Royal Rajasthan


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October 20th 2016
Published: December 29th 2017
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Rajasthan circuit


We planned to visit Rajasthan in the month of October as the weather is favourable during the post-monsoon season in the otherwise hot Indian state. Rajasthan is a vibrant state comprising palaces and forts. It is also famous for its colourful bandhani sarees , leather products and delicious snacks.

Since most of the places of interests in Rajasthan are relatively far from the capital city Jaipur, we decided to hire a car in Jaipur and go on a road trip to experience Rajasthan.

Jaipur

We flew into Jaipur on a pleasant Thursday morning in October. From the airport, we took a taxi directly to the place where we were supposed to pick up our Zoomcar ( Zoomcar is a car rental company in India).After the formalities, we picked up the car and were about to begin our road trip in the biggest state of India.

First, we drove to Sunder Palace guest house where we were going to stay for couple of days. The interiors of the rooms in this hotel were just like palace rooms – walls painted in floral designs and the ceiling decorated with POP designs. I think once you are in Rajasthan, you find everything royal .

We then set off to explore Jaipur. Jaipur is known as the ‘Pink city’ of India because of the pink coloured buildings that bright up the city. We made our first stop at Jantar Mantar – an astronomical observatory built by the king of Jaipur in 18th century A.D. It houses a huge sun-dial and many more architectural astronomical instruments. It also has structures for every zodiac sign. Hiring a guide will be of great help as they explain the significance and working of every structure in this historic astronomy marvel. One word of caution though – ensure you hire a government approved guide. There are many people who con disguised as guides. The City palace is located right opposite to Jantar Mantar. The palace has intricately carved marble stone pillars and walls. There is a touch of the Mughal architecture as well in their window and door arch styles. The palace also houses a museum that has paintings, silverware etc used by the then kings of Jaipur on display. The giant silver urn is definitely an attention drawer. The museum is a peach coloured open hall with floral arches and pillars and is located in the centre of the courtyard.

On the other side of the museum is the actual residence of the current king of Jaipur. It is a seven-storied building and stands behind the peach coloured walls. It has the Jaipur royal family flag fluttering atop the palace. There is a gate in the courtyard that leads to the royal family’s palace / residence and is guarded by the guards. We were told that on paying certain amount of fees, visitors are allowed into the royal family’s residence. Also on the peach coloured walls of the courtyard, are beautiful bright doors embossed with metal floral designs and patterns. Colourful peacocks and lotus petals adorn the walls around these doors. As we walked out of the palace , the famous Rajasthani puppet show outside the main palace courtyard brought smiles to many of the faces that were drained out of energy by the scorching sun that afternoon.

Later that afternoon, we went to a local Rajasthani restaurant in the main city market of Jaipur and feasted on some delicious Rajasthani meals. One should definitely try dal baati churma – a local delicacy ,while in Rajasthan. After lunch, we went to see the famous ‘ Hawa Mahal’.

Hawa Mahal is a crown shaped structure built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799 A.D and was designed by his architect Ustad Lal Chand. Hawa Mahal or the palace of breeze is so named because of the numerous windows with sizes ranging from big to small to smallest that decorate the walls and provide natural air-conditioning to the rooms inside. It is built in pink sandstone that makes Hawa Mahal so attractive. From what I understood when we visited Hawa Mahal, Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh was a devotee of Lord Krishna and hence Hawa Mahal was shaped like a crown as a dedication to Lord Krishna. Many windows in the courtyard have coloured glasses and when illuminated by the sun rays, a beautiful colour pattern in created on the floor. There is a window anywhere and everywhere ! I wonder how could anyone have had so much patience to design and build a structure with so many windows! And another reason for it to have many windows was that the ladies during that time could watch a procession from behind the walls without being seen. Hawa Mahal also has a passage to the city palace – again for the ladies of the royal family then.

Later that evening, we drove to Amer fort . Amer fort majestically stands on a mammoth rock foundation. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. At the base of the fort, there are gardens on either side of the entrance. From the base of the fort to the main entrance of the fort, there are stairs in zig-zag fashion to access the fort. Apart form the stairs, there is also a broad pathway in zig-zag fashion that leads to the main entrance. This was mainly for the elephants carrying the esteemed guests on their back to drop them off at the main entrance. There is also a lodging area in the garden below. Our guide told us that way back then, when the guests arrived, they were lodged in the lodging area of the garden for an evening and they had dancers and musicians to keep them entertained. And the next day, the guests would actually enter the main fort riding on elephants!

