After being serenaded by Udaipur two years ago, and cutting short the rest of that trip in an official emergency, it was time to waltz back another time to complete the circuit. This time around, it was a fort hunt. And the fort fan between the both of us took over.
For the strangest of reasons that I still can’t fathom, B and I swapped places this trip. The planner in me took a backseat and I followed him like a puppy as he planned, mapped, navigated and executed from fort to cafe to haveli to another fort. I’ve retreated to recliner cots with my book refusing to move an inch, while he reminded me of times to leave and places to see. I’ve ducked flies and dirt and grime which I suddenly became very sensitive to on this trip, while he forged ahead in true traveler style. Something was wonky this vacation, but clearly, he was having fun. These were the forts of his dreams. And it is in elements like these that a vacation morphs into a true learning, feeling, breathing experience.
Massive in construction, each told a story of kings, soldiers, intrigue and attack. Each also had its own USP to boot. Amidst wandering these forts, we managed to skirt around a few other sights and fought our way out of a flood in Jodhpur as well. But for me, the evocative experience wasn’t a fort, a cenotaph, a palace, a haveli or even the desert. It was a rustic war museum sitting on the southern end of Jaisalmer, which hardly anyone visits.
For the last two years, I’ve searched high and low for a sense of national identity, but in vain. I’ve struggled with language, religion and any other vector of supposed “identity”. I only marvel at how varied we are as a country, and in that I’ve found a semblance of joy. But what is with these army posts, these stories of valour and sacrifice that move me? Ever since I’ve seen a check-post 20km from the LoC in Kashmir overlooking a hill where infiltrators sneak in by night and talked to three camps of border guards, any border town and associated paraphernalia tugs at my heart. I have this desire to stop, bow my head to those who give life and limb to protect what we take for granted every single day, and then proceed. The War Museum at Jaisalmer fit the bill, a hidden home for rich memories and paraphernalia from India’s five wars since independence. As we walked through each well documented section, all I could think of was the freedom I have today and the price the army has had to pay for it. I’m sure deeper introspection is due, but in its own due time. And it was rather creepy to note that while India marks 50 years of the 1965 2nd Indo-Pak war, B and I have snuck up to the boundaries of 3 of the 4 fronts of that war – Kashmir, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Side note: This is one of the most spruced up regions of India, part of the Golden Triangle showcased to western tourists. It was great to be around backpackers after so long, their energy is quite something! As they headed off to destinations as varied as Varanasi and Goa, the biggest question that I wanted to ask but did not, was “aren’t you bothered by the zillion flies all around?!”. I really want to be as zen as them. How do I get there?! Anyone knows?!
While I recover my zen from the assault of old city grime and monsoon flies, here are some pictures.
Photo courtesy: B
Book read on the trip: The Wrong Way Home by Peter Moore
“If I hadn’t been so shaken, I might have been impressed.”
– Quote from the book above