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Published: March 16th 2007
The last week or so has been a bit of whirlwind tour of Rajastan; a land of kings, palaces, forts, desert, box-shaped stacked houses, and more cows and camels than you can shake a stick at. We've seen and done so much so fast that we feel like we're Team Dave and Suz
competing on the Amazing Race
in a mission around the world, clocking up miles and checking off sites. In the last week we have taken five trains (two overnight), three buses (two overnight non-"sleepers") and walked so many winding narrow streets that we're dizzy and sleep deprived. It's not an approach to travelling that we advocate at all!
It all began when we decided to go Udaipur. Udaipur was on the list early but was soon knocked off due to dodgy transport connections (ie. we'd have to take a bus) and a lack of time. However we were never quite comfortable with this decision, and still inquired from other travellers. All reports were favourable so Udaipur made a comeback as a key destination that shouldn't be missed.
But as fate would have it, Team Dave and Suz had actually done something strangely uncharacteristic - we'd planned
our travel ahead for the next two weeks. Still burning from our bus crash experience, we'd spent the entire morning and large part of one afternoon organising our onward travel, even going so far as to make advance train reservations! We were proud of ourselves, congratulating each other on our prowess as independent and organised travelers.
Two days later we were kicking ourselves as it became apparent that we would indeed be changing our plans, rendering our previous efforts useless. So from Pushkar we rode rode through the night on the misnamed "sleeper" bus and Udaipur became the first of many deviations to the original plan. Udaipur - The White City
Named so because of the mostly white buildings perched on the edge of the lake. Here we roamed the streets, visited the palace and took in a traditional Indian dance show. There was a seated dance with symbols; ladies dancing around with fire bowls on their heads; and one dancer who kept stacking pots on her head, and ran in huge circles around the stage and walked over broken glass with none less than nine pots on her head!
In the internet cafe (where we spent
"Palace of the Winds", Jaipur
several hours burning photos to CD!) we were served chai by Mukesh the owner, and his friends joined us for a chat. After inquiring about reputable establishments offering cooking lessons, we found ourselves invited into the family home for dinner and were given an Indian cooking lesson! In a true division of duties, Suz sat with Archana on the bedroom floor rolling grated potato and paneer into balls for malai kofta, while Dave sat with the men watching TV. After a couple of hours of preparation dinner was ready and we all sat down to a delcious meal - extra spicy!
We also ventured out of the city for a romantic sunset to the fairytale Monsoon Palace that sat atop a massive hill and overlooked Udaipur and the lake. The ascent was so steep that we needed to stop for about 5 minutes on the way up to give the smoking rickshaws a rest to prevent them overheating! Jaisalmer - The Golden City
Jaisalmer's claim to fame is the Fort, camel safaris and ornate sandstone havelis
(traditional gated residences usually centred around a private internal courtyard). Flashbacks of pain ruled out a camel ride so instead we opted
for a walking tour of the fort. The fort contains the old royal palaces, temples and residential homes - about 3,000 people, 4,000 cows, 100 camels and 2,000 dogs still live within the fort's walls. Nearly all of the business is centred on tourism, with all of the shops vying for the tourist dollar so with every step we were bombarded with desperate cries of "You wanna buy pashmina, t-shirt, cigarettes, cold water, chocolate, carving, cool drink, money change, camel safari, biscuit"
or "Come into my shop. Have a look. Just looking OK".
Outside the fort walls lie some beautifully carved sandstone havelis. The entire facades of these sandstone buildings have been meticulously carved in geometric patterns. One of the most impressive havelis was comprised of five buildings and took 40-50 carvers working full-time 60 years to complete! Another haveli was carved by two brothers, one carving the left side, and the other displaying his skills on the right side. At first glance it appeared to be uniform but closer inspection revealed a vast array of differences between the preferred style and conventions used by the two carvers. The level of detail and precision of the carvings was
Sunset at Monsoon Palace, Udaipur
simply stunning and we spent the bulk of our time in Jaisalmer wandering around with our eyes gazing upwards. Jodhpur - The Blue City
We found ourselves back in Jodphur in the old city, and our guesthouse welcomed us back with open arms. We stayed in a 550 year old haveli that (along with a small lake!) had been a gift from the Maharaja to the family about 400 years ago. The haveli had large traditionally furnished rooms, and suites boasting grandiose names such as the "The Palace" and "Maharaja Suite". We stayed in a small little box of a room that had formerly been part of the stables, but it suited our budget and we were still able to make use of the haveli's more posh facilities. Languishing inside the haveli's floor cushioned restaurant, taking tea in the opulent sitting room, and soaking up the spectacular old city views from the roof, we felt a little like royalty.
From the rooftop we were able to appreciate how in ancient times the city would've grown organically as people began to build their houses in the protective shadow of the palace and fort. The architecture is cubist, with each
building growing vertically with each subsequent generation. We also noticed that there were very few trees within the old city, but those that remained were honoured with either a small shrine or temple at their base. Exploring on foot revealed narrow and curvilinear streets, with paths and steps jutting off in every conceivable direction.
From here we took the "back door" into Jodhpur fort walking up the cobbled road towards the main palaces and stumbled across some beautiful gardens that are normally hidden from tourists. The audio tour here was excellent and delved deep into the history of the fort and surrounding area and we were able to imagine life as it may have been in ancient times. Jaipur - The Pink City
Jaipur is the capital of Rajastan and sported quite orderly and planned streets. Here we visited the Jantar Mantar which is an observatory built in the 18th century by the Maharaja. It is a bizzare landscape of giant-sized sundials and sculptures, all designed to help read the time, astrological charts, calculate eclipses, and generally find out the most auspicious time to schedule events. The largest sundial stands a towering 27m high! We also visited the
Ajmer Fort and Hawal Mahal, designed with hundreds of sandstone screens to allow the Palace ladies to view life on the steets below whilst still maintaining their modesty. Sort of like modern day tinted windows - you can look out but can't see in! Ingenious!
Well they say a picture tells a thousand words and we've spoiled you with this blog and included loads and loads of photos, spread over three pages! See if you become a little "fort-fatigued" like we did! Check out Dave's arty star shot!!
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