Udaipur to Ranakpur on horseback

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September 11th 2018
Published: September 12th 2018
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We decided to do a horseback safari in Rajasthan long before we had planned much of the rest of our trip. After reading lots of reviews, and getting quotes, we decided to go with Krishna ranch out of Udaipur. This 5 day camping trail was to take us all the way to Ranakpur, on a route that would avoid main roads and so take us over 130km.

Unfortunately, after 3 weeks of sunshine in Udaipur we woke up on the first day of the trip to torrential rain. On the plus side it was much cooler so easier for both horse and rider. We were picked up from our hostel by the ranch and taken there to start the day. Their ranch is beautiful, just outside the city but you could be in the middle of nowhere. There horses all looked in good condition, the rooms are beautiful and spotless and the breakfast the other guests were enjoying looked great (we had unfortunately already eaten, although they did offer us more food).

Riding kit on, bags packed, rain stopped, horses saddled we were ready to go. Joining us was Joy, a lovely Belgian girl, our guide and
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Joy, Stephen & myself on our mares
ranch owner Danish and one of his team on horseback. All 5 horses were Mawari (a Rajasthani breed) mares. The horse I started on has previously been ridden by Bob Champion (Grand national winner) for the real best exotic marigold tv programme so I had big shoes to fill. After 2 days off the horses were all quite excited and the ride started off in a walk/jog for quite a while until they settled.

We started by heading to Bandi lake which Stephen and I had failed to see the previous day due to the bicycle brakes failing so that was good. The terrain was mostly stony and very undulating. The views were beautiful but I couldn’t get many pictures as my horse was rather keen and bouncy. The villages we went through on the first day were relatively wealthy, inhabited by middle class farmers, with large houses and clean surroundings.

Our lunch stop was in a pretty area and I was pleased to see the horses fed and sorted before we were.

In the evening we camped by a lake, sadly quite low due to the poor monsoon rains, near Bhutala village. Fortunately the camp was next to a temple where we could hide inside away from the rain showers.

The camp was relatively luxurious with proper beds inside jousting type tents and a portable toilet/shower facility.

The second day started late as we waited for very heavy monsoon showers to pass. There was plenty of delicious breakfast and lots of tea to occupy us whilst we waited.

Once ready I was put on a different horse, a youngster they had recently purchased at just 4 years old. Although green I preferred her to my first mare as she actually listened and I felt I could teach her something. The scenery changed all the time as we headed up the Aravelli hills. Being monsoon the area was lush and green and I was surprised to see rice, aubergine, pumpkin, corn, okra and cardamom all being grown. We were shown pictures of the same area in summer and it’s just red soil. Because it was wet the views were limited and we were often in the clouds, this meant parts of the ride looked like Scotland, some Wales, bits Greece and even one little bit like England (if you ignored what species the trees were and the presence of a peacock next to you....).

That evening we camped next to the river Banash in the most beautiful area, near Panair village. I had my first proper river bath with hair washed and everything. It was rather cold but pleasant enough. Unfortunately the rain came back. This time there was no temple to hide in and so we all crowed under a small piece of tarpaulin stretched between a wall and the support truck - all 11 of us (3 clients, 1 guide, 3 horse men, 3 cooks/helpers and a driver!). Fortunately the tents are waterproof, although the floor gets wet and the toilet has no roof so you get very damp anyway.

The third day was slightly shorter in terms of hours in the saddle (6 hours is rather a lot). Highlights for me included river crossings, our first canter, and laughing at buffalo. Horses here seem to be something of a rarity, causing excitement among school children and scaring most of the livestock. The buffalo in particular seem terrified of them and if not tied up or well controlled go running off as fast as they can, usually back to their home. Two of the staff generally proceed the horses by motorbikes and attempt to coral the animals for the locals to minimise the disruption we cause. They also help hold the horses on breaks so we can walk around and most usefully they bring our canteen for lunch.

Because of the ongoing rain we were offered a hotel for the night. Declining as we enjoy camping, and because the trips already stretched our budget somewhat, we were based near a government building so there was plenty of undercover space for us to hide in. Whilst practical being somewhere that looked a little like a compound was somewhat disappointing compared to our stunning surroundings the night before. This was near Palasma village and we soon had an audience of children come to look at both the horses and the white people.

