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Published: December 21st 2012
We arrive in Ajmer on the Aravalli Express from Abu Road (departure 10.02) at 4.20pm (10 mins late) after an uneventful journey. Having arranged for a taxi pickup from the station– which was a good idea on reflection as it’s pretty chaotic there - we get to Pushkar after a 40 minute drive over the hill and a few windy roads. The Fair is in full swing and there are check points and road blocks all over.
We are met at the Bhrama temple by John (Amar) from the Akash Hotel where we are staying. It’s a short walk away. Here we meet Deepak & his German fiancée Eva (working at reception). The Hotel is simple, clean, and colourful with really friendly staff. The upper courtyard is filled with tents (temporary for the Fair rush).
It feels good to be travelling again and not to be bedding down in a mud house for the night even though it was sad to leave the school and village. After a quick orientation wander, we find some beers (in cans) poured into a stainless steel coffee pot at Baba restaurant overlooking the town. We didn’t stay for dinner - the service was
painfully slow. The town is buzzing with travellers – many foreign tourists and we meet a few Israelis and Americans at a “Salad bar” called the Avocado Walla which does wraps, burgers & plates of largely Middle Eastern food so we try something different as C isn’t feeling 100%. Pushkar is a holy Hindu town so it’s pure vegetarian food all over.
The first day at the Pushkar Camel Fair is pretty good – lots of local colour, sadhus, Ferris wheels, stalls selling all sorts, food stalls all over, camels, some cows (not for sale), camel rides and horses – thoroughbreds for sale etc etc. The next day sees more crowds and the final day it’s wall to wall people and amazing colours. It’s pretty peaceful other than folks wanting their picture taken by us at every turn which gets a bit wearing.
We find a great place - “Out of the Blue” for good food at reasonable prices and roof top views of the lake. We visit there a few times. Breakfast is normally at the Chill out Café (part of Akash hotel) – awesome palak paratha with curd and pudina. The Honey Dew Café is another
good find – does great coffee and snacks (very cheap & fresh). The only shortage is of anything alcoholic and we can only get canned beer “special tea” in Baba’s as they are apparently quite powerful in the town, the rest are wary as there is a very strong police presence - after the Fair all will be back to normal. Too late for us though.
The Fair obviously attracts a whole swathe of human life from India. There are many people with deformities and limbs missing begging – choosing who to give and not give to is a real dilemma. However, as pilgrims are in town we notice that their bowls are pretty full with cash. So Indian generosity still exists at least in small towns.
Pushkar is a very religious Hindu centre and has one of the few Bhrama temples in the world. Around the lake are signs and regular loud speaker announcements: - People are extoled not to show affection in public, they can’t take pictures of people bathing, no washing clothes in the lake, no shoes within 40 metres of the lake which has 52 Ghats etc – these messages go out in Hindi
and English repeatedly during the day and as in most things Indian – people ignore the rules. These announcements were intermingled with loud speakers forever announcing that lost kids had been found, looking for parents/family to collect them. Some seemed to be there an awful long time!
The Mela has many Sadhus begging, Snake charmers posing for pictures and & Sadhus with deformed cows (holy cows) seeking money from worshippers. There are musicians, puppeteers, children walking tight ropes and performing acrobatics, women gypsies dressed up asking you to take a picture for Rs 10 – most weren’t worth it (you could get better for free), Sadhus taking the same line in making money, also kids coloured in black or blue like one of the gods – photos Rs 10 (not worth it) and a Sadhu walking around with little on but a long needle pierced through his tongue which stuck out (extreme pictures we think – may make the Tarrant show back home!) There are camel rides on individual decorated camels or on carts pulled by camels around the Mela ground.
People continuously wanted to take pictures with C and there were some who just wanted their pictures
taken and didn’t stop to see the result? This got a bit tedious after the first 2 days.
For the final day (which is actually the day of a major Hindu celebration so thousands of pilgrims turn up and sleep on the streets to attend), the police introduced a one way system for crowd control - chaos and bottle necks reigned!
Despite the many men’s urinals around (we are not sure what the women did other than go in the bush), men ended up peeing against walls in some places that made the streets smell by the end of the Mela. So despite all the business it brings in there is a price for the locals to pay.
