Rajasthan - Aravali and Mewaad

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Introduction and Planning

We wanted to do a Rajasthan trip for long. This Diwali (2014) holidays we took the plunge and arranged a trip. We decided to do it with our parents. So it was seven people in all.We did not want to choose a pre-packaged tour since we wanted to do it at our own pace. Researched on the web and decided on a comfortable itinerary. It turned out to be about 1800 Kms for 10 days which we thought was pretty good. Once the itinerary was decided we booked train tickets (waiting listed), hotels and finally taxi. However the train tickets never got confirmed. However at the right moment Indian Railways introduced "Premium" trains both ways on to which we could get booking by paying a real premium price! So we had to change our itinerary a bit according to fit the train tickets we eventually obtained. With respect to hotels, we wanted to stay in as many different types as possible. So we got a taste of everything. We stayed in people's homes, guest houses, regular hotels and real palaces.

Areas we visited

Rajasthan is a very large state in terms of area. We are very poor with the history here, but trying to give a perspective of what we learnt. It is roughly divided into four areas:
  • Shekhawati: the northern parts around the cities of Jhunjhunu, Chomu and other areas that border the state of Haryana.
  • Aravali: these form the eastern parts - Jaipur and further to the east bordering the state of Uttar Pradesh.
  • Mewaad: the southern parts of which Udaipur, Mount Abu and Chittorgarh make up the important cities.
  • Marwaad: and finally the western parts. Bikaner, Jaisalmer and other towns like Pokharan that are close to our border with Pakistan make up this part.

    The Thar desert we read up is primarily in the Marwaad region. Other regions in Rajasthan are surprisingly green and have good water sources. Most of the cities are built around large lakes. Udaipur is a stand out example - the Pichola lake it is built on, seems like a sea. Each of these regions have their own customs, food and culture. Our trip traversed the eastern (Aravali) and southern (Mewaad) regions. We hope to return to Rajasthan to taste the desert and the western parts. So without further ado lets jump into the trip!

    Day 0. In the Train

    We (Ajay's parents and we three) started from Pune around 8am in the morning of 17 Oct. The train was dot on time and we had a bit of a rush in the station because we had to go to a distant platform and also we spent a bit of time eating breakfast on the station :). Run Run Run, but we got into the train well in time. The premium trains are clean and good to start with. But as time goes on garbage starts accumulating. The ticket price includes cost of food as well - its good and bad. Good in the sense that you dont have to go searching around, bad because you are stuck with it :). The food was okay quality except for a few items (like soup which was very salty). Also there are three meals a day and it feels like all the time we are eating in the train :). Another thing about A/C trains is that they simulate an artic experience at times, particularly in the night, so its good to take an extra jacket / sweater.

    Day 1. Jodhpur

    The premium train in which we got reservations, took us to Ajmer. That was the closest we could get to Jodhpur via train. We landed in Ajmer station around 4am. The station was surprisingly active. Junta was running around. Had an altercation with the lady who manned the upper class waiting room. It turned out that we could not understand her Hindi. Eventually we made friends with her. After clean up took a rickshaw to RSRTC bus stand (referred to as roadways bus stand). Took a 6am bus to Jodhpur. The bus went through many villages giving us a glimpse of the local life there. In return we had to spend a lot of time travelling. We reached Jodhpur around 1pm and landed up at the Hem Guest House.

    A resident of the village Barr
    with his colourful turban and the beedi

    They had conveniently sent a rickshaw to pick us up. If not, we would have never been able to find the place. It was in the dead center of the city next to Sardar market. This place is a huge maze of tiny lanes, back to back houses and shops. The Jodhpurians take the definition of crowded to a whole new level! Of course the rickshaw drivers here are well trained to navigate this labyrinth expertly at mind-blowing speeds. It took us a 20 minute heart throbbing rickshaw ride to get to the guest house, Teju being our driver.

    Immediately we went to buy a turban
    from the local shop
    And Arnav brandishes his new turban.
    The shop keeper was all smiles

    The guest house was simple, well kept. But we had to climb a couple of floors passing through their kitchen on the way. The good part was we had a nice view of the Jodhpur fort from the roof top in the guest house. After having food and freshening up, we went out walking in Jodhpur. The places around Sardar bazar are full with cloth and other shops. There are a lot of sweet shops too. However the traffic (mostly two and three wheelers) in these constricted lanes gets on your nerves quickly. The situation does not improve when you get to Nai Sadak (the new road). It is wider but pretty dusty and still filled with vehicles.

    After a lot of walking (with some shopping) we found hotel Priya for dinner. The food in Rajasthan is pretty good and has a lot of variety. Vegetarians can rejoice! However the usage of oil and ghee is generous in their preparations. After this dinner we headed back to our rooms. We headed to the roof to take a look at the fort. It was a great view since its lighted up at night.

    The Mehrangarh fort at night

    Day 2. Jodhpur

    We woke up to a bright orange day. Today was a local sight seeing day. After breakfast, our hosts helped us hire another good rickshaw to show us all the sites in Jodhpur for Rs 700 for the day. On the way, we went to the bus stand to book our tickets for the next day's travel to Jaipur. After booking the tickets, we realized that train travel is better between these two cities. Bus (Volvo service) takes a long six hours while the express trains take only four.

    And the Mehrangarh fort at dawn
    Jodhpur was being bathed
    in the morning crimson light
    More views of the Mehrangarh fort at dawn
    More views of the Mehrangarh fort at dawn

    Our rickshaw driver for the day, Mansoor, was an young gentleman with the usual flair needed for the local traffic. Our first sight of visit was the Umaid Bhavan Palace. This palace is divided into three parts: the palatial abode of the current prince, a museum where people can look at the artifacts of the earlier kings and the third part that is a boutique hotel managed by the Taj group. The museum is a small one hour jaunt - may be two if you are interested in the artefacts. The exterior of the palace is in excellent condition and is very well kept. The whole set up is on top of a hill, the drive itself being very pleasant.

