Tag Archives: Taj hotels

A Visit to the Mecca of India- Ajmer

This was the first time I was stepping into the state of Rajasthan. Time has been kind on me yet again bringing me to the right place when the time was right! And this time it was to Ajmer during the holy month of Ramadan. Ajmer-Marwar region was a separate state until it was merged with Rajasthan. At a distance of 130kms by road from Jaipur, it is believed to be the second holiest place in Islam after Mecca. Apart from exploring Ajmer town, if you are a traveler, you can also include Pushkar in your itinerary, which is located less than 25kms from Ajmer. Apart from being a holy place for the Hindus, Pushkar is a popular haunt for the hippies from world-over. You can use the below itinerary if you have a weekend in hand. However, I could only explore Ajmer on this trip.

A weekend Itinerary:

Day 1: Bangalore to Jaipur (Flight); Jaipur to Ajmer (Hired car); Visit Ajmer dargah, explore Taragarh hill, Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra, Akbar Palace & museum, Soniji-ki-Nasiyan Jain temple, Mayo college campus. (Night’s stay at Taj- Ajmer gateway)
Day 2: Visit Pushkar lake for sunrise, explore Pushkar town (and the annual camel fair, if you time your visit right); return to Jaipur (by road), Jaipur to Bangalore (flight)

The Details:

I was visiting Ajmer on a business trip with three of my colleagues (Click here to read about my job as a car doctor). Hence, I somehow managed to squeeze in sufficient time into my trip so that I could venture out in this city and explore most of whatever it has to offer for the traveller in me. Needless to say, no visit to this holy city is complete without heading to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah dedicated to the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.

Apart from it being the holiest and the busiest of the times on the Dargah’s calendar, our visit also coincided with the 27th day of the holy month: revered as the ‘Night of Destiny’ in the Islam faith. This is a place where most people struggle to get past the crowds even on normal days. We were fortunate to have contacted one of the trustees of the Dargah who managed our entire visit and made it effortless. It was evening time and we had just finished offering our prayers by donating a Chadar to the diety. What we hadn’t realized was that we were there on the premises of this holy place at the time of breaking the day’s fast. We were offered some fruits, nuts and food by the trustees and other devotees who were distributing food there. I was overwhelmed with the thought of having had such an opportunity, at such a time!

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Breaking the fast at Ajmer dargah Sharif

The Dargah is located at the base of the Taragarh hill, atop of which a fort is situated. The view of the entire hill overlooking the Dargarh is so beautiful with a township constructed on the steep slopes of the hill. Since, photography is prohibited inside the Dargarh premises, I wasn’t able to capture most of the things. It’s a welcome move in some places like these and respect the sanctity of the place. Enough is said and written about this place on the internet. So, I wish to cover about the other things this historic town has to offer.

After our visit, we walked the by lanes around the Dargah to explore the best of Ajmer. Not in terms of places but in terms of its lip-smacking street food. With a lot of Mughalai and Nawabi influence and it being the Ramadan season, the best of the spread was available. Needless to say, Ajmer is a haven for food lovers. By the time the last ray of the day’s sun had vanished, we were stuffed until our glottis.

If you are a history buff and want to find something to feed your wanderlust, you can take a walk to Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra and the Akbar Palace and museum that are located closer to the Dargah. Soniji-ki-Nasiyan is a nice two-storeyed wooden Jain temple that can be visited enroute to Dargah Sharif. If you are at the luxury of time, a quick ride to quick ride to the Mayo college campus can be ended with some peaceful sunset time spent by the banks of the Ana Sagar Lake. But, for me- something else was awaiting!

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The folk singers performing live in the courtyard of the Taj

I had my stay booked at the Taj- Ajmer gateway for the night, a world in itself to visit and hang around. The drive from Ajmer city towards it outskirts on Pushkar road, through winding roads with the backdrop of the setting golden sun was a picturesque treat after a tiring day of work and toil. All this seemed like only a grand welcome to the beautiful Taj property that’s nestled in the midst of nowhere in the lap of the Aravalis. The sky was dark, when we arrived at this palatial hotel. The entire driveway was lit with dim sodium lamps from the gate through the lounge. A faint outline of the Aravalli hills standing calmly on the backdrop only enhanced its grandeur. It was a warm welcome as the live Rajasthani folk music with the timbre of the Morchang and Khartal resonated from the courtyard. The host personally lead me to the room while explaining the delicately chosen wall murals and paintings as we walked through the elegant corridor. Though my stomach was stuffed with Ajmer’s street food, I did manage to make some space for the delectable dinner that I was hosted at the restaurant. With all items seasoned and cooked to perfection, each dish seemed better than the other. With a refreshing dip in the pool, a day was called!

