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

59 Comments

  • Aditya says:

    Wonderful description of place, its vastness and its historical importance. I didn’t know that Salt is produced on such a big scale in Rajasthan. I always thought that salt production is done only in coastal areas.

    Anyway you almost matched the king khan’s smile,little more effort and that’s it :-)

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks Aditya. Even though I had heard about this place, courtesy a big article in ‘Outlook Traveller’ couple of years back, the fact never really registered and thats why I wanted to see the place. But I didn’t know that there is no water now.

    I would work more on the smile.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Nandan,

    You have done it once again – an excellent account of the Sambhar lake depicting the historical connections. As Aditya mentioned, I always thought that there are only two kinds of salts – the sea water salt or the Rock salt. The lake salt and and that too from the wells was simply inconceivable.

    Great job.

  • Nandan says:

    Thanks Ram. Very encouraging.

  • Smita says:

    Sambhar is the largest salt lake in the whole of Asia.

    The king’s name was Yayati who married the two sisters Devyani and Sharmishtha. He also did an ashwamedh yagya and got himself the boon to retain youth for eternity. And came a time when his own son got really old and is dying. I don’t remember beyond that. The story till his bigamist marriage, I remember from my growing up on Amar Chitra Kathas. The latter part of being young I remember from a play we performed called “Madhavi”, when this girl challenges the king. That triggers my urge to google this and get more details on these stories.

    From AC Kathas, I also remember reading stories on trading of salt through Sambhar in some Rajput kingdom – was is Dhola-Maru or Prithviraj? I think the latter.

    You’re right, in 50 years more or less, this just might be a legend.

  • Celine says:

    SRK-look-alike ;)

    I expected to see a lake because of the caption but you have not shown even a drop of water!! Disappointment but then it’s not your fault. :)

    The pictures look as good (or bad) as the Kuwaiti deserts..haha!! A good recount of your experiences in the desert though. Thank you for sharing.

  • avinash says:

    I have passed through ‘Sambhar Lake’ rly station number of times while I was studying in Jodhpur, but never could know as much about it. I knew it was a salt lake but didn’t know it was dry for years.
    On the other note… hmmm… you manage it well. Getting out at 2 PM and managing such trips and writing travellogs and managing a site…

    Good.

  • nandanjha says:

    Smita – I tried briefly looking on net but could not find much. I am sure there would be other ghumakkars who would dig these stories and bring more facts for all of us.

    Celine – Thanks. Yeah, going to Lake and then realizing thats its all dry is even more disheartening then reading it.

    Avinash – Thanks. Not much effort from my side once it starts rolling, once you are out of that initial huge inertia, it starts to work almost on its own. I feel so bad when I remember all the travel which I did and I really neither have pics (for example, the one where we went to Kushinagar, the place where Buddha is cremated) nor remember those finer things to share. Join, its fun :)

  • Geetha Saravanan says:

    It’s a really nice journey you’ve taken us thru. Your story is a real eye opener,( Salt from lake in Rajasthan), it also shows how much more we still have to learn about our own country!

  • Bhooma says:

    Thankyou for giving so much information in a single write up. Yes, a lake without water is an eyeopener. We have to wake up to the reality of man over running the earth.And, Smita , I am sure most girls of your generation owe a lot to AmarChitra Katha.

  • nandanjha says:

    Geetha – Thanks. The more you see, more you realize that you haven’t seen much.

    Bhooma – Thanks. Yeah, while I was speaking to ‘Sambhar Salt’ guys, I realized that the latent pain in their description of the place. It was not long when you could see Flamingos at this lake. No one is bothered because it doesn’t make any money sense to anyone. Rajasthan has already lost all the Tigers from Sariska and I wont be surprised that if this historical place is also lost of urbanization.

    Such a large lake doesn’t dry up overnight, it has to be a result of years of neglect. I really hope that its not converted into a residential or a commercial area. As I wrote, you might just see it becoming another airport or a Delhi-Mumbai frieight complex or whatever.

  • Sahi hein guru. Mere ko Sambhar bole to “Sambar” or “Sambar Deer”. Lake bole to “Paani”

    Kuch naya jaane ko mila.

    -Ups

  • bikerdude says:

    Hmm… I got to see a video of the drive through Sambhar Lake when i met one of the participants of the Desert Storm Rally… It was a really nice video with the vehicles zooming at 130 KMPH… that was pure adrenalin… This write up of yours… well its more like being there and experiencing all that is there to experience…

    Thanks for another amazing post… Now i gotta get in touch with Ram Sir and catch up with you… ;-)

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks Upanshu.

    Bikerdude – Do they do ‘Desert Storm’ through the lake ??. Strange.
    It was a pretty dry and melancholic when you look around and you only see dust and white sand.

    looking fwd.

  • bikerdude says:

    Yup… they have a leg where you cross the sambhar Lake… The caustic & salty sand causes a lot of problems but you would be good to go if you kept the window rolled up.

