A November 1994 trip
to Rajasthan by Leesa
Quote: I’ve always been fascinated by images of India, the bright saris against the arid landscapes. Whilst many of our college peers had included it in their round the world trips, the most we could manage was a 3 week holiday from work.
Attraction | "Jaipur"
For our first city it was hot, dusty, noisy, and thick with cars, bikes and touts. So hot and bothered were we on our first day that we inadvertently stumbled upon the striking red ‘Palace of the Winds’, although a little disappointed to find it only a facade, like a film set, on a busy modern street. Only on the second day did we visit the City Palace, with its bleached sandstone moghul architecture and red turbaned guards. Away from the hassle we began to appreciate some of the scenes we had come to India for.
Our only regret, in rushing to get away from the hassle and eager to see more of Rajasthan, was to ‘forget’ to see the Amber Palace. By all accounts it is stunning, so if you think the City Palace is good…
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 16, 2002
Palace of the Winds
Siredeori Bazaar St.
Attraction | "Udaipur & The Lake Palace"
We found a lakeside room with no difficulty, with the water lapping about a metre below our window (I did have fitful dreams the first night about tidal lakes), and a wonderfully ornate roofed balcony jutting out over the water, with the obligatory coloured bolsters and muslin curtains rippling in the breeze. Unfortunately, my boyfriend got stomach trouble here, although he couldn’t have found a better location.
Left to my own devices for a few days I found great pleasure wandering around the lakeside. With such poky buildings, this was many people’s backyard. Women pounded and washed clothes, including ours having sorted out which items would withstand the beating, children played, and people of all ages washed. Exploring on my own I experienced no hassle, just smiles from the women and good natured but pleasantly brief chat from a few young students of English. When my boyfriend felt a little better we did a few of the more standard ‘sights’. The City Palace is an intricate joy of stained glass and mosaics, and the dying sun sets the city alight with orange from boat tour around the islands.
With a few bad journeys, and some rather spartan accommodations experienced to date, we took advantage of the fuller range of hotels in Udaipur. For a mid-trip pick-me up we booked a night in a hotel in the City Palace. It was heaven walking into an airconditioned room with crisp white sheets, a fridge, television, and ensuite bathroom. It was only on closer inspection that this was all a front. The fridge and a/c made so much noise we had to turn them off to sleep. The invitingly huge showerhead just trickled tepid water at best, and the hotel reception seemed unable to connect an international call whilst promising all the time they could. True, the sprung mattress was a joy, but overall our first hotel had more charm, friendliness, and lack of pretentions.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 16, 2002
Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
Attraction | "Jaisalmer"
Jaisalmer (The Golden City)
Heart of the Thar Desert
Not finding anyone conveniently returning just before our need to book a trek, we booked up with no recommendations. At first it seemed great. We were driven, relatively sedately, into the desert to visit some wonderfully unspoiled villages. Arriving at one at dusk we were mesmerised by a procession of orange, yellow, and red saried women winding their way back from the well with their polished brass water containers glinting in the setting sun. After a fiery impromptu curry by the side of the road, we were sent off into the sand dunes with a couple of quilts to make a bed for the night. Untainted by orange street lights on the horizon the stars were quite literally dazzling.
The next day we set off on camels. At first the novelty was great, striding along the dunes at dawn with caravans (albeit of tourists) stretching off into the distance. After a few hours and our bad tempered camels began to get a little tedious. Only when we came to the first of many ruins did we realise that with your legs flapping loosely around the rounded girth of a camel kills your inner thighs when you attempt to walk again.
The final straw was when the older teenage guide, who had a smattering of English left with the other tourist in our party who needed to get back earlier for a bus. We were left with a boy of around 13, who seemed content just to sit around in the shade after a light curry lunch. After two hours of sitting around we insisted, the best we could with hand signals, that we move on and see more ruins. The lad obviously took this as a cue to go home, and try as we might to stop at interesting looking ruins on our return to Jaisalmer, we simply galloped uncomfortably along as our camels dutifully followed the lead camel.
