A Tardy Tour Through Rajasthan

Travel blogging is an excellent way to reach out to fellow travelers and connect with friends and family when you're out exploring the world. In a time when travel guide books constantly let you down, travel blogs can provide up-to-date information and personal opinions on destinations you might consider visiting- that is, if they are done regularly and properly. This is not one of those travel blogs! My intentions were good, and for the first couple of months I posted regularly, but writing a decent travel blog takes time and commitment- two things that I've struggled with for the past little while. It has been over a month since I've last posted on this blog and like everything, the longer you procrastinate the more difficult it is to get caught up.

A young girl performs her skills on a tight-rope, Jaisalmer (iPhone photo)

So, today's post is on our few weeks spent in Rajasthan- the Indian state that we left almost one month ago. On our first trip through India 10 years earlier, Rajasthan was the state that we probably spent the most of our time in. When you revisit places that you've been to such a long time ago, things inevitably change- and usually not for the better! This results in waxing nostalgic about your 'first time' and a certain degree of disappointment upon your return. This was the case for us in some of the places in Rajasthan, particularly Udaipur, a once charming and romantic city which has been marred by hotel over-development and overt commercialism, and Pushkar for the exact same reasons. By all means, if you haven't been to these places before then they are worth a visit, but for us, the changes were just too drastic to enjoy them the way we did the first time around.

The wind-manicured Thar Desert

The “golden city” of Jaisalmer seemed to retain most of its prior charm despite the pressures that the influx of tourism has placed on the ancient fort and its surroundings. It is the only “living” fort in Rajasthan and it's a memorable experience to stay in one of the many guesthouses within the fort walls. The winding labyrinth of streets outside the fort are equally enjoyable to explore as are the magnificent old havelis that are scattered throughout the town. Aside from visiting the town and fort of Jaisalmer, people come to take one of the popular camel safaris into the beautiful Thar Desert. We did a 3-day, 2-night trip into the desert and this time I can honestly say that it was a far more gratifying experience that our initial one. In 2003 we traveled through India during the off-season summer months and in Rajasthan during the hottest month of them all. We suffered through temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius and relentless winds. If the weather conditions weren't severe enough, I was stung by a scorpion on our first night sleeping on the open desert. This time the weather was perfect and our three days with Ali, our camel driver, and our camels Raju, Kalu, and Michael Jackson, couldn't have been any better. We even had a chance to spot some desert fox, eagles, and plenty of chinkara (gazelle).

Sunset in the desert

After Jaisalmer we headed south to the “blue city” of Jodhpur, which, for the most part, has remained pretty much the same as ten years ago. It has an impressive fort, nice walks in the hills that surround it, and the best lassis in India. I also highly recommend taking a cooking class with Rekha over at Spice Paradise– you will leave with some delicious recipes, a very full stomach, and an amazing story about a woman who made something out of nothing.

Jodhpur's Mehrangarh

Pushkar, for us, was like I stated earlier, a disappointment. However, the morning and evening puja on the lakeside ghats are still a beautiful spectacle and the bhaang lassis are as good and strong as ever. The town of Bundi was a new destination for us and was our next stop. It is actually a charming Indian town with a handful of interesting sights. The crumbling palace is worth a walk through even if just for the well preserved paintings and frescos. You can give the fort a miss unless you want a prime example of how India totally neglects some of its historical monuments while charging foreigners a hefty sum to see them! Bundi is known as the town of step-wells, or baoris, but really only a fraction of the more than 50 scattered throughout the town are worth a visit. The two on either side of the centre market are impressive (and very deep) as is the Raniji-ki-baori (Queen's step well) a further 5-minute walk away. The rest, unfortunately, have become garbage dumps- another reminder of the current disrespect displayed towards the labour and craftsmanship of a more civilized time in this country's history (a very common and sad theme in modern India).

Morning puja on Pushkar Lake

We then headed to Ranthambhore National Park to try our luck at spotting tigers (as we did 10 years earlier). Again, we were disappointed to discover that if you hadn't reserved a spot on a jeep or canter in one of the core zones of the park well in advance, it is nearly impossible to arrange it upon your arrival. The N.P. will still however rob you of your currency and shuttle you through an area that yields very little wildlife in general (zones 6-9) and virtually no chance at seeing the big cats. After a couple such safaris we left Ranthambhore for Jaipur- Rajasthan's capital. We have since booked safaris online for the core zones and will return once more to Ranthambhore to try our luck yet again before leaving India.

Portrait of a street man, Jaipur

Jaipur, the “pink city”, is big, hectic, and polluted, but it defiantly shouldn't be missed if in the area because it contains some amazing architecture- most notably it's City Palace, the Hawa Mahal, and the nearby Amber Fort. The old city is also a great place to walk around taking in the sights and smells of the bazaars that flank the streets.

Well, that pretty much concludes our time in Rajasthan and this belated post. After Rajasthan we would push on to Agra, Khajuraho, and Varanasi- this will be my next post which I hope to get up within the next few days. Better late than never!

157.5 hours on rails and roads.

 

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