The biggest challenge for any family-traveller is to convince his spouse to visit the very place to which the said traveller wants to go. The discussions on selection of a place to visit may start with the theories of applied economics and ends with the theories of conflict resolutions through subtle negotiations and polite persuasions. Similar was my situation in early 2015 when I wanted to go to “Shekhawati” in Rajasthan. It was, though not unknown, but a non-descript region as compared to other exotic choices available at the same cost. So, initially, no one concurred with my idea of a road trip there. “Is there anything worth to watch or to do?”, was the normal question.
It was wrong to promise something that was not going to happen. But the driving on the highways in the silence of the unknown surroundings, feeling the openness of the vast horizon, breathing into the fresh air of the countryside, tasting the best possible local food, sipping self-prepared hot tea under the shade of any tree and finally watching the world-famous beautifully painted havelis were definitely going to be some of the pleasure of the road trip. So, finally, on 31st March 2015 at 04.15 am, duly accompanied with my family, I put my well-packed car into the first gear.
The rightly deserted roads enhanced the pleasure of leaving Delhi and soon, we were crossing Gurgaon in the fifth. Flying past glittering high-rises of Gurgaon in the twilight was the first treat of the journey that I always wanted to bestow upon my partner. After all, safe and beautiful driving is also a statement! It was done in clinical precision. Beyond Gurgaon, the glitz decreases. There are three major diversions after the Manesar Toll (60 INR). In that hour, one also finds number of trucks returning from Delhi after emptying their containers in the previous night there. These empty trucks have their own set of codes. They drive with gay abundance. Dodging those trucks and negotiating the diversions with a gentle speed at 2nd and 3rd, we reached the Sahibi river bridge at 05.45 am.
The Sahibi river bridge is an important “Y” junction. The left fork proceeds to Ajmer via Behror (as NH 08) and the right fork goes to Narnaul (as SH 26) via Rewari. Regular travellers take the right fork. Instead, I took the left fork and came on the well-known National Highway 08. The familiarity with the geography often generates confidence. I was happy when my wife started recounting the familiar landmarks falling on this route. The ice had been broken. Feeling the joy, I lowered the gears gradually and stopped in front of a tea-shack (near Shahjahanpur) to treat her with a highway-special tea to celebrate the journey. At 06.45 in the morning and as his first customer of the day, the humble tea-vendor served some heavenly tea made in the well-polished brass container. Sometimes, I feel that the types of containers and the use of cooking fuel do define the flavour of the high-way teas across India.
Anyway, soon I crossed Shahjahanpur Toll Plaza (Rs. 114) and reached Behror. I was about to climb on the flyover, when I saw the direction of Narnaul on a very small board at the left exit. Immediately, I slowed down and took the slip road, which was having very big craters completely filled by the last night’s rain. In this slip road, it was not possible to drive above second gear all the way till the Behror crossing, which falls under the flyover. The road to Narnaul was on the right turn at the crossing. It was the State Highway 14, also called the “Narnaul-Behror-Alwar Road”.
It is a double road, but, without the middle divider. In the early hours, one can drive fast on this road as the traffic was quite low then. I was, however, driving at a very moderate speed so as to enjoy the vast stretches of wheat fields on the either side of the road. It was the Nareda Kalan village. The next village was aptly named as “Nimbhor” because it had plenty of Neem trees. The fresh air of the beautiful countryside had gone into our nostrils. By 07.45 am, we crossed the CISF training camp to our right and reached at the Jakhrana toll plaza (20 Rs.) at Jakhrana village. There we saw memorials of several army/police personnel erected by the local population in the memory of their sons of soil. These were the men, who had lost their lives fighting terrorists or enemies and had shown utmost bravery in the call of duty for the motherland. Later, we saw such memorials in almost all the villages falling enroute. It was indeed a very emotional subject and the heart filled with pride.
From there, one reaches the village of Bhagwari Kalan. There were many medium-sized warehouses-shops situated at both sides of the state highway with stocks of rough and flat slabs of brownish-greyish stones. These stones, at the first glance, looked like unpolished marbles, which actually they were not. We stopped at one of such shops to ask about them. The merchant informed that those stones were not mined locally, but were brought from Bhilwara. The local population uses them for fencing their fields and also in construction of roofs. They are sold by the rate of a tractor-load or camel-cart load. Later, we saw many fields fenced at their perimeter with the use of those stones.
A pleasant drive, at moderate speed in 05th, further brought us to another village called Mandhana. From 2010, a branch of families of sweet-makers from Narnaul started purchasing lands there. They have constructed shops on the both sides of the narrow stretch of road. In those shops, they make fresh rasgullas with Cow’s milk and ship it to almost all nearby towns and cities for sale. In addition, it seems that they had plenty of orders during the marriage seasons as well. We stopped at one of such shops and saw the process of rasgulla-making. We also purchased few rasgullas for taste. It was very sweet, I mean, so sweet that one requires a spoon of salty snack to be had after those rasgullas.
