Lakeside loveliness 

I took a “sleeper” bus from Jaisalmer to Udaipur, as there was no direct train. I won’t go into sniveling details, but let’s just say that the term sleeper for a bus is even more optimistic than the train.

Despite lack of sleep, I arrived in Udaipur with some energy to explore the city. Udaipur is spread around Lake Picchola, which is about 12 sq. km.. The main tourist spot is the city palace complex, which is Rajasthan’s largest palace. Like many of these grand structures, it was started by one ruler and built upon by subsequent ones. This palace was initiated by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1599.


The museum inside displayed some of the interior architecture, along with articles used by the maharanas. My favorite parts were the stained glass windows, but it was all impressive.


Outside of the city palace, there are peaceful sites by the lake to relax, and I explored these in the afternoon.


Another popular building on the lakeshore is the Bagore ki Haveli, which has a museum with the largest turban, among other things, and at night hosts a Rajasthan culture show. I would highly recommend both for a sampling of local culture.


My last tourist visit was to Sajjan Garh, or the monsoon palace. It’s not very old, as it was built in the late 19th century by Maharana Sajjan Singh. Apart from some scaffolding in various parts, it looks like it’s been largely neglected since then. But it’s main draw is the surrounding scenery vs the architecture. It’s a few miles from town on the top of a hill, and offers endless gorgeous views from the surrounding area. It’s also a favorite place to watch the sun set, with good reason.


Apart from these main attractions, I’ve been wandering by shops, puzzling vendors by being the rare tourist that isn’t interested in buying things, and finding quiet places by the lake not mentioned in Lonely Planet. Overall, it’s been a peaceful visit.

Camel-lot

I started out the morning with a trip to Jaisalmer Palace Fort; another outstanding example of Rajput architecture. 


“Hanging out” in the Palace. Yes, they are what you think they are. I walked quickly through this section, as there was no alternative.

I started out early in the morning to beat the heat and the shop vendors, but caught them on the return. As I said “Not shopping today” to one vendor, the next one says “Shopping is very good for your health, madam”. I had to drop the no-nonsense facade and just laugh, replying that I preferred yoga. That got a smile, and a reprieve.

At three in the afternoon, I joined a dozen people from Belgium, and a last minute add on from Portugal. After loading on sunscreen, we piled into jeeps and drove into the Thar (pronounced “tar”, but with a flat-tongued emphasis on the t) Desert. We first visited a deserted village. 250 years ago, the inhabitants were of a high priestly caste who offered things to the gods for the common people. One day the Maharaja came to the village, saw a young woman and asked for permission to marry her. The group refused because they were higher caste. The maharaja gave them an ultimatum: either allow me to marry this woman, or I will kill your village. He allowed them a three day decision operiod, during which they dispersed to other towns, leaving the village empty. No one moved into them due to fear of being haunted.

Next we met our camels and drivers and began riding. These were one-humped Dromedary camels specific to Rajasthan. Cushions were thankfully present, although after a while it still felt like we were sitting on bags of rocks. Camels are tall, with long gangly legs. When they get up from lying down, your body is lurched forward. If you’re not leaning back and hanging on, you will be pitched forward onto the ground (no, I wasn’t, and neither did anyone else).

If you’re not the leader of the pack, the view is pretty much the same
Picas, one of our camel drivers

We rode out to the dunes in about ninety minutes, where the drivers set up camp and and cooked dinner. The dunes themselves are not Sahara sized, but are still impressive, and fun to play around in. After we ate a dinner of lentils, vegetables, rice and chapati, one of the drivers shared his life story after being asked, and then we were audience to a Marwari concert, as we fell asleep under the stars. While it was delightfully cool when we went to bed, by early morning I was quite thankful for the blanket that had been provided. I woke early to see the sunrise, and we all rode back to the jeep after breakfast. It was a great experience, and the staff were wonderful.


Next stop is Udaipur, which will probably be my last stop in Rajasthan. I can’t see everything, but feel like I’ve already seen a good sampling of the state during this trip. 

Gloriously Golden

I arrived in Jaisalmer about noontime, and settled into my room at the hotel after they picked me up from the train station. I happily splurged a few hundred rupees more for AC, as temps appeared to be in the low 90’s. I took some time in the afternoon to walk around looking at the buildings. Many of the houses, called havelis, have central courtyards with the rooms facing inwards to allow for light and airflow. As the wind goes through the courtyard, it cools in the summer yet stays warm in the winter. Hava is the Hindi word for wind, hence haveli.

From inside the haveli
Such intricate design

I was impressed with the cleanliness of the streets that I hadn’t seen in a while. Apart from the odd cow patty, not a whole lot of garbage laying about. Such a beautiful city, it’s pleasing to miss the general rubbish display of other towns.

