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colorful saris, palaces, and cows everywhere… Rajasthan, India


Rajasthan or the state better known as the land of kings, romance, chivalry, and sacrifice.  We flew from Mumbai to Udaipur, former capital of the Rajput kingdom of Mewar; a very nice small city in the Aravalli hills at the edge of Lake Pichola.

It was a very beautiful, enchanting and romantic place; which as you can imagine, is very touristy as it attracts hundreds of travelers each year.  The fact that it is very touristy makes it, in my opinion, the cleanest and easiest place (for a foreigner) in Rajasthan.  We arrived to the Lal Ghat area where you can find narrow streets full of souvenir shops, tour agencies, hotels and restaurants with nice Havelis (open courtyards) in every corner.  We stayed at the Aashiya Haveli (highly recommend) on the 3rd floor in a room with perfect views of the lake.   This was truly a magical place that you should not miss if you visit India.

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On the first night, our waiter Tony figured a great itinerary for us to see the city’s highlights the next day.  Everyone seems to be a tour-broker or guide, in addition to their regular job.  We agreed to a tour by rickshaw; which is the best way to enjoy the city and its sights, sounds and smells…  We began with a ride up a cable car to the highest point in the city where we were greeted like Hollywood stars, being asked to pose for a few photos. We enjoyed fantastic 360-degree views of the city and lake Pichola, and visited the temple on the premises where I received my very first blessing in India from the priest.

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ride on cable car

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travel by rickshaw or tuktuk is very popular

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views of the lake and city from the hill

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the temple priest

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We followed with a visit to the Mahasatyaji Ahar.  This is cemetery that houses the shrines and tombs of all of the Rajput Maharajas (kings).  A very beautiful and peaceful place.

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The Swastika is found on tombs, temples, palaces and shrines. It is an ancient religious symbol used in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. It is believed to bring good luck.

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We went to the puppet museum and got there just in time to see the puppet show; which was very entertaining.  A couple of people stood up to take photos during the performance, blocking the view of others until they started to complain and make the person sit down.  A few minutes later it would start all over again.

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only Indian tourists in the puppet theatre with us

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We visited the Sahilio Gibari princess garden, the oldest in Udaipur.  We were happy to see lots of Indian tourists everywhere and hardly any Westerners.  As the Indian tourists try to sneak in photos of me, I sneak in photos of them.  It’s a win-win.

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We had a delicious lunch where we tried some new dishes.  I am in food heaven in India, so far everything is really yummy.  Some of my favorite drinks and dishes are masala tea, roti, chapati, garlic-cheese naan, aloo gobi, kofta, navratan korma, chicken biryani, chicken tandoori, and of course the lassi!

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We also made a quick stop to see the artificial lake Fateh Sagar named after Maharana Fateh Singh . This is the second one of Udaipur’s four lakes.  The third and fourth are Udai Sagar and Dhebar Lake.  These are very important as they support the ground water recharge, availability for water drinking, agriculture and tourism.

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We visited the statue of Maharana Pratap Smarak, a great important warrior and ruler of Mewar (name of Udaipur during the times of the Rajput kingdom) in the 16th century; which overlooks the Fateh Sagar Lake.

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Our tour ended with a visit to the town of Sajjannagar, to see a “miniature” paintings workshop.  This 800-year old style of painting is a very important art-form of the region.  You find examples of it in every palace and important buildings in Rajasthan .  The artists usually take a few months to complete a single painting.  The town has a cooperative where they teach people to paint from a very young age, and only the ones with the required patience will develop the necessary skills to become true artists.  They use brushes of squirrel hair to make the fine lines and the intricate details of each figure. The paint comes from minerals from the local mountains.  They use graphite for grey, sulfur for yellow, cobalt for blue, iron oxide for red, and zinc oxide for white; all painted on rice paper and silk.

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The artist shows me how to make a straight line

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a senior artist at work in the shop

I couldn’t help buying some small paintings, my first true souvenirs of this trip.  They are of the important symbols of Rajasthan- The camel representing Jaisalmer, love for evening and the sun palace. The horse representing Udaipur, power for morning, and the lake palace. The elephant representing Jaipur, goodluck for afternoon, and the wind palace. The artist of my paintings and our host that day, was Abdul. He painted them in limestone (they used to paint on ivory but this is thankfully now banned).

