Earlier this year, when a pandemic seemed more like a dystopian novel instead of a crude reality, Abbimnyou and I started scouting options for a short road trip from Delhi and that is when Sambhar Lake happened for us. One random evening, a plan was formed, a friend was called, a checklist was made and in less than 12 hours, we were heading west of Delhi towards Jaipur to reach Sambhar Lake. Sambhar Salt Lake is Asia’s largest inland saltwater lake and is home to 9% of India’s salt production, Located some 80 kilometres from Jaipur, 64 kilometres from Ajmer and 350 kilometres from Delhi, it is definitely a great weekend getaway from Delhi and a must-visit day trip from Jaipur. One can even club a visit to Sambhar Lake while visiting Pushkar. This saline lake spans over a whopping 35 kilometres and is just 3 meters at its deepest end.
Not only is Sambhar a haven for salt production, but bird watching in Sambhar Lake is also a popular activity, thanks to the migratory birds that make their way here during the winters from the colder regions of the world like Europe and North America. Of these, flocks of the lesser and greater flamingos in Sambhar Lake is a sight to behold. The entire salt pans of Sambhar can be seen dotted with pink and white, come monsoons. When we visited in February, there were only a very few flamingos left since most had made their way back to cooler regions, but the marshy lakebed was scattered with pink and white feathers and claw marks!
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HOW TO REACH SAMBHAR LAKE
Public transportation for Sambhar Lake is intermittent, but not non-existent. There are a number of villages scattered around the lake, of which Sambhar village is the biggest. Jaipur is the nearest railway junction and interstate bus terminal from Sambhar Lake. From Gopal Wadi bus stop in Jaipur, one must catch a local bus headed to Sambhar village.
One can even reach Sambhar Lake by train via the Leelan Express from Jaipur to Sambhar village. It’s a short and cost-efficient journey of only about 30 minutes or so.
However, the easiest way to reach Sambhar Lake from Delhi and Jaipur is by a private vehicle- preferably a four-wheel drive. This gives you the freedom to explore around the massive lake properly and also drive easily on rough, sandy and marshy patches by the lake.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAMBHAR LAKE
The options for places to stay in Sambhar Lake are rather limited. Sambhar Heritage Resort located in Jhapok village is the biggest and most ~luxurious~ place to in the area, with a few other resorts popping up soon.
For budget travellers like you and me, the cheapest place to stay in Sambhar Lake is the dharamshala of the Shakhambari Devi Temple at the south-western end of Sambhar Lake. Another place is the Sambhar Camp House near the temple. You can look them up on Facebook and Instagram for booking details. The Circuit House in Sambhar town is also a decent place to stay and is perfect for birders.
Yet, another cheaper (or rather the cheapest) place to stay in Sambhar Lake would be to bring your own tent and pitch it around the area of the temple. This is the approach we took and the experience of sleeping in the absolute middle of nowhere was exhilarating yet nerve-wracking at the same time! We pitched our tents on the foot of the hill where the temple is located. On one side, we had a jungle infested with monkeys and god knows what else and on our other side, there was the lake as far as the eye could see, touching the horizon. Starting winter, the lake starts drying up so there was barely any water near the temple and the pitching the tent on the lakebed was very easy. Sambhar Lake camping was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life!
For drinking water, we filled our bottles from the temple’s kitchenette and to freshen up, we visited the restaurant at Sambhar Heritage Resort. ~life hacks!~
However, I have heard of accounts of the local police asking campers to vacate premises and even levying fines since camping is apparently not allowed on the premises (I did not see any such sign saying so). So if you decide to go camping, do so at your own risk!
PLACES TO EAT NEAR SAMBHAR LAKE
Now, this is a tricky one! There’s a serious dearth of decent places to eat near Sambhar Lake, especially near the Shakhambari Mata Temple. The closest village is Sambhar, which is about 25 kilometres from the temple, making it impossible for us to drive up and down for meals.
The restaurant at Sambhar Heritage Resort is just about 10 kilometres or so from the temple. So for our dinner and breakfast, we visited this place. It costed us almost as much as any good cafe in Delhi would. It was slightly higher than our preferred budget, but we had to make do since this was the nearest place available for food.
