Published: January 18th 2009January 18th 2009
Namaste from Rajasthan! As you may have guessed the last blog was rather delayed, primarily due to illness followed by being too busy having a good time to get anywhere near a computer. So, we have spent the last 12 or so days moving along the very well trodden tourist trail in Rajasthan, visiting Jaipur followed by Pushkar and then Udaipur.
Unfortunately being so touristy (compared to Southern India that is), we have noticed that most of the locals treat us as if we are walking ATM machines ready to dispense money on cue. Even when we tell them we are poor students who have no jobs they just assume that our parents funded our trip and that we have an unlimited supply to dip into. Alas, this is not the case, though I very much wish it was as the shopping in Rajasthan is excellent and I fear that I may have to sleep on the streets and eat from rubbish bins later down the track thanks to my recent shopping escapades.
So as I previously mentioned our first stop in Rajasthan was the capital, Jaipur - also known as the “Pink City”, which is evident from my
photos. Still recovering from our food poisoning/cold saga we decided to splurge on some expensive accommodation for our three nights in Jaipur (and by expensive I mean $15 a night each) as well as treat ourselves to dinner at a fancy restaurant which just so happened to be 56 metres up in the sky and revolving. Very nice!
Other than spending too much money on shopping, we also checked out the City Palace which unfortunately after seeing Mysore Palace was rather underwhelming, especially considering the hefty entrance fee. Thankfully, next door to the City Palace was Jantar Mantar, an observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh in the 18th century which was nothing short of amazing. Jantar Mantar happens to be home to the largest sundial in the world (which can tell the time accurately within 2 seconds) as well as a number of other cool instruments which can tell you the month, day, latitude and longitude of stars and many, many other things.
We rounded out our time in Jaipur by drinking the best lassi ever and visiting the Hawa Mahal, a bizarre structure consisting of a multitude of windows over five levels, built in the 18th century
for ladies of the royal family to watch the goings on in the city without being seen.
Following Jaipur, it was a quick jump to Ajmer where we transferred to Pushkar. Pushkar, whilst being very, very quite compared to anywhere else we have visited, is also very touristy. We had a great time wandering through the bazaars and ghats and generally relaxing. We also stumbled upon the best muesli ever as well as the best kebabs ever (the latter was upon recommendation of a friend we met in the South).
Speaking of awesome food, on our first night in Pushkar we had some excellent gnocchi at a place near our hotel. We could have easily gone back every night had the owner not been a dodgy character trying to extort money from us. Prior to the meal I had read about ‘priests’ wandering around the ghats offering foreigners ‘Pushkar Passports’ - that is a red string around the wrist and a prayer for all members of your family in exchange for a ‘donation’. So throughout the meal, along with trying to get us to eat more and stay in one of his rooms he brought up the idea
of taking us down to the ghats for a Pushkar Passport. Somehow we ended up down there with him insisting we make a donation to his charity for the Brahma people and that 400 rupees and $20 each was well within our budget. Funny that when we told him we would put our money directly into the donation box on the ghats instead of into his wallet, he seemed very distraught even though they were apparently going to the same charity. In the end he received nothing from us other than a several harsh words. Too bad the gnocchi was so good.
Other than being harassed by several other ‘priests’ on the ghats insisting we needed a Pushkar Passport (though strangely none of the Indian tourists needed one), we climbed up to the hilltop Savatiri temple for excellent views over Pushkar and the surrounding countryside.
Three nights in Pushkar was enough so we made our way to Udaipur for some sightseeing and unfortunately for my wallet, some more shopping. Udaipur fast became one of our favourite places we have been in India and it wasn’t because it happened to be the setting for James Bond’s Octopussy (though that
was also very cool and we watched a dodgy pirated version one night at our guesthouse). Whilst still an Indian city, Udaipur was much prettier and a little less hectic than all the other Indian cities we have visited. Lake Pichola and the crumbling havelis surrounding it probably had a lot to do with this.
Situated in the middle of Lake Pichola is the Lake Palace Hotel - a very exclusive hotel and Jagmandir Island (which also now appears to be a hotel). We took a boat ride around both which was very relaxing and also provided excellent views of both islands and the imposing City Palace. In contrast to the Jaipur City Palace, Udiapur’s City Palace was excellent. Both the outside, with its impressive 244 metre long facade and the inside, full of paintings, mirror work and mosaics were extremely grand and definitely worth a look. Just outside the City Palace is the intricately carved Jagdish Temple, also worth a look if you can fight off the surrounding rickshaw drivers consistently offering ‘little bit of joint’.
Whilst in the area, we popped into the Bagore-ki-haveli, an old residence of an upper class family for a look around.
We had intended to go and see a traditional Rajasthani dance performance whilst there, but instead traded this for cheesecake at a nearby cafe. On our last night we also visited the Monsoon Palace. Whilst not much to see in terms of palaces, the views were amazing. Apparently it is particularly stunning at sunset but unfortunately for us, it was very cloudy when we went. None the less, the views were absolutely beautiful.
Along with sightseeing we decided to enrol ourselves in an Indian cooking class. I am pleased to say I did not set anything on fire (and neither did Merric - surprisingly) and actually cooked what turned out to be quite a tasty meal. Mum, Dad and Tom, I hope you are getting excited.
Whilst in Udaipur we also met some interesting characters, rickshaw drivers aside. On our first day we stumbled into the shop of Shyam, a miniature painting artist. He was one of the nicest and most honest people we have met in India thus far and we spent hours talking to him in his shop, drinking chai and not even being asked to buy anything. This probably worked very well in his favour
as we ended up buying a number of paintings from him just because he was so nice (and had really, really cool paintings at a reasonable price). We even got invited to his daughter’s wedding, but alas it is in February when we will be in a whole different country.
Another interesting character we met was Hitesh. One of our friends from the South had met him whilst in Udaipur and had purchased a bag from him, which as soon as I saw, I had to have. Apparently he had fallen in love with her and asked for her hand in marriage. Whilst most flattered, she declined and gave him a picture of herself to remember her by (he had enlarged it and put it in his diary). She also insisted that when we went to Udaipur, we say hello to him for her. Hitesh was a 4’11, 35 year old man and to say he was clingy would be putting very lightly. After being invited up to his house on the first night we met him it took us many hours to escape. He wanted to take us to nearby temples the following day and when we said
we were too busy (which we were) he looked like he had just lost a dear friend. Eventually agreeing, I feigned food poisoning the next day to get out of it, though instead of leaving us alone as we had hoped, he wanted to call and visit me to check I was ok. He also had a nasty habit of popping up whilst we were trying to avoid him by staying far away from his shop.
On our last night in Udiapur we were coaxed up to his house again where he wanted us to drink beer with him and his random friend (we originally declined and he almost cried). We were both absolutely exhausted from our busy day but once again, it took us a very long time to escape. Just as we were leaving he had the not so brilliant idea of meeting up with us in Jaisalmer for a camel safari. Ugh. We are currently in Jodhpur, ignoring his (frequent) phone calls. Whilst he was very nice as our friend had said, it was a little too much for us.
Fortunately for us, we are now almost healthy once more and having a great time.
Hope you are all safe and well.
There are more photos below