Early one morning we walked up the hill towards the Sarawati temple with great views of Pushkar at sunrise and the fairground – however, by the last day most of the wild camels are gone, only the ones for chariot rides and camel back rides remain.
And as quickly as it got crowded the day before, by about 2 pm the crowds started to vanish, by 4.30 pm it was pretty quiet and the clean-up had started. It’s
full moon so we go to the lake to take some pictures with the tripod, and then head to Out of the Blue for dinner. It’s closed!! So instead we go to the nearby Rainbow which has an excellent rating on Tripadvisor. Not sure how! Since when do restaurants in India run out of dall – and what they had added to the masala for the aubergine and palak, only the cook can know. Awful!
So it’s good bye to Pushkar. C has been up all night with a tummy upset thanks to Rainbow – so doesn’t look too good for the 250 km drive to Bikaner by car. After breakfast we make a start anyway. All goes pretty well at first, the roads are generally very good, tarmac & straight. However, 63 kms from home the driver has a rush of blood to the head when he is caught in a traffic jam. He decides to bypass it all on the wrong side of the road and cross a raised central reservation. Bad move – he leaves the petrol tank behind and the underside scraped off.
We grind to a halt – but in true Indian fashion
– no problem is too much so we are dispatched in a new car (the mechanics car) to finish the journey. Bikaner – the frontier town without any fizz
So what can we say! LP describes Bikaner as a “vibrant dust swirling desert town” with an “energising outpost feel”. We get the dust and the outpost feel but where the vibrant and energising come from, we can only guess. It’s Pittsville. Really. M describes it as a hell hole – the smelly open sewers not adding to our appreciation of the city.
In terms of things to do, it does have the fort which is interesting (2 hours) and the Jain Temple in the old town which has lovely hand painted depictions of deities (45 mins out of a 2 hour Old City tour in a tuk tuk) but pretty much that’s it unless you want to do a camel safari or village/wildlife trip which we didn’t. We lunched at the Garden café (used to be called Pause) which had a good write up. Best forgotten.
We did like where we stayed though! Vinayak guest house is a friendly and comfortable place to stay and the
owner Jitu is very helpful (he organises camel safaris but doesn’t do a hard sell which is good). His wife does a pretty good thali at a good price for dinner served with “cold coffee” (another pseudonym for special tea – or beer!).
We also meet some interesting fellow travellers there in Julian & Ellie who are cycling around the world. Julian has being going for 4 years and they met in Bolivia a couple of years ago and have been on the road together since. And a dutch guy who is the 2nd
person we meet in a week to tell us about the Andaman islands. He has some great photo’s so after a quick review of our itinerary next February, Khumb Mela goes and the Islands come in!!!
For a place that isn’t particularly party central, we find the night times incredibly noisy. It’s Wedding Season and the music and drums go on till the early hours (at which point the noise from the railway kicks in). In the morning Jitu explains that the Wedding music isn’t so much about the music at Indian weddings – it’s about the noise; they want folk to know they’re
having a party. We did!
Finally, it’s time to escape. Travel information seems pretty unreliable with as many versions as people you speak to vs the guide book – so we play it safe and get a Taxi (Jitu’s Jeep) to get us to Nawalgarh via Fatehpur. Shekhawati
The drive to Nawalgarh, takes us through interesting desert landscape, including some great dunes (the Rajasthani version of Sussuvelei??) and we pass hundreds of camel drawn carts and trucks overloaded with sacks of grain/feed going to factories in Bikaner for processing. As we get into the Shekhawati area Donkeys become the mode of transport.
En route we stop at Fatehpur for a walk about. Shekhawati is famous for its old haveli’s that were owned by rich merchants who had them hand painted with all sorts of designs. Most are traditional Rajasthani style – elephants and deities, but trains feature heavily too for some reason! Eventually the merchants moved out and most of the buildings are very decayed and the paintings faded but some have been preserved well or restored as tourism increases in the area.
