Getting lost in Sambhar Lake

Another business trip, this time my wife’s, another attempt to squeeze some meaningful travel out of it. There was to be a event at Jaipur and she needed to be there to supervise things (aka boss around). I could accompany her and make it worthwhile (for me). So after brooding for a while, the deal was that once we are done with the event on Friday evening, we would drive to Sambhar (what Sambhar, wait) the next morning instead of usual shopping in Bapu Market.

While Sambhar lake excursion made me go there, I must confess that there was one more reason. And that was the Delhi-Jaipur drive (I know I have been on this road for n times and I really do not like dry-fast stretches but a drive is better then watching Delhi temperature go up), the charm and happiness of which I very tactfully hid lest the better half should try to barter it against another bout of shopping, if not Bapu Market then may be another round of jewelery hunting in Johri Bazaar. The result of all this conspiracy theories was that, it was to be Jaipur. Good job.

A full work day converted into a half through a valid and intelligent use of flexi-timing at my office. It ensured that we were able to leave at 2 PM and hoped to be there by 7 PM. The drive to Jaipur has always been smooth yet dry owing to well laid NH8 and nothing else to see beyond the road, of significance.

Sambhar Lake

Sambhar Lake

Jaipur is 260 odd KM away from Delhi and on a good day it would take you about 5 hours to make that distance. The first hour where you try to get out of Delhi-Madness is most trying but with the new road from Dhaula Kuan, things are much more improved. NH8, which connects Delhi to Mumbai, is one of those well maintained highways where you can drive fast. All is well except one thing which is a big let down and thats the number of Tolls one has to way. Its hard to believe, you stop more for Toll then for a leak. It starts with Gurgaon (Rs 16), followed by Manesar (Rs 21, Rs37), then the big one at/after Behror (Rs 75, Rs 112), then another one (Rs 35, Rs 147) before the bypass for Ajmer.

NHAI should do something about it, if they can’t reduce the cost then at least they should allow folks to pay one time and then show that bar-code-printed voucher or something else at subsequent Tolls. Interestingly on the way back from Sambhar, we came back from the Jaipur-Ajmer bypass road and that involved two more Tolls , one just after bypass (Rs 25, Rs 172) and then a big one on the swanky (and highly highly boring) Jaipur-Ajmer stretch (Rs 55, Rs227). So if your ward is not too great at number crunching, take him couple of times on this Road and he would get better.

We reached at the venue at 7 PM. Enjoyed the performances. If you have cared to see a TV program called ‘Rock-n-Roll Family’ on Zee TV, the event was a BTL activity for its promotion. There were performances by families from Jaipur. It was a different feeling looking at three generations dancing together. There was a orchestra as well and that little girl really sang well, the guy at the keyboard reminded me of ‘Alok Nath’ of ‘Taal’. Probably there are these hazaar singers in small towns and cities who sing as well as those numerous TV singing shows aspirants and winners, chasing that big dream. Not more then a handful make that dream finally.

Come back.

So we played important, took snaps, changed few things, some handshakes with local politicians and finally started towards our Hotel at about 10 PM from the venue. After locating the Hotel and ensuring that we dont miss it when we come back after having a large dinner (and some drinks) somewhere out, we moved towards MI Road. Niro’s serves good ‘Lal Mans’ (Red Meat) and is one of the up-market eating joints. For the same reason, it also plays host to lots of foreign tourists. We enjoyed our share of Urad-Dal, Laal Maans, Naan and rounded off with couple of KF pints. A long day of lots of driving and the event. Go back to Hotel, sign registers, exchange pleasantries with familiar faces at the hotel and crash. The big thing was yet to come.

Sambhar Lake – Some Facts

Its the largest inland saline lake of India, located about 80 Km from Jaipur city in southwest direction. It is also the largest salt lake of India and producing thousands tones of salt every year. Sambhar Lake has been producing salt for centuries and Sambhar salt is recognized for its good quality salt.

