The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan

Tripoto
10th Jun 2016

Welcome to the Desert.

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The 'deserted' sunset.

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The preparation of Shrikhand at home

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Nakoda Jain temple premises

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Nakoda Jain temple premises

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Nakoda Jain temple: goddesses on the roof

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Selfie at the Nakoda Jain temple

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

A glance at the Sahyog Restaurant chapati menu

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Sand in my hand, going to the desert sacred land.

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Martyrs' Memorial, Loco Staff.

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The two of us!

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The track that leads to Pakistan.

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Martyrs' Memorial, Engineering Staff.

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Martyrs' Memorial, Engineering Staff

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Martyrs' Memorial, Engineering Staff

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Martyrs' Memorial, Engineering Staff

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Shri Amlok Sweets

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Shri Amlok Sweets

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Bamboo hut used as Kitchen

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Bamboo hut used as Kitchen

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

An underground water tank

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

The Kiradu Temples

Photo of The Deserts of Balotra, Rajasthan by Vipul Mehta

Over the last weekend, I was at the beautiful desert (but surely not deserted) lands of Balotra in Barmer District of Rajasthan. I was with my wife and we stayed at my in-laws' place. It is a place where both the beauty and the heat of the desert can be experienced to their fullest. Since it was my first visit in the desert, I was particularly happy and intrigued by the nuances of the desert and its life.

A bit about Balotra. Balotra is a small town in the west of Rajasthan located on the Luni river. The river once gave water to the town, now its a big tract of dry barren land spread over miles. Balotra is a smallish place with local shops, lots of inexpensive fruits and jewelry. Let's take a deeper look.

  • Desertification: Firstly, I want to point out that the 'desert' that you see in the movies and in every picture floating on the internet is one which is sand and nothing but massive land of sand spread across millions of miles in all directions with Camels as the only mode of movement. Fortunately for most part of Rajasthan, this is not the case. Balotra included. The deserts of Barmer, Balotra and all the adjacent locations are sand with vegetation. If you recall we read in our high school textbooks a term called Desertification. Desertification is the process of desert formation of cities and fertile land. In order to prevent desertification of cities by the shift of sand from Rajasthan to other adjoining states, the Government of India planted desert plants which would ensure that the sand movement is under control. So, that's what we see when we travel on the roads. Desert with lots and lots of vegetation. This vegetation makes the movement of vehicles possible on the roads, this vegetation ensures people aren't eating and drinking sand wherever they go, this vegetation is also a source of food for the locals. See, trees do a lot more than providing oxygen.
  • Landscape: When you get on the road, you see desert (the kind I explained above, not the one shown in the movies) and nothing but desert as far as the eye can see. At times you may spot acres of dry ponds from where salt is extracted. At other times, you may spot sand dunes and hills which are a part of the hilly ranges of the desert. In the heat of the weathers, driving down the roads in anything other than an air conditioned vehicle is simply giving trouble to the human body.
  • Winds: The only two things available in plenty in Rajasthan are sand and wind. Because of the heat and the difference in the temperature of the air and the land, hot winds blow in the entire region, 24x7. There isn't any time of the day of the year when the wind would stop. We used to sleep in the open on the terrace and since the night winds are relatively cold, we enjoyed sleeping in the open. Oh it'd been so long since I'd done that!
  • Vegetation: So what type of vegetation is there in the desert areas? The most common edible trees are what are popularly known as Ker Sangri. Ker is a wild berry and Sangri is a type of beans wildly grown in the desert regions of Jaisalmer and Barmer. The vegetable made from Ker Sangri combination is amazingly delicious and is a must at the weddings and other special occasions of Rajasthan! A simple google search will tell you how great it is. Further, pickles are also prepared out of Ker. Besides these, a great area of vegetation is weeds and wild trees. There may be some more 'good' trees which I'm not aware of at this moment. A tip: The next time you go to Rajasthan, definitely enjoy the vegetable called Ker Sangri.
  • Water: No discussion of the desert is complete without talking about Water. Simply because water is such a rare commodity there. With less than a few weeks of rain in the entire year there is no such thing as underground fresh water (there's a lot of underground oil though). Further the vast expanses of the desert spread over millions of acres take away any possibility of a pipeline to be drawn from the next big city. So how do people survive? Well, the only source of water for the people is rain water. In howsoever little quantity the rain falls in any year, the people have learnt over the years to store the rain water under their houses to use it for drinking, washing and for their cattle. And now, I was amazed to see the effort of the Government of Rajasthan in providing rain water to every household. The concept is the construction of an underground circular water tank for every household in the villages which would ensure a year's worth of water till the next rain comes. You can see the image of the water tank with circular slopes built on all sides to ensure the rain water, instead of going waste, falls straight into the tank. A tank normally costs around INR 1.5 lacs, 90% of which is provided by the government, leaving only 10% for the people to pay. Construction time: 10 days (average).
  • The India-Pak Border: A huge part of western Barmer district, if you see the map, lies on the India Pakistan border. Once we go from Barmer city towards Gadra Road and further west, we come across the barbed wire fencing of India-Pakistan borders. The International Border is a curved line depicted by white poles at regular distances. 150 yards on both sides is 'No Man's Land', land which is owned neither by India nor by Pakistan. After the 150 yards on the Indian side is the barbed wire fencing running across miles covering the entire desert to ensure no infiltration of people or resources happens from there to here and vice versa.
  • The Thar Express: Just as the train Samjhauta Express connects Delhi and Lahore, the Thar Express connects Jodhpur and Karachi. The train leaves once a week from either side and reaches its destination in around 24 hours. Do read more about these two trains, if you're not already aware. It's always good to know how we are connected with the humans of other mothers across the border.