The haveli of “The men who stare at goats”, or perhaps “The goats who stare at men”

The next morning I planned to check out the fort…until I got out of bed and sped to the bathroom. My gut revised the day’s plans to alternatively staying flat on my bed and calling my attention to the interior of the bathroom (which is, btw, lovely with painted tiles). 

I’ve spent more time in much worse bathrooms!

The fever, chills, body aches, and an overwhelming urge to be horizontal came afterwards. I honestly felt like death was watching. After the fever rose to the point which I could feel my brains simmering, I resigned myself to the need for some pharmaceutical intervention, and sent the hotel guy with a list of medication to get. He returned shortly with medication that would have been at least $30 in the states. Here? About $1 (OK, I’ll skip the rant on how big pharma overcharges for their medications in the US). Eight hours later, the fever went down, and I managed to eat a few biscuits and take some water. By this morning, I felt like a new woman, and managed a late breakfast, lunch, and a wander in the afternoon spent looking at various havelis. And was rewarded by a golden view of the city.


I still took it easy because tomorrow is the big day: an overnight camel safari in the desert. And that will be my next post. Stay tuned and be well!

A Case of the Blues

Jodhpur is classically known as the blue city. Originally, blue was a distinguishing color of only Brahmin houses. Later, everyone else got into the act, and now a majority of houses in the city are painted varying shades of blue. IMHO, much prettier than pink, but to each their own. The blue color is also claimed to repel insects, but I have my doubts on that.


The first day there I headed to Mehrangarh fort. Nothing “meh” about it; like Amber fort it was everything I could have asked for in Rajput architecture. Construction of this massive fort was started in 1459 by Rao Jodha, and continued with successive rulers. The fort encloses gardens, massive gates, meeting halls, and private chambers. There’s a museum of elephant seats, palanquins, paintings and other items used and admired throughout the ages. I walked around for a few hours, and then fueled by a makhania lassi and pyaz kachori, wandered further to the Rao Jodha desert rock park.


In case you’re wondering, a lassi is a drink made from yogurt, combined with either spices, fruit, or honey. A makhania lassi is quite thick, sweetened, and made with saffron. The best ones in possibly all of India are served at Shri Mishrilal Hotel. They’re so thick they’re eaten with a spoon instead of sipped. Kachori are fried bread with various fillings. The pyaz kachori seemed to have potato and onion inside. Probably not very healthy, but tasty nonetheless.

Rao Jodha rock park is 73 hectares large, and located at the base of the fort, providing some great views and photos. It was also a beautiful retreat from the crowds. At first I wondered why there seemed to be no one else there, but it soon became apparent as the temperatures rose. Most people go there in the morning, but I was there from 12-2. But there was a breeze, and I had water, so it didn’t get bad until towards the end. Maybe I’m getting used to the heat here. Maybe.


The next day I set out with a short list of errands: get train ticket to Jaisalmer, get batteries for water purifier, get some medicine and a cheap prepaid cell phone. I of course ended up walking way past the train station, and thankfully went with a rickshaw after I felt like I should have been there (boy was I off course!). For some inexplicable reason, the rail  booking office is 300 meters away from the actual station. Don’t ask me why. But knowing this, I made my way there after being dropped off at the station itself. I patiently waited in queue and handed in my filled request form. 

There’s a waiting list. 

Even for tourists?

Tourist ticket ok. You have photocopy of passport? No? We don’t make copies here. Come back with a copy. Next in line please.

So I wandered towards the post office next door, when a man helped me find a nearby shop to get a copy. Returning to the ticket office triumphantly with ticket in hand, I got my ticket. Ha. 

The same guy also “helped” me get a cell phone, but pressured me into getting one withoutq a receipt (yeah, I know, you see where this is going, dont you?). He then “helped” me get a SIM card, but they wanted a photo for it. I didn’t have one, other than the picture on my passport. Feeling conned and frustrated at this point, I left, and headed to the main market for batteries and a pharmacy, but was unable to find either. No one had the batteries, and a pharmacy seemed nowhere to be found. I retreated back to the guest house and sulked through the afternoon, then thanks to google, at least found the pharmacy later that day (it helped that it was near the lassi shop).

Main market madness

The next day I went on a village tour, seeing a pottery maker, a block print maker, a loom weaver and Bishnoi tribal members. The Bishnoi, named for the 29 precepts they keep, are the original tree huggers. In 1730, in their efforts to protect local khejri trees, over 370 members hugged the trees to save them, and were beheaded in their efforts.

