Journey To Rajasthan

After a long planning and endless discussions, our much awaited journey to Rajasthan finally started on November the 14th of 2009 (Children’s day). Plan was to leave home early in the morning but with 2 toddlers, 2 teenage girls and 6 middle age adults it’s never easy :) We hit the road just 3 hours behind schedule at 9 am. We were in two vehicles…Suzuki Esteem sedan and a Toyota Innova mini-van which turn out to be pretty comfortable than I actually thought when we hired it. We were bit disheartened to find that there is no place for audio CD or a Cassette…but were pleasantly surprised to find a USB port, its a thumb drive deck …WOW…India is way ahead my teenage niece told me quietly…we were excited…our 8 GB of audio will be with us all the time. Pretty Sweet!

Camel Safari at SAM dunes
Camel Safari at SAM dunes during Sunset.


Below are few excerpts from my trip diary jotted during my journey to the largest state in India, Royal & Incredible Rajasthan.

Day 1.

Our proposed itinerary was, Jhansi -> Kota -> Chittorgarh -> Udaipur -> Jodhpur -> Pokhran -> Jaisalmer and back same route. For most of the stretch we knew the drive will be close to comfortable so we were looking forward to it. Everyone was pretty much ready with varied doses of Cinnarizine/Domperidone/Sprite in their tummy. Some handy plastic bags and news papers for those unwanted times (Note: we were traveling with kids and throwing up in the car was the worst nightmare for both adults and the drivers)…We were lucky nothing like that actually happened.

After leaving Jhansi, and a bit of hadkai necessary for the drivers to be bit polite on the steering wheel, we reached Kota (the Coaching Capital of India) via 4 lane newly constructed highway NH-76,. This was our planned lunch break. We stopped at a highway side restaurant called Monalisa J…nothing like it…but we were very happy and contained with the Rajasthani/Punjabi thali…decorated with Gurh, Lahsun ki Chatni, Sarson ka saag, mixed Vegetables, and Makke ki Roti, with Chai on the side, we were pretty full and relaxed after the meal and ready for our next stretch to Udaipur.

Since the Kota highway bypass is still under construction…we had to pass the city…which is a mid size city on the banks for river Chambal. Now the interesting stuff started…something we suspected when we started our journey…any guesses…YES! – directions :) . Our drivers were pretty new in this area…we were relying on “kyon ‘bhai’ yeh Udaipur ka raasta kahan se hai…” which turned out to be a funny line after some time as you can see the road side assistance can get bit tricky depending on the mood of ‘bhai’ you asked. He has the POWER to ruin your day if he wish, since you have given him the supreme authority of a map maker. We got bit sidetracked…but thank God, we had our iPhone with GPS working flawlessly on Indian highways…though the local believed that the ‘bhai’ on the road side is more accurate…you cannot really challenge multi billion dollar company Google when it comes to mapsJ. Anyway we realized we were heading bit north to Bundi instead of west to Chittorgarh, we changed our route on time and were on our way to Udaipur. We entered the city at around 7 pm. The heritage hotel we stayed ‘Jaiwana Haveli’ was right in the heart of the city, on the shores of Lake Pichola the center of all attractions. The road to get to the hotel was a fun ride itself…from all the Gully and Nukkads of the downtown and almost 5 stops to the passer by ‘kyon bhai ye ‘Jagdish Chowk’ kahan hai we finally managed to check-in. This is approximately 100 year old haveli…now converted to a hotel. They had a nice relaxing rooftop restaurant with some amazing views of the lake city. We had our tea and dinner and went on a little stroll on the narrow streets. Met a local artist popular for his miniature painting skills, something you would expect in most parts of Udaipur. The guy was amazing, he drew a traditional little sketch of royal elephant on Aranv’s nail with his fine paintbrush made of squirrel hairs. Cool. Arnav was happy :). We were tired after a long day and crashed early.

Day 2:

Lake Palace
Lake Palace Hotel at night.