Pro tip: The location for the resort is incorrect on Google maps. So be sure to contact them if you have trouble locating.
THINGS TO DO IN SAMBHAR LAKE
VISIT SHAKHAMBARI MATA TEMPLE
The word sakambari in Sanskrit translates to “she who bears vegetables”. Shakhambari Devi is an incarnation of Goddess Parvati who is said to bring food in times of famines. There are several Siddha Peethas of Maa Shakhambari across India, one of them being by the Sambhar Lake. At the top of the hill where the temple is located there sits an ancient chhatri which serves astounding views of the nearby areas, especially during sunrise.
GO DRIFT DRIVING ON THE LAKE BED
The water in the lake dries up during the winters, leaving the lakebed dry and dusty. This makes for an ideal place to try tricks with your car and send the blow off white clouds of the dust behind. We tried drifting during the golden hour and not only was it extremely fun, but the photo op was unbeatable, giving me so.many.great.photos!!!!
BIRDWATCHING FOR FLAMINGOS AT SAMBHAR LAKE
Sambhar is a great place to be at if you’re interested in spotting some rare species of birds. Peak winters from November to January is the ideal time. However, even in February, we were able to spot a few. Flamingos can be usually spotted during dawn and dusk when they come to feed in the lake before heading back to their nests. Of the many other birds I spotted here, the Indian Roller stood out with its bright blue plumage making it a sight to behold. Sambhar Lake is also a designated Ramsar Site- making it a wetland of international importance!
TRY WALKING ON THE SALT MARSHES AT SAMBHAR LAKE
The soil near the water of the lake is extremely marshy. If you’re down to get your legs dirty, try walking barefoot well into the lake. It’s a fun activity and also serves as a unique kind of ~au naturel~ massage for your feet! The only downside: there’s no water supply around to wash your feet once you’re done having fun. We chanced upon a handpump thankfully where we cleaned ourselves of the mud before getting into the car!
TAKE A TRAIN RIDE AMIDST SALT PANS
Amongst other things, the Sambhar Lake is also known for its ancient narrow gauge trolley trains that help connect Sambhar town to the salt pans around the lake. This British era train is also India’s only train that works on petrol engines and has wooden compartments. Another interesting fact is that this train is India’s only one that runs through a lake! These train tracks can be found on the eastern banks of the lake, and for a small fee, one can even take a ride around to see the process of salt production at Sambhar Lake.
VISIT THE SALT MUSEUM AND PROCESSING PLANT
The Salt Museum in Sambhar Town is a great place to acquaint yourself with all that is Sambhar. From mythology to history to ecology- you’ll find everything here. The processing plant near Sambhar is where one can see the process of salt making during the summers. It is a tedious process where the saline water from the lake is evaporated in large numbers in salt pans, while the salt is left behind which is then processed further for consumption.
WANDER AROUND THE NALIASAR EXCAVATION SITE
Naliasar is a small village located some 5 kilometres from Sambhar. In 1884, an excavation project unearthed terracotta figurines, coins, seals, sculptures and clay stupas from this village. Most of these artefacts seemed to be influenced by Buddhism, and some date back to the Kushan and Gupta periods. A number of artefacts excavated from Naliasar are stored at the Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur. Naliasar also has a lake which provides for a great spot to witness a majestic sunset!
STOP OVER AT BICHOON FORT
Bichoon or Bichun Fort is located some 25 kilometres from Sambhar town. It is an abandoned fort over a rocky Aravali hill in the Bichoon village. This is one of the most offbeat forts in Rajasthan, with very few accounts by travellers available on the world wide web. It’s supposed to provide stunning views of the nearby areas, especially during sunrise. I came across a signboard showing towards Bichun while taking the backroads from Sambhar to Delhi. I could see the silhouette of the fort over a hill, but due to lack of time couldn’t make it there. If you do end up visiting, please don’t forget to drop in your experience in the comments!
A short weekend trip or a day trip to Sambhar Lake might not be able to fully do justice to the many bounties of this place. Ecologically, mythologically and historically rich, there’s so much to see and explore around this massive lake that a weekend might seem to short. The best time to visit Sambhar Lake is year-round depending on what you’d like to see and do. For birding and camping, winter months are preferable. As for salt processing, summers are the best.
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