Block print fabrics
Woven dhurries
Showing how they filter opium
Going Rajasthani style

So in the grand scheme of things, the fact that when I returned to the phone store after the tour and they wouldn’t take the phone back seems relatively minor in comparison to being beheaded. And yes, rather foreseeable. A $20 lesson to follow my instincts. It could have been much worse. Anyone want to buy a phone?

Minor as they are in the grand scheme, incidences like this make me want to just stay in my room and not go out, yet there is so much goodness out there that I miss by hiding. So the mind goes back and forth. I hide for a while, and then I give India another go. And I usually get rewarded for doing so.

0515, Jodhpur train station 

I step over a sea of bodies sleeping on the station floor and make my way to platform three over the stairs. The smell of machinery and human waste assaults my nostrils. More people are sitting, sleeping, or squatting on the ground, waiting for the train that’s thirty minutes late. Vendors walk up and down the platform with paper cups and teapots, chanting their popular mantra; “Chai, chai, garam chai, chai-chai-chai”.

This time I find a sign which shows where my train car will be on the platform. I have not always been so lucky, and have ended up race-walking/jogging from one end of the platform to another. India has very long trains.

The train arrives and I climb the steep steps aboard, already happy that I bought a ticket in the air conditioned section. I’m wearing my suitcase on my back, my backpack on the front, and a yoga mat bag slung over my shoulder. I look like a deformed turtle. I step aside to let some departing Sikh gentlemen go by, and they help me to find my seat without even being asked before they go. The goodness in India strikes again.

I watch the landscape roll by and am reminded of Arizona. The English planted a variety of Mexican trees here similar to mesquite, to provide a fast growing tree as wood supply. As foreign species often do, the trees adopted to their new environment a little too well, and are now an invasive species, choking out the native plants. The green of the mesquite-like trees and grass complement the sandstone rocks among the occasional hills, then the grass and the trees became more sparse. Thus was the moving picture I watched on my way to Jaisalmer, which will be my next post. 

Pretty in Pink

I’m finally in Rajasthan, where I’ve wanted to visit since I returned from my last India trip. I love the architecture here, and the surrounding hills are lovely. 

I arrived in the evening at the Rani Hahal hotel. Of course the rickshaw wallah tried to get me into a different hotel (where he would get a hefty commission), but sometimes, having reservations can be handy. The Rani Mahal is a beautiful building with spacious, clean rooms decorated in typical Rajasthan style. It’s a bit far from the center of town, but I was happy with it nonetheless.

My room an the Rani

The next day I hired a driver for the day through the hotel. It was pouring rain and I didn’t feel like getting soaked in a rickshaw. So we headed off first to the Birla/ Laxmi Narayan Mandir. The Mandir is a beautiful Hindu temple constructed with white marble, with intricate carvings. From the outside, the temple doesn’t look that large, but the inside is cavernous. It’s not exactly an ancient building though, as it was constructed in 1988.

Laxmi Narayan Mandir

Next up was the Albert Hall museum. This building was an interesting mix of Rajput and English architecture, and inside was an equally interesting assortment of carpets, paintings, sculptures and textiles. They were really nice to look at, but in large quantities, my interest wanes.

Yup. That pretty much says it all.

Afterwards I went into the gates of the old city. In 1876, the ruling maharaja had the whole city painted pink in preparation of a visit by the prince of Wales (I found no reference as to why pink and not some other color). Homeowners associations may not exist here, but everyone in the old city still has one choice for exterior paint color: pink.

Within the city walls are the Jantar Mantar, the City Palace, Hawa Mahal and several bazaars. The Jantar Mantar is a group of astronomical structures/instruments built by Jai Singh, a local ruler, in 1728. Apparently he was so into astronomy that he built five of these collections throughout northern India.

Jantar Mantar structure

The City Palace was also built by Jai Singh and has been built upon over the years. It remains the residence of the Singh royal family, and their quarters are blocked off. There’s still plenty to see in terms of stately architecture and museum items.

Palace gate. Girl not included.
“None shall pass!”

I looked in the old city for the Hawa Mahal, but couldn’t find it to save my life. Or a nearby restaurant that looked good. In defeat, I returned to the car and driver and had a late lunch without seeing the Hawa. But I think I saw a good amount without it, and was satisfied at the end of the day.

After lunch we stopped at the Jal Mahal, or water palace. It was a summer home for the royal family, in the middle of a scenic lake with a beautiful backdrop. And closed to visitors.


Last stop was Amber (pronounced “Am-mer”) fort. Amber fort is a majestic mix of yellow and pink sandstone with white marble. This was really the crown jewel of Jaipur for me. Grand courtyards, towering walls, giant doorways, inlaid stone artwork, and spectacular views made it definitely worth the trip.