Fatehpur has a few interesting haveli’s and some real rip off merchants
who really wind M up. Not realising he speaks Hindi they make comments about charging us more as we’re “gori’s”. So no business for them then!
We’re staying at the Shekhawati Guest House in Nawalgarh, run by Kalpana and Gajendra Singh, They have rooms in the old house and Eco cottages in the farm. All the food they serve is organic – and she’s an award winning cook so we decide to go for the all-inclusive deal option. The dinners are to die for – they normally consist of soup to start, 3 veg dishes, rice, chapatis, home made pickle and a sweet for after (all for Rs 250 – about £2.50 each). We pig out big time! Her gobi aloo was the best ever (we have asked her for her recipe on this and encouraged her to write a cook book which we will definitely have a copy of).
There’s also a bottle shop just along the road so we enjoy a wee dram of Premium Signature. It’s surprisingly cold here at night so we give the beers a miss.
We meet an interesting couple from Maine USA – he’s from Scotland originally and his partner
Ria. They are great company for a couple of meals & they are off to do a camel safari somewhere close by – we obviously put them off Bikaner. We may meet them in Bundi when we get there.
Nawalgarh is not too touristy and pretty quiet (weddings aside) so we spend a few hours wandering around exploring the city. It has haveli’s galore – some with pretty good paintings still intact, and a good museum (Podar) that is in a restored haveli so you see what they would have looked like in their heyday.
For some reason the road to the guesthouse gets very waterlogged; this seems to happen all around the area - they seem to literally spring up in an hour or two, and make the road impassable without getting your wet feet. With all the dust around – not a good idea.
Through the Guest House we arrange a trip to the places of interest in the surrounding area; Lohargal which is a holy place at the bottom of some hills where a river that comes out of the ground is considered holy & people come from miles around to bathe in the
waters (collected in a nice clean pool) inside a temple complex. We have to pay nothing and pictures are fine. It’s colourful.
This place is also where many bring the ashes of their loved ones after a certain number of days post death and then wash them into the river flow down town. We happen to be in town when one such event took place – it’s pretty simple, respectful and sombre – however, the place where the ashes are washed into the river seems like a drainage outlet and we see the ashes and some remnant bone parts (post cremation) being washed down while the family pray together.
The place is also famous for its green mangos which go to make chutneys and the High Street is full of pickle stores.
Close by we pass (and stop the driver) at an amazing looking Baori – deep water step well with fabulous arches and carved walls. It’s well preserved but clearly abandoned by all except for the pigeons and langurs. It would be awesome for fashion shoots.
Pasurampura is the next stop – it’s a non-descript little village with not much to commend it, but has
some cenotaphs – one which has a ceiling with ancient drawings under which the body of the previous ruler was held in state before burial. It’s Rs 20 to look at.
Next it’s a pit stop for chai, toilet and samosas bought on the way out. Subhash our driver speaks no English so M chats away and discovers he is waiting for his visa to go and work as a driver in Dubai. Apparently about 20% of men go and work there as the money is better – but some say the conditions for these migrant workers is worse than being treated like animals. Interesting debate for another time.
Finally an hour away is Dundlod which has its own Haveli Museum (Rs 40 entry pp). We think it’s well worth it; not over restored and lovely paintings. However, the Fort nearby isn’t too impressive.
We are joined on the trip by Joachim from Hamberg – a middle aged guy who’s a communications engineer who is using his redundancy money to travel. He came to India in June last year – we are not sure why as he complained about the heat, the food, the dirt …... in
fact just about everything except the Peacock restaurant in Jaipur. Great company!
After our final dinner here, Kalpana makes us a packed breakfast as we leave at 7.30 am by Tuk Tuk – before she is up and ready for the day. We are booked on to the Deluxe AC Bus to Jaipur so when one turns up at 8 am rather than 8.15 we are advised to get on. Boy the standard of bus is pretty ropey for a Deluxe – hey ho – we have been in worse. Then ½ way to Sikar we are told by the conductor that we are on the wrong bus and will have to pay. After some discussion with a local guy who speaks & teaches English, he agrees that we can get off at Sikar and wait for the AC bus – which we should be on, at no cost. Phew.
