Rajasthan is an interesting state with many beautiful things to see, because of this it is also a place with a significant tourist trail which results in people seeing tourists and seeing them as a walking wallet. Rajasthan is known for being bad at this and as the first place I saw in India it made me very disheartened about the people but now I know it is really just a downside to going to places with big attractions. Of the places I visited in India Rajasthan is my least favourite because of it being so touristy and expensive, but there is always a reason why tourist trails exist and I am the anomaly for liking places without attractions. Here is an overview of my Rajasthan tour, which, I think, covered most of what it had to offer in 20 days.
A very small town about 6 hours drive from Delhi. Mandawa is famous for is Haveli’s (old traditional buildings) which are quite nice and impressive. As a first stop in Rajasthan I felt like I had arrived in the Middle East rather than India. The buildings all have flat roofs and the street has donkeys and camels roaming. The people are quite pushy and insistent on providing you with local tours but this is probably due to people going on day trips from Delhi. It’s a nice place but doesn’t need much more than a few hours to explore.
Another 4/5 hours down the road you have Bikaner, a bigger town with little in the way of attractions except for a fort. The area we were staying was a little out of the way so a journey to find street food led us down a street unvisited by tourist, this bustling market street had many locals and children waving and saying hello as we passed, some of the friendliest locals we have met and they all gave us honest prices for the fruit and snacks we bought. The fort itself was quite nice (200Rs), it was more of a museum but the architecture was interesting. We also spend a few hours in the old town in the evening and I wouldn’t recommend this. It had almost nothing in the way of food (including street stalls) and the roads were jam packed with motorbikes and tuk tuks hooting, enough to drive you crazy.
Khuri is a village in the middle of the desert an hour from Jaisalmer, people generally only come here to do a camel trek and it may be hard to find accommodation otherwise. The camel trek itself I was very non-plussed about and was definitely overcharged (1,400Rs). The evening of entertainment was not my sort of thing with fire dancers and other Indian dancers who were determinedly asking for tips at the end, to degree that they single you out for not tipping and clap you when you tip. We managed to get an hour to walk around the village and see some fascinating little houses all made the traditional way out of earth. Unfortunately the people of the village have very little and are used to seeing and begging from the tourists staying there which was a bit full on. It is also a shame that a business making so much money in their community isn’t contributing anything to them even though their houses are part of the attraction.
One of my favourite places in Rajasthan, Jaisalmer looks just like a film set. In the heart of the city is a large fort which is still occupied, lived in and houses hotels and shops. wandering around the winding alley ways to reveal people doing their washing and daily activities in tradition dress is more than surreal. The town square is right by the fort entrance and has a good selection of street food and reasonable restaurants, there’s also not too much traffic about. While we were there the annual desert festival took place allowing us to see a crazy colourful procession of camels and children with moustaches. The procession ended in the main stadium where competitions like ‘Mr Moustache’, ‘Mr Desert Man’ and a turban tying contest took place.
One of the more intense cities, Jodpur hosts a particularly hectic old town which allows you to come to terms with the true stress of an Indian city. The idea of an area being pedestrianized really doesn’t exist in Rajasthan. The narrow alleys are crammed with motorbikes, cows, poo and overflowing sewage gutters whilst the loud ringing of tooting horns never relents. I can manage about 20 minutes on these streets before I feel myself going a little insane and for the first time in 8 months took to wearing ear plugs. The fort itself is beautiful and the audio tour and recent restoration make for it being a very interesting 3 hours. One of the best and most enjoyable informative sites I’ve been to so far (entry 300Rs) there are also museum displays included. The tomb by the fort is also worth a visit (30Rs) and gives you a very good view of the fort for photographs.
A lesser visited place, and more of a stop off on the way to Udaipur, Ranakpur is a welcome quiet break from the streets of Jodhpur. Ranakpur is little more than a road of guesthouses in the countryside a short distance from a historic temple. The temple is one of the largest Jain temples and is very ornately carved completely out of marble. Entry is even free so there are no complaints there. Apart from visiting the temple which takes one hour at most there are plenty of places nearby to go for peaceful walks in the hills, including lakes which supposedly host crocodiles.
After hearing from so many people how quintessential Udaipur is I failed to see its charm. For sure it is good for shopping as it hosts a whole range of handicrafts and a large supply of miniature painting, which I particularly like. The main attraction of Udaipur is its lakes and lake palace. The lake palace is now a hotel and the only way you can visit is by paying for an extortionate lunch. We were taken to a ‘living village’ which wasn’t really living, just selling, and all the doors to displays were locked. It was supposed to represent all the old houses and tribes of Rajasthan but some of those buildings still exist today so you had might as well go to places like Khuri to see the real thing instead.
You can read my next post about Pushkar for a more in depth idea of the place. Set in the mountains it has the potential to be lovely but unfortunately it is full of people taking advantage of the money westerners have. Pushkar is an ideal place for buying souvenirs or hippy clothing. If you have a big interest in religion this town will definitely help you find out more about the practicalities of Hinduism and how the locals feel it is important to cleanse their souls.
I didn’t do much in Jaipur, it was big and intense and our hotel was in quite an inconvenient place. The main city itself is one huge market so another good place for buying souvenirs. I have no room in my bag and buying things in India can sometime be more stressful than it’s worth. We did however go to watch a Bollywood film and this was a highlight of my time in Rajasthan. The ticket was less than £1 (70Rs)in the second most famous cinema in the country. The film we watched was Agnipath. The crowd themselves are the main attraction, booing at the bad guy, whistling when they see some female flesh and dancing in their seats to the catchy tunes, hands waving in the air. All of this I understood, what I didn’t understand was than nearly everyone left the cinema five minutes before the end of the film, missing the death of the lead role. I think the reason for this was either that the action was over and they had no interest in drama, or that ‘time is money’. Driving through Jaipur it had more poverty and slums than the other places in Rajasthan and the attractions aren’t very stand out either.
Bharatpur/Keoladeo National Park
Our driver had never been here before and was very reluctant to go but it was one of our favourite places in Rajasthan, and only an hour drive from Agra. The national park (400Rs)was the first bit of quietness we had felt in so long. With 26km square you could just about get away from the ringing tunes of truck horns to feel at peace from the bustle. You could hire bicycles or a cycle rickshaw by the hour but we chose to walk and managed to see two thirds of the park in a full day (9 hours) of walking. We bought a pack up and hired binoculars from Spoonbill guesthouse which is really worth a visit in an area with little accessible food. In the park there is a large array of dry and wet land birds as well as various bucks, hares, monkeys, jackal and mongoose. On the walking paths no other transport is allowed and so we barely even saw any other people the whole day. This sandwiched in between Jaipur and Agra is quite special.