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Top: The courtyard at night Below: the morning view from my balcony

I looked forward for the morning as much as I did for the previous evening! I had set the alarm for sunrise but was woken up rather early by the calls of dozens of feral peacocks that had come from the forest/hills just behind the pool. I opened my balcony doors and voila! It was a magical morning with peacocks dancing in the courtyard and a modestly calm sun peeping out of shadowy grey clouds with the glorious green Aravalis forming a backdrop… I soaked in this special moment as much as I could from my balcony before I realised that it was time for me to pack-up. Finishing up the morning chores and ending my stay with the Taj with a wonderful breakfast spread, it was time for me to say good bye to this beautiful city of Ajmer and this beautiful Taj property- the Ajmer gateway!

Fact file:

Must-do: Make a wish by offering the Chadar or the decorated shawl to the deity/tomb at the Dargah Sharif.
Must eats: while the street food and the never-ending list of non-veg dishes are to die for in the month of Ramadan, Kadi Kachori and Soan-Halwa are an all-season recommendations.
Must buys: variety of prayer caps and incense.

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The Street shopping at Ajmer

The Hesaraghatta de-tour

My wants are vague… This weekend I wanted to drive through countryside. As you may know, my mother worked for a government bank, a subsidiary of NABARD that lends agricultural loans. While she was processing one of the farm loan files, I had once chanced to take a glance at the filename- Hesaraghatta. Through her, I had heard that Hesaraghatta is an important centre of several agricultural research in India. I had been familiar with the campus of Gandhi Krishi Vigyan Kendra (GKVK) in Bangalore and the amount of green cover there. Hence, I assumed that there must be a lot of greenery around Hesaraghatta too, and decided to head there.

We started from home at around 8.00.a.m towards Hesaraghatta. We first passed through a village called Aivaragandapura. It is a small village that gets its name from the Pandavas. ‘Aivara-Kanda-pura’ translates to ‘A village that has seen the five people’. There is a temple complex dedicated to the Pandavas who are beleived to have stayed here, briefly during their exile.

We continued our drive to catch up with our plan of going to the area of agricultural research. The government run research institute is spread across a massive area and is divided into separate sections, each having its own administration and permit requisites. We first reached the poultry farm. Various poultry breeds are kept in separate enclosures for research purposes. Along with several native varieties, we also saw Ostriches, Emus, turkeys, ducks, white geese, grey geese, swans etc. With permission from the concerned authorities, we could also visit the Indo-Danish cattle farm. I was awestruck with their size. They were massive, comparable with elephants. I mean, really! There is also rabbit farm, pig farm etc. which we thought of giving a miss because we could not figure out the route. Hesarghatta is also a centre for Horticulture-research. You will pass through large stretches of seasonal flowers, mango orchards and other farm crops.

Birds at the poultry farm at Hesaraghatta
The birds at the Hesarghatta farms

We were done with our pursuit of agricultural research and still had a lot of time with us. We decided to drive around and explore hesaraghatta a little more. We drove further ahead and passed through a narrow pot-holed road. We stopped by a high wall by the roadside which we learnt, was the once famous Hesaraghatta lake. This reservoir served as an important part of water supply to Bangalore City in the past. This is now just a stretch of barren land, open for cattle grazing and a playground for some village boys who go there for a game of cricket. These days, it barely fills even during the heaviest monsoon. While we stood on the tank bund, we could see some village youth playing cricket on the tank bed with a little water at the far end of the large area. The breeze was indeed good and that’s why we spent some time walking along the tank wall.

From there, our eyes fell on a direction board that read “Nrityagram”. It sounded familiar and it struck to me that it was a Gurukul dedicated to “Learning Dance”, founded by the famous danseuse Late. Pratima Bedi. When we reached there, we were told that the place was not open to visitors. However, there was hope. A portion of the beautiful dance school (constructed of natural materials) is now maintained by the Taj group. They run the “Taj Kuteeram”, a nice cozy resort. We dropped in for light snacks and coffee, as we were well into evening. We walked around the area and spent some good time amidst the chirping birds and the splendid nature. Since the setting sun was coming down, we thought of heading back home.

Taj Kuteeram / Nrityagram in Hesaraghatta
The Taj- Nrityagram, at Hesaraghatta

Half a kilometer from The Taj towards Bangalore city, we saw many vehicles going to a place to our left. The place looked secluded but made us curious to check out what was in there. We followed the vehicles that were going there. Oh, believe me! It was a nice suspicion. There lied a vast-neverending-wide-open stretch of plain-land. All those vehicles were actually ferrying some film crew. So that means, we also got to be on the sets of a movie shoot. A stage was set, some other make shift pillars were put up etc. We learnt that, many many movies and ads are shot here almost everyday. This barren land is converted to anything from a helipad to a swimming pool, a crowded village to a concert hall depending on the requirement. It is popularly called as the Hesaraghatta Grasslands.

the Hesaraghatta grasslands
Top: A movie set at Hesarghatta grasslands; Below: The grasslands

We also had a good view of the sunset from the open area. It was getting dark by then. So, we drove back to the hustling and bustling city—away from the calm and rusty countryside. It was hard to believe that such calmness prevailed in our very own Bengalooru. I will surely go back there soon.. Very soon… It was a total get away from the maddening city life.