    Photos of the Umaid Bhavan Palace

    The first view of Umaid Bhavan Palace
    More views of the Umaid Bhavan Palace
    More views of the Umaid Bhavan Palace...
    Look at the gardens as we walk in.
    A model of the palace in the museum.
    Interesting sights in the museum
    Interesting sights in the museum
    The corridors in the palace
    The glorious palace exteriors!
    The glorious palace exteriors
    The glorious palace exteriors
    The glorious palace exteriors
    Old vintage cars of the maharaja!
    The glorious palace exteriors

    Our next stop for the day was the popular Meherangad fort. This is situated atop a large hill and is visible from far outside the city. It is typical of cities in Rajasthan to have the fort established first and then the rest of the city grows around the fort. Similar is the case for Jodhpur too - the entire city surrounds the fort on all sides. The fort itself is in very good condition with a lot of rooms in the palace within. Most of the rooms are converted into a museum for related artefacts (so you have a paintings room, a room for kitchen utensils, a room for armoury and so on). The architecture is mesmerizing and walk through all the rooms is pretty nice. At many points one sees different facets of the Blue City - Jodhpur. One wonders why people in Jodhpur caught on to the Blue color...

    Photos of the Meherengad Fort

    Now you know why Jodhpur is called
    The Blue City
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    Arnav inspects the weaponery
    Spears used in the weaponery
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    Walking through the Mehrangarh fort...
    And the fort is also the home to many a bird
    including this parrot pair :)
    A final view of The Blue City
    Rajasthan - the colourful!
    Rajasthan - the colourful (shoes this time)

    After the fort, we were tired but since Jaswant Thada (a jain temple) was on our way down, we had a quick stop there too. This is a nice place too. It seems like Birla Mandir (so popular at many Indian cities). After that we all readily dived into a local restaurant for some much needed refreshments. After the eating break, we headed out to the Mandore gardens. While the garden and the buildings inside are very good, the maintenance is poor. The water canal that flows through is covered with moss and smells. Overall it would not be a bad idea to skip this place.

    The Jaswant Thada at a distance
    Walking through the Jaswant Thada
    Deepa strikes a pose at the Jaswant Thada
    Walking through the Jaswant Thada
    Walking through the Jaswant Thada

    After the day's ramblings we reached back home around 5pm. After a refreshing bath, we went out for a walk and a quick dinner. We had to go to bed early because we had to catch an early bus the next day.

    Look at this giant of a rickshaw!
    It can easily carry seven people
    in addition to the driver

    Day 3. Jaipur

    Mansoor agreed to drop us to the bus stand around 6am. He turned out to be such a nice guy. His Rickshaw was great too - with all the luggage and five of us, we sped off to the bus stand. Ajay was riding next with to driver since the back part was packed up! Our bus to Jaipur (RSTRC Volvo service) was right on time and pretty comfortable.

    In the bus we found a pretty interesting form of entertainment. A vendor showed us a 7 in tablet which was loaded with games and movies. He would then "rent" itto us for Rs 100 for the trip of about 5 hours. Then someone at the destination would pick it up from us - a very neat business idea we thought :). In case you are wondering what stopped us from renting and running away with it, he had a mechanism to lock the tablet down to the seat.

    The bus ride otherwise was uneventful and we tried to catch up with some sleep. We had set up our next transportation from Jaipur - we had hired a 7 seater van (Innova). The next driver was Mr Sanjay. He met us at the bus station in Jaipur. As you will see Sanjay also turned out to be a very nice person and we enjoyed his company for the next couple of weeks. After Sanjay picked us up, we drove to the Jaipur airport to recieve Deepa's parents. They joined us on the trip a couple of days late. The Jaipur airport is a small affair and we were all driving out pretty soon. Sanjay took us to a local Dhabha restaurant for some good food.

    Our stay in Jaipur was at the KK Royale hotel. This hotel is located a bit outside the town (8 kms from the center or Jaipur) close to the Amer fort. In fact the Amer fort strikes a majestic pose at sunset - very nice view from the hotel windows. The hotel itself is well appointed. Our welcome was grand and we got some really nice rooms. After some rest, we set out in the evening to visit the Jal Mahal. The walk around the lake on which Jal Mahal is situated is pretty nice though the lake itself is not very well maintained. The evenings are lit up by various hotels around. It was a nice quiet evening for us after all the traveling.

    On our way back from the Jal Mahal, we went in for the Sound and Light show at the Amer fort. This was a very nice experience. We enjoyed this stories and the way they were composed. Add to it, Amitabh's voice and Gulzar's dialogue composition and you have a winner there. We did dinner at another local dhabha, this time not being so lucky. The place was not very clean and the food was not great. This is one disadvantage of KK Royale hotel: there aren't many good restaurants close by and hotel itself is expensive to dine in.

    A grand welcome at the K K Roayle hotel!
    A grand welcome...
    View from the hotel room
    Amber fort in the distance
    View from the hotel room
    Deepa strikes a pose in the hotel room
    And now Arnav...
    Enjoying the evening rays at Seesh Mahal
    Arnav all set in his turban!
    The Jal Mahal at Jaipur
    A stork at the lake
    The troop out on the evening walk
    Photo by: Arnav :)
    The Jal Mahal transformed into a jewel at night

    Day 4. Jaipur

    A big day dawns in Jaipur. Our plan today was to explore the central parts of Jaipur. It was bright and sunny, in fact turned out to be hot as the day progressed. Preparing ourselves for such a day, we fortified ourselves with a big breakfast. As we drove into the city, we stopped at a restaurant that proclaimed to have authentic Rajasthani food. Everyone in the group tried various items (including Dal Bhati, Churma, Puri) on the menu. Overall Arnav rated the place at 3.5 / 5 stars :). After that, our driver dropped us off at the Chandpole Bazar complex and went ahead to park the car.

