After leaving the Tigers at Ranthambhore, the three us headed further into the state of Rajasthan, famous for its many hill forts. Our first stop was Jaipur, the state capital, where we stayed at a nice little hostel called Zostel (traditional hostels are a bit of a rarity in India). While there we met a French girl, Helen, who is studying in Mumbai for a few months and joined us on our sightseeing. Jaipur is know as the Pink City since many of the building were painted pink for a royal visit in 1911. It’s actually more of a rusty orange, but the effect is still pretty nice. There are a few things to see in the city itself, such as the astronomic observatory build in the 1800’s to measure things such as inclination and declination of various celestial bodies. One of the instruments it contains is a 4 storey high sundial that is supposedly accurate to 2 seconds. The main attractions are just outside of the city, the Amer Fort palace and two forts overlooking the city, surrounded by miles of walls. The Nahargarh Fort is great for some sunset drinks looking over the city. The palace is also pretty cool, and worth a visit. Although we were a little temple-over-saturated, we were convinced to visit the monkey temple, which ended up being very peaceful and pleasant with a great view – a change from some of the other ubiquitous monkey temples we’ve been to. We continued our quest for the best lassi in India, with Jaipur’s contender being the Lassi Wallah in town (not to be confused with the three other places directly next door also called Lassi Wallah – the correct one is the only one that has any customers and the ‘trusty’ TripAdviser sign). Jaipur was the first place we started seeing elephants and camels in the streets, although admittedly the elephants are mainly there for the tourists. A top tip for getting around Jaipur – use Uber if possible, as it is cheaper than even the tuktuks and doesn’t require any bargaining.
From Jaipur we caught a short train to Udaipur, known as the White City. It is also famous for the several manmade lakes around the city (giving it the title Venice of India), as well as being one of the main locations in the James Bond movie Octopussy (every night several restaurants show the movie). Udaipur feels very different from other Indian towns. Besides the lakes, the town is surrounded by hills and you get to see some amazing sunsets while having drinks on one of the many rooftop restaurants around the lake. Instead of a fort, Udaipur has a large palace next to the lake with some impressive mosaic and inlay work, as well as beautiful stone carvings. We also walked up to the Monsoon palace for sunset one evening (we were a little short of exercise). While the Monsoon palace itself is not very impressive, the views are really good. One of the highlights of our stay in Udaipur was a cooking class at the Black Pepper restaurant. Unlike other cooking classes we had a look at, Black Pepper doesn’t charge you extra for the cooking lessons – you order your meal off the menu and then head to the kitchen to help make it. You do need to book your lesson beforehand and you have to get there a bit before lunch. We picked up quite a few tips and got to make chapati and naan from scratch, something we were keen to do since our previous efforts at home have never turned out right. In general the food in Udaipur was very good, and we were starting to get a bit worried that we would need to start buying some new clothes…. Part of the cause is that I’ve introduced Anne and Alice to jalebis and gulab jamun, two famous types of Indian sweets. Jalebi is a thin deep fried pastry which is dipped into sugar syrup (similar to a South African koeksister) and gulab jamun are like little balls of dense cake, lightly fried and covered in rose flavoured sugar syrup. We tried them at a street food stall in the spice and food market, and we are now also looking for the the best gulab jamun in India.
After 3 great days in Udaipur, we hired a car and driver to travel to Jodhpur, as we wanted to see two sites between Udaipur and Jodhpur. After a fairly terrifying drive along a very narrow bumpy road, we got to our first stop, a huge fort complex from the 1400s sitting in a series of valleys, called Kumbhalgarh. Once again the views are great. The other stop was at a Jain temple called Ranakpur. Jainism is the fourth main religion in India after Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism, but still only makes up about 0.4% of the population. The temple it by far the nicest and most impressive temple we’ve been to, full of light and with every surface covered in intricate stone carvings. The overall effect is really amazing and is highly recommend as a stop. Unfortunately we didn’t get any photos because we misunderstood the rules, so you’ll just have to take my word.
After a long day in the car (about 7 hours of driving), we arrived in Jodhpur. There was a small problem at the the accommodation we had booked, and so we quickly changed to a new place right in the middle of the old town with great views of the huge fort that overlooks the city. Jodhpur is know as the Blue City, with many of the houses around the fort painted in a distinctive blue, creating a lovely effect. The palace museum in the fort is really impressive, with some amazing murals and inlay work and fine stone decorations. It’s also great to walk around the fairly untouristy streets in the old town and around the market. Fresh from discovering jalebi and gulab jamun, we were keen to try all the other types of Indian sweets, so we’ve started buying little boxes of new types of sweets to try on our train trips. Jodhpur has a special type of lassi, made with buttermilk and flavoured with spices which got added to our lassi hunting mission.
Our next stop was the Golden City, Jaisalmer, in the middle of the Great Thar Desert. It gets its name from the yellow sandstone used to make the fort and all the houses around the fort. Unlike all the previous places, the Jaisalmer fort is a living fort, with shops, houses and hotels inside. We stayed in a cheap backpackery type place on one of the walls overlooking the town, with great views from our bedroom. We also really enjoyed Kuku’s, a restaurant with delicious coffee, really nice and uncommon Indian food, a beautiful sunset view from the ramparts of the fort, a very friendly owner, and a quality Pashmina shop.
While we were in Jaisalmer, we decided to do a one night desert tour through the travel agent attached to our hotel. We went for the less touristy, but more expensive option, which meant we weren’t subjected to local dances, sleeping in a permanent camp, and being surrounded by many other tourists. Instead we got driven to our driver’s local village, about 60kms from Jaisalmer, stopping along the way to see some fossils and a nice view of the fort. After a quick tour of the village (where Alice made friends with some local kids), we got to meet the two young guides and three camels who would be taking us to our camp. It was our first time on a camel and in the hour it took to reach our camp, I’d decided that it was to be my last time. The saddles are really not comfortable and you don’t have many sitting options. We were all glad when we reached out camping area and could get off. True to the tour company’s promises, we were not surrounded by other tourists, and had only briefly spotted two other small tour groups who we didn’t hear from or see again for the rest of the tour. After enjoying sunset on the small dunes we headed to the camp fire for some beers we’d asked our guide to pick up, while the simple but delicious dinner was prepared over a small fire. We slept in the open on bedrolls behind a small dune, with just the stars for company. Although it was quite cold the beds were warm enough to mean we all got a good night’s sleep. After waking up to a lovely sunrise and a nice breakfast, we packed up and headed pack to our hotel. Overall the tour was really worthwhile (even the never-to-be-repeated camel ride) and a great change from the towns and cities we’d been to over the past few days.
The rest of our time in Jaisalmer was spent wandering around the town and fort, eating delicious food, doing a bit of shopping and checking out the interesting havelis (mansions) from when Jaisalmer was a properous trade city between India and Pakistan.
Next stop: Delhi, on our way to Shimla.
1. Zostel: http://www.zostel.com
2. Black Pepper restaurant, Udaipur (cooking class): http://www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurant_Review-g297672-d5770882-Reviews-Black_Pepper-Udaipur_Rajasthan.html
3. Jaiwana Haveli hotel, Udaipur: http://www.jaiwanahaveli.com
4. Surja Tours, Jaisalmer (desert tour): http://www.hotelsurja.com/desert-safari-in-jaisalmer.php
5. Kuku’s, Jaisalmer: http://www.jaiwanahaveli.com