The road condition deteriorated once we entered Narnaul from this route. It was named as MDR 64. Smell of cow dung filled our nostrils when we were crossing Kindoza. There were many huge craters on the road. Some of them were so huge that our small car could have been completely submerged had they been filled with rain water. Fortunately, there was one small car in the front, which was apparently being driven by a local. So, I tailed that car in 01st and 02nd gear to cross those mammoth craters. Further up, the road condition at Gehli got better.
Meanwhile, my son, who was sleeping so far, then got up and started requesting for a stopover for giving him an opportunity for bowel clearance. But, there was no hotel or any restaurant in sight for long. Fortunately, the police station at Gehli arrived soon. It was situated right on the left side of the road. Sometimes, being a government servant becomes handy. Upon my request, they allowed my son to use their toilet facility. Let me admit that it was really an experience to stand at the police station for a strange cause. But, it also threw another interesting topic in my mind. How important it was to build the infrastructure suitable for highway travel in the hinterland?
Continuing with our journey smoothly in 05th gear, we passed by the settlement called “Nawta-ki-dhani”, where many brick kilns were situated. The famous Singhania University falls before the Pacheri Kalan toll-plaza (Rs. 35/-) on Other District Road No. 8. The road condition from Pacheri-kalan to Singhania is smooth. The right turn from Singhania takes one to next big township of Chirawa. Enroute to Chirawa, we passed by a village called “Gara Khera”, where we saw a big statue of a mighty bull. Curious to know about its history, I lowered the gears and stopped the car in front of two college-going girls, who were standing there waiting for their bus. I put an open question to both of them, “Why the statue of this bull was constructed in this village? Is there any special reason or story/history about it?” One of the girls did not like being asked by a stranger and shied away. But, the second girl was more open. She smiled at me at replied, “This bull was so strong that it had impregnated every cow in this village and around. So, its statue was built.” The girls had burst into laughter. But, listening to such an answer from a village belle, I had no further query. So, leaving them giggling over the interaction, I sped away towards Chirawa and soon was cruising at 05th.
The village of Gara-khera also had a toll plaza. But no toll was taken there, if one had purchased the toll at Pacheri-kalan toll–post and is able to show them the proof. The town of Chirawa is famous for “Peda”, a sweet made of milk. The entrance to the town is marked by the presence of two shops selling Peda. But, I was told in Delhi that the best peda is sold in the shop of Lalchand Halwai. Almost everyone knows his shop and was able to tell its direction. The difference was only in the way they communicated. The competing peda-shop-owners inform about Lalchand halwai with a pinch-of-salt and other shop-keepers inform the same with pride. But we decided to purchase the peda in our return journey so as to take it to Delhi, which we did later. It had a great taste. I had earlier tasted the famous pedas of Mathura (Uttar Pradeh) and Devghar (Bihar). In comparison, it was really very tasty and ethereal.
Chirawa onwards, we were travelling on Rajasthan State Highway 08. It was a smooth drive through semi-arid terrain interspersed with wheat fields. We reached at the Numia Gothala Toll plaza (25/-) at 11.15 am. The next village was Bakhtawarpura, where we saw the signage of Jal-Mitra. It meant that Bakhtawarpura had adopted and implemented some scheme for drinking water and sanitation. It was really a very clean village.
Further upwards, after crossing Bagar, we reached the township of Jhunjhunu. There, our stay was booked with the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, Tourist Bunglow, which was situated at a prime location, called Mandawa Circle in Jhunjhunu. Almost all Government offices were situated nearby. The Tourist Reception Centre of Rajasthan Tourism was in the adjacent building in the same campus. It also had a big ground, which is rented out to the marriage purposes these days. Parking is never a problem with these properties.
Being a well-known landmark in a small town, it was easily located and I parked the car in its premises at about 12.15 pm. Shri Shankar Lal Chaudhary was on duty there. He rushed to clean the room, when we arrived, as they were not anticipating that anyone would be staying for the night in Jhunjhunu. Moreover, besides us, there were no other guests. Nonetheless, the air-conditioning was working fortunately, even if the room was very basic. But, the best of all was that there was no facility for dining, except for the facility to serve tea in the room. Obviously and suddenly, all my efforts to project Shekhawati as a viable tourist destination was going into pieces.
Anyway, I had taken quite long to cover a distance of approximately 300 kilometres. So, being tired, we ordered our first tea in Shekhawati. It was brought in the well-known RTDC cups by an apologetic room attendant, who was visibly unhappy for not being able to provide us with lunch at that time.
Our journey to Shekhawati had just begun!