    Our first stop for the day was the Govindji Mandir. When we entered the place, we found that there was a sermon going on by a very popular spiritual guru. We went round the sanctum (the temple core where dieties are) and realized that in about half an hour a maha-arati would be on. So we sat there listening to the sermon until then. The temple was (as always) very crowded with devotees. At the stroke of the half hour, the arati started with a lot of bells and chanting. The crowd had swelled up so much that it was not possible for us to go any closer. However the temple itself is well maintained and has a lot of nice sculptures to see.

    From the temple, we walked through the market headed towards the City Palace. A lot of material is available on the city palace online. This is a definitely a must visit place in Jaipur. All of the key places to visit here are in the heart of the city and one can expect a large crowd at every place. The city palace complex has a central building where the maharajahs used to reside. Then there is a large inhouse market of artifacts with artisans displaying their skills. While things here looked excellent, they were beyond the common man's wallet! The entire complex can take close 3-4 hours to walk through. Note that most of the tourist sites have entry fees and there seems to be a discount ticket if you are visiting all of them in your stay.

    A short walk from there is the famous Jantar Mantar. Again a lot of material is available on this site related to astronomy. Unfortunately not much is known about how these 'tools' are used to compute paths of celestial bodies and the like. By now the day was extremely hot and the buildings in Jantar Mantar made it very bright too (due to their shapes and mostly white colours). We regularly took water breaks.

    We did not spend much time at Jantar Mantar, but took a short cycle rickshaw ride to our next destination - the Hawa Mahal. Palace of winds is the literal translation. This again is a great place to visit, you climb through six - seven stories in the palace. As the name suggests its construction is such that the palace is kept very cool due to the winds. This is one of the not to be missed spots in Jaipur.

    By now we had walked around a long time in the hot sun and were yearning for a nice break. However it was not coming soon, since the place we wanted to go to - Laxmi Misthan Bhandar (LMB for short) - was a stout 30 min walk. We pulled ourselves together and threaded our way through huge Diwali crowds. There was a lot of music, shopping families and the like in Johri Bazar. At last LMB turned out to be like a oasis in the midst of this sea of humanity. After waiting for a bit, we were seated looking over a menu book with some exotic Rajasthani dishes. We ordered quite a few of them and had a sumptuous lunch. While the prices are a bit stiff, the food was top quality.

    After that lunch, we would have liked a siesta but unfortunately we had to swim through the ocean of humanity. We marched forward to shop for stuff in Johri Bazar and Bapu Bazar. Johri primarily means jewellery and one could see that. Bapu bazar however is a market to buy more day to day items. This market is filled with shops of various sizes. They have a huge range of clothes, toys, household items and not to mention crafts. The colours, the smells and the sounds are a treat to the senses. The men folk were tiring while the women folk were shopping with unending zeal :). Finally it was getting dark and it was time to get back to our car. We hired an interesting vehicle - an electric taxi (without the noise pollution) that could carry all the seven of us. It dropped us back to the Chandpole Bazar parking lot. We were glad to get back into the car and head back to our rooms. Sweet sleep!

    A sermon the GovindJi temple
    The main diety of the temple.
    Implossible to get closer: huge crowds
    In the City Palace complex
    In the City Palace complex...
    Another one in the complex...
    Architecture in the complex
    The City Palace itself
    In the Jantar Mantar observatory complex
    The huge buildings of the Jantar Mantar
    The huge buildings of the Jantar Mantar
    In the Hawa Mahal complex
    The windows of the Hawa Mahal
    More windows...
    More windows...
    In the Hawa Mahal complex
    In the Hawa Mahal complex
    A Rajasthani shop keeper at Bapu Bazar

    Day 5. Jaipur

    After the tiring day in Jaipur downtown, we had a great night's rest and were ready for another outing. Today's main attraction was the Amer fort (its situated close to KK Royale). We had a quick in hotel room breakfast (with the eatables we had got ourselves) and drove out to the fort. As our car started the climb to the fort, there were droves of self proclaimed guides. After refusing a bunch of folks, we finally picked up one of them. In the end it turned out to be a good idea, since he took us to a good shopping destination as well.

    The Amer fort is a sprawling affair. It houses a large palace for the royals and a place for as many as a thousand soldiers for their guard. One could take their vehicle right up to the top or one could hitch an elephant ride! We highly recommend the elephant ride though it is a bit expensive at Rs 1000 per person. Our guide met at the starting point and took us around the various points on the fort. The first stop was a temple right as we start up the staircase to go to the upper parts of the fort. This temple is all marble and has a calming effect on you (though you might get disturbed by the loud noises).

    After the temple we went through the Ganesh Pol (gate) to view the palace rooms. As you can see in the photos below, there are beautiful rooms (dining, bed rooms included) with some excellent carvings and art. Much of the art also uses glass and mirrors in addition to red sandstone and white marble. This gives the rooms a very different feel. As typical of most such places, one needs to set aside 2-3 hours to see everything at the palace. One also needs to carry enough water and something to munch on.

