Plan for Jaisalmer -Jodhpur-Kumbhalgad was drafted for Diwali holidays, due to wait listed tickets we had to cancel the plan and got diverted to Hyderabad – Lepaksi trip. I had 5 annual leaves pending and didn't prefer encashment as per office rules. While looking for some adventure, I came across the Jaisalmer Festival / #Trekking event for 6 days (Rs. 5000/-) in February organized by Youth Hostel Association of India. Immediately, left brain went into overdrive after reading the events that were supposed to be part of the festival. I clubbed the remaining places i.e. Jodhpur, Kumbhalgad and Ranakpur, all together set to be covered in 8 days I.e. 20th Feb to 27th Feb 2016.
Initially, I thought of going solo, then thought of asking one of my friends, who was on break from job, sent her the YHAI plan and she agreed readily. Main task was travelling to Jaisalmer from Mumbai in 24 hours. The reporting was on Saturday 20th February and I had taken leave for 5 days starting from Monday. After lots of permutations and combinations, I realized that only option was combination of flight to Jaipur and train from Jaipur to Jaisalmer, which reaches on Saturday by 11.30 pm. Since, there was only one train that leaves Mumbai on some odd day. I booked the Indigo flight to Jaipur that leaves by 7.15 pm. for 4k. Flight was supposed to reach Jaipur by 9.30 pm. Due to air traffic issues there was delay in leaving the airport. We had to board the train from Jaipur RS by 11.45 pm. Hence, there was ample buffer time in between. At exit, there were two counters which provided the cab service. We opted for the government one, for Rs. 360/- (Indigo) compared to private one who quoted around Rs.400 and also for safety (being midnight).
We reached Jaipur RS by 10.30 pm. As usual train arrived late. We got into sleeper coach and dozed off. Next morning, I tried kachori for breakfast at one of the stations. It was much better compared to what we get in Mumbai. We reached Jaisalmer, late afternoon. As soon as we came out, there were hordes of auto drivers harrowing around to drop you off at 'whatever tourist special charge 100-150' quote. We avoided them, walked few more steps outside and found an auto, whose driver agreed for Rs. 50/- to drop us at Vrudha Ashram (Campsite of YHAI).
We were given sharing accommodation with 6 girls, total 8 in one room. Later on, we came to know that initially, allowed participation of 50 had swollen to 172 people in total. We didn't bother much about the crowd, because the girls were very accommodating and quite adjusting just like us, which I thanked for.
After freshening up, we introduced ourselves, getting to know each other. People were still dropping from all over India and room allotment was still going on till evening. This was the reporting day for most of us and also the first day of Jaisalmer Desert Festival.
Because we arrived late we missed the morning events from 9.00 am to 3.00 pm. The festival usually begins with a ceremonial procession, locally known as Shobha Yatra, where locals dress in their traditional attire. Men carrying swords atop horses, camels, and elephants are cheered on as they enter the Shahid Poonam Singh Stadium, one of the main venues of the desert festival.
We were instructed to gather by 5.00 pm to leave for evening events held in the same stadium. The ground was at the walking distance of 5 minutes and crowd had gathered in full might. We tried to get the seat near the podium with somewhat OK view.
Evening started with comperes introducing the theme and themselves as well as welcoming the tourists. There was Kalbeliya dance, followed by Jaisalmer Got Talent show, local participation for displaying their vocals on various local and Bollywood songs. Results to be declared on last day of festival. Thereafter, Manganiyar musicians performed, traditional acrobatic performance by local nomadic gymnasts called Kalabaz or Nats followed, also Bir Khalsa group gave a dazzling performance. Then the singing talent started. The compering was fabulous, both witty and entertaining. The event ended by 9.00 pm.
We traced our route back home, had tasty dinner, served in buffet style, and dozed off for the day.
Next day, after breakfast, orientation round began, with Mr. Ratan Singh Bhati, the State Secretary (#YHAI), detailing the program for next four days, rules to be followed, also, introduced us to Mr. Desert 2016 & Miss Moomal, who were chosen the earlier day after the competition. They were felicitated in #YHAI style. We had to go to the different ground, which started with hike of 2-3 kms. It was very hot and thankfully seating placement was shaded, we grabbed the available ones and waited for show to start. Event started with camel decoration competition, around 7 camels participated, all loaded with different decorations, depicting the colorful Rajasthan. There was also a race, where the rider had to start right from wearing his attire, setting the saddle on camel and finally striding gracefully towards the finishing line.
