|Striking an awkward pose at Sethani ka Johara|
When I look back at all the trips VJ and I have done together, Churu stands out for more reasons than one - the long drive to Churu and back, my first experience of sand dunes, the thrill of staying in a century-old Haveli, the delight of discovering beautiful frescos on random walls, the joy of listening to Rajasthani folk artists and so much more. There is no dearth of lingering memories when I think about our trip to Churu. But let me share the ones that have left a deeper impression than the others.
|A well-maintained and inhabited haveli in Churu|
A little more than 3 years back, we were invited to spend a couple of nights at a Haveli turned hotel known as Malji ka Kamra. While the other guests were taking the train, we decided to drive. Google Maps at that time weren't as advanced as they are now. They showed us that the shorter route was the one through Rewari and it would take us a little more than 4 hours to reach there. At that time, I was the only driver among the two of us, and four hours seemed doable even though it was the first time that we would be going on a long drive. We set out early in the morning and the initial 100 kms went pretty fast. We stopped at a dhaba after Rewari for Breakfast. I still remember the parathas were really tasty and the tea must have been okay too. However the smooth ride ended right there.
|Well-maintained roads of Rajasthan|
The road after that was so bad that it took us about three hours to cross about 70 kms. The potholes were large and numerous. Moreover, it was a two lane highway, with hardly any space to maneuver and overtake. This was horrendous. However the nightmare ended abruptly as soon as we entered Rajasthan. The potholed excuse for a highway was replaced by a smooth, broad road and we took a sigh of relief. And also stopped for another cup of tea.
|Interesting Autos on the way to Churu|
The good roads continued almost up till Churu, where it simply vanished and we were almost driving through sand. The road was still being made and there was a traffic jam, pushing light vehicles off the road. One juncture was especially tricky where the sand was deep. But I am proud to say that yours truly managed to traverse that rather well and our BRITney (Blushing Red i10) supported us rather well. That was also my first experience with offroading, arising not out of choice, but out of necessity. I have since done offroading for fun several times, but on vehicles that are better equipped to handle it.
|Malji ka Kamra at nightime|
Anyways, at the end, we managed to reach Malji ka Kamra. A drive that was supposed to take only four hours had taken seven, and I was dead tired having driven the entire distance on my own. We were the last to arrive in Churu, the others had reached early by train. Despite all the turbulence, I do not regret our decision to drive. All such experiences help you grow up a bit.
|Local folk artists singing Pabuji ki Phad - In the background you can see the religious scroll|
The second memory is of us enjoying an evening full of music and good snacks at the hotel. The hotel owner, Deepak Balan, had invited some local folk artists to perform Pabuji ki Phad. The Phad is a religious scroll extolling the antics of Pabuji, a folk-deity who lived in the 14th century. While singing Pabuji ki Phad, this scroll is displayed in the background. The company that performed for us consisted of an old man with handlebar mustache, a middle-aged woman, who sang most of the songs but kept her face covered throughout, and a bright-eyed little boy dressed in traditional Rajasthani attire who did most of the dancing. Some of us joined him in the dance. It was a truly wonderful experience. Deepak had also invited a local historian to come and speak to us about the history of Churu. I don't remember much of the talk except a little trivia about the historical site we now call "Mohenjodaro". Apparently, its actual name is "Moinjo dharo", which means mountain of dead bodies. I don't know why none of the history of Churu stuck, but this fact simply won't fade.
|All of us at the Desert Bonfire|
After listening to the Phad, we headed out to the sand dunes. Luckily there was a meteor shower that night. We spotted quite a few shooting stars lying back on the sand, sipping on chilled beer. Those of us who do not drink beer, felt slightly left out. We missed our glasses of wine. But there was live barbecue to make up for it. I remember us making ghost faces to the cameras and simply being crazy. It was a fun group to hang out with.
|A scary room in Malji ka Kamra. If you look closely, you can see weird faces carved in to the frames.|
The most challenging part of the trip was sleeping in the room on the terrace. Our room was tastefully done, but simple. During the tour of the property, we were shown several rooms that were scary has hell. They had weird faces carved into the walls. "What were they thinking?" was the question on our minds as we wondered about the people who had got the haveli built. We were so glad that our rooms were simple. Yet the fact that we were all the way up on the terrace and amidst total and complete darkness, with the faces leering in the creepy rooms below, was unnerving enough.
|History-rich streets of Churu|
|Grand havelis with fresco paintings|
The next day was very interesting. We walked around looking at dilapidated havelis of Churu. Many of these havelis were in advanced state of deterioration. While some still had people living in them, the others were so overgrown that we were warned of a possibility of venomous snakes lurking around. Sweet! After Churu, we moved on to Ramgarh, where we explored various Chhatris and explored the streets laden with beautiful frescos that have survived centuries of weathering.
|A wooden sculpture by a national award winning artist.|
On our way back we visited the family of wood-carving artists in Churu. We were prepared for mundane touristy mementos, but were completely taken aback by what we saw. The art has been passed on from generation to generation and each generation has added its own touch to it. The family has been a recipient of national awards and the art speaks for itself. Watch this video and prepare to be blown away.
The day didn't end just yet. We had our evening tea accompanied by biscuits and samosas near Sethani ka Johara, a huge man-made water reservoir surrounded by beautiful Chhatris. We sipped on our teas and watched the sun go down. We clicked crazy pictures and stood silently at the edge of the water. All of us felt refreshed even though the day had been very tiring. And by the time we headed back, we weren't really sorry. We were all dreaming of taking a shower and a relaxing dinner at the hotel.
|Sethani ka Johara at twilight|
We started back early next day, when it was still dark. It was really dark and dusty and the drive was slow. Moreover, the fact that we had office that day took the joy out of the drive. Also the fact that this time we were aware of the terrible roads that lay ahead. It took surprisingly long to cross Gurgaon and we reached Delhi at around 11. It was a shame that taking a leave wasn't an option for either of us that day. We could have done with a day off. The trip, though exciting, had been really tiring too. But given a chance, I would visit Churu again, with more time in my hands, and may be dwell among those ancient walls to soak in all the history.