    After walking the sprawling spaces, we came back to the starting point to meet up our guide again. With a few concluding remarks on the palace, he mentioned he wanted to take us to a place where a lot of articrafts are sold. This turned out to be the show room of the Rajasthan Small Scale Cottage Industries. Though some of the things here seemed expensive, we thought this was a very nice place. The staff here is very patient and friendly. They are willing to show you tons of stuff and we felt we were never forced to buy anything (though in the end we spent a lot of money here :). The other good thing is that, they also ship the items. So you can purchase stuff there and ask them to ship them to your homes. That is very convenient since you dont need to lug around all the items you buy. One word of caution: get all the reciepts in good order, ensure that the items are insured and how much you need to pay (in any) on the actual delivery of the items.

    All the walking and shopping made us extremely hungry. There is a god sent restaurant in the campus of the small scale industries show room - Zeeman. We highly recommend this place. Even if you dont go shopping here, it is worthwhile to go for a meal at Zeeman. They have an excellent menu and the friendly / hardworking staff caps it up. We had a great meal here. After the nice meal, we went back to KK Royale for an afternoon siesta.

    After our siesta, we wanted to go to good sunset point. We chose to go to the Galtaji Mandir (also has a Hanuman and Sun temples along the way). This temple is located on the eastern suburbs near the Suraj Pol. The temple is famous for the thousands of monkeys that are native to this area. You can see them as you climb the mountain. The starting point of the path itself is located in a shabby part of town, but there are no worries in terms of safety. Interestingly we found more foreigners here than Indian visitors. As we climb the mountain the views of a sunset and the Jaipur city are admirable. However the site is not a must do, if one does not have the time.

    After this temple visit, we were thinking about dinner. We asked our driver to take us to a posh part of town for shopping and dinner. He took us to Raja Park shopping area around Tilak Nagar. We saw lot of malls and shopping areas around here, all decked up for Diwali. He advised us to eat at the Hanuman Dhabha. It turned out to be a simple affair, but the food was very likeable.

    The Amer (Amber) fort as seen from
    the other side of the moat.
    In the Amer fort premises...
    Art in the Amer fort premises...
    Art in the Amer fort premises...
    Art in the Amer fort premises...
    Art in the Amer fort premises...
    In the Amer fort premises...
    Art in the Amer fort premises...
    Art in the Amer fort premises...
    Art in the Amer fort premises...
    Art in the Amer fort premises...
    Art in the Amer fort premises...
    Art in the Amer fort premises...
    As we leave the fort premises...
    The Amer fort stands against the sunset...
    The Amer fort stands against the sunset...
    The Galtaji Mandir (also called the Monkey Temple)
    nestled in the forest
    The Sun temple against the sunset!

    Day 6. Ranathambore / Sawai Madhopur

    Happy Diwali!!!! We woke up to a nice bright morning and feeling good on the festival of lights. Our last day at Jaipur. We planned to see a couple more sites as we headed out of Jaipur towards Ranathambore. Before we visited any sites, we wanted to get a good breakfast. On a Diwali day, that is easier said than done. Thats because on Diwali all shops / restaurants are closed for business, preparing for the big Puja and the big day. Eventually we realized that sweet shops are the ones that will be open. However finding a sweet shop that served breakfast was tough too. Eventually we found one - Kanha Sweets - where we could get Parathas and Idlis.

    After that we hit the Birla Mandir on J.N.Road. If you have not seen a Birla Mandir, you should see one (most big cities in India have one). This one at Jaipur was no different: majestic marble setting overlooking some of the prime real estate in the city. The feel of marble on bare feet on a hot afternoon can be very pleasing. After the Birla Mandir, we looked into the Doll museum which was closed. Next we headed to Sanganer - this is sort of a cottage industrial town. Not sure if it was the Diwali effect, but we had a very bad experience at one of the shops here. First it felt like the owner did not want us there. Second when we asked him to show us what he has to sell, his response was like are you going to buy it?... We quickly got out of there and were soon rolling on towards Ranathambore.

    After we got out of Jaipur, we got a much needed relief from the crowds. The roads widened and the traffic dwindelled. As always its a pleasure to drive on the Rajasthan roads. Our drive to Ranathambore took us through some remote villages. Our driver mentioned that all of this was a tribal area. Ranathambore is on the south eastern side of Rajasthan bordering with Madhya Pradesh. It is one of the famous tiger reserves in India. The closest city is Savai Madhopur. This city pretty much exists on the tourism generated by the tiger reserve. We reached Savai Madhopur after a dusty four hour ride. It was getting close to the evening.

    We were staying at the Raj Palace resort. It was an unprentious place - one of the many ones on the Ranathambore road. This place is blessed with a good restaurant and our stay included a breakfast. After checking in and getting freshened up, we got our hosts to book us on the wildlife safari trip the next morning. Other than the safari into Ranathambore tiger reserve, there is nothing much else to do in Savai Madhopur.

    The Birla Mandir in Jaipur
    The Birla Mandir in Jaipur
    The Birla Mandir in Jaipur
    Welcome to Ranathambore - at Raj Palace resort

    Day 7. Ranathambore / Sawai Madhopur

    The wildlife Safari is run by the government. Thus the vehicle, the guide and the area you get to visit are all left to chance :). You have absolutely no control on these things. Our pickup was at 630am and we were up bright and early. We had a quick tea and soon our vehicle arrived. The guides on these trips are not really trained for eloquent speech and ours did not talk much. We were soon rolling outside of S.Madhopur and presently the Ranathambore tiger reserve was in sight. Here is where sign off our lives to Rajasthan government - anything happening to you is not really their problem.

    Soon as we entered the reserve, we took off from the paved road into the wilderness on a bumpy, dusty ride. We were welcomed by a brown / black bird chirruping away on our vehicle. Our vehicle was a twenty seater with no top (called as a canter). The weather was beautiful and soon we were immersed in the jungle. We saw various kinds of birds, deer, foxes, monkeys and the like. However the elusive tiger was nowhere to be seen. We even saw a freshly killed porcupine (hedgehog) - it looked like a bigger animal of prey had killed it. But no tiger.

