India's living forts


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February 3rd 2012
Published: June 25th 2012
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Jaisalmer to Udaipur


Our haveli is extremely nice, and with it's thick sandstone walls must be extremely cool in the desert summer heat; it is almost like being in a cave. Unfortunately sound echo’s in caves so it was extremely noisy around 6.30am so we decided to get up and head for the roof for a hearty breakfast of omelettes toast and jam as the rising sun turned the walls and buttresses of Jaisalmer’s castle like fort gold. After breakfast we walked the short distance to the fort which is a city within a city with around three thousand people residing within its huge walls.

Ruth stopped a number of times along the way to feed lumps of sugar to whatever animal seemed interested until we were pounced upon by a “guide” what a prick that guy was, he attaches himself to foreigners leads them to his house makes this big demonstration of hospitality then leads you out into the broader city to visit various shops, then if you don’t buy he walks off and leaves you there. Not a very pleasant person at all, anyway we entered the fort through a large stone gateway and wandered through a maze of shops, intricately carved sandstone houses, temples and palaces.

The beautifully carved houses were amazing particularly when we managed to get away from the main thoroughfare we were able to get an idea of what life was like in centuries past (the fort was built initially in 1156). There are many temples within the walls but the Jain Temple was stunning with its intense sculpture covering every surface including the ceiling. We then were lead to the cow dung home of our “guide” and his plump wife, eventually we moved on enjoying some wonderful views of the city from the parapets.

After we finally left the scammer we re-entered the fort and returned to some of the shops inside which had some lovely table cloths and bed spreads, we couldn’t find the exact one that we wanted so the store owner ran off to find one, he managed to track us down before we had reached the forts exit and we followed him into a nearby store where he laid out his wares. He had two table clothes in similar design but different colours and we bought both before returning to our lodgings for a leisurely lunch on the roof.

Jitu and I then retired to watch a 20/20 cricket game and I made a bet with a driver that India would win, and they did, I never expected to see the money but he tracked me down later that evening and paid up. After the game we went to visit the Patwa - ki - Haveli, a stunning traditional house (now a museum) built by a rich Jain family in the eighteenth century and built of beautifully carved sandstone rising five stories high. We then visited the Gadi Sagar a large lake surrounded by temples and shrines which has a large population of catfish unfortunately you couldn’t see them for the filth in the water.

We watched the sun set over the lake before heading to a restaurant called the Desert Bite for a traditional Rajastani meal. It was an interesting culinary experience with a mixture of flavours and textures and we enjoyed filling our bellies. It was then back to the hotel to talk cricket on the roof till late into the evening.

Next day we headed for Jodpur dodging livestock all the way which makes the trip incredibly slow, five hours to travel 250 kilometres and forced to drink that horribly milky chai tea. We arrived in the Blue City in early afternoon locating our heritage hotel in the old city with ease before heading for the city’s imposing fort Mehrangarh. We visited the Jaswant Thada a white marble memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh the second set on a lake, it was nice enough but there was not much to see inside, Jitu then dropped us at the entrance to the Mehrangarh one of India’s finest forts.

Mehrangarh was incredibly clean and well maintained, no dodgy guides or motorbikes here, this is because it is still owned and managed by Jodpur’s royal family, so we stopped at a little restaurant and ordered a meal which turned out to be horribly spicy. We then set off to explore the fort passing two Italian girls who had taken a huge amount of effort attempting to dress like Indians to the amusement of the local ladies who giggled as they passed. We entered the Museum at Shringar Chowk first and saw some really amazing Howdah or elephant seats and some equally impressive palanquins before entering various rooms full of armour and paintings. We climbed some winding stairs entering the families living quarters Takhat Vilas which were richly decorated, the highlight probably the exquisite 17th century Moti Mahal or Pearl Palace.

It was time to leave the fort so we followed a path down into the old city passing many small alleyways and shops as we moved towards the city’s clock tower and the Sardar Market getting lost a few times along the way before arriving at the hotel and taking a few minutes to play cricket with the local kids.