There is a huge courtyard as soon as you enter the fort. And from all the four sides of the fort, you get a view of the city. There is also a wall that runs for kilometres along the top of the hills that surround Amer. The wall looks more like the Great wall of India 😊. Inside the fort, there is sheesh mahal or the palace of mirrors. This palace is made of millions of small pieces of mirrors which reflect light thus illuminating the room. What a natural way of lighting up a room ! The mirrors are strategically placed to form beautiful designs.

We then walked into an adjacent courtyard that had openings to the queens’ rooms. It is said that the king had many wives and every wife had a room of her own. Then from the exit gate, we walked down to Jodha’s palace – now in ruins, sadly. There was also a light and sound show at around 8 pm, but since we didn’t want to stay back that late, we drove back to our guest house in Jaipur.

Next day morning, after breakfast, we drove to Chand Baori or the ‘step well’ from Jaipur. Chand Bhaori is 13 kms away from Jaipur and is one of the oldest stepwells in Rajasthan. The three sides of the well have stairs/steps 12 levels down. The stairs are placed in a way to form triangular designs. The entrance side has a three storied structure with pillars and balconies. If you love architecture, it is one of the great places to be at. Then, outside the Baori, we had tea at a tea stall in glasses made of clay which is so environment friendly.

Even in October, the sun was scorching. Form Chand Baori, we drove towards Nahargarh fort. Nahargarh fort is on a hill top with excellent views of the city below. The fort is a smaller one compared to Amer fort. This one is more like a palace. Nahargarh fort is two storied rectangular structure with a small open courtyard in the centre. All the rooms, on both the floors, are adjacent to each other with doors connecting each of the rooms. After every 2 or 3 rooms, there is an open hall with painted roofs and walls. These halls have Moghul style arches and paintings. The colours used in these painting are mild and subtle which gives a very royal look to the rooms. After touring the two floors, we went to the topmost floor which is open to the sky. The view of the city from here is spectacular. We could see Jal Mahal and spot few other monuments.

It was late afternoon and we hadn’t had our lunch yet. We went to a restaurant inside the fort campus and had our lunch and then drove back to the guest house. Rested for some time as we were completely drained out because of the heat.

If you are in Rajasthan and you haven’t shopped for Rajasthani goods, well, you have never been to Rajasthan 😉. Jaipur has three main markets – the Nehru bazaar , Jaohari bazaar and Tripolia bazaar. As the name suggests, Johari bazaar is where all the gold smiths have their shops. All types of precious stones are also sold there. The famous kundan jewellery is from Rajasthan. The other two – Nehru and Tripolia bazaars are where you one can shop for leather goods, bandani wear , bangles etc. There is also Rajasthan Government handloom emporium which is government certified. The markets or the bazaars have government built shopping complexes and the roads here are always crammed with people and vehicles. So that evening, after freshening up, instead of driving up there we took an auto rickshaw to the market and shopped to my heart’s content. Back from the market, we settled down early as we had to start early the next day to Jodhpur.

Jodhpur

Jodhpur is about 335 kms away from Jaipur. The next day we started early as we also had plans to make a stopover at the Ajmer dargah sharif in Ajmer. We reached Ajmer around 10 am. Since there was some procession in the city , most of the roads were blocked or re-routed. We somehow managed to get our car parked and then walked to the dargah. There was also a Marwari procession (Marwari are a sect belonging to Rajasthan) happening. It was so heartening to see different religions co-exist in the same place and also respect each other’s traditions. We reached the dargah and found it was very crowded at the entrance gate. We managed to leave our footwears outside the gate and walked into the dargah.

Ajmer dargah sharif has a main shrine that houses the tomb of the muslim saint Shariff. People from all walks of life ,irrespective of their religions, visit this shrine to seek blessings. After spending some time at the dargah, we walked back to our car. We reached Jodhpur – the Blue city in the evening. We had booked a guest house and it took us a while to locate the guest house and Google was acting all cranky ! When we neared the guest house, we realised why it was so. The roads were very narrow and only an experienced driver could manoeuvre the car in those small lanes ! We were given another guest house citing some reasons and there was no parking place . The guest house owner convinced a neighbour to allow us to park the car in their compound but the lady wouldn’t budge until we agreed to pay parking rent.

That evening, we walked down to the main market place and learned that there was going to be a cultural show as part of the Marwari festival. We then spent the evening watching some great Indian classical and folk dance performances by renowned artists. The clock tower in the market area was lit up by colourful lights. After the cultural programme, we headed back to our guest house. Most of the guest houses in that area have roof-top open restaurants and the reason being a direct view of the magnificent Jodhpur fort. The fort was lit up with lights and the view from the roof-top restaurant was amazing. I was in awe! We had dinner appreciating the exquisiteness of the fort.