    Soon our trip came to the final point and we made an U turn. On our way back we stopped at a point in the jungle where the river flowed gloriously and a whole ecosystem was alive around it. It is one of the best sights in the jungle. Here is where we ran out of batteries for the camera. Since we were done with three fourths of the trip, we thought the camera would not be needed. We were phenomenally wrong!

    Ajay loaded the camera with new batteries. The entire troop climbed back into the canter and we were off on our way. About ten minutes later the driver suddenly stopped and our guide motioned all of us to remain silent. He pointed to the far right of the vehicle and we spotted our first sight of a furry orange figure - a TIGER! Just when we were thanking our stars, the tiger moved - in our direction. For a minutes there was no sound except the rustling of the jungle wind and tiger walking. It walked right towards our vehicles. It majestically crossed the road between our and the next vehicle, just about 10 feet from us. It was a healthy, huge male. Later we learnt that it was the Sultan. As it walked past our cars, we were almost nonexistent for it. It did not care for us and walked right past. Oh! It was a glorious experience - think of it there are only 1700+ tigers in India and we saw one of them.

    We could hear everyone breathing again after Sultan had passed us. We were all so elated, we missed words. Soon we came back to the hotel brandishing our photos to everyone. The restaurant was full of discussions on the sighting. A good breakfast later, we whiled away our time in the hotel. It was a nice little place with a lot of vegetation around. After a bit of rest we were ready to go to the Ranathambore fort. The fort is right in the middle of the forest and quite a drive. The drive itself is fun and the fort is good hike. In all it was a very enjoyable experience. We got back to the hotel and prepared ourselves for our drive the next day.

    Enter the Tiger's den
    The first member of the welcome committee
    Trundling along jungle roads
    More welcome committee members
    The road swooshes by...
    Birds galore
    Did we say birds?
    And the national park has locations like this
    ...and this!
    Arnav checks showing off his binocs!
    Make way for the Sultan!
    Another view of the landlord

    Day 8. Chittorgarh

    The next day saw us stuffed with a good breakfast and on the road driving towards Chittorgarh, leaving behind a lovely Ranathambore. There were two ways to get to Chittor - one via Kota and another via Bundi. We took the former as we learnt that the latter was in very bad shape. The ride was a bit intense around Kota as for the first time we hit some pretty bad road. Actually around this industrial area the road was pretty much nonexistent. Our car was covered with red dust. Interestingly the bad road turned into a six lane highway mysteriously. Once we hit the highway it was all rolling away. We stopped for some tea at a pretty desserted place and pushed on.

    We reached Chittorgarh for a late lunch. We found a restaurant marked as Gorbandi style food. We are not sure how this style is different, but found some good food. The restaurant had another point of interest - an aggressive cook driving everyone else. He would cook a dish and shout hoarsely the waiter who was supposed to pick it up to pass it on to the customer's table. With flowing big Rajput moustaches and a serious belly to show off, this cook soon became the center of attraction.

    After food, we drove up to the fort. The Chittorgarh fort has a full blooded city within its walls. The important points of interest are the Vijay Stambh (victory tower), the Rani Padmini palace, city palace and other sites. Walking around the Vijay Stambh and the adjoining sites is nice with all the carvings and sculptures. The Rani Padmini palace does not have the grandeur of a palace but a good site to visit nonetheless. All the sites in Rajasthan have a kind of history attached with them and this one is one of the most popular. Another interesting thing we did outside this palace was to dress up in some serious local attire for a picture shoot. Oh it was fun trying to wear all that stuff...

    We had set up our stay at the RTDC Panna. Like most government owned properties, this one had large dusty rooms. The rooms had basic amenities but nothing more. The bathrooms had age old rusting geysers, but provided us with hot water. The one thing that we liked was the simple food at the cafeteria. We would get rotis, dal and rice. We liked the simple vegetarian fare and most of us ate a lot at. In the night we realized that the hotel was next to the railway station which meant a lot of commotion of the locomotives :).

    Chittor - the Vijay Stambh (victory pillar)
    More of the Vijay Stambh (victory pillar)
    Architecture on the temple near the pillar
    More architecture
    Deepa strikes a pose with the town of Chittor in the backdrop
    Rani Padmini's palace, Chittorgarh
    Another view of the palace
    Dressing up time!
    Dressing up time!
    After the dressing up, its posing time :)
    Posing time for the camel too!
    The Palace at the Chittor fort
    The Jain temple
    Another view of the Jain temple

    Day 9. Udaipur

    Chittorgarh does not have much else to see. We had planned the trip such that, if we feel like it, we would visit Udaipur - the distance being 100 kms. Since everything was going well, we decided to drive to Udaipur and back in a day. So we hit the road a bit early. We stopped enroute for breakfast. One of the things we noted in northern India is business on these highway side joints starts pretty late and the oly item one gets to eat before 11am is Parathas. And they could turn out to be good if you are lucky otherwise not so good.

    Udaipur is also called as the lake city - it will hard to believe, there in the middle of a dry region is the huge Lake Pichhola. At some points it almost seems like a sea waves and all. The city is built around this lake and there are a bunch of hotels that use the lake view :). The majestic Taj is right in the middle of the lake itself! We reached Udaipur around 11am and drove straight towards the famous city palace. Here is where we hit the Diwali vacationing crowd. There were hordes and hordes of people and a big line of cars. Udaipur being close to the Gujarat border, it looked like the entire neighbouring state had landed there. Since the road to city palace crowded, we turned our attention to the Udaipur ropeway. We thought the height will give us good views of the city.

