Here are some impressions from my most recent trip:
Perhaps, the abiding memory of the trip was seeing the setting sun on the sand dunes outside Jaisalmer. I dont remember having seen a sunset like this in my life. As the sun went down, the colours in the sky were wondrous hues I have never seen before. (As an aside: we were about 60 kilometres from the Pakistan border.)
The roads of Rajasthan are a mixed bag. They are all kinds good, bad and the real ugly. Some roads were undivided with just a single lane, which means that every time a vehicle comes from the opposite direction, both have to shift a little to the left and off the road. Even some of the proper roads have bad patches in them. I guess one cannot just blame the state government for this we in India have still have not learnt to built roads that can endure.
I saw a lot of windmills outside Jaisalmer. This was a pleasant surprise. Ive always wondered why they do not use solar or wind power to generate electricity, so it was nice to see some steps being taken in this direction.
We passed Pokhran en route from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. Pokhran is the site where India has conducted its atomic and nuclear tests.
The Jaisalmer Fort has a city inside reminded me a bit of Gondor in the Lord of the Rings.
It was good to see computers in use at the Jain temple at Nakodaji for allocating rooms. Now, if only they would take reservation requests via the Internet.
There is a famous restaurant at Sirohi Baba Ramdev. The terrific food attracts people from tens of kilometres away. Just within the past year, they have added a well-constructed hotel in the same compound. Their business model of serving a mass market (from truck drivers to families, in well-designated areas) with excellent quality food at low prices, seems to be working wonders.
Entrepreneurship abounds whether it is Baba Ramdev or the hundreds of small sellers who came from all over to sell their wares at the mela (fair) at the Jaisalmer Desert Festival. It was fascinating to see the human spirit so alive. From bangles to saris, from pottery to handicrafts, they were all there.
Many of the temples we visited can definitely do with better maintenance. As I walked around the famous Dilwara Temples, I could not help thinking as to why we cannot maintain the place and its neighbourhood better (see the toilet outside the temple, and youll get an idea of what I mean).
A telling comment on the politics came from one of the persons I met when I asked him about the change in government (the BJP wrested power from the Congress in the elections held late last year): The new ministers are mostly all newcomers. So, now, they will look at filling their pockets first.
Water is still a big challenge. Across the state, the Indira Gandhi Canal has made differences to some areas, but with rains being scarce, water for what is still an agriculture-driven economy, is the big problem along with electricity, which, as one person put it, comes and goes.
In many ways, Rajasthans story is that of India a glorious past, but a future handicapped by the short-sighted policies of our own leaders. The problems are complex, but at their core, there are a few. India is a country whose spirit has, for a long time, been held hostage by its own politicians and bureaucrats. There are signs of change, but it is coming very slowly. And unless we act quickly, another generation will have lost an opportunity for a better tomorrow.
Tomorrow: Government and Rural Development
TECH TALK Rajasthan Ruminations+T