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Monday, January 19, 2015

The Great Thar Desert Cycling Jaisalmer Expedition - 2014

In December 2013 I had participated in Goa Cycling expedition organised by YHAI (Youth Hostel Association of India). The Goa pedalling brought close bonding amongst few of the participants and we had continued our communication channel through Mail, Facebook and on Whatsapp.  This bonding made us to think ‘Why cannot we participate in The Great Thar Desert Cycling expedition organised by YHAI, Rajasthan ?’

After messages on Whatsapp we firmed up our decision to participate and myself, Amit Agashe, Shailesh Sahu, Suchita Keole,Tejaswita, Abhishek Bawkar & Ankit Wankhade registered in Sept 2014 our names collectively  with YHAI, Jaisalmer for Thar Desert Cycling expedition batch commencing from 27th December 2014. 

Once we registered our names, we began preparing for the event which included more communication, booking of to & fro train tickets, continuous practicing for the ride etc.  Preparing ourselves for The Thar Desert cycling expedition was an exciting phase for all of us.

While I was the only one from Bangalore, my other ex Goa cyclist friends were from Mumbai & Pune. All of us booked our train tickets in BDTS-JSM express train no.22931 leaving Mumbai (Bandra)  terminus on 26th Dec 2014 & reaching Jaisalmer on 27th Dec 2014 at 12.50 p.m.  We were required to reach YHAI base camp at Jaisalmer before 2 p.m. on 27th Dec.

I had booked myself to Mumbai by Spicejet airlines for 26th Dec departing Bangalore at 10.35 a.m. & scheduled to reach Mumbai by 12.15 p.m. as our train to Jaisalmer was at 2.35 p.m. from Bandra terminus. But a week before my departure to Mumbai I had shocking news from Spicejet viz., cancellation of my flight to Mumbai on 26th Dec. as Spicejet was going through severe financial crunch. Fortunately,  Spicejet made me to travel from Bangalore to Mumbai via Goa on 24th Dec.
To Mumbai

To Vasco in Goa
I had a sigh of relief that I could take train to Jaisalmer with my friends on 26th Dec. As I had about 2 & half hours gap at Goa before catching my flight to Mumbai, I took a local bus from Goa airport & had quick round to Vasco city. I did not want to go far off from the airport and hence, came back to Goa airport quickly.  On reaching Mumbai I stayed in my brothers house on 24th & 25th Dec.

On 26th Dec we all assembled at BDTS at around 1.30 p.m. Suchita could not make it as she was indisposed. The BDTS-JSM express left Bandra terminus at 2.35 p.m. We had very good time in the train recalling reminiscences of memorable time that we had during our Goa cycling expedition.

Mumbai to Jaisalmer by train
Dinner time in train

Day One- 27th December 2014

We reached Jaisalmer on 27th Dec around 3 p.m. YHAI base camp was just 2 kms away from Jaisalmer railway station. Putting our luggage in a Tuk Tuk (Rickshaw) we reached base camp which is located on Border Home guards ground.

With Shailesh, Abhishek & Tejaswita at Jaisalmer railway station

After completing joining formalities we moved our luggage to tent no. 5 allotted to us. Tejaswita being female participant moved to ladies tent. We were very hungry. Thanks to YHAI we were served with hot rotis, daal and rice. Base camp is well spread out with tents on one side and toilets and bath rooms with clear marking for Ladies  & Gents on the other side.

With Amit, Shailesh & Tejaswita at YHAI base camp

In all there were 26 participants for cycling expedition. Around 4 p.m. we had acclimatization /  orientation program by YHAI Jaisalmer director Mr.RS Bhati followed by issue of Rockrider Geared bicycle, Rucksack (backpack), helmet, hand gloves, knee & elbow pads to individual participants. The quality of items issued was very good.

YHAI gave sleeping bag to every participant. These bags are of good polyurethane material and in cold weather offers comfortable sleep inside making it warm.

Sleeping bags

Around 5 p.m. all the participants had a trial / fun ride to Gadisar lake which is located 5 kms away at Jaisalmer city.

YHAI base camp-Tent stay

With Shailesh & Ankit

The weather in Jaisalmer was very chilled and it was biting cold. Temperature in the night was as low as 4 degree Celsius and during day time it was around 10-12 degree Celsius.

