Sikar, Hanumangarh and Muktsar Sahib: Forts, Death Fog and Car Trouble

Good morning everyone,

Well, we’re on the road between Jaipur and Muktsar Sahib with stops at Sikar and Hanumangarh.  That is, if we can get through the Death Fog.  This is what we woke up to this morning… desert death fog.  Wow.  This stuff is THICK.  The darkness in the picture is not from the sun just rising.  The sun is fairly high in the sky.  The darkness is the fog.  But we say a little prayer (okay a lot of prayer and lots of naam) and we head into the darkness hoping we don’t meet a camel or elephant or other large animal on the way.

When the dog finally let up I got a good look at the Rajasthani desert in this part of central eastern Rajasthan.  I’m amazed that anything grows here but there are scrub like trees and fields and fields of (highly) irrigated mustard.

There are a lot of camels, goats and sheep in Rajasthan, along with the domesticated pigs.  We were stopped for a short time by a large herd of sheep being herded across the road.  And in the middle of this herd, one black goat.  Just one hanging out with the sheep.

You also see a lot of trees in Rajasthan, not thick like forests but they look like they were purposely planted or at least allow to continue growing in the sandy “fields”.    Most of them look dead at first.  I wondered what could have happened to all the trees and why, if they’re dead, they haven’t been scavenged for firewood.  Well, it turns out they are not dead.  These trees have their branches chopped down to feed the sheep and goats.  They then sprout new branches and the process begins again.  Time after time I watched shepherds and goat herders climb the trees and hack off the branches for the animals waiting below.

We got to Sikar just after noon or so, so that I could visit Laxmangarh Fort and find a bank machine.  Something had happened though, because the streets were absolutely flooded with water.  We made it through but … barely.  Jagdeep can be a real risk taker when he wants to be.

What to say about Laxmangarh Fort… it has a brick and concrete construction with very thick walls.  It is also accessed though a market with tiny, narrow roads.  So narrow that a bicycle cannot pass if a car is in the road and so narrow that we were could reach out and shake hands with the people in the shops.  We finally get to the fort and get to the top…

… and it’s locked up.  The only part that is open is the main gate and a small mandir behind the main gate.  I took what pictures I could and then enjoyed the view over Sikar for a while anyway.  The fog had left, the sun had risen very high and it was getting hot.  It felt good to feel the sun after being belted in with fog for days.

There are very few places to eat on this road.  We stopped at a dhaba but they only had potato chips and chai tea for sale.  I couldn’t make it out clearly but something had happened with the family that runs the dhaba and they were away.  30 rupees for two cups of chai and we passed on the chips.

We finally found a dhaba with food at 3 o’clock or so and by that time we were very hungry.  I think we had four rotis each with our dhal and mixed vegetables.  Very, very hungry – no way I can eat that much normally.

Our next stop was in Hanumangarh to see the Bhatner Fort.  There were also two beautiful gurdwaras there – Shri Sukha Singh Mehtab Singh and Shaheedan Gurdwara.

By the time we reach Bhatner Fort is was 5:30 or so and, despite the bright blue skies, it would be dark in an hour.  So I kept the visit reasaonably short.  Besides the darkness I could tell by the humidity and temperature that it would be a foggy night and we still had to make it to our hotel in Muktsar Sahib.

The fort is in ruins but is interesting and worth a visit nonetheless.  It has great views over Hanumangarh.  Inside the fort you can walk along the crumbling walls for some distance overlooking several mandirs inside.  There were several couples up here just enjoying an evening walk around the property.

At the still imposing gates on the way out, a little street puppy appeared out of the recesses and starting growling at me.  It’s mother was nowhere to be seen which is probably why the pup was a little defensive.  Really pup?  You’re seven inches high and four months old.  You really don’t want to take on the humans.  Some ass (not me) will end up kicking you.  Still, though they’re kind of cute when they’re trying so hard to be fierce.

Done at the fort, we headed off for a long, dark and foggy drive to the hotel at Muktsar Sahib.  The booking company for the hotel must have called us five times to see where we were, did we check in yet, were we safe?  It was nice to be looked out for (thank Stayzilla) but after awhile the calls just became annoying, especially when we told them we’d be there around 10 and they kept calling right up until we got there at 9:30  or so and checked in.  I found out later that this is actually a service here for women that are travelling alone – a safety measure.  Once I found that out, it was sort of awesome.

The Hotel Madaan Continental is fairly new, only a couple of years old, and it was a great stay there.  It doesn’t try too hard to be a “western” hotel but it does an amazing job of making guests feel welcome and comfortable.  There is a bucket and cup and a hot water tank in the shower for example but there is also a western toilet and toilet paper.  There are Indian style windows which you can open for fresh air and which have screens that you can close to keep out insects while still getting the fresh air.  Each floor had someone who would take care of your bags, deal with room service if you wanted it, answer guest questions, and even show you how which switches operate what in the room.  There were also extra blankets in the closet, which is good because it became very cold overnight.  The hotel also has a beer bar on the main floor and a restaurant on the first floor.

We walked into the beer bar thinking it was the restaurant.  Once we found our way upstairs, we enjoyed a good meal and crashed.

The next morning we were ready to hit the road at 9 to find some breakfast and make the 5 hour drive to Amritsar.  We thought it was going to be a quick and easy day.  Yeah, try not to think like that because that’s when the universe comes and messes with your plans.

As we were loading my bags into the car we saw … a flat tire.  We set about changing it (unloading all the bags and trying to find a dry spot on the street to put them).  That took a good 20 minutes because the jack did not work well.

Another man came to help, which was nice.  It turns out that he was a guest at the hotel and he left his lights on all night long, so his battery was dead.  He did have jump cables long enough to reach his battery given the way he was parked.  Jagdeep did not have jump cables either.  So out comes the battery from Jagdeep’s car so they can jump start the other car with the tiny, short cables they found.   That really wasn’t going well and took about another half hour or 40 minutes.  We were kind of laughing about the fact that two guests had car problems but car problems that meant that each could help the other.

In the meantime, I chatted with the desk clerk who was from Shimla.  He told me that I should visit McCleod Ganj and Dharamsala.  No kidding – next trip for sure.  He was really excited to talk about his home state in Himachal Pradesh.  It was really nice to see that much excitement in him.  Very friendly guy.

By the time both cars were ready to go, it was 10:30 and we were cold and wet.  I cannot believe how cold it got that day.  I’m a little surprised that it did not start to snow – instead it was just the Death Fog everywhere.

We found breakfast at a little dhaba that served only paranthas and chai in the morning.  The paranthas were huge – filled the entire plate.  But they were tasty and very reasonably priced.

We faced the Death Fog almost all the way to Amritsar but it finally started to break near Tarn Taran.  Then, surprise, I got to meet Jagdeep’s family – his wife, children, two brothers-in-law, mother-in-law and sisters-in-law.  It was great.  We sat in their home and had chai and orange biscuits.  His kids are so cute – a 7 year old daughter and a 4 year old son.  So sweet.

They rode with us from Tarn Taran to Amritsar so they could then go on home from there.

All in all this was a great trip – despite the car problems and the corrupt cop and the super-crowded Taj Mahal and the Death Fog.  None of that had an chance of spoiling this trip.  It was amazing – 5 states, 7 days – and all of it was awesome.

Until next time, probably from Kashmir… yay!

Peace and love all,
Himmatpreet

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