    Even at the ropeway, we had to wait for close to an hour and a half to get into the cable car. However the ride we felt was worth it. The cable car ride affords us good views of lake Pichhola, lake Fateh sagar and all the palaces around. The ropeway takes one to the top of the Machla hills where the Karni Mata mandir is situated. The temple itself is a simple affair save for the holy rats that are revered in the temple. What is very nice about this are of course the views from the top. Its a good spot to take panoramic pictures of the city.

    Our next brush with crowds was at the thali place for lunch. We wanted to go to one of the popular places (Bawarchi, Aashish dining) for lunch but we dropped the idea when we heard about the 45 min wait for food. So we chose another unnamed local place nearby. The restaurant was not that great but we managed it. Fortified with food, we then attacked the famous city palace. Did we mention that we hit more crowds there? :)

    The City Palace is on the banks of the Pichhola. It is one of the best maintained heritage buildings in the country. However because of the huge crowds that come to see it, it has elaborate security and charge a handsome fee at the same time. It also looks like the city palace has a bunch hotels inside where people can stay. Thus you see a lot of vehicles driving in. Note that to see everything in the palace, one needs to put aside a day or so. The palace is actually a group of about twelve buildings each built over time. The key places to see in the palace are the various gates (Pols), the museum and the various courtyards. Unfortunately neither did we have the time nor the energy to see everything. We made the best of what we had and enjoyed the courtyards and places in the photos here. Eventually it was time to get back to Chittorgarh - a tired sleepy troup reached back to the hotel around 8pm.

    The troop on the way to Udaipur
    A view of lake Pichola from the Udaipur ropeway
    And the majest Taj hotel
    in the middle of the lake
    Is this the desert land we came to see ;)
    And more
    Princely dwelling - the Udaipur palace
    Udaipur palace - one of the gates
    Udaipur palace, the outside
    Inside the palace
    In the Udaipur palace
    In the Udaipur palace a painting
    A hotel set up under the blessings
    of none other than the Ganesha :)
    In the Udaipur palace
    Another gate of the Udaipur palace
    In the Udaipur palace
    Papa has a laugh in the Udaipur palace
    The Udaipur palace gleaming the evening sun
    In the Udaipur palace

    Day 10. Pushkar

    Wake up to another bright day - we are leaving Chittorgarh today, to head to the town of Pushkar. Little did we imagine how Pushkar would become one of the best places we stayed at! We took in the beauty of Rajasthan roads yet again today, we enjoyed the drive. Pushkar is a small town next to Ajmer. So it made sense for us to stop at Ajmer. We landed there around 11:30am and decided to visit the famous Sufi saint Chisty dargah. This place is so famous that people from Pakistan visit it without fail in case they come to India.

    No wonder this dargah is so famous: it is sorrounded by a large market and oceans of people come to get blessed here. The market road that leads up to the dargah is packed with people, shops and guest houses. It took us a herculean effort for each of us to not get lost in that ocean. At the front gate there is a place where one can leave their footwear for safekeeping since one can go in only barefoot. It took us fifteen minutes to deposit our footwear there! Inside the dargah too there were a lot of people. Since we did not know much about what to do at a mohammedan place of worship, we just visited all the corners and headed back out. But it was wonderful to see the faiths of so many people.

    Once we were back, we took a rickshaw back to the place where we had parked. After that we needed some refreshment - headed to Guddan Dhabha for lunch. Food was good at this place. After lunch we had a small little drive to Pushkar. The town of Pushkar lies beyond a hill range from Ajmer. Its interesting that as soon as we cross over the hills, we start noticing a lot more sand and the desert like sorroundings become apparent. It looks like Pushkar is at the start of the great Rajasthan desert.

    The pleasant drive ended in a more pleasant hotel - the Bhanwar Singh palace. We had heard a lot about it, but it was something else to take in the grandeur of this place in person. This is a hotel that has been built in modern times, but adheres to the architecture concepts of the olden times. So it looks ultra modern while still feeling very quaint. The welcome and the check in was smooth. We were gawking all over the place as we walked to our rooms. The hotel is situated in the middle of nowhere and rises majestically out of desert settings. It has a huge courtyard in the middle and palace like buildings all around. The walk through the courtyard and the garden is outworldly. Our rooms themselves were very well appointed. They were large and nicely decorated with curtains. There was a nice window in every room with a sitting place on it. One could sit in the window and look out through the glass across the desert landscape. All in all we patted ourselves for choosing such a great place for our stay at Pushkar.

    The afternoon we droe to the town of Pushkar and walked around in the market. We also saw the fair grounds and planned to return for more of that the next day. Pushkar surprised us on another count: the number of foreigners in the town. Walking around the small markets of Pushkar the interesting thing we noticed how much all the foreigners were feeling at home in such a small town. It was a very nice feeling that such a nice town can make it so comfortable for folks coming from countries unknown.

    For the evening we had planned to visit the famous Brahma temple. Here an interesting thing happened - by mistake we reached the temple through its rear door. It turned out to be a boon since the temple was hosting some festivities and it was full of devotees. The back door entry allowed us to go to the temple sanctum pretty quickly and get prasadam. Dinner was at a roadside restaurant next to the temple. This area was full of such restaurants where ladies would be sitting outside making Rotis. The dinner was sumptuous and we came back to the hotel content!

    We saw that Bhanwar Singh palace looked every more beautiful by night.