Next morning , we got dressed up, took our caps and sunglasses and started walking towards the fort. Jodhpur fort was at a walking distance from the guest house, the only challenge being the roads were all uphill and some were to the extent of 60 – 70 degree inclination. We managed to reach the main gate of the fort panting and sweating . We bought the entry tickets and walked into the fort. From one of the entry points , we could see why the city was called ‘blue city’ . All the houses below, were painted blue to reflect the sunlight and keep the houses cooler.

The entry into the fort is through a broad pathway going uphill. There is a passage once we walk into the main gate. The fort houses a museum and to get inside the museum, we had to pass through another door on the right. Once we walked into the open courtyard, there were folk artists performing as part of the RIFF festival. We then walked into the museum admiring the artefacts -from paintings to gold items to warfare artefacts and so on. The main hall where the king held his court was just gorgeous. It had its pillars and roof painted in gold and coloured glass adorned the windows and doors. There were many other rooms with jaw-dropping interiors. The interior walls had intricately carved designs. After we walked out of the museum complex, we went towards the open area on the other side of the fort which flaunted huge cannons seated on the edge of the roof. There is also zip-lining adventure offered at Jodhpur fort where one can zip-line overlooking the city.

The current king of Jodhpur, Gaj Singh, resides at Umaid Bhawan, a palace that is now partially turned into a luxury hotel. Umaid bhawan also has a museum but we decided against visiting that.

So, after coming out of the fort, we wanted to go to Jaswant Tada – the cremation ground of the then famous king of Jodhpur – Jaswant Singh II . It is around 3 kms from the fort. We could have walked down but the glaring sun wouldn’t let us. So, we took an auto rickshaw to that place.

Jaswant Tada is a marble structure with designs carved all over. It stands in the middle of a garden. Inside the marble house , are the kings photographs and his used items. He was a beloved king and very popular among the people because of his tireless efforts to provide water for agricultural irrigation and drinking purposes. The view of the fort from Jaswant thada is spectacular !

On our way back, the autorickshaw drivers demanded four to five times more than the actual fare to drop us back at the guest house. Since we did not have any other means to get back, we obliged ☹. We rested that evening and early morning next day, before the narrow roads got crowded, we drove away from Jodhpur towards Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer lies in Thar desert. Jaisalmer is around 290 kms away from Jodhpur. Most of the houses, the Jaisalmer fort and other buildings are built in yellow sandstone which helps keep the temperature low in the otherwise temperature soaring desert. It looks like the city is painted yellow. It’s the ‘Yellow city’. One of the specialities of Jaisalmer fort is – it is the only living fort in India. By this it means that people still reside inside the fort.

We reached Jaisalmer in the noon. What’s the point in visiting Jaisalmer if you haven’t done camel desert safari? We had booked the camel desert safari online with The Real desert man safari. So, we checked into our hotel – Hotel Shahi palace , dropped our luggage , grabbed a quick lunch and showed up at the desert safari office which was at walking distance from the fort. The safari was to start around 4 pm.

We had booked a 1 day overnight safari package clubbed with a cultural show. There were 4 other fellow travellers with us on the safari. A jeep picked us up from the office and so started our desert safari adventure. We first drove to the haunted village – Kuldhara. Legend claims it to be haunted and the village has been abandoned for hundreds of years now. We tried to find ghosts but unfortunately, we couldn’t find any 😉. From Kuldhara, we drove to a small village passing an oasis.

There they were waiting for us – the camels ! The village was a small one with few mud houses and a school. We got down of the jeep and met with two locals of one who was a 15 year old. These two locals would take us on the camel safari. We were then asked to get on to the camel which was not an easy task , I must say. We were a group of 8 ( 6 +2) that started the journey into Thar desert. The camels slowly stood up and started walking in a line one behind another at the behest of the local’s instructions.

It was very exciting! I kept slipping off to one side . After sometime, the bottom started hurting sitting on something so hard ! But it was so much fun. After riding for half an hour or so, we reached the sand dunes. And on the edge of the dunes was a hut made of dried twigs and branches. That was the place where we were going to spend the night at. We alighted from the camels and said thankyou.
The camels were then left free for grazing (Thar desert has some vegetation).

