There are many last roads in India, leading towards the International Borders, through the mountain passes, through the forests, through the plains and also through the deserts. This road was leading to the International Border of India and Pakistan, through a desert, The Great Desert of Thar. From the beginning of this motorcycle journey, I was waiting for that ride from Jaisalmer to Tanot and further to the international border. Tanot is not a typical tourist destination, not even known by many tourists. It is a true offbeat destination to cherish a lifetime memory.
Jaisalmer to Ramgarh, 65 kms.: Tanot is about 120 kms from the Golden City of Jaisalmer. I started from Jaisalmer around 0800 hours in the morning and hit the road going to Ramgarh, the last big town on the way to Tanot. Due to the monsoon season, there was no sign of desert’s heat, rather the weather is very pleasant. There was a heavy rain in the previous night, so lot of water rapids were flowing across the road. The road passes through the windmill farms with huge windmills are installed on both side of the roads covering miles of area. The whole area is dotted with those windmills.
Except the series of windmills, nothing exciting is there till the journey to Ramgarh, that is about 65 kms away from Jaisalmer. Ramgarh is the last major town on this route, spotted from the miles away because of its 300-meters ultra high TV Tower. It was about 0915 hours, so I enquired with the locals about the BSF Battalion Office, from where I could arrange a permit to visit the border post BP 609. BSF office is about 1 km away from the main market of Ramgarh. The BSF personnel at the entry gate told me that the permit is issued at Tanot only. So, there was no point to get it approved from Ramgarh.
I returned back towards the main market. A gentleman appeared from the market and waved his hands to stop. I stopped and he started asking questions about me, my background, my residence, my travel plan for the day etc. He wanted to see a photo identification document. I asked about him and he told that he works for Intelligence Bureau. Since, its a sensitive border area, he randomly keep eyes on the outsiders. He took the photo copy of my driving license and allowed me to move further. I asked him about the permit for BP 609, and he confirmed that I would get that in Tanot without any hassle.
Ramgarh to Tanot, 53 kms: The road after Ramgarh is a pure delight. I was actually cruising though the Great Desert of Thar. But, it was not like what I thought about the deserts. In my imagination, I always thought that there would be vast barren stretches covered with sand and sand dunes, but in reality, that road is passing through the landscape filled with thorny shrubs and occasionally with tiny isolated hamlets. In the monsoon season, there were lot of green bushes peeking out from the vast yellow land of sand. There are no turns, no meandering on the roads like hilly terrains. The BRO team made a straight road with lots of up and down on the sand dunes. So, I was continuously moving upwards and then downwards on the road. It was like a roller-coaster ride.
Soon, the drizzle started. I was fully prepared for the rain in that monsoon ride, so there was no need to stop. At one place, I moved upwards on the sand dunes and when I reached to the top, there was a very beautiful view downwards on the other side. A small hamlet was situated in the middle of nowhere. It was an awesome view. I wanted to click, but couldn’t reach to my camera because of the rain. That small hamlet is known as Ranau. There is a military camp and some buildings along the road near Ranau. It was raining heavily by then, so I stopped there in a building for about an hour. After the rain, I moved further, and again after riding through a beautiful desert, green bushes and occasionally appeared humans, reached Tanot at 1130 hours.
Tanot Village: Tanot is a small village with a population of about 300 people. It is the last point on that road where an Indian citizen can go without any permit. International Border Pillar, BP 609,is about 15 kms from Tanot and a permit is required from BSF to visit that post. I parked the bike outside the temple complex, and approached to a sentinel, who was maintaining a register of all vehicular movement beyond Tanot towards the border. He also maintained a register for the outsider, who arrived there to visit the temple. I asked him about the permit for BP 609. He informed that nobody was allowed to go there due to some recent issues. It was a big disappointment. But, first I wanted to visit the Tanot Temple, so I went inside the temple premises after making an entry in the visitor’s register.