    Deepa gets the traditional welcome
    at the Bhanwar Singh Palace, Pushkar
    Amma Papa in their royal room!
    Arnav enjoyed the hotel the most
    The soft glow...
    Is that a priest? Arnav took multiple baths in a day to enjoy the hotel :)
    Bhanwar Singh Palace is itself a tourist
    destination as these photos will go to prove :)
    They have units like these with four rooms
    The rooms have beautiful decor on the outside too
    More here
    There was also a nice little Mandap
    The entrance gate
    For your desktop background!
    Modelling time! Deepa in the garden
    At the Dhaba - food cooks!
    More of the skilled ladies preparing to feed the crowd
    Bhanwar Singh Palace by night...
    More views...

    Day 11. Pushkar

    We woke up to a nice morning at the palace. We spent a bit of time enjoying the open spaces and the morning sunshine. After bath, we went in for a sumptuous breakfast. Bhanwar Singh palace had the typical continental and Indian breakfast buffet and we stocked ourselves! After having such a heavy breakfast we took a break from travelling. We also wanted to stay at the room and soak in the palace ambience. So the morning was invested in recharging.

    In the afternoon we went out for another round of the Pushkar town. We walked through the markets along the Pushkar lake. As mentioned earlier the markets are very small and fun to go about. Yet again we saw a huge non-Indian crowd. There are a quite a few shops / coffee bars and the like to fit the tastes of this crowd. We really felt good about seeing so many foreigners making themselves at home in such a small town. Things to buy here are incense sticks (agarbattis), traditional Rajasthani wear (turbans, dresses and the like), Rajasthani folk music and the like.

    After spending a lot of time at the shopps, we got out of the markets towards the fair grounds. The Pushkar fair is an supreme event in its own right. A lot of information about it is available online. We went in the grounds and soaked in the atmosphere. There were tents set up and animal shelters as far as the eye could see. We walked around and found a good camel cart for a ride. The cart driver / camel care taker was very chatty and nice to talk to. He took the cart on the popular route. We heartily enjoyed the ride. There were quite a few other carts along the way. There were herds and herds of camels along the way. Typically there are close to thirty thousand camels that take part in the Pushkar fair. We also found a lot of locals enjoying themselves in the fair. The camel cart route took us over small sand dunes, some times orchards and some times a tarred road. The setting sun made the ride even more colourful. The ride ended after about forty five minutes. We came back to the fair grounds only to find a horse dance going on. A large crowd had gathered to see how a horse was performing nice steps with its front feet. People had a good laugh with some antics. After that we just walked around all the tents and the stables. The scale of the Pushkar fair is enormous. All in all it was great fun to be around such a nice setting. It was hard to tear ourselves away from all this!

    We finally got home around 9pm after a long day. But guess what our day was still not over :). Our hotel had arranged for a performance of the local dances in the courtyard. We freshened ourselves and went and flopped ourselves on the grass in the courtyard to enjoy the performances. There were all the popular formats of dances performed by a local family. The ghoomer dance is probably the most famous of all. Then we also had a fire spitter to entertain us. Eventually the crowd broke in and everyone joined in the dancing. Oh it was a lot of fun! Finally we broke up from there to head back to our comfortable beds and dreamt about this experience of a lifetime.

    Good morning Whatsapp!
    The view from the window was mesmerizing.
    Did we say the view was mesmerizing?
    There was a movie / TV shot going on.
    The couple in the lead part!
    Jheel ka Kamal!
    These ladies keep the garden so well maintained
    The colourful Pushkar market
    Another view...
    These hard working Rajasthani ladies are out
    shopping in their colourful saarees
    The famous Brahma temple at Pushkar
    Welcome to camel country!
    At the Pushkar mela
    Where are you headed? :)
    Dinner time
    Camel cart ride
    Our cart puller was very nicely decorated
    Vrrooom.... Camels can run really fast!!
    Kids at the Pushkar mela.
    Look at the small city that is set up only for this fair
    Tents galore - temporary setup for the month or so of the mela
    Traditional performers at our hotel
    Fire eater!

    Day 12. Agra

    This is the last day (or to be more precise the last night of stay) on our trip. We had one last look at the Bhanwar Singh Palace buildings and the lawns. The staff was very courteous and arranged for a very early breakfast at 630am. We truly enjoyed our stay at this majestic hotel. Soon we started off from Pushkar and headed east. The drive through the desert was uneventful and soon we were on the highway to Jaipur. Fortunately the traffic was not too heavy as we approached Jaipur.

    As we approached Jaipur, we cut across the city to go over from the Jaipur-Delhi highway to Jaipur-Agra highway. Unfortunately this takes us right through the main thoroughfare. It took us a fair part of the hour to go across. We did not stop in the city at all. Once we reached the Agra highway, we go through a long tunnel. As we emerge from the other side, we see ourselves outside the reaches of Jaipur city. This road again was fantastic and we were soon rolling at a good speed towards Agra.

    On our way to Agra we had two items on our list to see: the Keoladeo bird sanctuary and the Fatehpur Sikra. It turned out that we did not have enough time for both. Since the time of the year was still not ripe for migratory birds to arrive, we skipped the sanctuary. Fatehpur Sikri is about half an hour drive from the Rajasthan / UP border. Things changed dramatically after we crossed the border. The road became one lane each way and full of pot holes. Interestingly in Rajasthan most two wheeler riders use helmets, whereas in UP none of them did. After a bumpy ride, we took the turn off the highway into the monument.

    The parking charges at Fatehpur Sikri was a whopping Rs 80! The highest we have seen at any government controller historic place. After we got out of the car (or rather much before that), we were mobbed by various 'guides'. We did not pay any heed to the touts and continued onwards. There is a state run bus service from the parking lot to the monument. After we got down from the bus, there was a ticket window again. We rushed and took tickets for everyone. Later we realized that we do not need tickets to see the monument but need them to tour to Akbar's palace. So unwittingly we picked tickets for the palace too.