Our plan for the next day was primarily sightseeing and some roadside shopping. Udaipur (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Udaipur ) was named Best City of the World in 2009 by Travel & Leisure so there was a lot to explore. We started with an early breakfast and went to visit the City Palace, this is a working palace as the Prince of Udaipur occupies 2/3rd of it, rest is converted into a museum highlighting the historical past of Mewar Dynasty and its rulers, including famous Rajput ruler Maharana Pratap and his horse ‘Chetak’. After the palace, we went to see the Maharana Paratap memorial on a hill called Moti Magri and later to ‘Saheliyon Ki Badi’, my niece Ashi was delighted to find a little sparrow nest which she carried with her throughout the trip. After that our guide took us to a local handicraft store to showcase some local items…we bought bunch of Udaipur Rajai’s (thin blankets) as souviners. From there we left for our hotel for some quick break and then to Lake Pichola for a boat ride during Sun set, which turned out to be a cool event of the day. We sailed passed the Lake Palace (a Taj group 5 star hotel) and Udai Vilas Palace (a Oberoi group 7 star resort). Also saw famous Jag Mandir ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jag_Mandir ) located on one of the 3 islands within the lakes, its mostly reserved for private parties…like Raveena Tandon marriage, which happened couple of years back. After the boat ride, we headed to Apni Dhaani (a traditional restaurant with village setting, with folk dances and Rajasthani activities). Kids enjoyed the Camel ride. The food was awesome with traditional Gatte, Dal-Baati, Haluwa, Jowar ki Kheer, etc, we had one of the best Jalebi’s as well. After a full meal, we were pretty much waiting to hit the bed for yet another early start next day for Jodhpur.

Jag Mandir
Jag Mandir – One of the three islands on Lake Pichola.

City Palace
City Palace and Museum at night.

Day 3:

Thanks to Dada for an early bed tea, we left the hotel at around 9 am…The route we choose was via Ranakpur, idea was to visit the famous Jain temples build some 600 years ago in Dilwara temple style (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranakpur), tucked deep in the middle of a big valley in Aravalli mountain range. It was a long winding road and some of us were bit tired after 3 hours ride…but in the end we really enjoyed the temple and its magnificent architecture. We had traditional Jain style food for lunch and after a short break we headed for Jodhpur, the blue city which was around 3 hours drive from Ranakpur. We reached Jodhpur at 6pm, the heritage hotel we booked (Devi Bhawan) was a sweet surprise, with traditional green setting surrounded with lavish multicolored bougainvillea flowers. The rooms were nicely decorated and the staff was very helpful. We had our evening tea and went on for shopping with the help of few local contacts. We had a nice home cooked traditional dinner at Dada’s friends place and went to bed early that night.

Ranakpur Jain Temple
Inside dome at Ranakpur Jain Temple.

Day 4:

We had a late start after all… breakfast at Devi Bhawan followed by a trip to Mehrangarh fort (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehrangarh_Fort )

The fort is a magnificent piece of architecture, a living fact on how people in ancient times build these giant structures without cranes and modern day machines, pretty amazing. Jodhpur falls under Marwar region of Rajasthan, refer to Wiki if you want to learn more on this fort, this is one of the forts which is still occupied by the Royals. All in all, it was time well spend. After that we headed to Umaid Bhawan Palace, again a living palace, 1/3rd converted into a museum, 1/3rd into a Taj 5 star hotel and 1/3rd occupied by the current prince. Kids got to enjoy Elephant ride here as an added bonus. After the palace, which was so-so, we stopped at National Emporium, a big Bazaar kind of stores run by Rajasthan govt. for some quick lunch and shopping. From here the shopping freaks went for a shopping spree and rest of the group went back to hotel. Jodhpur is a second biggest Rajasthani city after Jaipur, and is a well established shopping center, there are lot of export houses here, exporting traditional furniture / art / craft / collectibles to Europe and the US. We went to one of the export places and bought bunch of stuff. The guys showed us items they export to Armani / Louis Vuitton etc at ridiculous prices, pretty interesting.

Day 5:

Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer Fort during night.

