Brad and I have dotted our way across this desert state over the period of a few weeks. Instead of giving an in-depth, lengthy idea of what we got up to for each city, like I have for Jaipur, I’m just going to skirt over each one.
We found that a lot of the cities had similarities in their stand out features. As we progressed further into the state it became a tad less exciting. “Another fort? That’s cool, I suppose.” Of course each city does have something about it to make it unique. Just that, it’s not always that exciting or worth hanging around for more than a day or two to see.
Hot but dry. Day time can reach 38 degrees. Night time is cool and pleasant outside, air con still necessary for a comfortable night’s sleep.
All major cities are connected by train or bus. Some cities such as Jaipur and Udaipur have Ola (taxi app that we highly recommend for fair fixed prices).
Sleepy, cute little town. Basically one big market selling the usual tat. We didn’t feel Pushkar gave anything particularly unique. The most worthwhile aspect of our time was watching sunset from the Savirti Mata temple. But as I was unwell I welcomed the step back from crazy city life.
Main features: large market, Savitri Mata Temple/cable car, Brahma Ghat
Good for: rest and recuperation (at least that’s what we used it for)
Watch out for: touts at the ghat will try and ‘tag’ you with orange string when they try to make you give an offering at the lake (Puja). This makes you easy prey for others, just say no.
Accommodation: Elephant Pushkar (850 rupee per night for AC private room)
Best place for food: Om Shiva Garden Restaurant (we went here like 5 times in 2 days)
The Blue City. Lots of character, we enjoyed exploring the side streets in the Old City for an afternoon. Jodhpur, out of all the cities in Rajasthan, seems to have kept the majority of its character and quaintness which is nice. There’s nothing interesting about a sold-out, commercialised city.
Main Features: Mehrangarh Fort, Rao Jodha Rock Park, Pachetia Hill (to see the blue houses) and Bell tower market
We weren’t fussed about the palace or the temple but there are other sights you can venture out to see.
Good for: walking around and exploring the winding maze of back streets and buying spices!
Watch out for: paying for rickshaws unnecessarily. Due to the small walkways it may be cheaper and easier to walk around, skip the rickshaw.
Accommodation: LG Paying Guesthouse (1100 rupee for AC private room)
Best place for food: we mostly ate at our guesthouse which was good, or at Jhankar restaurant which was OK but more expensive.
The Golden City. Small, not a lot going on, but surrounded by sandy dunes. We had 4 days here which was too much. You only need one day for the city and then 1-2 days to see the dunes. The city itself was very small and again, just full of markets inside the fort (do you see a theme occurring here?).
Main features: Sand dunes (lots of them – make sure you arrange to be taken to the non-tourist ones, even if you have to pay more), Kuldhara abandoned village
The fort here is by far my least favourite.
Good for: stargazing and escaping the city!
Watch out for: tour operators making false promises, check reviews online first
Accommodation: Crazy Camel (500 rupee for AC private room) also trusted for tours into the desert
Best places to eat: Jaisal Italy and 1st Gate were both delicious (but a bit more expensive)
The city of lakes and rolling mountains. We wish we could have spent longer in Udaipur. It almost didn’t feel like we were in India at all (apart from the constant beeping, firecrackers and pollution), maybe that’s why we liked it? Or maybe it was the feeling of being surrounded by nature a little bit more.
Main features: multiple lakes in and around the city, city palace, royal cenotaphs and the Aravalli mountains (best explored on horseback – click here to read about our experience of this!)
Good for: venturing into the surrounding tribal regions or taking a stroll next to the lakes
I really don’t have anything stand-out negative to say about Udaipur. The city used to be called ‘romantic’ which I understand at one point it may have been. Now it has been turned into a typical Indian city. Lots of noise, pollution and crapping on the side of the road (no, really). It’s certainly not too romantic now but we still enjoyed our time here and would of loved to have spent longer. The surrounding countryside alone would have kept us occupied for days!
Accommodation: Gajkaran Haveli (800 rupees a night for AC private room and breakfast) was OK, nothing special but no complaints. Host gave us a map of Udaipur and talked us through the best places to visit during our time here – a nice touch.
Best places to eat: if you have a little extra to spend head to Charcoal by Carlson, the cocktails and food were delicious (frozen margarita? YES PLEASE) and both Brad and our friends ate meat for the first time since being in India and escaped without getting ill!
Navaratri is a major festival that takes place in India for 9 days and this year started on the 10th October. This meant we got to witness celebrations throughout our time in Rajasthan. On the final day (called Dussehra) a different celebration is held.
In short the festival celebrates the Goddess Durga, from Hindu religion. Durga fought the demon Mahishasuran and won, restoring dharma (a sort of peace/normality). On the 9 days of Navaratri in the evening we would hear across the cities (Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Udaipur) music blaring out from loudspeakers. Dotted across the cities would be small areas where children and women would dance and celebrate. The area is set up in a way that reminded me of May Day and the children used hand-held sticks to recreate traditional Hindu folk dances (I gave it a go and it definitely requires more coordination than I possess).
On the final day (Dussehra) the people would have large statues of the demon. These are set on fire and burnt (traditionally dumped into the river or lake, though thankfully in Udaipur they have stopped this due to pollution) to signify the death of the demon. Then in true Indian fashion fireworks are set off across the city, in the streets and on the river banks. Trucks with ginormous speakers on slowly make their way through the streets with a hoard of young boys and girls dancing behind. Drummers creating a party-like atmosphere and everyone in really high spirits.
It was a great thing to experience in Rajasthan and I’m glad we could get so involved and close to the celebrations. You would find yourself smiling at the contagious spirit in the air. Indians sure know how to throw a festival!
We really did enjoy Rajasthan as a whole and it did live up to expectations. It has been easier to travel than other parts of India since it’s more accustomed to tourists. But likewise, we almost felt bored of the cities towards the end since they aren’t all too dissimilar. You just don’t want to keep visiting forts and palaces all the time. The environment surrounding the cities varies greatly though and that is one good reason to travel throughout the state. From sand dunes in Jaisalmer, to palm trees and humidity around Udaipur. We have seen some of the most beautiful Indian women and interesting looking men in Rajasthan. Bold moustaches and huge gold nose rings accompany genuine smiles on some of the friendliest Indians we’ve met.
The Rajasthan government is also the first to be making such an obvious effort to clean up. Most cities have at least some bins on the streets, which is a big deal. Rivers and lakes are being cleaned and having rubbish removed. There is less litter on the sides of the roads and many signs reminding people to be environmentally conscious. I can’t say it’s working massively yet but you have to remember you’re trying to change a culture and that takes time. Sometimes the amount of pollution and litter you see in India is overwhelming. At least they’re trying.
We absolutely feel ready at this point to be next to water. Just one more state to go (Gujarat) and then we’ll almost be in Goa and time for some rest!