However, given that the AC bus was supposed to be 15 mins behind us we can’t quite understand why it arrives about 1 hour 30 mins late! It’s a Sleeper Bus and as we leave Sikar eventually we understand why the delay; the conductor stops every 5 minutes
trying to fill seats. The AC is definitely a better class – the seats are very comfy, they recline and the leg room is ample.
We eventually get to Jaipur at 12.30 & luckily get off just by the railway station where we go for some Chai which for Rs 4 per cup was pretty good (even out of a Liptons machine) at the Indian Railway Food Centre – very clean, cheap as hell and efficient.
We have about an hour to kill, and meet an interesting guy with great views on India. He explains why it’s in a mess and that most Indians have no national pride but are only out to make money for themselves and rattles off a host of corruption issues being exposed currently involving people at all levels. It’s a quick lesson on India and leaves M feeling that his birth place has more than lost its way and will need more than a miracle to turn around from the culture of political and administrative corruption, religious bigotry and personal greed which is ingrained and that pervades all walks of life here. Ranthambore (Sawai Madhopur) – Tiger Town
We leave Jaipur
bang on time on the Superfast train to Mumbai at 2.10 pm and arrive at Sawai Madhopur at 4pm – on time. A negotiated Rs 50 Tuk Tuk ride gets us to the Ankur Resort 2 kms away in about 10 mins (they wanted to charge Rs 500 for a taxi pick up).
We are allocated a cottage (an upgrade - we’re not complaining). The Rate is Rs 3200 all in with 3 meals per day. We are booked in for 3 nights and 2 morning Tiger Safaris. In the grounds is an Overland truck of travellers so we have a buffet for dinner which is really good and varied.
The first morning safari we are in a jeep with 5 others from the UK and Brazil who are here to attend a friend’s wedding – they are good company. The Park has interesting ground cover and jungle including cacti and date palms. We see lots of deer - there are 10,000 here for 50 tigers and 10 leopards to feast on!
We eventually come across a massive traffic jam – Tiger spotted. A great looking beast (locally known as T24) but over full from his breakfast
(kill by a leopard he has chased away we are told). He lies around totally disinterested in all the jeeps, cameras, noise etc. About 50 metres away is it’s kill – a large deer half eaten (looking pretty fresh as well). Our best bit comes at the end when the canny driver goes back (determined to get a good tip) when all else have left and rattles the trees etc to get a reaction and the tiger sits up and looks straight at us – we manage some good shots and come away happy – the driver gets a good tip from everyone.
It’s then back to the hotel for breakfast & to swap tiger stories & pictures with all the others who have returned. We are allocated a guy from the restaurant who looks after all our requirements including room service if you want it, or meals on the lawn in the sun (which we do a few times).
Sawai Madhopur is a surprisingly biggish place – loads of hotels/guest houses, handicraft centres etc – and no hassle to buy anything! The drives to the various sectors give you a glimpse of what the town has to
offer – apart from the various temples. The camels here are all beautifully decorated from head to tail tip in black henna or tattoos. There are a few Tongas (horse drawn carts), a few tuk tuks but mainly jeeps or canters by the roadside. The station is smart Rajasthani style, clean and seems to have a lot of traffic through it – at night you can hear the trains hurtling through with their horns blowing. We also have a few noisy wedding parties.
We have decided not to go for an afternoon safari but another early am one. Unfortunately we did not think to advise the guys that we didn’t want to go back to sector 6 & to try another sector (there are 9 in all and each jeep or Canter gets allocated on a rota). We unfortunately end up going back to sector 6 and the driver isn’t too good or communicative & a guide who jumps on at the entry point also isn’t too good in the communication stakes. We go back to the same place & this time no tiger and the kill has been moved as well. However, there is brief excitement when someone
spots a bear (we see about an inch of its back while it scurries away). When all hope is lost and we are out of the fort gate the guide spots a leopard in the distance on a ridge. It’s majestic sitting in the sun but too far to get a really good picture. So some success.