    After much back and forth we did eventually hire a guide (did not look like an official one). We entered Fatehpur Sikri in the midst of a large crowd. The place however is large and very nice to visit. In the middle of the courtyard there is the tomb of a sufi saint, Salim Chisti. There is a huge crowd trying to go in to get a glimpse of the tomb. The whole tomb structure is built in marble and the design is beautiful. See the photos below here to see what we mean.

    After visiting the tomb, we turned to the famous Buland Darwaza. As the name suggests this is a grand entrance. Its really tall and majestically built. The door faces the Agra city (which is now the old part of town). We explored the various parts of this beautiful structure. The main doors of the Darwaza are nailed with innumerable horse-shoes. Apparently this was done for pleasing the gods of luck :). Overall the monument is good, but we think its a bit overrated. It is usually very crowded and takes a fair bit of time / effort to get done. If you are passing by and have time on your hands, then you could visit it. However we dont think one would feel bad if one misses it.

    After the visit to Fatehpur Sikri, we stopped for lunch at a small road side restaurant that had a "resort" in its name! Once we were in, we realized the only thing that had anything to do with a resort were the prices they had!!! A plate of dal was Rs 250 - we were like zonked. But we still ate there. Overall our entry into UP was turning out to be slowly turning out to be costly. We were okay with it; after all we were visiting the world's most famous monument of love next.

    In the afternoon, since we did not have much time we headed straight to the Taj Mahal instead of checking into our accommodation. Again as one would expect, we were flowing through an ocean of humanity to get there. The infrastructure around Taj Mahal and the support structure is bursting at the seams. By the look of the crowds we felt more people visit the Taj Mahal than go to office in Agra. We hope this monument will survive the tests of modern times.

    After we got dropped at the west gate, we had to take a short seven seater ride to the ticket window. After getting the tickets we enter through a grand door, that is the entrance to the complex. As soon as we enter we were stunned by the beauty of this majestic structure. We were flocked by thousands people, but we still lost ourselves for a few moments when we first saw Taj Mahal. The noise, the dust and everything else just faded into the background while we stared at the pearl white building in front of us. No wonder it is praised as one of the wonders of the modern world. One cannot imagine the profoundness of this feeling if one is alone in this complex. After some time, we recovered ourselves and walked along the garden towards the center clicking away photos to glory all along. We then went through a serpentine line to enter the main monument itself. The light was fading and the entire area was turning various hues. Overall it was a mesmerizing experience, if only the crowds were a bit smaller... The monument itself has distinctly turned a darker shade probably because of all the pollution around. Its sad that we are not able to maintain such a gem amongst our heritage. Given the numbers that visit this place, the industry around here and the way Agra city has spread it is going to be very hard to make it.

    For the night we were put up at the Sai Home stay. Its a nice place although we thought it was a big expensive for the amenities we got. But we guess that is the case for all places around the Taj Mahal. The good part is that there is a Udupi hotel close by where we had some authentic south Indian dinner (after a long time!). We also picked up some good Agra petha in the evening.

    Rolling on the roads again!
    Rajasthan has some of the best roads in India
    View another road around Jaipur
    At the famour Fatehpur Sikri
    As the guide describes some part of history
    Arnav in front of the famous
    tomb of Saint Salim Chisti at Fatehpur Sikri
    In front of the praying hall...
    The roof of the tomb is nicely decorated
    Another view...
    The fine details on the tomb in the drawing and
    ... in construction
    Bulund Darwaza on the inside.
    This is supposed to be the largest such entrance in Asia
    On the outside of Bulund Darwaza
    The roof again is intricately carved
    The pillars of this majestic structure
    More architecture...
    Bulund - The grand entrance, now you know why
    In spite of all the pollution around it the
    monument still stands in good shape.
    The doors are fitted with horse shoes!
    More architecture
    Enter Agra! And we are going to see
    one of the most seen monuments in the world
    Enter enter the majestic Taj Mahal
    Another view...
    The proverbial photo ops!
    And one more...
    Another proverbial photo
    With the garden in front.
    And now for some not so usual angles
    As the sun sets...
    The walls have some really fine art
    More fine art...
    One of the four minarets
    The whole of Quran is one the side walls
    The Grandmother and grandson pose!
    The mother son pose.
    Look at the immense architecture in the background.
    A close up...

    Day 13. In the Train

    Our trip now is coming to an end. From Agra we had to drive to New Delhi railway station. We had our train starting from NDLS around 2pm. We started off from Agra early in the morning around 730am. We did not take the Yamuna expressway since our driver said, NDLS is better reached by the older highway. So we drove through Mathura and some of the other core parts of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. The traffic was crazy and the roads were dusty. Our driver had lots of patience to drive into the city. Once we got into NDLS, we realized that we were in the wrong side of the station - we were on platform 16 whereas our train would start from platform 1!! We hired a porter to help us transport part of our luggage. We realized later that he had fleeced us by charging twice the amount; the government rates here are Rs 60. We had behaved very much like uneducated bimbos :). Overall as much as we had enjoyed Rajasthan, we equally felt like getting out of the Agra Delhi corridor as soon as possible. Once we reached our platform had lunch and soon the train arrived. We comfortably settled in. It was pretty good clean and comfortable. Also as it started off from the station, we realized it was pretty fast. No wonder this train shaved off like six hours from the usual travel time from NDLS to Mumbai. While on the train we booked a taxi for us to travel from Mumbai to Pune the next day. We reached Pune around noon the next day after an uneventful journey.

    Tips and Tricks from the trip

    To conclude, we wanted to distil some thoughts and ideas in this section so other visitors to this colourful state can make the best of their visits. Overall we had a great trip in this colourful state!