in winter. The warmer months get an extension of about a half hour.

If one enters through the Mukki gate, reaching the camp in Sarhi zone, which is at one end of the park and also has a gate which may be to be opened at a later date, becomes impossible within the stipulated time. Though it is a matter of personal preference and associated circumstances which largely govern the selection of the gate to enter the park.

It is worth mentioning that it would be a good idea to drain out the bladders whenever possible as the camps are distant and disembarking the vehicle at any place other than the camps is prohibited at all costs. Visiting the restroom at the Kisli camp before getting ahead with the safari is highly recommended, this helps to be at ease till one reaches another camp, especially in the morning. Apart from Kanha camp which also houses a museum along with a curio shop, no other camp has snacking facility, thus one needs to carry breakfast along.

The way to enter the park is through advance booking online ( or current booking at the counter adjacent to the gate . In both the cases one has to queue up at a counter with the ticket (booked online or at current booking counter) which shows booking for a particular day (morning / evening), particular zone, particulars of people with their ID numbers. This counter allocates a guide and a jeep for a fee of INR 2200/- for the Jeep and INR 300/- for the guide (November 2015 rates). One needs to carry the same identity proof as mentioned in the ticket for verification purpose. All of this is mandatory each time one wishes to enter the park.

The road from Nagpur to Khatia that we took to reach Kanha 250 kms away was roughly a 7 hours drive with lunch and tea breaks, it is ravishingly lined up with Teak trees, colourful town and village markets, wide open fields and ofcourse parts of Pench national park, which is also a must visit for jungle lovers. Well another time, another day !