Rajasthan is traditionally divided into three regions: Marwar, Shekhavati, and Mewar. Marwar is known for the business acumen of its people. Shekhavati comes second, with some of India’s biggest business magnates originally hailing from the area. (For tourists, though, Shekhavati’s main draw are its many grandly painted mansions).
And Mewar is one of Rajasthan’s greenest areas – thanks to the Chambal River, the state’s only perennial river. This is a land that's been ruled by some of the fiercest warriors in Rajasthan’s history. It’s also, for tourists, one of Rajasthan’s most glittery, dreamy, gorgeous places.
What follows is a day-by-day account of our trip from Delhi through Mewar and back again.
Day 1: Delhi-Kota: 500 km
. This was our longest, most exhausting day. The first half of the drive – Delhi to Jaipur, 236 km on National Highway (NH) 8 – was good. This is one of the area’s best highways, six lanes of good road and with lots of coffee shops outlets along the way where you can stop for something to eat and drink (not to mention a loo break).
After Jaipur, we shifted to NH12. The road surface remained all right till Tonk, though the road got narrower. Then, shortly after Tonk, the GPS on my husband’s phone indicated that the best route was down a state highway. (This, mind you, with NH 12 straight ahead, with ‘Kota’ and an arrow pointing the way). My husband’s faith in the GPS is touching, and he insisted we go down the state highway. So we did – for the next six and a half hours. The state highways are really village roads, often only about ten feet across, dirt-topped, liberally potholed, and with vast stretches that were completely uninhabited. The only traffic we encountered were a few men on cycles, an occasional small lorry, and a couple of bullock carts. This stretch passes through the villages of Nagar and Nainva before reaching Bundi and then onto Kota. Nowhere along the way can you get anything to eat (unless you’re willing to buy a snack from one of the dubious-looking carts in one of the larger villages). To take a leak, it’s the roadside bushes.
We’d left Delhi at 9 AM. We arrived in Kota at 10.45 PM, having stopped only twice – both times before Jaipur – for something to eat and drink.
Day 2: Kota
After our marathon 14-hour drive from Delhi to Kota, we were happy to let someone else drive us around Kota – especially as the old part of town (where Kota’s chief attraction, the City Palace is located) is a rabbit warren of narrow streets. The front office at our hotel put us in touch with a travel agent, who, for Rs 1,200, rented out a chauffeur-driven car for 8 hours. We began with visiting the City Palace (a smallish museum, but a stunning mirrored palace). From there, we went to the Kota Barrage (very mundane, though the average Kota resident seems to think it’s the city’s prime attraction), then onto the picturesque Abheda Palace, before returning to our hotel for lunch.
After lunch, we went off again – this time to the village of Kaithoon, 20 minutes’ drive from Kota. Kaithoon is the home of the diaphanous kotadoria sari, still woven in homes by the Muslim women of Kaithoon. No great bargains here, but the experience was interesting. We finished off the day with an exhilarating cruise down the Chambal, through the wildlife sanctuary that once harboured tigers. We saw nothing but some birds, monkeys and huge fruit bats, but our guide suggested visiting in winter, when sightings of gharial and turtles are almost guaranteed.
Day 3: Kota-Udaipur: 265 km
After the Jaipur-Kota road had turned out so awful, our expectations of the Kota-Udaipur road couldn’t be lower. This would be a state road, we thought, all potholes and cattle sitting in the middle of the road.
Surprise, surprise. NH76, which links Kota to Udaipur (and from there, goes on to Ahmedabad and eventually Mumbai) is the best highway in the state. It’s cemented (very unusual for Indian roads, even National Highways), four-lane throughout, and with little traffic except for fast-moving cars, buses and carriers. The countryside was lovely too: rich and green, covered with waving grass, stands of low trees, and the occasional shrub covered with pink or yellow wild flowers. We managed to do a comfortable speed of 100 km/hour (which is very good for India), and slowed only when we were suddenly hit by torrential rains. Anybody who calls Rajasthan a desert state needed to see that storm. 5 hours’ drive, and we were in Udaipur.