Group headed for our final destination, Jaisalmer, a little gem in the middle of Thar desert. We left Jodhpur early at 8am and took a short breakfast break at Pokhran, the place got its recognition from the nuclear tests India conducted in early 70’s and late 90’s. The test site is bit off track, around 50 km deep in the desert…and is a restricted area, so we decided to stop by a Pokhran Shakti Sthal instead…(nothing fancy, just few rocks and monuments from the nuclear test site created for tourists). After that we headed straight and reached Jaisalmer at 12pm, our Hotel this time was a small haveli situated inside the famous fort, called Raj Mandir, it’s a heritage hotel with traditional feel to it. The view from the room was amazing specially during sun rise. The city is all golden, made of sand stone and most of the buildings showcase great examples of complex carvings on the stones in typical Jharokha pattern, few buildings to name are Patwon & Nathmal Ki Haveli. Well our hotel was good, the owner was very welcoming and treated us really well, that is one thing I noticed in Rajasthan, natives there are very friendly / honest and they like to welcome tourist, I guess tourism is one of the biggest industry in Rajasthan with most number of western/Indian tourist visiting there among anywhere in India. Anyways, after a nice home cooked meal, we decided to visit the Sam Dunes for a Desert tour around 40 kms from Jaisalmer, it included trip to Kuldhara (a deserted village, bunch of Bollywood movies were shot here, like new Deewar, Kachche Dhaage and Reshma Shera to name few), followed by Camel ride in the desert during Sunset, Folk dance / music / camp fire / Dinner at the base camp etc.

Not sure if you have ever done a Camel ride before, it’s a different experience, their long strides and strong humps makes it fast and full of fun, especially if you try to sprint with them. Warning: Folks with back problems should pretty much stay away from the running part. Our Camel owner was ‘Ali’ a 8 year old boy from the nearby village, he made sure we had some good time sitting up on Hrithik Roshan (our Camel’s nick name) 10 feet above ground. The feel on the desert was very nice…we found some local musician playing traditional tunes on ‘Algoza’ (pair of wooden flutes played together, one maintains the harmony and other plays the notes) and our home dancers, Shubhi, Aashi and Meenal dancing to his tunes. Shubhansh and Arnav also had some good time sliding on the sand dunes. After the dancing and Sun set, we got back on the camels and continued to the base camp for some folk music / dancing in traditional circular setting with camp fires in the center etc. Again our home dancing crew had fun intermingling with the traditional performers. We had some authentic Rajasthani food and headed back to the hotel in the night at 10pm, driving in the Thar desert under full moon was an awesome experience by itself.

Fort
Jaisalmer Fort and Palace.

Day 6:

Since we were pretty near to the India-Pakistan border, we decided to include that in our journey (one would ask, when else do you get such rare chance, of course!!!). You start getting a different vibe, a feeling of patriotism just thinking about visiting the Jawans on the border and touching the soil which has witnessed all of the past Ind-Pak wars. Our hotel owner suggested us to visit Tanot, a small village 10 kms from the border, famous for Tanot Mata (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanot_Mata ), and battle of Longewala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Longewala) during 1971 war. It is said that bombs dropped by Pakistani tanks during 1971 war did not explode or so to speak, refused to explode near the temple area. Mata ka adbhut chamatkar hai is jagah par. Now days Army / BSF manage this temple and have immense faith in Her powers.

The town is under BSF control, and entry beyond Tanot is prohibited for general public, but we were lucky to get the permission after few requests and visited the border post BPO 609 Prakash Border. The fence, probably longest running fenced border in the world, from Gujrat to Kashmir (almost 600 kms) is interesting and fine example of security. There were 2 BSF jawans posted on the border post, one from Kashmir and other from Assam, guarding the border in the middle of no man’s land, it may sound bit boring to some, but for them, Country comes first. Hats off to them. Anyways…overall it’s pretty peaceful border, but infrequent infiltration is the only thing they need to watch for. One jawan told us that they captured one intruder that morning trying to sneak in. Since this is deep into Thar desert, temperatures here typically reaches 49-50 degrees during summer time, so if the intruder somehow managed to sneak in, they won’t be able to go for long, the heat will eventually kill him, jawan said. We shook hands with them, collected some Sand as a souvenirs, took few pictures after getting his approval and observed the Pakistani territory from the tall check post. Arnav and kids were excited to see the real semi automatic rifle jawan had. After few minutes we headed back inland…I was busy taking pictures of the giant sand dunes, camels munching on shrubs, and army bunkers, overall it was the most exciting and fulfilling event of the trip.

On our way back, we had Lunch at the Desert Bite…a nice little restaurant towards the entrance of the fort. Food was good and served in authentic style, followed by yet another Jaisalmeri delicacy, called Ghutwa Laddoo. very tasty, I packed one kilo of it to carry back home. After lunch, we started heading to the Jaisalmer fort and museum, this fort is pretty amazing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaisalmer_Fort ) in the sense that half of the city lives inside the fort. Fort is made of sand stone and has unique flare. After the fort, we went to visit the popular Haveli’s in the downtown / city area. These Haveli’s have some astonishing designs and hard to believe carving done on the sand stone. We spent some extra time in hand for local shopping in the bazaar. That night we had traditionally home cooked meal, sponsored by our hotel owner, and went bed early.

