06:30 am: I arrived at Ajmer station by the Ahmedabad – Varanasi Express. Despite departing Ahmedabad half an hour late, it managed to reach Ajmer on time. After freshening up at the waiting room, I left the station to search for an auto that would take me to the Adhai Din ki Jhopra.
07:15 am: The first auto I asked told me that a trip to the Jhopra would cost me Rs 100, as it was on a hill, and that the auto would have to take a long route. He said that he could drop me off at the Ajmer Sharif Dargah for Rs 50, from where the Jhopra was a 5-minute walk. I refused. I asked a panwallah where I could get a shared auto to the Dargah. He said there were no shared autos at this time, and that I would have to reserve one. So I crossed over to the other side of the road and asked another auto. He asked for the same fare – Rs 50. I reluctantly agreed. The ride through the town was really interesting. The narrow lanes of the old medieval city, the buildings, the people, coupled with the early morning sun made the whole experience all the more charming and mystical.
07:45 am: The auto dropped off a little away from the Dargah. The road leading to the shrine was closed to traffic. So I walked. I bought a skullcap from a street vendor. I had a scarf with me to wear in the masjid, but this was far more interesting. The entrance to the Dargah was very crowded. I slipped through the crowd and entered the side lane, which lead to the Jhopra. I was sure of the way, thanks to Google Maps. This lane was narrower and even more crowded. It was bustling with people, vendors and shopkeepers – a completely different world in itself. It was almost like time travel. I reached the foot of the hill atop which the Masjid stands.
08:00 am: A steep flight of steps rise up to the entry to the Jhopra. I entered the Masjid, and was instantly taken aback by the scale, and beauty of the arched screen that greeted me. The Jhopra was one of the earliest masjids built after the arrival of Islam in India. It was constructed by Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak in the year 1199 AD. I was interested in the building because it is one of the few Islamic structures surviving in the country that was built before the arrival of the true arch. The arches that made up the massive screen were all actually corbeled, and then chiseled to assume the shape of an arch. The mosque itself was built mostly using columns salvaged by dismantling an earlier temple near the site. The screen was added a few years later, in 1213 AD, by Sultan Iltutmish. Just like its contemporary, the famous Quwwat ul Islam Mosque at Delhi, this structure too comprised of the typical Hindu ‘double’ columns, stacked on end to support the roof. After extensively photographing the mosque, I walked to a far corner of the site, to try and take a time-lapse video. The beauty of the mosque was enhanced by the fact that it was nestled amidst the Aravallis, with hills on almost all sides. After I was done with the video, a security guard sitting nearby called me over and started chatting. I told him that I was from Kolkata, and that I was studying at Ahmedabad. On hearing that I was an architecture student, he became very excited and started discussing his house with me. He had hurriedly built it a few years back, and now wanted to make a few changes. He neatly sketched out the plan on a small notebook. I gave him the little advice that I could, by sketching out a few possible alterations, and then bid him goodbye.
09:15 am: I returned to the street, and walked into an eatery. Having ordered dal and puri, I plugged my phone for charging. I had a full day ahead of me, and the camera would be handy. After finishing the dal, I ordered eggs. I was pretty hungry. And I also wanted to buy more time so that could charge the phone as much as possible. After paying the bill, I stepped out on to the street. My next destination would be the Dargah.
09:45 am: The entry to the Dargah had become even more crowded as the day had progressed. I found a stall that took care of shoes while visitors went inside. I left my shoes there and was given a token. There was tight security in the area, possibly because of the fact it was 2nd October. After crossing metal detectors, and revealing all the contents of my little bag, I was finally inside. The ambience inside the Dargah again was very mystical, but I was pretty used to it by now. It was also very similar to the Dargah of Nizamuddin at Delhi. I never liked crowds, so I roamed around the less popular parts of the complex. There was some important person who had come to visit, and there were many policemen and one cameraman inside. There were musicians performing, like in any major Dargah, and many people crowding around them. I did not even attempt to enter the shrine of Moinuddin Chisti. It was too crowded for comfort. I made my way to the Akbari Masjid, which was built by emperor Akbar. There was an interesting bookstall near the Masjid, which sold books related to Islam, and religion in general. I went through a few books and then made my way back towards the exit.
10:30 am: After collecting my shoes, I decided to explore the town a bit. I walked into a narrow lane and started following it. It was a winding lane flanked on both sides by beautiful Havelis on either side. Occasionally one would come across an archway that led to a Haveli. In most cases the original buildings were demolished and replaced with much taller structures. I came across one such building, which was being demolished. The original stonework was still visible. There were a few really impressive buildings, but most of them were in very poor condition. The road opened into a wider road, at the same point where the auto had dropped me off earlier in the morning. I walked around a little more. The sun was well up into the sky, and I was beginning to feel the heat. I bought a bottle of water and started to walk back towards the Dargah. My return train was at 4 in the evening. I had no idea as to how I would spend the next six hours. I dropped into a few souvenir shops, and tried to see if there was anything worth buying. On reaching the foot of the Jhopra, I saw a few parked cars, and their drivers shouting out names of places. One guy was shouting ‘Taragarh’. I asked him where Taragarh was, and he replied that it was another Dargah on the top of one of the surrounding hills. He would charge Rs 80 for a to and fro journey. I had nothing better to do, so I decided to go along. The heat was starting to get unbearable, and I was sitting on the wrong side of the car, with the sun falling bang on my face. Finally after fifteen minutes, the car filled up and we started on our journey.