At Jain temple
With Ankit, Shailesh, Abhishek, Tejaswita, Amit
& Rajesh Gopali & Santhosh Vujayan

With Ankit. Ruined Kuldhara village can be seen

Day Two – 28th Dec 2014

We left base camp around 9.30 a.m. and  pedalling a distance of 50 kms via heritage empty Kuldhara village reached Sam Sand Dunes. Kuldhara is a ruined village.

With Shailesh. Ruined Kuldhara village can be seen

Sand dunes was just 500 mts from our camp. After freshening up we walked to Sam sand dunes to get glimpses of sun set. Oh my God! What a beautiful scene it is to see sun set at sand dunes. The curvature of sand with semi mountainous look invites you to witness unprecedented sun set view that everyone should experience. The light of setting sun falling on the sand  brings a golden shine and offers treat to the eye.

At Sam Sand dunes

Sam sand dunes is full of tourists both Indian and foreigners. There are umpteen number of vendors flocking from one end to the other selling anything and everything. Camel rides are very popular at Rs.50/- per head.
At Sam Sand dunes

At Sam Sand dunes

Car stuck in sand at Sam Sand dunes

Bicycle pump used to fill air in van.
Location-Sam Sand dunes

Day Three – 29th Dec 2014

On day three we left Sam sand dunes camp to Sudasari camp pedalling around 45 kms. Of this, 13 kms cycling was on sand road which is typically called as Kuchha road. Pedalling on sand in desert is unique. At some places falls are common. Precisely for this reason we were made to wear knee pads and elbow pads apart from helmet. Although impact of the falls are not severe, knee pads & elbow pads provide protection from any kind of abrasions.

Photo courtesy-Amit Agashe

Photo courtesy-Amit Agashe

We pedalled beside the Desert National park where we had glimpses of black bucks, deer, desert snake & Egyptian eagles. On our way we also visited Heritage Khaba village, fort and Nabh Dungar temple.

Desert snake-Courtesy Amit Agashe

Egyptian Eagles
Huge sparrows

Photo courtesy-Amit Agashe
Simple villager
Sand dunes near Sudasari camp is also equally beautiful and it is not open to general public. Only members of YHAI who are part of trekking / cycling groups are permitted to visit.

Sun set at sudasari sand dunes

Sun set at sudasari sand dunes

Day Four- 30th December 2014

On day four we returned to YHAI base camp at Border Home Guards ground, Jaisalmer. Here again we cycled around 13 kms on sand kachha road. We also visited Kuldhara Khabha fort. Total ride on day three was around 40 kms.

Relaxing near bushes after pedaling

A vendor in a tempo was selling oranges. For those of us cycling in desert it was like water in oasis. Each one of us must have had at least half a dozen of oranges.
Oranges with Shailesh, Ankit & Amit

Day Five-31st December 2014

On day five it was Jaisalmer city ride. It was also a concluding day of our expedition. We left base camp around 9 a.m. We cycled to Bara Bagh Cenotaphs & Amar Sagar, Jain temple and then returned to base camp around 12.30 p.m. Total ride was just about 20 kms.

Bara Bagh Cenotaphs
Bara Bagh Cenotaphs

It was now time for us to say good bye to YHAI. As we had already booked Hotel Jaisalmer Palace for us from 31st Dec 2014 to 2nd January 2015 we quickly handed over the bicycle and other safety gadgets to YHAI and took ‘The Great Thar Desert Cycling Expedition’ successful completion certificate.

We had great satisfaction of successful completion of cycling expedition. The ride also made bondage of our friendship stronger amongst our team.

Group photo with all participants
On the afternoon of 31st December 2014 we took Tuk Tuk (Rickshaw) from YHAI base camp & moved to Hotel Jaisalmer Palace which is about 4 kms. We all celebrated arrival of year 2015 at the hotel with lots of fun & frolic and returned to our rooms around 1 a.m. Hotel Jaisalmer Palace offered us a comfortable abode.
With Amit Agashe

Hotel Jaisalmer Palace is located at walking distance from market, Gadisar lake, Patwon ki Haveli  and famous Jaisalmer Golden Fort.  On 1st & 2nd January 2015 we had relaxed, carefree & gala time. We enjoyed roaming in the market, tasting local delicacies like lassi, daal churma bhati, kachori. We visited famous Patwon ki Haveli which is made of yellow stones with beautiful carving both inside and outside. We visited Gadisar lake in the evening. We also visited famous huge Jaisalmer golden fort.