Stone carvings
Carving on sandstone at Patwon ki haveli.

Haveli View
View from a Jharokha at Patwon ki haveli.


Day 7:

We had a long drive to Udaipur ahead of us, we started at 9 am and decided to stick to the highway for most of the journey. We bypassed Jodhpur and reached Udaipur via Pindwara. This time we were bit experienced Udaipur traveler :) so we knew the roads and reached Mewar Haveli, heritage hotel, which was right next to the Jaiwana haveli, we already stayed in. So the area was pretty familiar. We took a tea break at the rooftop restaurant with amazing nightly views of the lake, and headed for some quick shopping in Bhatiyani Chohatta and Hathi Pol, the two main bazaars of Udaipur. Tourists can easily get trapped in this maze…especially if you have your better-half with you. To much shopping is not good, we found out when we thought of these new bags we collected, but thank God we had our cars…just dump stuff everywhere…under the seats, use as pillow or hang it, everything works. Anyways…after all the walking we were pretty much tired and landed into deep sleep thinking about all the stuff we didn’t buy ;(

Day 8:

RaniPadminiJauhar
Rani Padmini’s Jauhar site inside Chittorgarh fort.

We again had long drive back to Jhansi ahead of us, we started at 10 and reached Chittorgarh fort (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chittorgarh_Fort ) at 12pm, this fort is considered the largest fort in India and the best in the state of Rajasthan. It’s on a hill top and runs for 16 Kms. Its famous for Rani Padmini (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rani_Padmini ) and her Jauhar. Also for victory tower constructed by Rana Kumbha to mark his victory over Mahmud Khilji. This is one of those laces which gives you a real feeling of what history has gone thru, the fort was build in 734 AD. We also bought the famous ‘Sharife ka silk’ sari as a souvenir and started heading for Jhansi. We took a short lunch break at Monalisa restaurant in Kota, and pretty much ordered the same thali to mark the end of our 8 days journey to Rajasthan. We reached Jhansi in the evening by 7 pm. Total distance covered was approximately 3500 kms and our trip finished something like:

Jhansi -> Kota -> Udaipur ->Ranakpur -> Jodhpur -> Pokhran -> Jaisalmer

->Tanot -> BP609 -> Jaisalmer -> Udaipur -> Chittorgarh -> Kota -> Jhansi.

We were tired but at the same time delighted with all the adventure and knowledge we gathered from this trip and to top it all, we spent 8 days together with our family and together we had some quality fun. It’s few of those experiences one would cherish for their entire life.


The End.

Note regarding highways: Overall we had a safe journey on the road. New Indian highway system, also known as ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ is a great step in the right direction. The highways have improved and are getting better day by day, there are series of things which are still not at par, like rest areas, clean toilets and exit markings/signs etc, which I think will develop over time. One other thing I felt missing is the sense of highway culture among people. I guess that will automatically come as more and more people start using the highways and get familiar with it and benefit from it. But as always “Better late then Never” is the right motto to follow on Indian roads, or any road for that matter, and you would be happy and safe.

Happy journey!!!

24 Comments

  • nandanjha says:

    Welcome aboard Atul.

    What a great Ghumakkari way to get started here. Initially I thought that you are staring from Delhi and all the while as I was traveling with you to all these wonderful places, I was wondering about the choice of the route. ;-) Only by end, I realized that it was from Jhansi.

    I would want to visit Jodhpur and Jaisalmer again some day, went there during 2007 Christmas break, Delhi – Jaisalmer – Jodhpur – Delhi. Pics are really very nice, esp the night shots.

    Hope to read from you. Welcome again.

  • Nice one Atul. Tour description is excellent though I heard most of the things when we met in Noida.

    Great pictures too with your D60 and wide angle lens.

  • Disha says:

    Hey Chacha,
    Nice write up. And the Pics are amazing :)

  • Sanghamitra says:

    nice post..wonderful description ..I would like to make a similar trip..Thanks for such an informative write up

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Atul,

    It is beautifully narrated story with beautiful pictures. One suggestion, can you please put some space (may be with some write-up) between some pictures that are abutted in the current post, as your all pictures are amazing and giving a gap between the two will help readers to appreciate them all.