Sambhar Salt

Sambhar Salt

Though Sambhar is not mentioned as such in the Epics, the place is very ancient and can be recognized by associations. There is mention of Raja Yayaat in Mahabharat who married Devyani, the daughter of Shukracharya, the high priest of Brishparva, the king of the Demons. In the Adi Parva of Mahabharat, details of the battle between the demons and the gods are given. It appears that this place was the capital of the king of the Demons, Brishparva. He secured the services of Shukracharya to guide him.

There is the description of Devyani’s marriage with Raja Yayaat, who was the Emperor of Bharat Varsha, tenth in the line of descent from Brahma. We can thus calculate the ancientness of the place from the incident. It takes us back by about 5,000 B.C. The place is thus ancient as civilization itself. The story of Devyani is repeated in Bhagwat Puran in the 9th volume, chapter 18th and 19th whose ancientness is undoubted.

The history of Sambhar lake can however be distinctly traced to the era of the Moghul times. A curious Hindu tradition is attached to its formation. Traditions ascribes the formation of the Sambhar Lake to the gift of Shakambari Devi, the tutelary goddess of the Chowhan Rajputs, who about 551 A.D. in return of milk supplied by one of their cows to a religious ascetic, converted a forest into a vast plain of precious metals. The then inhabitants of Sirthula, a village situated a few kms. from Sambhar, looking upon it as a curse rather than blessing as it would be sure to lead to endless fends requested the goddess to retract her gift. But the goddess being too magnanimous to retract her favour converted it into a crude form and transformed the lake from silver to salt.

I got to know all of this through one of the research papers by Mr. Ashok Kumar Jain of IIRS.

The Lake has been worked for salt at least during the past 1500 years. In the time of Emperor Akbar, income from the lake was about Rs. 2.5 lakhs per month. It had gradually reached to Rs. 15 lakhs, when Emperor Aurangzeb ascended to the throne. The salt used to go far and wide. From 1844 onwards, the Shamlat, the joint Government of Jaipur and Jodhpur worked the lake.

After Independence the Government of India took over the control of salt production and renamed it as Hindustan Salt Ltd. Presently the salt production is managed by Sambhar Salts Ltd. a joint venture of Hindustan Salts Ltd. with the state government of Rajasthan. The salt production is done by evaporation process of the salty lake water (brine) and the surface water collected in the rainy seasons.

The total area which the lake covers is in excess of 230 Sq KM.

The ride from Jaipur to Dudu, the point on Jaipur-Ajmer highway from where you exit out, is quick. Dudu is 55 KM away and after that its another 30 odd KMs. As you leave the highway, you start to get closer to real world, old buildings, the ocassional school, cattle, kids, tractors with double trolleys, more kids, many more cattle. By the time we reached Sambhar, it was noon.

Cattle on the way

Cattle on the way

We got into the town and asked for the lake. On being told that we wont be able to go to lake all by ourselves, we asked again. Told back the same thing. After spending some time with locals , we could not figure out much. Most of the folks wanted us to visit Shakambri Mata temple which was another 25 KM away. I was not getting much traction with my fellow traveler to go that path, amid the heat/dust and no-lake. It looked all stuck and it seemed that we would drive back.

Then I decided to check with ‘Sambhar Salts Limited’ office to see what can be done. Serendipity in some sense. Drove in. There weren’t too many people and I went in one of the chambers which seemed to house some one senior enough to understand my need. And boy, we got too much of help. I shared with him the intention of coming here is to document and write a story. The gentleman told me many things about the lake and here came the surprise. The Lake is dry. Not in this season, but for last many years. The only salt-extraction which happens is through wells.

The dry Sambhar Lake

The dry Sambhar Lake

Try to imagine a lake which is as big as 230 Sq Kms being dry. We were given an escort who would take us around and show us the lake.

