Exploring Ruins and Chasing Sunset at Osian Sand Dunes
Sindhu Murthy writes about her experience in chasing sunsets in deserted sand dunes beyond Osian
One thing we wanted to experience during our visit to Rajasthan in India was to view a sunset over pristine sand dunes not crowded by tourists. Our host at Chandelao had promised to take us to some dunes which he had discovered on an exploratory trip that he took a few years back. We had to finish our sightseeing in Jodhpur by late afternoon so that we could visit the dunes before evening. After exploring the Mehrangarh fort, Mandore gardens and a few other interesting places in Jodhpur, we headed towards the town of Osian located on the fringes of Thar desert at about 65 km from Jodhpur.
Osian, also spelled as Osiyan is a little hamlet known for its temples built in Brahminic and Jain architectural style. It has about 20 temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Mahaveera- most of which are in ruins except for the Sachiya Mata temple and the Jain temple of Mahaveera which are still worshiped. The temples of Osian mostly date between the 8th and 11th Century.
A little bit of History:
Osian was initially called Upakesapura and was a major trading center on the Old Silk Route during the Gupta reign. It used to be a major stop for caravans plying on the silk route. Not just that, it was also a major religious center for the Gurjara Pratiharas. However, the glory of the town ended abruptly after it was conquered and destroyed by the Mohamad of Gore in 1195 AD.
A couple of small shrines on either side of the road greeted us as we entered the town of Osian. It was evident at the first look that no attempt was made to protect the structures. There were no idols in the shrines and no one guarding the monuments. However, on closer inspection, we noticed that the ceiling and pillars of some of them had beautiful carvings. The town also had a huge step well which was in complete dismay due to lack of maintenance.
The famous Sachiya Mata temple was located on a small hill in the town. The temple had ornate pillars built along the steps leading to the main shrine. Most of the walls inside the temple were decorated with beautiful glass inlay work. We could not capture the intricate work as no photography was allowed inside the main shrine. From behind the main shrine, we could view the popular sand dunes of Osian. There were quite a few tourists already riding on the camels. However, we were not heading there. We were destined to visit a much prettier location for the sunset. It was almost 5.00 pm and we had to rush to make it to the dunes before sunset.
The greatest challenge we had was to find a jeep to take us to the dunes which were further about 40 km ahead from Osian. Though we had a car, we couldnot take it to the dunes because, as per our host, there was no road to reach the dunes and a 4x drive was needed. We managed to find a jeep driver who agreed to take us to the dunes provided we show him the route. Thus started our journey in search of a place we knew existed but not sure where exactly. What continued was an epic road trip through some of the prettiest villages in Rajasthan. As we drove, we could see the sun descend to the horizon. It felt as if we were chasing the sun to catch him before he disappeared beyond the dunes.
There were herds of nilgais( the largest Asian antelope) and chinkaras (Indian Gazelle) on either side of the road. We so wanted to stop and photograph the animals that were fearlessly grazing by the roadside but we could not do so for lack of time. After losing and finding our way multiple times, we finally arrived at Kuntlai Nala just in time before sunset. What we saw was the sunset of a lifetime. I cannot put into words the excitement of having the entire stretch of land all to ourselves. There was not a single soul other than us. There were no camels to ride and no vendors to pester us to buy stuff. The view was overwhelming. The dunes looked as if someone had crafted them in perfect shape. The small shrubs that had grown in patched set a perfect contrast to break the golden hues of sand. The huge star which was racing to descend beyond the horizon before we reached the dunes all of a sudden decided to slow down a bit. We sat there as the big ball of fire disappeared behind the dunes. It was our zen movement and there was nothing to disturb us. The light was perfect for photography but I could not concentrate much on capturing pictures. All I could do was sit there and watch for I was not sure if I would get to see such spectacle again.
PS: You can find many dunes as you drive from Osian towards Bikaner or Jaisalmer. However, according to our host, the one we visited is very special in its landscape. We would not care to differ because it definitely appeared special to us. Though we do not exactly remember the location of the dunes, we do remember that we had to cross the railway track near the Samrau Railay Station and head west. And then we took a right turn near a school whose compound wall completely covered with sand.
Osian is well connected by road and trains and the nearest airport is in Jodhpur. It is best covered on a day trip from Jodhpur.
Driving Distance for important tourist attraction:
Jodhpur: 65 Km
Jaisalmer: 250 Km
Bikaner: 180 K
Not many hotels are available for overnight stay at Osiyan. However, there are a couple of desert camps located close to Osian offering basic accommodation.
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