With hindsight, and not having met anyone who enjoyed the experience, you are better off on a jeep trip to the desert and its settlements.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on January 16, 2002
Attraction | "Chittorgarh"
All but deserted, the empty ruins were magical if somewhat eerie. Finally abandoned close to 500 years ago, the citadel was sacked on at least 3 occasions, with the men riding out to certain death, and the women and children committing suicide by throwing themselves on a funeral pyre rather than face the enemy.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 17, 2002
Chittorgarh Fort and Ruins
South Of Bhilwara
Attraction | "Pushkar's Camel Fair"
We traipsed around the town for a day and a half before we saw a single camel. Even camel-less, the town was amazing, packed with tribespeople in rich red saris decked out in their finest gold jewellery. Festival and religious music echoed around the streets all day (and night) long, with candles floated out into the lake at night. Only after a small argument with my boyfriend, striding off in a huff up a rudimentary grandstand, did I see camels. From the top of the stadium, looking out into the desert were camels as far as the eye could see.
The camel fair aside, Pushkar was a wonderfully atmospheric town. It is an important pilgrimage centre; the lake is a hive of activity around dawn and dusk with people bathing in the holy lake. The colours, sounds, smells, and setting make this a mesmerising scene. Beware though that taking pictures of the lake, and more particularly the bathers, is frowned upon and you will get shouted at if you are spotted. You do appear to be able to get permission, based not only on postcards of the lake and bathers on sale, but on seeing an Indian photographer being given a ‘royal’ tour of the best photo opportunities by a local official. I justify my few furtive snaps of the lake on this, and the fact the photographer took a picture of me (after asking my permission of course) drying my long hair in the late afternoon sun on a viewpoint on the old palace walls.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 11, 2002
Pushkar Camel Fair
Pushkar, Rajasthan, India
Chosen more as a useful break in our train journey back to Delhi, we dutifully made our way up the imposing hilltop Meherangarh Fort that dominates the city. After two weeks of forts and palaces, the fort itself was still fascinating and all the more so because of the views over the city with the little clusters of cobalt blue Brahmin houses, and a few resident vultures hobbling around. As with all the forts/palaces, the place is a maze of ornate courtyards and palaces to house the extended maharaja’s family.
Jaswant Thanda, a white marble memorial on the outskirts of the town makes a pleasant change from forts and city palaces. Away from the noise of the town, and almost empty when we visited, this was a very tranquil refuge from the (Indian) world, with the marble buildings seemingly cooler than their red sandstone counterparts.
Bargaining with rickshaw drivers in Jodphur seemed harder than elsewhere. We negotiated a reasonable rate up to the fort on our first day before setting off only to have the driver follow us all but sobbing into the palace grounds begging for more money. Later that evening we took a rickshaw out to Ajit Bhawan Palace Hotel to splurge on their smorgasbord dinner, only to find our driver declare he didn’t have change having agreed an odd amount for the fare. He half-heartedly suggested he would walk back to the junction to find change if we insisted, and after two weeks on the road we did. All for the sake of about 2p!
With one exception, all the express trains we took ran largely to time. That is to say they arrived within a couple of hours of the scheduled time. We traveled first class for bit of space, so not as to be gawked at, and because it is incredibly cheap by our standards. And an unconsidered benefit of travelling this way was the well spoken Indians we met en route; a young bank clerk travelling to a training course fascinated by my working for Barclays Bank, and a former Indian Congressman travelling with his elderly Rajput father complete with red turban and handlebar moustache to name the most noteable.
Our experience on buses was not good at all. To speed the journey, we took an express bus from Jaipur to Ajmer only to find that it driven by a madman. Our driver weaved in and out of the traffic on the busy main road between the two towns, essentially playing chicken with the oncoming traffic. Whilst cars would submit to the ongoing bus at the last minute, the marble carrying lorries were not so willing. The final straw came when we hit a bump quite early into the trip, and something fell off the roof where all the luggage was rather cursorily tied. The passengers at the back shouted at the driver to stop but he simply carried on careering down the highway. Relieved to arrive in one piece, we had a frantic search for our luggage hoping upon hope they hadn’t bounced off back at Jaipur. After talking him into one more mildly less hairy journey up to Pushkar and back, my boyfriend refused to get on another bus in a country where road users believe in reincarnation and fate.
With the train in our view the leser of two evils, a couple of pieces of advice. 1) No-one queues for tickets. Take a crash course in scummaging before attempting to ‘queue’. 2) Indians, particulary those in the tourist industry (including the railways) like to agree with you. "Is this the air-conditioned train to Delhi?" Yes, of course it is. It’s only when you get your tickets checked that a little white lie has been told about the a/c, the class of carriage, or even, the direction. Learn to ask open questions that can’t be answered with ‘yes’. Where does this train go?
Brighton, United Kingdom