Udaipur is dotted with lakes – mainly artificial water tanks excavated by the maharajas of Udaipur. Their palaces are a dime a dozen (most of them converted into plush hotels now), and there are sights aplenty. We had a couple of days in Udaipur, so we decided to devote the first day to checking out the galleries, museums and palaces within the city. First up was the imposing City Palace Museum, no great shakes as a museum, but with some stupendous architecture. Here, we bought ‘package tickets’ for some of the other major sights and experiences: the cruise on Lake Pichola, the Crystal Gallery, and the Vintage Car Collection.
After that, it was a simple case of going from one attraction to the other. All were pretty dazzling in their own way.
Day 5: Eklingji and Nathdwara
If you’re spending a couple of days in Udaipur, a good day trip is to the Hindu shrines of Eklingji and Nathdwara. Nathdwara is 48 km from Udaipur; Eklingji about midway, 22 km from Udaipur and along the same highway. We began by visiting – within Udaipur itself – the gardens known as Saheliyon ki Badi. These weren’t as splendid as I’d imagined, but since there wasn’t that much to see here, at least we were able to head on for Eklingji pretty soon (the road to Eklingji is the same one on which the Saheliyon ki Badi is situated). Eklingji had a quaint, ancient charm to it – the 108 stone temples here are made of beautifully carved stone or plaster, and are well-preserved enough to appeal to someone like me, who’s not Hindu and to whom the only appeal of the temples was in their historicity and beauty.
Nathdwara was a different kettle of fish: newer, more crowded, and commercial – so much so that I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Fortunately, the drive back from Nathdwara through Eklingji to Udaipur is scenic – through green hills, with pretty wildflowers along the roadside.
Day 6: Udaipur-Bundi: 265 km
:This is the same stretch that we’d covered a couple of days earlier when we drove from Kota to Udaipur. On our way to Udaipur, we were in a hurry to get to our destination, so we’d driven nonstop all the way. This time, we decided to halt – at the almost-legendary Chittaurgarh fort town, home to India’s largest fort, a 1,500 year-old citadel that has some fascinating history attached to it. Chittaurgarh is only 6 km off the Udaipur-Kota/Bundi highway, so it doesn’t take much time to get there and back. We hired a guide and did a basic tour; even that, however, took 2 hours. After Chittaurgarh, we hit the road again. Past Kota, we had to leave the National Highway and take a state road to Bundi. This stretch wasn’t good – there were potholes and much mud. We ended up arriving in Bundi 8 hours after we’d left Udaipur.
Day 7: Bundi
Bundi is somewhat like a twin city to Kota: it lies across the Chambal river from Kota, but is smaller and sleepier. The staff at our hotel warned us that it wouldn’t be advisable to take our car into town – the lanes are narrow in places, and pretty chaotic. "Take autorickshaws," they said, which was what we did. The autorickshaws aren’t too comfy or clean, but they’re cheap and plentiful. We first visited the magnificent step-well known as Raniji ki Baoli, then went on to the fort. Here, the Taragarh Palace was a grubby and smelly relic of what it once must’ve been, but the stunning Chitrashala – painted throughout with beautifully preserved murals – was dazzling. After lunch, we visited the Chaurasi Khambon ki Chhatri, a three-storeyed medieval pavilion supported by 84 pillars. Then, back to the hotel, with enough time to have a leisurely afternoon nap, tea and some time to read or watch TV.
Day 8: Bundi-Delhi: 480 km
: This time, we took NH12 from Kota to Jaipur; and yes, it is a far superior road than those awful state roads. We got to Jaipur in time for a very late lunch, then headed for Delhi. Unfortunately, the Jaipur-Delhi stretch was bad at this time: there were traffic jams along the way, due to a combination of torrential rain, too many trucks, and work being done by the National Highways Authority of India. We only reached Delhi at about 11 PM.