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Our rickshaw dropped us off at the water’s edge just in time to catch a sunset cruise on the Pichola Lake, a must-do in Udaipur.  Absolutely stunning!  Richard Gere had just been here the week before filming the Marigold hotel sequel.

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We ended our day with a Darohar, the traditional folk dancing from Rajasthan at the Hotel Bagore Ki Haveli, another must-do.

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The next day we walked around Udaipur to feel/see the streets. We visited the Temple Jagdish where we got to see it in full action with devotees getting blessings and honoring the deities. We also visited the City Palace, located in the middle of the city.  We saw beautiful rooms, courtyards, and miniature paintings from the same cooperative we visited, depicting life in the times of the Maharajas.

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devotees at Jagdish Temple

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City Palace

 

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Mutton and Dum Aloo Kashmiri with Naan

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one of the city gates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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cows laying everywhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We finished our tour of Udaipur with a visit of the Fort of Sajjan Gargh (aka Monsoon Palace) and enjoyed perfect views of the city during sunset and lush green mountains all around. This was a pretty special place and it reminded me of how lucky I am to be here in India.

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We hired a driver for the day to take us to Chittaugargh, two hours away from Udaipur. As we entered the town we spotted its amazing iconic fort up on the mountain; absolutely stunning!  We visited its many sights inside like its palaces, gates and temples.  We ended the day with a side visit to one of the four lakes in the area- Udai Sagar.

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Mark makes an offering a god

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It was time to move on from Udaipur and head to Jodhpur.  We hired a driver to take a road trip and make two stops along the way to the Jain Temple of Ranakpur and the Fort of Kumbhalgarh.

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camels on the side of the road

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ladies in colorful saris everywhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kumbhalgarh was the most beautiful fort I have seen so far.  It was built by Ran Kumbha in the 15th century.  The drive there was a highlight in itself.  The fort was in great condition.

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buying sitafal fruit (custard apple) from a little girl on the side of the road

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It seems a high spiritual leader or sadhu was visiting the Fort on that day. He had an entourage taking care of him

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We visited Ranakpur a Jain temple built in the 15th century; which took 250,000 workers 50 years to complete.  This is an amazing marvel all in marble built following a symmetrical column pillar style.  You find beautiful domes and statues of the monks that have reached nirvana or moksha all around it. The columns have beautiful carvings.  Any description or photos here definitely do not do this place justice.  This is another must-see in India.  We had a special moment during our visit when the Chief Jain Priest of Ranakpur approached us to offer a blessing for good luck, happiness, and prosperity.  In exchange we gave a small donation.  Jainism is one of the oldest religions dating back to 6th century BC; which is based on non-violence and self control.

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Jain chief priest that did the puja (prayer) for us

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The drive to Jodhpur was very colorful, we saw tons of cows, sheep, women in colorful saris and farmers with big red turbans. We arrived in a very busy city with narrow streets. We got off the car shortly after we entered the walled city and piled our bags and selves onto a rickshaw to ride the last kilometer to the guesthouse.  We stayed at the Jewel Palace; which felt like finding a hidden jewel in the middle of very narrow and chaotic streets full of vendors. Our room was in the dungeon and only had a fan, a bit warm but we had an entire common area with different small rooms all to ourselves.  The place definitely had a lot of character and a great rooftop with perfect views of the Mehrangarh Fort and its palace and temple; the highlights of this blue town.  The majority of the houses were painted in blue; which is believed to repel insects but I still got a lot of mosquito bites.

The next day we were supposed to go to the Fort early but I woke up very ill with stomach issues and had a hard time getting out of bed.  We finally left the guesthouse at around 2:30 pm and headed up the steep and pot-holed streets to the Fort in a rickshaw.  When I took the first steps inside the Fort area I felt like I was going to black out. The intense heat made my already-dehydrated body feel even weaker.  Unfortunately I was unable to walk around the Fort and see everything inside it but luckily there was an elevator going to the highest point; which I decided to take to check out the views. Talk about masochism, going on a half-hour rickshaw ride on really bad streets and trying to see an immense Fort in 100F degree weather… seriously!  what was I thinking?!  as expected, I got worse and had to return to the hotel to spend the rest of the afternoon in bed.  I didn’t see much of Jodhpur but at least I was able to enjoy a nice sunset over the blue city from our hotel.