There were couple of charpais or charpoys placed outside the hut. We all took off to wander around. The locals who had accompanied us got groceries from inside the hut and started making hot bhajiyas ( fried gram flour paste stuffed with vegetables) and tea. After some time, we relished on the bhajiyas and hot tea. Since it is a desert area, the mornings are hot and the nights are very cold infact freezing in winters. It started to grow dark and cold. We all sat there on the edge of the dunes watching sunset. There was this American guy who joined us a little later and we all sat around the campfire sharing out travel experiences in and around India.

Since our package also included a cultural show, at around 7 pm, a jeep picked us up from the current place and drove us to a resort kind of place where the cultural show was about to begin. There were folk artists from the nearby villages who performed brilliantly. We had dinner at that place and the jeep dropped us back at the sand dunes. By the time we reached, arrangements for sleeping had been made. And the camels had returned too from their grazing. Since we were 6 people comprising 3 pairs , there were 6 charpoys, each pair laid out at a little distance from the other. There was warm bedding and covers. It was a full moon day and the sky was lit up with moonlight. We all settled in our charpoys staring at the open sky above us. Sleeping under the open sky is an experience in itself. Staring at the sky and trying to spot the stars ( the stars were all hidden under the cover of moonlight), I fell asleep. Next morning , woke up all fresh and waited for the sunrise. Sitting on the dunes, watching sunrise felt good. We then helped the locals in folding the beds and keeping the charpoys inside the hut. Simple breakfast was served comprising bananas and bread-jam. We ate breakfast and then got on to the camels . The camels walked on the sand dunes and the ride was great now that I knew how to hold on to the saddle. As we rode, I asked the 15 year old local if he went to school. He said yes and then when I asked him if he wouldn’t miss his classes that day, he said that he usually finished school for the day and then accompanied the tourists on the safari. The next morning after the tourists were dropped off , he would attend school. He said he liked doing that.

We reached a certain point where we got off and another group was waiting to be picked up by the camels. We thanked the locals and drove off to Jaisalmer in the jeep that was waiting. We bid goodbyes to our fellow travellers and went to our hotel to freshen up. After that, we first went to Jaisalmer fort. Since it’s a living fort, there are houses , hotels and shops inside the fort with people living in the houses and shops doing business. The main attractions inside the fort are the Jain temples and the palace. The carvings in the temples are so intricate and fine that you just cannot stop admiring the craftsmanship. We also visited Gadisar lake in the evening.

Bikaner

Next morning we hit the road and drove towards Bikaner. Bikaner is 319 kms away from Jaisalmer and is famous for its Rajasthani snacks which are also exported to many countries. Haldirams , Bikaji are some of the names every Indian is familiar with. And who doesn’t love Haldirams ? We reached Bikaner by early evening. Checked into hotel Jaswant Bhawan – an old haveli turned into a beautiful hotel. The great-grandfather of the current owner was a minister in the court of the Bikaner king. The huge house is now turned into hotel and run by the family that resides there.

We were told that the Junargarh fort in Bikaner would be open until evening and that we could visit it. So, we quickly freshened up, and walked to the fort. It is a very beautiful fort that has been maintained very well. The king’s rooms are painted in gold and bright colours. The fort also houses a museum which flaunts artefacts that are centuries old and used by the then kings. There are passages and hall ways that have stunningly beautiful roofs and walls all painted and decorated with semi-precious stones.

We walked out of the Junargarh fort into the Bikaner streets famous for snacks. We bought some of the snack items and went back to the hotel. We bid goodbye to Bikaner the next morning and drove back to Jaipur from where we had our flight back home.

Rajasthan was an amazing experience and one thing thats I noticed and admire the people there is the way they value and make all efforts to conserve water. Rajasthan , mostly is a dry and arid state with temperatures shooting up to 48C in summer. They say, you only value something when there is a dearth of it and hence people of Rajasthan know the value of water. I sometimes wonder, if its high time for the rest of us to start conserving water before its too late.


Additional photos below
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30th December 2017

Royal Rajasthan
Thank you so much for your Royal Tour. I've posted some of your pics in Palaces & Castles thread in the Photography Forum. Check it out.
31st December 2017

Thank you !
16th January 2018

Rajasthani colours
We really loved out time in Rajasthan, but didn't make it as far west as Jodhpur and Jaisalmer...and really want to do so on our next trip to India. Love your palace and fort photos :)
18th January 2018

Thankyou RENanDrew ! Well, we could cover only 4 places in Rajasthan during our visit having missed Udaipur and other places of interest. We too plan to go back again :)

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