Tanot Mata Temple: Locals always had a great respect for Tanot Mata, who is considered as the incarnation of Goddess Hinglaj. Original Shaktipeeth of Goddess Hinglaj is situated in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan.This small temple was not famous outside the local community until 1965. During the India-Pakistan War of 1965, army personnel observed the miracles of Mata Tanot and then, this temple became a centre of special reverence for armed forces.
In 1965, during the war, Pakistani army captured Kishangarh and Sadewala and attacked Tanot from three sides. Tanot was a strategic point to move towards Jaisalmer. They fired at least three thousands bomb shells, at least 450 shells were fired on the temple. All of 450 shells neither hit their targets nor exploded. In the middle of that war zone, the temple stood tall without any damage. Assuming that Mata Tanot is with them, Indian soldiers fought bravely and forced the enemies to flee from their territory.
After that 1965 war, BSF established a security post at Tanot and decided to rebuild a grand temple. The present day temple is thus erected by the BSF and became a sacred hotspot of the entire region.
Again in the war of 1971, a small company of Indian Army fought a fierce battle with the extra large troop of Pakistan in the battlefield of Longewala. The battlefield of Longewala became a graveyard of Pakistani Tanks and other vehicles. It was one of the greatest strategic defeat of Pakistani Army in that war. Again, the blessings of Mata Tanot was there with the Indian soldiers and it increases the importance of her temple.
The temple is administered by a BSF trust. BSF jawans also performed all the rituals including the morning and evening aartis at the temple. Some of unexploded Pakistani shells and bombs are there on display inside the temple. A Pir Baba’s Majar is also there in the same premises, making it a great symbol of unity and peace.
A victory pillar, known as Tanot Vijay Stambha was erected at the main entrance of the temple in the memory of the great soldiers of the battle of Longewala. Every year, Vijay Diwas (Victory Day) is being celebrated here on Dec.16. During the Chaitra and Ashwin month of Navratri, a large number of devotees flock to this temple to seek the blessings of Mata Tanot.
After the prayers at Tanot Temple, I again returned to the same sentinel, to arrange the permit for BP 609. He advised me to consult with the sahib (higher official), who were authorised to issue such permit. I went to a nearby building, marked as Tanot Mata Trust. There is a big hall on the ground floor of the building, that serves as a dharamshala for the visitors. Anybody can stay there in the night. Blankets/Quilts are also provided by the BSF in the night. There were some single rooms in the building, many of them are in used by BSF.
I met the BSF officer and asked about the permit, but he also refused politely due to some media presence in the temple complex. The BSF people talked nicely, but were very firmed in their decisions. He also said that if I could arrange a phone call from higher authorities ( from any armed forces) in Jodhpur, then only they could allowed me. He also told that there is nothing great to see there. Landscape is just similar as was in Tanot, with a fence and a border pillar. He also said that there is nobody across the border in Pakistan side, only indian side is manned. He said when you reached there, our people had to keep an eye on you, it would be an extra burden for them also. When I asked, why there was nobody on Pakistani side, he told that the thieves don’t required any security.
I thanked him and went to the nearby canteen to eat some lunch. The canteen is beautifully managed and a great relief in that desert. After lunch, I decided to move towards Longewala, the famous battlefield of 1971 India-Pakistan War. No permit is required to visit Longewala.
Public Transoport to reach Tanot: Apart from private vehicles and hired cabs, you can also reach Tanot by a public bus. A government bus of Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation operates daily between Jodhpur and Tanot via Pokhran, Jaisalmer. It starts daily from Jodhpur at 1000 hours and reach Tanot in the evening at 1830 hours. Similarly, from Tanot it starts at 0700 hours in the morning. Many public buses, private and government-owned, operate between Ramgah and Jaisalmer on hourly bass in the daytime, but after Ramgarh, only hitch-hiking or hired vehicles vehicles are available. If you wish to hire a vehicle, its always better to hire from Jaisalmer only.
Note: Ghantiyali Mata Temple is another famous temple in the region, approx. 6 kms before Tanot.There are some partially broken idols of the goddess, those were broken by the Pakistani Soldiers in the war of 1965. I was not aware about the temple, so I did not go there.
