My Roaming Spirit
Pokhran, the only thing that strikes to your mind when you first hear this name is that this tiny village in Rajasthan was the test site for India’s first underground nuclear weapon and the train of thoughts will take you to picturize John Abraham if you are a Bollywood buff ! Planning a trip to such a place doesn’t come naturally and that’s exactly why you should visit Pokhran.
Located conveniently between Jodhpur & Jaisalmer, Pokhran is also connected to Bikaner and serves as a perfect pit stop for “tourists” visiting the rather conventional locations to enjoy the highly commercialised heritage of Rajasthan. But if you are a raw traveller looking for offbeat experiences, try and spend some days in this quaint village and immerse in the authentic Rajasthani culture.
A direct flight from Delhi to Jodhpur & 3 hours in a cab which can be arranged in advance by tying up with the local hotels will take you to Pokhran. It’s a sleepy town and gives a very rustic feeling. As you drive in, the highway is lined up with stalls selling Cham Cham ( a sweet delicacy), which was too sweet for my taste but is perfect for people having sugar rush. Its unusual to find a decent place to stay in such a small village, however Fort Pokhran was a pleasant discovery! Hidden in the by-lanes at the heart of the city lies this majestic Fort partly transformed into a heritage hotel and managed by the royal family of Jodhpur themselves.
The minute you enter the royal gates you are transported into an era of royal Rajputana household. The walls are of red sandstone, the windows have colourful glasses, the jharokhas, the lush green gardens and the fountains all ensemble together to provide an environment that is peaceful, elegant and positive. The royal gates do shut away the dusty roads and the blaring chaos of the traffic, to bring a tranquil atmosphere to relax and unwind.
You can spend half a day just to explore the property or have breakfast by the pool, but if you are a curious soul, the fort also has an in-house museum with a very interesting curator “Feni ji”as fondly called by the people. A man with unlimited stories about the galore of the kings who ruled Pokhran, Feni ji will surely repaint history for you while showing the artefacts at the museum. Enjoy the authentic Laal Maas or Gatta curry at the hotel for lunch cooked by chefs who also cater the royal family ! You can have your moment of feeling like the king/ queen because the hospitality showered by each and every person within the premises is no less than that provided to royalty. The servers are quick and diligent to serve hot sumptuous meals with dollops of desi ghee on your plate, the concierge is warm and welcoming and almost everyone amongst the staff greets you with a smiling khamaa ghani the minute you pass them. In the evening the hotel can arrange a ride to witness the majestic sunset at the Salt flats.
A half an hour drive from the heart of the village and you will land at That - a small village near Pokhran. If you have ever been to Rann of Kutch or ever wondered what it is like to be surrounded by vast barren lands of salts extending till the horizon with no human soul or vegetation around and stare at nothingness, this place exactly serves the purpose. A swift off roading turn from the kutcha roads will lead you inside vast & endless lands of white salt flats. There are no markers or directions to lead you to the spot and once you are in the open lands, its very easy to get lost & keep circling to find a way out, so we recommend having a local guide along. Luckily we had Sishupal ji with his iconic Mahindra Jeep & Nathu ram ji from fort Pokhran to guide us into this majestic white land.
The sunset is pristine & clear and so is the moon rise. You have a 360 degree view of the horizon around you as you walk on the mushy ground freshly brewing salt. It becomes pitch dark in the night so if you need a Alia Bhatt Highway moment on a full moon night, this is the place to be!
Fort Pokhran also organises camp nights at the salt flats upon request. Imagine having an exclusive tent under a full moon night surrounded by crystal white sand & hot barbecue! Isn’t that what you call an offbeat experience!
Next day visit the Royal Cenotaph. A rickety 20 minutes ride from the fort will land you to a very filmy location. A discreet off-road turn leading to a single line railway track, the last motorable point. As you descend, you witness 7-8 monumental structures at a distance on a small hill. The Royal Cenotaph or the Shakti Mata Memorial is a series of domes constructed to honour the queens of the era who had sacrificed their lives in the then prevalent Sati pratha. Sati is a banned funeral custom; historically queens had to immolate themselves upon the death of their kings in battles to protect their honour & commitment of being a kshtriya. The act was considered as valiant & heroic, however with time it became more of a forced torture & eventually was banned in the country.
A monument dedicated to these sacrifices made by women should have been a place of peace & divine to honour their souls. While the locals do pay their respects at the site, chards of broken beer bottles, pigeon poop and hanging bats speak volumes about the neglect of this shrine.
As the sun goes down, the air bears a certain chill and the silence in the atmosphere is overwhelming. If you want a spooky adventure, this place should be on your list. However be there after sunset at your own risk!
Following day spend some time to explore the local handicrafts & artisans in neighbouring villages. Ever wondered why Fab India charges a bomb for a simple looking piece of fabric? Well because each & every thread weaved together to produce the cloth which is further stitched together to produce an outfit is a painstakingly skilful procedure done with bare hands. Pokhran is home to exquisite handicraft work, a dying skill that needs to be revived to preserve the heritage of this place. Although the royal family hosts a few weavers within the premises of Fort Pokhran and provides them a platform to sell their work to the incoming tourist, it’s a long way to go for long term sustenance. Gomat a tiny village few kilometres away from the fort is home to these exceptionally talented weavers who produce the “Pattu work “on variety of shawls, bedsheets, Kurtis, cushion covers etc. Weaving has instilled courage in the women living in the veil to be financially independent and earn a respectable place in the society. It has not only generated employment but also empowered women to take part in decision making. This dying art form needs the attention it deserves at a wider platform to reach people in search of something beautiful and elegant. You can indulge in trying a hand at pottery or weaving for a wholesome experience for free !! The locals are more than welcoming to encourage you to appreciate the art.
Pokhran is a village full of surprises and something out of the ordinary and Fort Pokhran is the apt place to be if you want to pace out your adventure, unwind and at the same time be pampered for choice. Go there only if you are one who keeps on wondering what next!! Because you can expect the unexpected only when you take the road less travelled.
Follow us on Instagram, subscribe to our website and reach out to us for any travel related query or support. You can also use our platform to share your own travel story. Visit the "Contribute" section to know more.
Keep the Roaming Spirit alive in you.. Travel. Roam. Be a free Spirit !!
Blog by Ankita Ghose