There was announcement for foreigners and Indians to participate in the tug-of-war game. Around 11.00 pm, the game started between Indian and Foreign participants. To get a closer view, I moved towards the edge of ground without realizing the power of sun at 90 degrees. First the might was tested for males and then for females. In both categories, foreigners won and the verbal trolls followed. Compere kept saying we lost because we don't like to disappoint our guests etc. Following this, the BSF jawans decided to give fitting reply to the foreigners, asked for a friendly rematch, which off course BSF won. Everyone joined in celebration. As soon as crowd went back to normal, game of kabbaddi started, which was dull in comparison to earlier high octane energy maybe because it was 1.00 pm. People started fizzling out for lunch. We were given packed lunch in the morning, I nibbled some, the 2 hours under direct sun made me lose my appetite. We were eager for a "camel tattoo" show. I had all kind of images running in my mind as camel with tattoos. Before that, the matka race was announced for Indian and Foreign females to participate. Ladies had to carry the pot filled with water on head, and run towards finishing line. Offcourse, many matkas broke in the process. Around 2.30 p.m. the show started, there was nothing like tattoo, it was more of patterns made by camels and various stunts were performed on top of camel by the BSF. I kept wondering what did tattoo actually mean here.
We trekked back to the ashram, relaxed for some time, decided to visit the Gadsisar Lake, took a share auto (Rs.10) with others and after circling the entire fort, we reached the spot. It was beautiful lake, with sun setting leaving a beautiful hue over same. We did some photoshoot, before hiring an auto back to Stadium for evening show. The evening for second day was mostly in form of some grand Rock concert. Various Indian bands performed to numbers, there was high energy amongst crowd. There was a Russian trio girl troupe who performed to Bollywood numbers with Saxophone & Violin, and the crowd went berserk. Police had to calm down the over excited crowd, thereafter Eka band took over the already gone bonkers crowd, to another level. Police had tough time controlling the crowd. It was already 9.00 pm, we left the stadium with smiles.
Third day was last leg of festival; also, we had to move to another base Camp at #Sam Sand Dunes. After breakfast, YHAI haversack was given to all. We packed the necessities for two days #excursion in that haversack, and kept the remaining luggage in our bag and kept it in storage. We had time till afternoon, since we were supposed to leave after lunch. We left for #Jaisalmer Fort sightseeing with others. Fort in itself had sustained a town, small zigzag roads throughout. We first explored the Jain temple, thereafter Shamsher Singh ki Haveli. We had to leave for ashram as scheduled. After lunch, we took our sacks, hopped in bus for almost 1 hour ride. Tents were being set up, we were allotted group numbers and sleeping bags, we were lucky to have the same companions in tent again. After settling down, we had to leave for Sam dunes. We walked for 1 km on sand, which seemed difficult, but managed to reach a higher point to get a magnificent view of sunset. We came back to the ground, where the final leg of events were being held. Camel race had already finished, we missed that. Event was mostly traditional with various groups performing on folk art. We came back to camp, being full moon, the desert was well lit. We had a Ghee rich Rajasthani dinner under the moonlight, sat for some time, before calling off the day.
With the end of Desert Festival, now the trekking expedition starts. We woke up early for the camel safari. Again a brief round on further activities was given by Mr. Ratan Singh. Two participants on one camel, me and my friend hopped on one. It was bit scary, while the camel tries to stand, and you literally feel like you would be thrown to the ground. A day before, announcement was made for people who have issues with backbone or other health issue, so as to avoid injuries while safari, for them, a provision was made to drop by car. Desert Safari was almost 12 kms long. Due to Mr. Singh’s effort, we had privilege of going through the Desert National Park, which was a restricted area. We saw few deers galloping far away. Also, #caravan was a very pretty sight to see in the arid desert. Ours was the last one to arrive at the Beeda Fanta, after getting down we had to walk 5 kms towards Sudasari Camp. It was hot afternoon, we kept walking, intermittently stopping under the tree to get a cool shade. Finally, 3 kms seemed like 30 kms for us. Bus was waiting to take us to #Sudasari Camp. We were thankful, to skip the remaining 2 kms trek. We reached camp, rested for some time, had a finger licking scrumptious lunch of Daal Baati Choorma, local Ker Sangri sabzi and Rice. In the evening, we had to trek for 30-45 mins towards the Gajai Mata Sand dunes, to watch the sunset as well as the beautiful moonrise. There was round of games, followed by songs, and finally moon showed up. We trekked back under moonlight towards the camp. After dinner, we slipped in our sleeping bags.
Dawn arrived with brightly lit oranges hues over the horizon, spread across the National Park. After breakfast, we had to give back our sleeping bags and collect the packed lunch before leaving for trek through #Desert National Park to #Khabha Village. Bus took us through the park, at one point, we saw flock of vultures (wake). We halted the bus to get some pictures. Bus dropped us at one point from where we were supposed to trek till Khabha. Walking through desert seemed difficult; it was similar to walking in snow during Sarpass Trek. We had lunch during trek and continued to walk till Khabha Village. Bus was waiting, to take us back to Vrudha Ashram Camp. As soon as we came back, announcement was made for everyone to gather, so that a feedback round and certificate distribution can be done. Almost 70 percent of them were leaving the same day. Even we had to leave for #Jodhpur by mid night train.
All in all, it was again a very good experience with YHAI.