Rajasthan had been on our travel bucket list for a while. Alongside Corbett and Ladakh and such. And since its rarely that we find such perfect harmonious agreement on anything under the sun, we thought we must make haste about execution. So dates were discussed, umpteen links on hotels and locations were sent back and forth, (make that sent by me and duly ignored by the DH) very many phonecalls were made, an itinerary evolved and most bookings made. In fact this was possibly the most meticulously planned trip we've ever made. Sikkim was ad-hoc except for rail tickets back and forth, so also Goa. But Rajasthan was going to be a total touristy deal, with places to see and stuff to do in each city, and what with our ambitious schedule - Delhi-Agra-Jodhpur-Jaisalmer-Udaipur-Jaipur - in 9 days we had to plan inter-city transfers and everything to the last detail.
Anyways, here goes, an unedited, picture-ridden and as_I_recollect event of the trip. Its been nearly 2 months already so details are sketchy but..
Day 1 - Delhi
Delhi was more of a stopover deal. I was all taken by my dream of visiting the capital City and Vin not too keen. The flight ticket being marginally cheaper to Delhi than Jaipur, and that we wanted to visit the Taj swayed things in favor of its inclusion.
Stay: Our stay at Geet Deluxe Delhi was possibly the most drab and disappointing point, possibly of our whole trip. I'd booked ahead in every other place but decided to take my chance with Delhi. There's nothing to complain about the hotel as such, the rooms were okay and there was hot water yada yada. But nothing to write home about. And more pertinently set in the narrowest lane somewhere near CP. Each time we returned to the hotel we had trouble locating it..
Birla Mandir (Whats with the Birlas and building these everywhere?)
Qutab Minar: There was a moment of confusion coz the rick driver left us in a park opposite Qutab Minar and I was left wondering where the Minar is, but this was soon resolved by the steady stream of tourist-traffic to the other side.
Indira Gandhi Museum: Vin got bored while I happily lapped up insights into the first family's lives and deaths, their many triumphs and follies. The museum even has the saree Indira Gandhi was wearing when she was shot, blood stained and all. And what an amazingly beautiful woman that. The museum was my most favorite place in the Delhi circuit.
India Gate: where among others, even an English colonel's horse is commemorated among the list of way martyrs.
Red Fort looked beautiful by night, and we also got to catch the sound and light show. Neither the sound nor the lighting was out of the ordinary but the voiceover by Kabir Bedi and the rest and the content itself was quite interesting. And we got them goosebumps when the national anthem was played at the end of the show. And even the foreigners followed our cue and stood up and it was sort of a nice moment.
Day 2 - Agra
Well, its unfortunate to have to start like this. But Agra is The. single. most. polluted. City. in. India. The India they warned the tourist about..that one. Really, and what an irony that its prolly also the one that attracts the most number of visitors. We even ended up speculating there must be some conspiracy at work to match it up to their expectations. Really, only them snake charmers are missing. Every single road and bylane is so overflowing with waste and stench and general yuckiness. Those pics - now more stereotype than those of the Taj in full focus - of contrast between the Taj and the filth outside don't even tell half the story.
All that being said, nothing, no amount of super-hyped expectation can take away from the beauty of the Taj, especially for a first-timer. Its so fantastic and overwhelming and I was lost for like forever taking it inspite of the milling crowds about.
The fort was also sprawling and majestic (something tells me I'll run out of adjectives to describe forts before I'm halfway through this log..so lemme atleast save them for Meherangarh which is easily more *tic than all else put together). We stopped by at the Juma Masjid as well (we'd given the Delhi one a miss) which was sort of in some neglect but Vin managed to get some nice pictures while the clergy person showed me around.
Food: We had superb Puri + 3 Sabjis + drink combo at Chammanlal puri wale. One of the cheapest and tastiest breakfast meals we had through the trip, all for 70 bucks. whatay steal. Lunch was at a Mughalai place and was decent. Dinner was pretty sad, the rick driver tricked us and took someplace he gets commission. Horribly oil laden stuff trying to pass off as Mughal fare.
Oh, and we spent an eternally long 2 hours in Agra railway station in the company of many mice and many more firangs who were quick at spotting these mice and climbing atop chairs pronto. This in the upper class waiting room btw..
On and those of you who don't know this already, carry a lock and keys if you ever wanna leave your luggage in Indian railway waiting rooms. They dont accept em otherwise. Oh but you already knew that didn't you. You smart person!
Day 3 - Jodhpur
The blue city. After our stay in Delhi (read disappointing) Vin was warning me all along he'd walk out and find another hotel if he didnt like the one I'd booked. And the one minute steep climb up to the Cosy Guest house (can't get shadier than that) didn't help this distrust. But we arrived and really liked the place. It has superb views of the fort and is a quirky nice place. Neat and well furnished rooms, painted the customary blue (oh, and is the blue city blue..you'd be hardpressed to spot a non-blue house and the few there are, stand out like sore thumbs) with a rooftop restaurant that serves all the usual suspects on a tailored-for-firand menu (pancakes, omlettes, crepes, toast..Thanks to going after all the RG suggested accomodation, we had firangs for company in most places. It was amusing to note how they do stuff more Indianly than the Indians themselves. Thanks to expert coaching by Lonely planets and its clones :) like the full blown dance-pose type namaste. Whoever greets each other like that out here. We're prolly making similar fools of ourselves trusting them on the sayanoras and such).. And of course they're a 2 minute walk from the fort. Beat that. Although we were unceremoniously chased on our walk back at night by cows (in heat, I suspect).