We got out of the place and got in the lake. Yeah, it took me a 15 degree turn to leave the tar and get on the silted sand. After a while, we were driving on lake bed with sand on all sides. The only thing which one could see was mirages and more mirages. Because of these mirages, it actually felt like a lake. So much so that one could actually see the shadows of the hills in the mirage.

Sambhar Lake - Mirage all around

Sambhar Lake – Mirage all around

After a while of driving, we got back to the pucca road and moved towards Shakambari Temple. Its a revered temple in this region. The temple is at a height and you get better views of the entire region from here.

Fresh from the lake

Fresh from the lake

Shakambari Temple, Deity

Shakambari Temple, Deity

Shakambri Mata Temple Complex

Shakambri Mata Temple Complex

While we were there at Temple, we requested the gentleman who was with us to tell us something about the lake. One of the reasons of the lake being dry is that now government has made anicuts legal so villages have made their own little dams to control the flow.

On the way back, we drove the entire distance over lake only. Trying to absorb more of that dry-dusty frame. We also learned that ‘Jodha Akbar’ was shot here and apparently they created the entire war set here. Another movie, this time of junior Bacchan was shot in the main town. We dropped the Sambhar Salts gentleman back after thanking him for all his help and started back.

As we were driving back, I was thinking that how long the lake would remain like that. Probably 50 years down the line, this story would look like a legend. May be the area would get habituated, the land would be reclaimed to build SEZs and factories or may be the new Jaipur Airport. Who can imagine a 230 sq KM dry lake which is open for driving. You tell that to your grandkid and he would laugh it off. Go and look at it before it vanishes.

And here’s the bonus pic for reading this far. King Khan with his King smile. This is the best I could manage to fake the smile , I am still young and learning :)

Sharukh Khan Smile

Sharukh Khan Smile


  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Nandan,

    ‘shadows of the hills in the mirage’ – Wow!

    I am pretty sure by now there would be a bustling township and people playing golf on the lake.

    The lake does remind me of the Great Rann of Kutch. An interesting trip and interestingly written!

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Nandan,

    another gem that I missed in its previous avatar….

    Well timed with the ongoing JLF brouhaha :-)

    Great post on the lake that isn’t…Background info provided here is quite impressive.

    Lal mans – well, personally speaking, it is the first thing which comes to mind when someone talks Rajasthani food!!


    Thanks, Auro.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    @ Ashok – Some of the recent comments say that there is now water in the lake. I am hoping that the lake goes back to its original state. ASI is doing a OK job in taking care of big-ticket heritage structures, but by-and-large we still need to invest more towards awareness/education. Only recently, I was at ‘Kumbhalgarh Fort’ near Udaipur and we caught a young lady on camera defacing a wall, when our Guide alerted her, she didn’t get the message and moved on with her life. I am sure she was a well-meaning girl and simply didn’t know the wrong-doing or may be she knew and didn’t care. I do not know and I only hope that things get better.

    @ Munesh – Thank you.

    @ Nirdesh – Villas with their own view of white-rann (well, almost). Thank you.

  • As usual very crisp and very readable post.

    Sad to know the lake is dry. I believe same fate happened to all those towns in Rajasthan ending in ‘sar’, a lake gone dry because of environmental factors…

  • Great blog you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the
    same topics talked about here? I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get comments from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.

    If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thank you!

  • Lovely journey. We recetly visited Sambhar and loved the bio-diversity…

    • Nandan Jha says:

      Thank you Param and Shika, Untourists. :-) I checked up your blog, looks very interesting. Please keep visiting as your time allows. And if you feel like, write one of your untouristry travel tales here. Cheers.

  • Tina says:

    I will b travelling to pushkar swarn mandir on 10 th june 17 n was curious to site salt lake but at the end of ur writeup.. It was all broken. Tx fr unpleasant surprise. Now i dnt need to drive there. I m Lucky to see dry lake pic else ld hv dreaming tasting salinewater.

    And yes.. King khan.. Everyone s managing faking smile. So cheers! Welldone job. :) )


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