Day 3 - 22 Dec, Udaipur to Nawalgarh (via NH 58)
We left the Amet Haveli at 0500Hrs the next morning, and in about 10 minutes were onto NH 58. The saga of brilliant Rajasthan roads continued, and coupled with the early morning chill, driving was a bliss. Surprisingly, unlike Maharashtra or Gujarat (or even Karnataka when we'd travelled down South in 2011, and twice again over the last 4 years), there is hardly any traffic on the Rajasthan highways. If getting into Udaipur from Gujarat saw sparse traffic, the road to Nawalgarh was literally desolate, and we made very good time, averaging around 110 Kms to the hour, which was the highest we'd done on any of our roadtrips so far. We figured it'd be a good idea to drive up to Ajmer before we halted for breakfast. No one seemed too keen to visit the Dargah at Ajmer Sharief (the considered view being that God is within us), and we decided to give that halt a pass. Although I do with to visit Ajmer Sharief once!
Once again, I hadn't factored in the vagaries of the road, and the navigation app took us right past Ajmer, using the bypass! The bypass itself didn't have too many interesting joints - I guess anyone that wishes to eat at Ajmer enters the town. So we drove on and in about 20 minutes reached Kishangarh, which is known for its fort. It was nearly 0930Hrs by then, and I slowed down hoping to find a decent dhaba for breakfast. Eventually, we found a place that had clean washrooms (surprise!), run by the genial octogenarian, Bade Khan Saab and his son (Chhotay Khan saab, I presume?). It is amazing, that it's 5 years since we did this trip, and although I don't remember the name of the dhaba, I remember the name of the proprietor! Must be due to the interesting conversation we had. As we walked in, I looked up at the proprieter, an aged gent with a skull cap perched on two bushy eyebrows that merged with a luxurious grey beard. Somewhere in between all that hair was a bulbous nose dangling between 2 piercing, beady eyes. Once I got over the initial surprise of the face hiding somewhere behind all that hair, we spoke and he confirmed that he had clean toilets for the ladies to use and announced in true Henry Ford style that we could have any paratha for breakfast as long as it was aloo paratha.
As we sat down to some pretty decent aloo parathas with the freshest and most refreshing curd I'd had in a long time, he and I got into a long distance conversation (long distance since his manager - counter was quite far from our table, and neither of us could be bothered to get up). I learnt his name was Bade Khan Saab, which I suspect is a nom - de - table' he'd assumed. He seemed rather disappointed that we weren't seeing the Kishangarh fort, and launched into an interesting monologue on the fort and it's virtues. Apparently, the fort was built when the incumbent RanaSa happened to see a sheep defend her lambs from a pack of wolves. Inspired by this, he decided to build a formidable fort here. I guess he didn't have the services of any seer / baba / hermit to guide him on strategic decisions like ideal location for fort building etc., and hence had to look elsewhere for inspiration. Martially inclined sheep are as good as any inspiration, one must assume. Apparently this fort is so formidable, that it has never been conquered in its history. The fort is also home to the miniature style of painting, and the BANI THANI style of painting too originated here. Quite a treasure trove of history, heritage and culture! By now Bade Khan Saab was in his element and nearly apoplectic that we may not visit the fort. I promised we would take a look at it on our way back, and he seemed pacified. He charged us the ridiculously low sum of 120 odd rupees for the breakfast, and we were on our way once again. The hospitality and sheer warmth of total strangers never ceases to amaze me!
Just before Kishangarh, one has to turn left onto SH 7, which goes straight to Nawalgarh via Roopangarh and Makrana. For some unfathomable reason I continued on NH 48, and we ended up going towards Jaipur! It was still in the general North - Easterly direction, which is where we had to go, but added another 60 Kms to our journey. By the time I realised my folly, we had already traversed 22 of those Kms, and we decided to just go on. Finally, after bypassing Jaipur (where we encountered fair bit of traffic), we got to Govindgarh. By now it was nearly 1300Hrs, everyone had started getting antsy. By my calculation, and if we hadn't taken the longer route, we should've reached Nawalgarh by now. As things stood, we were still about 100Kms away, and I stepped on the gas, hoping to get there by 1430Hrs at the latest. In about an hour we came across a toll booth, and to ensure I didn't miss a turning again I asked the attendant if this was the correct road to Nawalgarh, which he confirmed. Google maps also showed this to be the way to Club Mahindra Nawalgarh, so on we went. Finally, around 1430Hrs we reached a largish town of sorts, and Google showed that we were about 5 minutes from our destination. Following the blue line on the navigation app, we passed the town, ventured into the desert, and eventually it announced that we'd reached our destination. Except, when we looked around, all we could see was sand and desolation for miles. Perhaps Club Mahindra was planning to build a property here and we were a couple of years early? Unlikely as that seemed, we back - tracked to the town we'd just crossed. A helpful passerby told us the place we were in was Jhunjhunu. When he realised we were coming from Ajmer and looking for Nawalgarh, he looked at me like I'd escaped from a mental asylum. "Nawalgarh toh aap 40Km peechhay chhod aye. Wahaan ruk kyon nahin gaye?" was his helpful question.
By now the kids were hungry, and frustration levels in the car had sky - rocketed. The issue is, if we'd known we were to travel for 12 hours that day, everyone would've been chilled out - since we had factored in getting to our destination by 1330Hrs, and here we were, losing our way since morning till about 1430Hrs, tempers were frayed! I quickly backtracked onto the Jaipur - Jhunjhunu bypass road (apparently this was the road we had come along and totally missed Nawalgarh), where we found a street vendor selling oranges. We picked up a dozen of the fruit, and sped on towards Nawalgarh. This time, not trusting the map, I had asked 3 different auto drivers where Nawalgarh was, and arrived at the conclusion that it was around 40Kms from where we were. So I reset the trip meter in the Yeti to 0, and drove till it reached 38Kms. At this point we pulled over to the kerb, and waited for a passing local for directions. In a minute or so a tempo driver slowed down, and told us that Club Mahindra was just a Km or so from where we'd stopped, and since he was going to deliver vegetables there, we could follow him. As we took off, in less than 500 meters he turned left onto a mud path, wide enough for a bullock - cart to pass, and after a few twists and turns, arrived at the Roop Mahal Palace, which was the Club Mahindra property! Thanking him profusely, we check in to the place, and headed to our room.
Since then I believe Club Mahindra has let go of this property. For whatever it was worth, the place in itself was quite quaint. The weather was decidedly colder, and as far as you could see, other than the haveli, there was nothing around. Our room was a largish single - storied cottage of sorts, away from the main complex. I assume it must've been an outhouse or servants quarter of sorts. Whatever it must've been, it was now a very comfortably furnished room, with enough space for all 5 of us, and then some! The window opened up to beautiful fields, and there was a peacock right outside our window, completing the picture. After a quick meal of some roti, dal, chicken, subzi etc., we just lolled around the place. Later that evening, we saw a flock of camels (or is it caravan of camels?) passing outside the haveli walls. Upon investigating, a man happened to be leading them back home - since we could only see the tops of the camels from behind the wall, the herder was only revealed once we went out. For the sum of 20 rupees he offered us rides on the camels, which Addy and Ritika readily agreed to do. Ranga trusted elephants more, and out of a misplaced sense of loyalty refused to have anything to do with camels, or animals that didn't have a trunk. The rest of the evening was as chilled out as this, it being one of those times when you do nothing and are glad for it! By 2300Hrs we snuggled in to bed against the cold, and passed out looking forward to another day with no agenda and nothing to do, but exist.