With Amit & Shailesh

Patwon ki Haveli
Jaisalmer Golden Fort
Jaisalmer Golden Fort

Returning home...

It was now time to return home. All my friends had booked their train tickets to Mumbai leaving Jaisalmer on 3rd Jan evening. Nearest airport to Jaisalmer is Jodhpur which is 300 kms away. My flight to Bangalore via Mumbai was on 3rd Jan afternoon from Jodhpur  and my train to Jodhpur from Jaisalmer was on 3rd Jan at 1.20 a.m. Thanks to my friends Amit, Shailesh & Ankit who accompanied me to Jaisalmer railway station on 2nd Jan night around 11.30 p.m.

I had comfortable journey in train from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur. I reached Jodhpur railway station on 3rd Jan around 7.30 a.m. I checked in & freshened up at Retiring room at Jodhpur railway station. As I had another 3 hrs with me before checking in Jodhpur airport to catch my flight to Bangalore at 2 p.m., I left for famous Jodhpur fort by taking local bus at 9 p.m. As the local bus was not going near the fort I had to get down two kms away. I decided to walk down this distance. After a kilometre walk although I could see the fort at half a kilometre distance, the road to mouth of fort was taking a long route due to higher elevation of the fort. A man who was sitting below the foot hills advised me I could trek the half kilometre mountain & reach the fort quickly instead of long circular road to fort.
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Jodhpur Fort from a distance
At Jodhpur Fort

At Jodhpur Fort

Climbing / trekking the hill was marvellous experience and I enjoyed the beauty of fort and also surrounding. I quickly reached the fort. As I had little time, I did not go inside the fort but quickly took few photographs from outside. Again I climbed down the hill & came to road. As I was looking for local means of transport to reach the bus stand, a good Samaritan by the name Mr.Anand Vyas offered me lift in his motor cycle. In a short span of time we intimately conversed with each other. After a hot cup of tea offered by Mr.Vyas near the bus stand, after profusely thanking him  I bid him good bye.

With Mr.Anand Vyas at Jodhpur

I then took a local bus & came back to Jodhpur railway station Retiring room. It was by then 12 noon. I had to be in the airport by 1 p.m. and Jodhpur airport was just 5 kms away from Jodhpur railway station. Taking a prepaid auto I reached Jodhpur airport around 12.45 p.m. My flight to Mumbai was delayed by an hour & half. The flight left Jodhpur at 3.30 p.m. and reached Mumbai airport around 4.50 p.m. Since my flight to Bangalore was at 6 p.m. we were straight away taken to Bangalore flight which also got delayed by half an hour. The flight left Mumbai at 6.30 p.m. and landed in Bangalore around 8 p.m.

I reached my Whitefield home around 10 p.m. While I had covered all my body parts while cycling in Jaisalmer, I had not covered my face and it had become dark & tan. Due to chilled weather in Jaisalmer my lips also had cutting at some places. But most satisfying factor was that I had wonderful, memorable &  enchanting cycling experience in world’s 7th largest desert in Jaisalmer which incidentally is just 95 kms away from Pakistan border.

What really Thar desert cycling gave me...

  • Cycling on MTB geared bicycles in desert is unique and different from riding in dust, muddy road & tar road.
  •  Dry lubricants are used for chain block in geared bicycles in desert to prevent sand getting stuck to chain.
  • The small bushes that are seen in desert offer cool effect when you sit near them.
  • Sun set view at desert sand dunes is beauty to witness.
  • The beautiful carving on yellow stones in Jaisalmer is something one must witness.
  • I always thought, in Thar desert, day will be hot. But I was wrong. In Thar desert, in winter both day & night are cool.
  • Stronger bondage of friendship with Amit, Shailesh, Ankit, Abhishek & Tejaswita with whom I felt young, as they never made me to feel that I am almost double of their age although they fondly called me Ram uncle.