Rather than while away the time on TV or sit in the sun looking at the pool – too cold to get into - we go for a trip to the Ranthambore Fort – it’s free to enter. It’s arranged through Dinesh the very helpful Manager of the Ankur Resort (Rs 700). It’s a standard drive that a lot of people do – leave at 3pm, see the fort and get out to drive to a spot where the sunset is supposed to be really good. The drive there is pleasant but the real fun starts when we enter through the gate at sector 1. The landscape is more interesting, there are lakes and water holes, a river with water and it’s the area where a female tiger has been spotted with a cub the day before and in the morning walking
along the road by the warden – who had to scramble up a tree to avoid a bad end!
The driver is very good and is keen to show as much as possible & we see crocodiles, wild boar, lots of deer of various types and sizes – the little gazelles are called Tiger Chocolates! The Fort itself is pretty impressive and much bigger than we expect. It’s supposed to be the second biggest fort in Rajasthan after Chittaurgarh. It’s big but run down (a poor relic of its former glory) with 3 lakes that add to the beauty of the area – it’s definitely worth a visit. There is a largish Ganesh temple at one corner of the fort where a whole bunch of Langurs (very tame) hang out, presumably for the food from devotees. A small village like settlement seems to have sprung up here – making the scene a bit surreal.
As we feel that there may be a chance to see a tiger we tell the driver to forego the sunset and drive slowly to take in the views and look out for stuff. No luck but much more fun than this morning and
at a fraction of the price. Normal safari trips are Rs 1700 pp.
What is surprising is how accessible the park is and the way the locals coexist with the park animals which are free to roam the park and outside as well. It is quite common we are told to see tigers & cubs walking around outside the park entrance or walking down the street at night. The paper that day had shown a picture of 3 leopards and 1 tiger (T24 we are told) - an uncommon sight, walking along the road where people normally go for Wednesday Puja.
As we have a really early train we try in vain to arrange a Tuk Tuk to take us to the station at 4.45 am (it seems Rs50 isn’t much incentive for a driver to get up early on a cold morning). However, Dinesh the manager who’s taken about 20+ copies of our tiger pictures, comes up trumps and offers us a free ride in the hotel jeep. Awesome and we make it in time for the Dehradun express to Bundi. Bundi (The real blue town!)
The train journey to Bundi is interesting in that
the landscape changes to flat very fertile fields all the way.
Not quite Rajasthani? We arrive on time at Kota and our compartment with a few others is detached and side-lined till another train picks us up to take us the short distance to Bundi. Bundi station is small and clean.
We get a Tuk Tuk for the 4 kms into town (Rs 80) and arrive the Katkhoun Haveli (our guesthouse) which is situated literally at the bottom of the hill where the Bundi Palace is perched on the hillside in all its splendour. It’s a great sight and looks awesome at night when lit up. It’s warmer here than elsewhere and the mosquitos are larger and a pain as they are ever present despite the number we kill off. They also bite through clothes - C has the scars to prove it!
We venture out and as it’s Friday the many local muslims are off to the mosque for prayer. The town (or city we are not sure which) is colourful as many houses are blue. There are limited eateries as most Guest Houses or Hotels run their own and most of the menus have limited and
standard fare. The place has many narrow lanes, temples on every corner it seems and is quite noisy with motor bikes the main mode of transport for the locals. The great positive though is that there’s not much hassle or hard sell which is great. M the Hindi speaking Englishman still seems an oddity to them and it helps make connections with the locals and to learn more about local life.
It’s kite season it seems and we are surprised at the number of kite shops – not sure how they sustain their living as we didn’t see too many kites flying to justify the number of shops in town. The shops themselves are colourful with the variety of designs, shapes, sizes and colours of the kites and the hand wheels that hold the string to fly the kites.
We eat in at the Haveli a lot as the food is awesome (veg and non-veg options). It’s great home cooking. Our favourites are the mutton curry, brinjal, lauki, veg pulao and chappatis + papad with beer. They also do a good Poha for breakfast.
We stumble across the ubiquitous Bundi Lassi made with saffron, raisins, cashews, pistachios,
cream, curd and cardamom at the Shahi store. Nice but not quite up to Jaisalmer standard.