Tanot to Longewala, 38 kms: I enjoyed Tanot-Longewala road more than the roads between Ramgarh-Tanot and later, Longewala-Ramgarh. There was no sign of rain on that stretch. The road passes through a pure desert, with beautiful sand dunes, desert animals and occasionally appeared small sleepy hamlets. The entire road runs parallel to the border, approximately at the distance of 20 kms. At one place in the wilderness of that desert I spotted a group of deer, but don’t know whether they were Chinkara or Chetal.
Longewala: In one hour, I was at Longewala. The BSF bunkers are the only human settlements there. It was the famous battleground of 1971 war, that became a graveyard of Pakistani Tanks, other vehicles and supported machineries. At least 37 Pakistani tanks and 138 vehicles/machinery were destroyed or abandoned in the battle. A T-59 tank, hit by an Indian RCL gun at the same spot, is still there on display with some other vehicles lying around in the sand.
There is also a border pillar displayed in a small park on the main road roundabout. When I asked to a BSF soldier on duty, he informed that while marching in to the Indian territory, Pakistani Army also brought the original Border Pillar BP 638 with them. That pillar is on display now, but I think it is not the original pillar, but a memorial built in the honour of 13 Kumaon Regiment, 168 field Regiment and 23 Punjab Regiment after the Battle of Longewala.
There is also a newly built memorial in the honour of soldiers martyred in the Operation Cactus Lily of December, 1971 and Operation Parakram of Year 2001-2002.
Public Transport to Reach Longewala: No public transport is available for Longewala after Ramgarh.
Longewala to Ramgarh and then to Bada Bagh, 118 kms: After making an entry in the visitor’s register at the BSF checkpost (that is mandatory for every vehicle plying in this road), I moved towards Ramgarh. The road was under construction for few kilometres on that stretch. It was again raining heavily about 15 kms prior to Ramgarh, but I kept moving as I was fully covered with rain suits and the bag were safe with poly cover. Moving further from Ramgarh, I reached Bada Bagh in Jaisalmer around 1600 hours in the evening.
Bada Bagh: It is famous for the royal cenotaphs or chattris belonging to the rulers of Jaisalmer state. The royal cenotaphs were built in Rajput and Mughal style with intricate carvings. Each cenotaph contains a small stone slab, that contains the image of that particular king on a horse. Some cenotaphs also have a statue of the queen with the king to indicate that the queen also became a sati (immolated herself on the husband’s funeral pyre) after the death of her husband.
About 7 kms from Jaisalmer city, in the middle of a wide open un-inhabited land near a man-made water pond, it is a very peaceful place to spend some time. To enjoy the most of its beauty, visit Bada Bagh in the evening. Hundreds of surrounding windmills make a perfect picture during the sunset.
Public Transport for Bada Bagh: Bada Bagh is about 7 kms from Jaisalmer at Ramgarh Road. Many public buses, private and government-owned, operate between Jaisalmer and Ramgarh on hourly bass in the daytime. Board any bus from the bus stand in Jaisalmer and leave that on the intersection of the road leading to Bada Bagh. Bada Bagh is about one kilometre from the main road. Apart from the buses, hiring an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) is also an option from Jaisalmer.
Bada Bagh Timings: Daily from 0800 hours in the morning to 1800 hours in the evening
Bada Bagh Ticket Prices: INR 50 per person for Indian citizens. A separate ticket of INR 25 is required for Digital Still Camera.
After visiting Bada Bagh, I returned back to Jaisalmer. It was a wonderful ride for the day. The journey, the ride, the desert view, scenic beauty, isolated hamlets, BSF camps in remote areas..everything was just breathtaking. It was also the end of my originally planned trip, but I still had 3 days of leaves left. Therefore, instead of returning back to Delhi, I decided to keep moving towards Jodhpur and further to Ajmer, Pushkar and Bhangarh.