11:15 am: The journey itself was really beautiful. As the car ascended the winding road up the hill, a panoramic view of Ajmer started to play hide and seek with us. There was a huge lake, which I had not noticed earlier. As we rose higher and higher, the city became smaller and smaller. The massive fort walls became slowly visible, and the road pierced through the fortifications in places. After a 45 min journey, the car reached the top, and we disembarked.
12:00 pm: There was an impressive Golden domed structure that greeted us. I was not sure what it was, but it seemed to closely resemble the early mosques of Central Asia. I never got around to entering it. The driver gave me a slip, and I paid the money. The car would begin its return journey at 1:00 pm sharp, so I had just about an hour. My first plan was to try and take a photo of the breathtaking aerial view of Ajmer. That was easier said than done. The fort wall was not accessible from the road. I made my way through thick foliage and tried to reach the edge through the courtyard of a house, but was soon shooed away by the owner. He directed me to a paved path that led to the fort wall. The sun was unbearable. I tied my scarf around my head and started hunting for a break in the wall. I found one soon. It was scary. The steep slope descended all the way down to the bottom. I positioned myself just outside the wall and took a couple of panoramic shots. The scene was truly breathtaking. Had it not been for the scorching heat, I would have spent some time there. I took one of my customary selfies and started walking along the wall.
12:20 pm: After negotiating a few more narrow paths and thorny shrubs, I came to a flight of steps that led down to a small chowk. The chowk had a few people sitting around, and a camel. The owner was charging money from people who wanted to have themselves photographed sitting on the camel’s back. After ascending another flight of steps, and walking a little more along the wall, I arrived at a viewing point. This view was just the one that I was looking for. It offered a spectacular panoramic scene of the whole of Ajmer, and its surrounding mountains. It was indescribable. My phone had 1% charge remaining, so I quickly took a number of shots. Despite the heat, I spent around 10 minutes there.
12:35 pm: I was starting to feel tired. I walked towards an impressive gateway, which was protected by the ASI, according to a sign. I asked for directions to the main road, but got a number of conflicting answers. I was at one edge of the town, so I followed a path that led into the settlement, and walked into a shop to buy water and lemon juice. The shopkeeper gave me directions to the main road, which was on the other side of the town. So I had to walk through the settlement. Taragarh is a really fantastic place. It is very built up, with the buildings carefully negotiating the steep contours, and the roads threading through the village fabric. The Dargah draws quite a number of the faithful, but the crowd was not even a tenth of that of the Dargah at Ajmer. I finally emerged onto the road. It was ten minutes to one. I walked up to the golden domed building and took a few photos. Then I went and sat beneath a tree. There was a small graveyard near where I was sitting, and there were three people trying to cut down a dead tree with a chainsaw. They had cut deep into the main stem and were trying to pull the tree down with a rope. Their calculations went wrong, as the tree fell the wrong way and smashed into a grave, destroying the stonework.
01:00 pm: I went back to the car. The driver was sitting inside a shop by the road. He told me that he would leave in fifteen minutes. So I ordered a lemon juice and waited. The drink was refreshing, but the heat was oppressive nevertheless.
01:15 pm: We started on our return journey. The return journey, as expected, seemed much shorter than the first one, and before I knew it, I was back at the Jhopra. The car had crossed the Railway Station, but I did not get down. I had seen a small wooden money bank at a shop near the Jhopra, which I wanted to buy for a friend of mine who had just started earning. I thought it would make an interesting, if not comical gift.
02:00 pm: I haggled with the shop owner and bought the money bank. Then I decided to take one last walk through the narrow street I had visited in the morning. In ten minutes, I had reached the place where all the autos and the rickshaws stand. I decided to take a cycle rickshaw to the station. The driver asked for Rs 30. I thought it was fair enough.
02:30 pm: I reached the station. My phone was out of charge, but the only ticket I had was in the form of an sms in the phone. I could not enter the waiting room without the ticket, and so I could not charge my phone. I walked up and down the platform, searching for charging points, but found none. Finally, after some careful hunting, I came across a free point near the station entrance. It was working. I charged the phone for around half an hour, and went back into the platform.
03:20 pm: The Ajmer Puri Express (18422) chugged into Platform 2. The electricity was still off, so I waited outside. After twenty minutes, I entered the coach, and took my seat. I was the only one in my coupe.
03:45 pm: I went back to platform 1 and bought a plate of Puri Sabzi. Having returned to the coach, I started having a very late lunch. The scorching heat had taken its toll. I had a horrible headache.
04:00 pm: The train started moving, and I soon fell asleep on a side lower berth. I was exhausted. I would not reach Ahmedabad till 02:00 am.