    If you are interested in doing it next year, lemme know… will be your navigator and co-driver ;-)

    Posted the Part 6 of my series though… have a read and comment.

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks for the offer. I doubt I would get the necessary permits to make it :)

    Manali-Leh is definitely on the list but not too sure whether that can be done with a 3 year old kid.

  • Charu Dua says:

    Nandan, its a very nice account. Especially the historical background that you have given is really good. Pity that drying up of such a huge lake has not made news till date dispite all the other usless scams that we keep hearing off.
    And yes you are right after few years this will become a legend or another of those grandma’s tales with a starting of …Once upon a time in a little kingdom…………..

  • Abhishek Dhasmana says:

    Good stuff!
    I wonder why they call it Sambhar … Is it pronounced “Saam-bhar” or “Sum-bhar”

  • nandanjha says:

    Abhishek – Its Sambhar. No clue on the origin of this name.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Good one Nandan.

    Though I personally felt that even while writing about the historical facts, you lost interest ;) Not something that you enjoyed.

    But later on when you make us look at the sorry state of the Lake and how this Lake may lost any reference/location/position, you were the best.

    I wish that someone, who can make a difference goes through it.
    Will drying up of this Lake would affect the business of Salt makers and is it affecting them even now ? Nearby villagers also unaware of Sambhar Lake surprised me !

    In total an interesting story :)

    Sorry guy, you can’t fake your self in SRK smile. I would be impressed if SRK tries to fake your smile and I can judge who is better :)

  • nandanjha says:

    I did enjoy but yeah it got a little painful in the end.

    Regarding my comment about villagers not knowing about the lake, well I think I should have been more clear. When I inquired about the lake, they told me that there is no lake which I later realized as true.

    Hindustan Salts is a very small PSU. There are lots of daily wagers from the local villages though. So in the event of thing going kaput, probably the employees would get compensated (VRS for sure) or get alternate jobs in other PSUs but the locals would be badly hit.

    Regarding smile, I would try to convey your thoughts to SRK. I am hoping to catch him when he is here to dance for KKR when they play DDD later this month under IPL.

  • rachna says:

    Hey guys……don’t be disheartened. Finally after five years there is water in the Sambhar lake and it looks beautiful…I’ve just been there.

  • rachna says:

    And by the way nandan …….this a beautiful write up…couldn’t stop once I began. Moreover I could connect with your apt n vivid description and wanted to figure out what the place felt like without water…

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks Rachna for the appreciation.

    You saw water there, Wow. How much and where (temple side or the city side). It would be a miracle if Sambhar can get back to what it used to be. Thanks for coming here and writing a comment and updating all of us. Happy news for a monday morning.

  • rachna says:

    Hi there sorry couldn’t revert..just got so busy. Am a journalist too BTW. Well there was lots of water in Sambhar. And I was just wondering why is the place not on any tourist itinerary……ciao

  • rachna says:

    Just for the information of all who are concerned about Sambhar….the place is to be declared a Bird Sanctuary and money has already been sanchioned for its conservation by the government :)

  • nandanjha says:

    lovely.

    Good enough reason to visit this place and update ghumakkars on current state. I would try to visit this when I get a chance to Visit Jaipur.

  • Deepak says:

    Rachna,

    True you wll see more n more Developments in Rajasthan as govt is trying
    to convert all puraani Haveli ‘s into Heritage hotels
    and private Hotel chains are lobbying for the same…..

  • rachna says:

    Hi Deepak,

    Checked Ghumakkar after a long time….have been travelin around Rajasthan not turning gumakkar per se but for stories. Had done this sometime back..thought would share the link with you..n nandan you must re-visit Sambhar

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Rajasthans_forts_castles_on_sale/articleshow/3161473.cms

  • nandanjha says:

    Oh, that was you. I have read this in print.

    Glad to have you here. Would re-visit Sambhar on my next opportunity to Jaipur.

  • rachna says:

    Yeah that was me…… :) See you soon in Rajasthan!

  • Ram Kishore Vyas says:

    Dear Jha,

    Thank you very much for providing information and history of sambhar lake.Sambhar lake should be developed and included in touriest places. Sambhar is also famous for Nandkeshwar mela on Dhulandi. During the month of Falgun ‘Tamasha’ are performed and enjoy the mood of holi with bhang.Visit Sambhar Lake om Dhulandi festival and enjoy.

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks Ram Kishore Vyas jee. That is a very useful information and I am sure that people would try to time their trip during these festival to make most out of it.

  • Rajesh says:

    Are you visit holi place “Devyani & Sharmista ” at sambhar also. Devyani is one of the holi place where Aswasthama resided after Mahabharat. One of the colourful seven days traditional “HOLI” festival organising since 200 years with the writtern permission of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh.

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks Rajesh for the valuable info.