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view of Fort and Jodhpur city from our rooftop

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We took a bus to Jaisalmer, a beautiful place in the Thar dessert with a sandstone Fort; which still houses an entire town inside it.  The bus we took was supposedly only for tourists but the driver kept stopping to pick up people from the road and filled every space inside, even after all seats were filled.  Total madness! They kept piling people on the bus, almost in an inhumane manner; little children were getting squeezed between adults and the promised stop for the bathroom was only for 15 min and there was no actual bathroom. We had to take turns to go buy drinks as our seats would surely be taken away if we left them.  I still insisted for a toilet and I was told to go to a hotel nearby.  I walk to a small shop where they signal me in towards a toilet.  I go through a dark corridor with men sleeping all over the floors and find a squat toilet (aka hole in the ground).  It was a scary looking place… I see a window and I am tempted to escape through it to avoid the corridor again. I decide to not do this and go back through the corridors but this time running, just in case. I buy a drink by the bus and the guy changes the price three times on me so I finally give him what I think it’s fair and leave. As I try to get back on the bus I get harassed by a tout asking where we are staying in Jaisalmer. Ugh! trash is thrown out the window, people are spitting, I am a bit restless and I am still getting over a stomach flu… God help me! I want to chug my bottle of water and the fanta drink that I bought but there won’t be anymore bathroom stops! just a hard day in India…

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picture of the crammed bus but believe me this picture does not truly show the madness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We made it to Jaisalmer in one piece and watched the sunset from yet another perfect rooftop restaurant. The next day we toured around the city inside the fort and tried some delicious Rajasthani pizza.

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We made it back to the hotel to meet Paulina and Hurik from the Netherlands. We embarked on our adventure into the Thar dessert for some camel riding and camping under the stars.  First we made a stop by an abandoned Brahma city where the Maharaja wanted to marry a local girl but the family did not want it to happen so the entire city decided to pack up and leave.  This was 700 yrs ago and the city buildings are still standing in pretty good conditions but completely empty.

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nice family that insisted on taking pictures with me

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typical look of a farmer man

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We finally meet up with the camels that we would ride into the camping site right before sunset.  My camel’s name was Mr. India (see picture below).  We watched the sunset from the top of the perfect sand dunes where we spent the night. We had a fantastic night talking and drinking some beers on the dunes.  After dinner, our camel guides came over to sing their traditional songs about love and religion. Camping here was absolutely amazing and what was even better was waking up to the sunrise over the dunes.  In the morning we rode our camels for about two more hours.

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camels are very peculiar animals, the way they eat, the way they grunt, the way they walk… they are very friendly too as you can see here.

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Mark trying to reason with the camel who is trying to eat our breakfast

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We enjoyed a lassi at the famous bhang lassi shop featured in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show.  The shop owner “Dr. Bhang” was very proud of having been on the show and made us watch the part where he was interviewed by Anthony.  Lassi was good! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took ur first train in India from Jaisalmer to Ajmer. We tried the Tier 3 AC class; which turned out to be much better than the bus.  I slept surprisingly well and the best part was waking up to a vendor offering a cup of hot masala tea.  I must admit I was nervous about the train ride but it turned out to be more comfortable and peaceful than expected.  The train was very clean, they actually mopped the floors a few times with lysol during the trip.  I met a really nice couple from Spain, Estela and her boyfriend.  It was very nice to hang out with Estela and take a yoga class where they gave us a quick introduction to the ayurvedic healing.

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my sleeping berth

 

After the long but comfortable eleven hours by train we reached Ajmer from where we shared a ride to Pushkar with the Spanish couple.  We tried the sunset cafe for lunch (recommend).  As we waited for our lunch, we got up to walk toward the water and were immediately ushered to the lake for our “passport” puja. We were given a blessing by some of the priests hanging out by the water.  We repeated some prayers for our families and got some red/yellow strings tied to our wrists by the Brahma priests (for a small donation of course).