Further details on the places we visited are there in the itinerary below. I surely enjoyed my stay in the heat, and also my day out in the border areas of the country. I hope you feel the same when you go.

Nakoda Bhairav temple is a combined Hindu and Jain temple of Lord Bhairv and the Parsavanath, the Jain deity. This temple and its premises are huge and it is considered to be a Holy Temple for the Jain community. The architecture is quite beautiful with carvings on the temple walls. On most days you'll find a lot of people there. Lucky for us, we didn't find that much since we were in the mid of summer. The key feature of the temple is the statue of Lord Bhairav. It is a bright orange statue, about two and a half feet from chest to the head with clear face features including the lips and the nose, a black mustache on the upper lip and shiny white eyes with dark black pupils. The most striking feature of the statue are its eyes. Those eyes really look back at you! All in all, good place to go if you enjoy visiting temples.
In the year 1965, when India and Pakistan were in the middle of a war, the train plying from India to Pakistan was attacked by the air fighters of Pak armed forces between Barmer and Gadra. The staff members of the train tried best to save as many lives as they could but lost theirs in the process. In memory of the efforts made by the staff members, this mini war memorial was constructed after the war was over. The memorial is right on the spot where these people lost their lives. The constant flow of the desert winds, the railway track to the left, the desert trees as far as the eye can see and the lookout of empty army bunkers at the distance gave a chill in my spine when I arrived at this place.
Not very far from the war memorial of the loco staff, there's another war memorial of the Engineering Staff of another train which got ambushed by the Pak armed forces, in the 1971 war this time. In memory of the staff members who lost their lives at this incident, a second war memorial was built by the Indian Railway. On way from Barmer to Gadra Road, do visit these places. If not anything else, you will surely be intrigued by the war and its effects on the lives of people.
They say Kiradu Temples are the Khajuraho of Rajasthan because of the similarities in the architecture and the wall carvings of both the temples, aka the erotica. Having seen both the places, I can surely say that there is one major difference. While at Khajuraho even after all the centuries of time that has passed, there are still a significant number of temples standing, that too with minor damages. The temples of Kiradu however are mostly in ruins. At Khajuraho, you can appreciate the grandeur of the temple palaces, the beauty of the wall carvings and the wonders of the architectural marvel, that too not only live but also in the recorded voice of Mr Amitabh Bachchan in the sound and lights show every evening. At the temples of Kiradu, one will see two half broken temples without their deities, or roofs for that matter. For a fifty rupees entry fee and with no guide to explain the history of the place, I didn't find going there worth the effort (historians or archaeologists may have a different opinion though).
Way at the far end of our country's border, a hundred kilometers from Barmer city lie a very small town called Gadra Road. Gadra was a city which was divided during the partition and now Gadra city is in Pakistan while the smaller Gadra Road town is in India. In this town there is an old sweets shop called Shri Amlok Sweets. Other things aside, this guy is famous for preparing these delicious brown colored Laddoos prepared using Desi Ghee and flour. Sold at INR 300 per kg, these Laddoos are a delight to the taste buds... my foodie friends, take note!
On the way from Balotra to Nagoda temple comes Sahyog Restaurant. The food is reasonably good there but the thing I particularly enjoyed was these different forms of Rajasthani chapatis... Bajri Sogra, Takker and Khoba Roti. We tried the Takker and Khoba Roti. These are somewhere between a chapati and a parantha. Thicker with salts and spices added to the dough at the time of preparation. And definitely very very tasty. I presume these can be found at other places of Rajasthan too. Do check these Rajasthani style chapatis on your travel escapades. I hope you get all the goods of the tastes which these wonderful far-fetched places of our country have to offer.
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