That night we decided to go watch Hritick Roshan a green eyed muscled bound Indian megastar in his latest Bollywood blockbuster Agneepath with our driver who seems much keener than us. The cinema was modern and could have been found anywhere in the world except for the metal detectors and the security guards frisking everyone who entered and we had to sit in set seats although the cinema was half empty. The film was in Hindi with no subtitles but the storyline was simple to follow, lots of violence, revenge, romance with Hrithik crying on demand and hanging the villain over a tree limb after being shot and stabbed numerous times before dying – what a superman – all interspersed with song and dance numbers . After about ninety minutes they had an intermission in which I explained the whole story to a surprised Jitu even though I couldn’t understand a word of the dialogue, it was then another hour of murder; dancing and singing till it finally ended. It wasn’t a bad movie just way to long and very predictable.

Woken by the call to prayer Sunday morning and after breakfast set off for Ranakpur, I am getting annoyed at the time we waste each morning waiting for our driver so will have to sort him out, we leave when we wish, not when he does. Three hours on the road saw us arrive in a pretty rural area serviced by a few hotels spread around a temple complex; one of the nearby towns is called Bali. After relaxing for a few hours we decided to take a walk along the river to the lake the people here are much friendlier than those in the cities and the day is beautiful, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a troupe of Langur monkeys playing down by the river.

On arriving back at the hotel we took the car and headed to India’s most impressive Jain Temple complex entering the Chaumukha Mandir (Four Faced Temple) dedicated to Adinath first Jain thirthankar or teacher and built of milk white marble. This temple was certainly impressive with its twenty nine halls, 80 domes and 1144 engraved pillars, the Jain temples are more impressive than any other temples we have seen in India. We then visited a number of other temples at the site including the Sun Temple but the resident Langurs were just as interesting. Dinner was served at 7.30pm and was real quite good.



Up early this morning as I am keen to get an early start, when I arrived at reception everyone was asleep so after much yelling someone finally came to the counter complaining that it was too early to check out, then they tried to charge me for a breakfast we wouldn’t be there to eat, finally we hit the road around 7.10am heading for the Kumbalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary where I hoped to see a wolf or a leopard. When we arrived it was much later than I had hoped and the guides tried to charge me huge price to take us into the sanctuary, so in a fit of pique I told them to stick it and we continued on to the fort.

This Mewar era fort was just opening when we arrived so we had the place to ourselves; the fort sits on hills at 1100 meters and has wonderful views and a wall thirty six kilometres long we were lucky because the caretaker was about the place and let us enter parts of the palace that are usually locked up to keep out destructive Indian tourist (his words). He also played the guide and explained the set up of the palace and showed us some interesting utilities like the “western toilet” and some wonderful paintings and he didn’t asked for any money either which was very nice.

The drive to Udaipur took about an hour and a half through some lovely country before stopping briefly at the Saheliyon - ki - Bari an ornamental garden built in 1710, it was a bit dull but the ornamental elephants were nice. The driver then drove us past Lake Picholo to our hotel the Jaiwana Haveli probably the most pleasant place I stayed in the whole of India, we have a beautiful corner room overlooking the stunning lake, the staff are professional and pleasant. After settling in we went for a walk around the lovely lanes that abound in the Lal Ghat area, I was looking to buy a cheap mobile and was able to find one quite quickly, on exiting the little shop I was hit by an idiot on one of those huge heavy Indian bikes, my watch was smashed and for a time I thought my arm might be broken, the bastard did not even stop.

We stopped at a cafe and I put a cold bottle on my wound while we had some tea, then we crossed a footbridge to the other side of the lake and came across a sword smith’s shop where I found a wonderfully crafted dagger which I will purchase when I return the next day. It was then back to our hotel to get my wrist strapped as I was in some pain before heading to a roof top cafe to have a pleasant dinner while watching the lights dancing on the lake while listening to the drumming coming from the nearby temple.


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Jaisalmer


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