    I am from Rajsathan and have been to most of the places you have written about, so it was a sort of reliving those moments. I haven’t been to Tanot Mata mandir, so visiting it with you was very pleasant. Don’t underestimate the ones who cross the borders, cross-border smuggling was quite common. I even heard of a small boy digging a big tunnel across the broder to carry on the smuggling, though finally he was caught.

    Wonderful experience travelling with you :-)

  • Atul says:

    Thanks Everyone!.

    Manish, I was also thinking along the same lines…about adding some spaces etc…but I was not able to figure out a way to edit the article after publishing it. Will go thru the help etc. I did took some pictures of the border post…fence and temple…but did not post it as I wasn’t sure if it’s OK to do so. Tanot temple is very nice. They were decorating the entire campus that day as some Army officer was paying a visit. BSF guys also have some secret ways of trapping intruders…Jawan told me that they can even trap a mouse entering from the other side now days. But yeah…anything is possible in that vast desert!

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      Atul, I added some space between two pictures. Please have a look and suggest that is it ok for you. I am sorry for taking liberty of modifying your story. I hope you will not mind it.

      • Atul says:

        Thanks Manish. Looks good. Is that something only admins can do? As I couldn’t figure out a way to do that…only option I could see under Profile is to ‘view’ this post, Edit is disabled.

        • Manish Khamesra says:

          It should not be the case as your post is yours. So you should always be able to edit it. You should be logged in to edit it.

          Nandan, please help Atul.

  • Atul, Very nice and informative post. Photographs as well as the write up are superb.

    And one very timely for me as I have been looking for practical insights on what to see in Udaipur. I guess a day for local sightseeing and another for say Ranakpur would be ok? We would be halting on our way back from Dwaraka in Feb.

    How did you book the haveli at Udaipur? Any contacts would be helpful.

    Thanks

  • Atul says:

    Thanks Rajeev. Yes, a day for local sightseeing is good, I would highly recommend the boat ride in lake Pichola during sun-set. Jagdish Mandir, near the City Palace is also worth visiting. You can cover Ranakpur next day, on ur route depending on where you are heading back, I guess Delhi?

    We stayed at Jaiwana haveli for 2 nights, we got the lake view room, you can get in touch with Yash at hjaiwanahaveli@yahoo.com or 98290 05859 , these hotels get booked pretty well in advance, reason being they are small, like 15-20 rooms, and this is peak season in Raj. We also stayed (returning night) at KRISHNA NIWAS, 0294 2420163 which is right next to Jaiwana Haveli, are is called Lal Ghat or Jagdish Chowk, right in the heart of the city. It’s also good if you want to do some quick shopping, everything is at walking distance. Enjoy your trip!

  • Thanks a lot, Atul.
    Yes, We will be heading back to Delhi, by train.
    How do they both compare? Which has more rooms with lake view?

    Thanks

  • Atul says:

    Jaiwana probably has more lake facing rooms. But I liked the decorations etc at Krishna Niwas….lots of wall painting etc. Both have roof top restaurant, so nice view of the lake.

  • Pankaj Sharma says:

    What to say, it was like reading some beautiful story. The pictures are really nice .While reading I was trying to visualize & just by thinking itself I was delighted.
    I appreciate the effort you have poured in order to compile such a beautiful experience.

  • shubhi says:

    hey chachu,
    you have given a fantastic description of our rajasthan trip
    it has many punches,not at all boring.
    thanks chachu for taking out time from ur busy scedule and made efforts to describe our memorable & wonderful trip

    with regards

    reply

  • Mini says:

    Beautiful pictures! Reminds me of my own trip to Jaisalmer in january end.
    Rajasthan is a really amazing place.

    Mini

  • harj says:

    Lovely piece on Rajasthan. Would love to try a camel safari!

  • Pranav says:

    Awsome description thru writeup … liked the pics very much. Will definitely refer it as my guide when I will plan my trip to Rajasthan :)

  • sumiti says:

    Hey Atul
    Quite a nice description…..being a person from Travel Industry, i also cudn’t have beautified this experience like the way you did……Great to learn such place

  • Leila Tetteh says:

    Congratulations, your article was reprinted to Harvard University, visit http://harvard-us.edu.ms

  • Atul says:

    Thanks Leila. That is indeed great news. How can I view the reprinted article?

  • kasor says:

    Journey To Rajasthan / Ghumakkar – Inspiring travel experiences. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

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