After a sound sleep in a comfy bed we woke early to make a bike roundtrip to see some interesting villages advised by our hotel manager, who also happens to be an artist, furniture designer and registered tourist guide for Rajasthan.
Rajasthan is known for its extravagant palaces, forts and finely carved temples and its strong adherence to tradition which makes this part of India the most exotic for tourists. The landscape ranges from hilly areas around Mount Abu in the northeast to the fertile Dhundar basin and the shifting sands of the mighty Thar Desert, one of the driest places on earth.
On our way to Churu we passed through Shekhawati, an undulating semi-desert dotted with endless khejri trees, the state tree of Rajasthan, and isolated houses enclosed in stockades of thorn. The tree is also called the golden tree and it plays a vital role in preserving the ecosystem of arid and semi-arid areas. Since all parts of the tree are useful it is also known as the ‘king of the desert’ or the ‘wonder tree’. Shekhawati once lay on an important caravan route connecting Delhi and Sind (now Pakistan) with the Gujarati coast, before the rise of Bombay and Calcutta diverted the trans-Thar trade south and eastwards.
Shekhawati’s merchants spent their fortunes competing with one another to build the grand, ostentatiously decorated havelis which still line the streets of the region’s dusty little towns. Havelis are private mansions usually with historical and architectural significance.
We spent a great day visiting old havelis with beautiful wall paintings built between 1860 and 1915, 200-year old temples and cycled through the semi-desert between villages. The majority of the havelis are still privately owned and unfortunately most of the very rich owners don’t live there anymore, hence the havelis are not well maintained and preserved and some of them are in a terrible state of negligence. Often they consider to just break them down and build a modern flat or shopping mall. That’s the other side of beautiful India. Not many Indians care a lot about their heritage.
The next day it was time again for us to move on to our next destination Bikaner, a famous Thar Desert town. It would take us two days to get there, given it is 180km away from Churu, the town we stayed the nights before. Again, unspectacular cycling with beautiful views onto the semi-desert and free accommodation the first night, this time at a temple.
It’s been once more an easy task to find a place to sleep. We stopped at a small village, just before Bigga and asked some farmers for a place to sleep. After a few misunderstandings and a lot of forth and back which usually takes about 15 minutes they guided us to the close-by temple where we got a room to sleep, cold water to wash ourselves and 20 children to accompany us for the rest of the day, as of sunrise and until we rode off again the following morning.