  • Somya Johri says:

    Hi everyone
    i am an architect , doiny my masters in architectural conservation. for my thesis, im doing the revival of the Sambhar salt city. this city is in the catchment area of the sambhar lake. As refered before, dated records of sambhar’s history are available from the Chauhan perios but the history dates back even more. the settlement before sambhar was at Naliasar, an excavation site 4km from Sambhar. it was due to the drying up f the lake their that people had to shift to another water source. it was them they shifted to Sambhar.
    as for the name SAMBHAR is concerned, it was iitially SHAKAMBAR , after the SHakambari Mata Temple. Later came to be SHAMBHAR and now SAMBHAR.
    SAmbhar i also famous for its sweet, Feeni…and aslo the latest news..Delhi 6 is shot in Sambhar. the HAvelis and the market…do visit the place after watching the movie…

  • nandanjha says:

    Thanks Somya for the valuable information.

    From all the comments over last one year, I guess I should make a quick visit again and update on current situation. Thanks again.

  • Rajesh says:

    Hi Nandan,

    At present the shooting of Salman Khan’s film VEER is going on under directions of Anil Sharma near Shakambhari Mata Temple and also traditional Drama – “TAMASHA ” are to be performed in coming days, prior to HOLI FESTIVAL. Month of March is the best time to visit Sambhar.

  • arjun rajput says:

    Hi Nandan,

    Thanks For valueable Information.

    you give me an Important Info. Because I dno’t Know this place and this
    Temple. I visit on “CHAIYRA NAVRATRI”. O.k Thanks gain

  • pawan modi says:

    really its great. i like it very much.

  • Vimal Pareek says:

    Hi everybody,

    I, Vimal Pareek, Director of M/s. N-tech Computer Point, Near Govt. Hospital, Sambhar Lake (i.e. first Computer Institute of Sambhar Lake) & also Partner of Karmic Creation, Vinoba Marg, Jaipur which develop Website and Software overall in the world. I says that SAMBHAR LAKE is very historical and Interesting Palace for everyone because it is traditional town, so everyone like to visit here. Thanks.

  • ashwani bhatnagar"ashu' says:

    Dear sir,
    Sambhar Lake is my home town and unfortnetly I could not visit that place since 1977.From your above information realy I felt very bad.When I was their the place was like a happiest place in the world good town ship, good peoples, good hisoricla places etc etc my father was also with SAMBHAR SLAT LTD.
    I PARY FROM THE GOOD TO MAKE THIS PLACE AGAIN AS IT WAS BEFORE 1977.
    JAI SHAKABHRI MATA LI.
    ASHU

  • Sushil Sharma says:

    Hello everybody,
    Just like as Ashu I am also from Sambhar Lake. At present i am not in Sambhar but I can’t forget my hometown. Nandikeshwar mela on the occasion of Holi festival is great. The greatness of this Great town may be known by going there only.

  • Hridesh Methwani says:

    Hi Mr. Nandan

    Thank u so much for writing about sambhar lake..which is my own place..the feeling to read about almost a lost land of mine is amazing..its the day of holi today and i m terribly missing sambhar lake..thanx to u u rejoiced me..this place has a magic in it..i can understand the bumpy rides and turfs of heat u have gone thru..but u will have to morose that i was not there with u..he he..though i m not good at history but could take u to well knowledged panditji’s and senior cityzens to recite the epic story..thanx to samita also who had nicely put accross king yayat, devyani and sharmistha’s intro..well there is a place called devyani in sambhar itself..there are thousands of small and big temples around that place.. there is a tample called sharmistha too..and the salt lake..its true that the lake is dry now..thanx to the poor management of salt ltd..many of the villagers around used to depend on the salt production for their living hood and today they travel all the way to jaipur and come back with handful hundreds in a month and still live contended.

    well nothing to say much on this..i m taken back in my childhood today..and enjoying it the most..thanx to u..i suggest u must see nandkeshar holi one day and write about..that would be a real stuff to read and ejnoy the granduer holi of sambhar lake which the most unique in its nature..

    thanx a ton

    Hridesh Methwani

  • Abhishek says:

    Hi sir, we are a group of bikers & planning to visit this place on 11th january,

    Will it be the right time(weather) to go over there ?
    Did you find any water body over there as i have learned that the lake is dry & there are only Reflections to be seen.?
    We are also planning to do night camping over there.is it safe ?

    waiting for the reply
    Thanx

  • Nandan Jha says:

    @ Abhishek -A good time to go would be late winters-spring time. End of Jan – Early March. I do not know the current status but I believe the region saw good rains in last 2years. I am not worried about the safety. It might be more prudent to camp not too far from the temple and by keeping the temple folks informed.

    And if you guys do make it then please come back here and update us on what you found. Wishes.

  • Ashok Sharma says:

    hello nandan, shahrukh looks like you. good details of sambhar with sad news of it being dry. day by day we are losing our heritage due to our negligence. don’t know when it will start taking steps for conservation.

  • injamaven says:

    pristine locale of the Hada Chauhans, I believe [re Col. Tod, ca 1815]

  • Munesh Mishra says:

    Hi Mr. Nandan Jha,

    Very Nice, informative and refreshing post on Ghumakkar. Thank you for sharing information to readers that Sambhar is the largest salt lake in India.

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