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We had a nice stroll around town and visited the one of four Brahma temples in India. We went at night which was nice because there were only Hindu devotees visiting and we got to observe some of their rituals (no pics allowed inside). We passed a few cows on the main market street and I was head-butted by one that was walking right next to me. This is a very religious town with the sacred lake and a lot of people visiting from all over the world.  A lot of hippies and religious people like to hang out here. There are more cows and dung on the streets than anywhere else we have visited in India.

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I continue to the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan’s chaotic and colorful capital.  I am now traveling on my own for a few days.   My first stop is the Amber Fort in Amber city just outside Jaipur.  Amber was the former capital of the Jaipur state.  The Fort is the big highlight in the area and a must-see!  As I walk up the steep staircase of the Fort I dodge elephants coming towards me, perhaps I should get on the pedestrian path before I get trampled.

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The biggest structure inside the Fort is the Royal Palace built in yellow and pink sandstone and white marble.  I get goose bumps as I see the beauty of this majestic masterpiece in front of me.  The mirror palace or sheesh mahal is absolutely stunning!

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I had a fantastic day, first time on my own in an Indian city and it felt pretty good.  I ventured out to the Crystal Mall to find the Canon service shop as my camera will not take photos anymore. I found out that my lens was not focusing and it would take about $50 to fix it plus they would do the full servicing on it.  I reckon that is a good deal, much less than it would cost in the US.  I walked back to the hotel to get more cash while they fix it and got harassed by a rickshaw driver and a couple of men who would not stop following me until I decide to face them. I almost got ran over by a motorcycle while trying to cross the street to escape these men. I was feeling pretty good about being on my own until that moment.

After a good lunch and getting my camera, I was ready to go shoot the famous pink City Palace. It was a beautiful place with enormous chandeliers, beautifully decorated havelis (courtyards) and a great collection of textiles and photography from the Maharaja times.

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I met a nice 75 year old man right outside the palace who insisted in taking me to my next destination in his bicycle rickshaw.  He was an excellent tour guide with super strong legs!

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I was craving something sweet and a grilled cheese sandwich so I had him drop me off at the Indian coffee house (recommend).  As soon as I sat down a man sat at my table and said he wanted to talk to me but the manager made him get up from my table immediately… he must do this often with women tourists.  The bad news is that he was waiting for me outside of the restaurant (an hour later) to continue the harassment but I was able to find a group of tourists to cling on to until he finally left.  Ugh!

I visited the Hawa Mahal or the Winds Palace.  It was built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh to house all of his ladies and concubines and allow them to watch the city life from various windows and balconies in the five-storied structure.  For the Maharaja it was an escape from political matters, and to rest after the battle field.  For me it is an escape from Jaipur, its men, and its touts.   This is where he kept his women happy and ready to tend to him whenever he came by.

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I also visited the Jantar Mantar or “instrument of calculation”. Its construction was begun by Hai Singh II, the Maharaja whom Jaipur is named after. A great warrior also known for his great scientific knowledge. He was an astronomy lover and made an impressive collection of astronomical instruments including the biggest sundial in the world.  It was a very interesting place although I felt like I needed a scientist with me to fully understand how the instruments worked  😛

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the sundial

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In spite of a bit of harassment from men on the streets, my time in Jaipur was very enjoyable. I stayed in a fantastic guesthouse, the Karni Niwas where they gave me excellent service and made me feel at home.  I highly recommend it for anyone on a budget.  They helped me a lot with arranging transport into the city and offered free pick up and drop off at the train station.
I took a three-hour train ride from Jaipur to Agra on an AC Chair coach; which had wonderful service with a simple breakfast included. My neighbors were a young muslim couple with two small children; who reminded me of my sweet nephews back home. 💕

Next stop is Agra to see the Taj Mahal 🙂

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Categories: Departure, IndiaTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 comment

  1. Thanks for the pingback. Nice article on major tourist attractions of Rajasthan with some great pictures.

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