The next guy to get to know is Kishan the Masala chai walla who has a great little shop where you come and chill out and chat a bit (a niche store if there is such a thing in Bundi). He makes it look like art and the flavour of his special chai is nothing short of awesome and all for only Rs 20 per big glass (we mused that the same thing in London would be about Rs 250 or more!!)
The town has trouble with Monkeys and Langur so most Haveli’s open areas are meshed in to keep them at bay – the first we’ve seen anywhere on our travels. The Palace and Fort areas are particularly notorious for the monkeys so an enterprising guy at the entrance to the Palace/Fort hires out sticks at Rs 10 per person to frighten the animals away.
The downtown area is bustling and the market areas is full of sellers hawking vegetables, flowers for the home and temples, fruit, chaat, snacks, etc for the throngs of people. The market is full of
fresh produce and the vegetables available are amazing, so are the variety of fresh fruit – bananas, apples, pineapples, chicoos, custard apples, oranges and it’s Guava season Rs 30 for a kg – wow. They are just off the trees and taste only the way they can in India and bring back childhood memories for M.
Opposite the Katkoun Haveli is a posh hotel and restaurant called the Nawal Sagar Palace Haveli which fronts the lake. It used to be part of the royal compound, but no more. What is nice about the place is that it has a lovely lawn area where guests and visitors can eat out in the sunshine which we do for breakfast one day. The food was good but the coffee disappointing. M tries Poha for breakfast, it’s a special rice dish fried after the rice has soaked for ages, it has Nigella seeds, saffron, curry leaves, tomatoes, onions, and chilli (& sometime tomates cut up or potato pieces) – awesome, it’s the nearest to an Indian Nasi Goreng without the shrimp, peanuts and the fried egg on top. We have never had this before and it’s fantastic.
We find (after a few
false starts) the local English Wine & Beer Shop (which isn’t sign posted so you have to ask a few times to find it even though it is on the main drag towards the bypass). We take in a few beers on some of the evenings.
The area is famous for its step wells or Bawaris (or baoris in English). Apparently there are about 60 in the area but the most famous ones are the Raniji ki Bawari (which is managed by the Indian Archaeological society and is in good shape with lovely carvings and clear water (Free entrance). It’s near the centre of town. The other are the two Nagar Sagar Kund – 2 step wells which are open and not well maintained with the well full of rubbish – a shame as the structures and steps quite impressive and photogenic. They are near the main entry gate of the old town and by the market area.
Eventually we make the trip to see the highlight of the town the lovely Bundi (or Garh) Palace (Rs 100 per person + Rs 50 per camera – well worth the money) which soars over the town in all its
faded splendour. It is quite lovely and gives a good insight into what royal life would have been like all those years ago even if some of the façade is crumbling and off limits. The views of the lake and town are pretty good too with a sea of blue houses just below – much better than Jodhpur which is known as the Blue City – we think Bundi wins hands down.
Next door on the way up to the Taragarh Fort we pass the beautifully kept Chitrasala with it’s beautiful paintings on the walls and ceilings – many still in good condition despite the ravages of time. The lawns are immaculate.
Next it’s the Taragarh Fort (which is a Fort within a Fort) but has seen many better days (or in this case years). The walk up is slightly steep and when you get there it’s difficult to review whether or not one should have bothered. It’s pretty run down and falling (or mainly fallen) apart. It’s overgrown with local weeds and climbers – which in a peculiar way is its saving grace as it gives it a grungy look that is good for photographs. The blot
on the horizon, as so many towns in India now, is the mobile phone mast. How they got permission to build it in such a prominent place over the Palace we can only guess.
Given the relatively limited options for eating we decide to go for street food for dinner. It’s largely local Chaat of potato cutlet + crisps + sweet & sour sauce (pretty damn good for Rs 10 each, boiled egg with onions (ok for Rs 5 per egg), beers (Rs 75 each as we are considered regulars and M speaks Hindi!), samosas with great chutney (mint/coriander etc) + Jalebis (hot & fresh – the best we can remember having ever). The next day we tried Chillie pakoras for lunch (awesome at Rs 10 each) – the best we’ve had and not too hot either.