Jodhpur, I hear, is usually sidestepped for the more romantic Udaipur or treated as a transit City onto the Thar and Jaisalmer by most tourists. Which is rather unfortunate coz its worth going there for Meherangarh alone. Of all the forts we saw this trip (and boy, have we seen a few!) Meherangarh beats every other one. Its the hugest and most majestic of the lot. Prolly also the best maintained. We spent a whole day in the fort. Went out to the city, visited the famous Omlette shop - He claims he does 1000 eggs a day. And even his simple boiled eggs ( topped with chillie cilantro garnish) was yum. There are quite a few clones around each one claiming to be *original* so here I give you a pic so you can spot the right guy :D.
And went back to the fort for dinner. So we'd booked ahead (as advised by RG again..) at the fort restaurant. We arrived around 8 and had to knock at the HUGE doors (with those spikes to hold off elephants) to have the army officer posted there let us in (there is army presence at every fort. I guess they are still as strategic as they once were being at vantage points and such) Now, Meherangarh, you must know, is not an inhibited fort. And save for the few high lights illuminating the fort as such there wasn't even any light and even we waked past the restaurant before being sent back by another security guard. The whole affair was so eerie. And we get in to realize there's nobody else dining there that night. And there was a very strong wind that kept turning the lantern off (pic attached for evidence). And then it started to rain. And we're inside this huge fort with no one even around and no light and dogs howling in the night. Its super interesting in restrospect but I had some scary moments in there (none of which took away from my single minded devotion to tweet).
Oh, and did I mention the palmist who got some stuff right but said I'd get married at 31. On being told I already am, he hastened to add that a special someone's gonna turn up around 31. Where arst thou, my prince charming
Day 4 & Night & Day 5 - Jodhpur to Jaisalmer & a night in the desert
(to be contd)
We'd decided to splurge and take a cab from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. We got a nice lil Logan and I think it was worth the expense. Its a ride through quintessential country, with all its rustic charm. Ok, now I'm just rambling, but do it okay! Stopped by at a roadside resto for breakfast and got to Jaisalmer post noon.
Had just about time to catch lunch at Little Italy ( you get awesome conti food in Jaisalmer, Little Italy, 4th of July all good bets..even the veggie stuff was sumptuous and yum) and do a quick round about the fort markets before staring off for our 1 night desert safari. We had booked with Moti palace and I thought at 1.5k per person he gave us a pretty decent deal. We were particular about not doing the touristy (how snobbish that :D) swiss tent with "village folk dance around the campfire' for entertainment and we'd made our preference for some solitude and he truly delivered on this promise.
The desert stay was the single most amazing experience of the whole trip and if I had to recommend just one of the Rajasthan 'do's to anyone this would be it. Anyways I digress so lemme begin at the beginning. We were driven to the desert - supplies for the night and mattresses in tow - by jeep. I spent half my time worrying about having chosen peep-toes to wear wondering about the chilling night ahead (it was already pretty cold) and the other half gaping at the huge wind mills. I dont think I've seen windmill farms anywhere..definitely not in Kerala.
We stopped at the village closest to the desert and spent some time here. Being chased by school children all of whom wanted their photos clicked and wanted money for pens (if you plan to go take pens or pencils for them..we had to give money and i dont think its the right thing to do) and drinking tea at the cabbie's house and then at the camel drivers. Well, the village is like all of 10 houses with the most basic of infrastructure. We walked till the end of this village - it is considered disrespectful to ride the camel thru the village - and climbed atop our camels (Michael - named after MJ..by a foreign tourist who visited and saw him hop and dance around as a kid, and a more conventionally named Chingari) from here on.
Our camel driver - Prem Singh - was such an interesting and fine human being that meeting and spending time with him was as much fun as the whole high of being in the desert at night. Its quite humbling to meet people who have been through so much and still be hopeful and happy. Living in the desert is a constant struggle to cope with nature, and its amazing that people can retain so much cheer and optimism in spite of it..After we woke in the morning Prem Singh showed us several acres of land beside our dune that belonged to him..they haven't had rain in the last 2 years and this land is lying waste..only consequence being the Govt wont give him the more cultivable land beside the irrigation canal that they're distributing..He had no bitterness towards anyone, be it nature, his employer (he doesn't even get any regular income for tending to the 'maharaj''s camels, just supplies left over from what is sent for the guests..and tips perhaps) the Govt or life itself. And he carries around this deadbody of his mobile phone, which had died a horrible death falling into a fire when making rotis. Will talk about him in another post, can't do justice here.
The food was amazing, the rotis were coated in sand on either side but the dal and sabji were so awesome. In fact veggie food was good everywhere in Rajasthan. Its nearly always the same 2 to 3 vegetables. The villages are thankfully still used to eating the season's food. But everything was so fresh and crisp. Its a pleasure to eat. Prem Singh carries around his hookah and the country liqour (made of ?) and the DH tried both. I stayed away but ate like a hog (Prem Singh kept urging saying I gotto put on weight so I can give 'manoj ko bacha'. For the life of him he couldnt get Vin's name right. In spite of my telling him my giving arbit manjoj a bacha aint a good idea). And then we went off to sleep under the starlit desert night. I know it sounds cliched but there really isn't another way to say this. We were woken up to Prem Singh's singing in the morn ( he keeps singing while he's working, all the time) and cups of salty tea (why so?), caught the sunrise and rode back to the desert and then into Jaisalmer.
In the fort I went shopping for harem pants which were later later employed to address the clothes shortage issue.
Night 5 - Bus to Udaipur
This night gets an entry by itself only so I can tell you this:
- It gets very very cold in the desert. In the bus. Carry jackets. or Scarfs. or Blankets. If you don't have any of these don't be too lazy to ask the staff. And no it doesn't help that there are two of you. Or that its a sleeper bus. Nothing. It gets very very cold.
To be contd (If and when the author works up enough motivation to type another endless monologue..)