In the evening the truck took us up to the Shiva local temple, Jarga-Ji, where we took tea with the holy men. The holy men and some of the others with us then enjoyed weed grown in the grounds of the temple (apparently its legal for the temple men to grow it & smoke
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Farmer rowing across lake to get from his village to his fields
it but it is illegal elsewhere with very lengthy jail sentences should you get caught). Afterwards we stayed for the evening puja and then headed back to camp for dinner.

The fourth day we passed through a beautiful valley before climbing up towards Kambhalargh fort. The ride itself was a little more exciting than we had expected. The narrow paths being slippery after the rain. Joys saddle unfortunately slipped at a very narrow and steep downhill section but she somehow managed to jump off unscathed and correct it. Not long afterwards my mare decided she knew better than me at a particularly tricky section of path and managed to slip, falling onto a raised bit of ground on her side/my leg. Fortunately she managed to get her feet back whilst propped up by the ledge and we both came out of it fine. It didn’t do my confidence any good when we then had to walk along a very narrow ledge with a drop on the left which the horses couldn’t see for the long grass. It did seem to help her concentrate though and we didn’t have any further disagreements or near misses.

By this point the villages we were passing through were much poorer than those at the start of the ride. The animals skinny, children dirty and poorly kept, but the villagers friendly and pleased to see us, offering us food and hospitality. It was very touching. The housing was generally much better than those is the poor people in the cities, made from bricks or mud and roofed with thatch as oppose to bits of plastic and corrugated iron.

This camp site was much prettier again. Just off the road near Kumbhalgarh but surrounded by trees and greenery. After eating lunch there we got a Jeep up to the fort itself. Being surrounded by hotels it wouldn’t be a nice ride. The walls around the fort stretch 36km and are wide enough in some parts for 8 horses to walk abreast. It was built in the 1400s and was only taken once, for just 2 days! The fort itself is quite impressive, although with none of the tunnels to explore like Daulatabad fort. The views from the top are spectacular, and would be even better when not shrouded by mist and clouds. Should you have more time than we had there are 360 ruined and in tact temples inside the walls to explore.

Being both the last night and our wedding anniversary we had another fantastic meal with rum for the staff and gin and tonics for us - very kindly gifted by Krishna Ranch. The rain held off and we managed to get a camp fire going. It was a lovely evening.

The fifth day we rode through Kumbhalgarh wildlife sanctuary. This is usually closed from July to October but they make exceptions for horses and hikers. We got to ride through the old main gate to the fort and then down, through the sanctuary, towards Ranakpur. You can see why it’s usually closed at this time of year, the grasses were growing well above the horses and you’d have needed an elephant to see over them. That said I really enjoyed riding through such different terrain and seeing all the butterflies and birds. We also saw one large male antelope.

Once out the other side of the park the terrain quickly became much rockier and the vegetation completely different from what we had seen before. Here, on the long wide tracks, we were able to finish our ride with a lovely long canter before stopping for a late lunch.

Whilst the horses were made ready for the tuck journey home Stephen and I went to the Chaumukha Mandir Jain temple nearby. This marble temple consists of 29 halls, 80 domes and 1444 intricately carved pillars. After wondering around the site we got in our car and headed to Jodhpur to continue our travels.

The horse safari is well run and a lot of fun. The trails are tricky as they are rocky, undulating and often narrow, this requires a lot of attention both from yourself and the horse and means that it is not a fast ride. The scenery is beautiful and constantly changing. The ride enabled us to see areas we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, and villages we wouldn’t have otherwise gone to. It was lovely being out of the cities. The horse are very forward going, tough, sure footed, intelligent and extremely well cared for. The food is exceptional. The accommodation is luxury camping but there are always hotel options if preferred. They also offer treks on foot if wished for. If you’re considering a trekking holiday or horse riding I would definitely recommend Krishna.

Additional photos below
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Break time exploring of local caves attached to a temple where the local tribesmen met to help one of the old maharajas defeat the invading Moghals
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Cave exploring
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Ox driven field irrigation system
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Water irrigating system near camp
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Camp. Hiding from the rain.

15th September 2018

Now that's what I call an adventure!
A brave thing to do - and, despite the hazards of horse-riding, it seems safer than driving on India's roads! Great photos. And what a terrific way to see places like Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur. I know them well (a friend owns a hotel at Kumbalgarh, another used to run a hotel near the Jain temples, and my best Rajasthani friend has a home just a few miles away). I'd happily go back any time - by car.

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