We meet (purely by chance or some would say serendipity) Claudia from Bath carrying her fantastic and unique tiffin carrier which prompted our curiosity and the conversation. She bought it locally for Rs 1000. It was made of nickel silver and has 3 pots, bowl shaped (quite heavy) made in Bhopal and had handles which were long spoons which held the
3 bowls together. She is a photographer and her partner an artist. They were off to the Andaman Islands as well – for 3 weeks to dive and take pictures as she is into underwater photography. She is going to do an expo of her India pics when she gets home which will be interesting to see.
A surprising feature of the town is the sheer number of pigs all over which is strange given the number of Muslim people here and pork is not on the menu. There are also loads of squirrels all around and more cows than you can shake a stick at (and therefore cow poo!).
The streets like most towns and sometimes cities in India are narrow and in the lanes pedestrians need a steely nerve as they have to fight with bikes, Tuk Tuks, cars, cows, cow shit, monkeys, monkey shit, pigs & their shit, pigeons and their shit etc going in all directions – no traffic lights here matey. Despite all this Bundi has a certain charm which is lovely. We definitely recommend it. Chittor – The Fort
After a hearty breakfast & fond farewells & thanks to Raghu
& his family for a great stay we take a Tuk Tuk (Rs 80) to the station which is small and amazingly clean. The Dehra dun Express arrives a bit late & then we are hurtling along to Chittor to be met by Sahil our driver to take us to Udaipur for a few days but not before we go for a trip to Chittorgarh – the largest Fort in Rajasthan – about 6km across which needs a Tuk Tuk or car ride to take you around. The sight of the Fort from the station is one of awe – it is immense and stretches across a plateau for more than the eyes can see.
We go to see the highlights;
· The Rana Kumbha Palace – reminds us a bit (in a very different way) of Macchu Picchu! It’s very derelict, restored in places but somehow very impressive and photogenic. It dates from the 15th
century and the architecture is quite impressive.
· Meera & Kumbha Shyan Temples – both are Jain temples of the 15th
century, and one has beautifully, delicate and intricate carvings depicting stories of life at the time – lots
· Tower of Victory and the maha Sati/Jauhar area – the 7 storey tower is very elaborately carved both inside and out - you can climb up inside for great views across the temple complexes. Nearby are the areas where women and children committed mass suicide (3 times) in the 15th
centuries rather than surrender to the opposing armies, throwing themselves on burning pyres.
· Gaumukh reservoir – a holy fountain comes from out of the rock into this man made lake area and women still swarm there today to dip in the water.
· The Padmani Palace – a bit boring really!! Apparently this was where a beautiful princess lived and after seeing her reflection in the lake, one of the local nobles decided he had to have her – resulting in one of the Jauhar’s above. Saying “no” wasn’t an option apparently. Udaipur
So, once again we are in Udaipur, staying this time at the Poonam Haveli in Lal Ghat. It’s a nice modernised haveli with great views across the lake from the roof top.
As Octopussy was filmed here (as was Best Exotic Marigold
Hotel we find out later, despite it being presented as in Jaipur) many hotels show the film at night or adopt a Bond theme – and so we are in room 007! Very nice it is too with lovely window seats over the street. We’ll stay here again when we come back with the girls.
We head off to meet Aditya again – who is once again doing wonders organising all our travel plans and being a Mr Fixit for most of the travellers in Udaipur it seems. We also meet up with Vivek from Educate for Life for dinner and to see the new office/living base in Udaipur (a lovely suite of room in an old haveli – really nice). It’s good to see him and catch up on what is happening at HG. We’ll see him again in the new year when we’re back with the girls hopefully.
As we’d had an unexpected stay here with the school and are due back again with the girls, we don’t have much to do – which is great. So we catch up on admin – loading up photo’s onto our website at last, catching up on emails and
rejigging our travel plans when we realise we had planned to visit Sikkim when it was freezing! We’re now going to the south to areas we’ve not visited before and will go to Darjeeling and Sikkim when we come back to India in June.
So, after 3 leisurely days it’s off for the overnight Mewar Express to meet the girls in Delhi …………….. We really hope they have a fabulous time for their Christmas treat.
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