We’ve been to quite a few places since my last post; we’re blasting through Rajasthan fairly quickly but still giving ourselves enough time to see what we need to see. We have lots of spare time on this trip so we don’t have to feel rushed or like we have a million deadlines to make. It’s nice to relax in a place for a couple days vs taking bus after bus after bus (which is actually what we’re doing today). So here’s what’s been up:
After Jaipur, Harry and I took a bus to Ajmer. From there we caught a local bus to Pushkar, a tiny little hippy town in the desert. It’s one of the holy cities in India, lots of ceremonies were happening while we were there. There are many temples and ghats (stairs leading down to water) all around this small, man-made lake that would be nicer to sit by if there wasn’t so much pigeon poop everywhere. It was otherwise a lovely sunset spot.
We walked around looking for a hostel/hotel, and came across a hotel with a great view and chill-out area on top for only 400 rupees (8 CAD) for a private room, the perfect place. We watched the monkeys jump from roof to roof while sunset was happening and relaxed after the long bus rides.
Pushkar is a city of European hippies who come to juggle, make jewellery, hula-hoop, or dance in a drum circle. This place sold the most jewellery, elephant pants, eccentric crop tops, and hookah I’ve ever seen. Regardless, it’s quite beautiful and quiet for India standards. Also the hippies are harmless so I don’t mind them.
In the morning, we did a sunrise walk from our hotel to the top of this hill, it took us about an hour all in all. We could have taken a cable car from the bottom but it was a pretty easy walk up in the cool dawn. There were some monks at the top to greet us, and a few other fellow travellers. We watched the sun rise over the mountains and slowly hit the city below; it was worth the walk up. On our way down, not too long after sunrise, we ran in to all of the locals who were singing and praying on their way up. Kudos to them, I would have cable car’d it up in the heat for sure.
We spent most of our time chilling at the top of our hotel because it was so nice, and there wasn’t too much to do there anyway. So when we were ready, we moved on to Udaipur by bus. That was about 7 hours if I’m not mistaken, and 250 rupees (5 CAD).
Udaipur has two lakes side by side and are connected by a dam of sorts. The main touristy lake has a palace and a fancy hotel on it that you can get a room for something like $20,000 if you like. Famous people stay there, according to their website.
We found a room for even cheaper there, we bargained for 1000 rupees for 3 nights (20 CAD), pretty good deal. Our hotel was very central too so we walked around after, got some food, and then straight to bed.
The next day we spent checking out the lake and doing another small hike, this time for sunset. It was worth it, very beautiful from the top because you could see the palace and the hotel from above. There was a temple up there as well, and some caged rats for some reason. We also could have taken a cable car here but with the time it would have taken to catch it from the line-up, we would already be finished with the hike.
After Udaipur, we took another long bus up to Jodhpur, the Blue City. The reason it’s the blue city is because there are so many buildings painted blue. If you ask the locals why they’re blue, no one knows the real answer. There are theories it is because blue helps keep the houses cool in the heat, or because there is a lot of indigo in the area and it’s an easy colour to make, or it was to mark who was and wasn’t Brahman. The truth will never be known.
There is a big fort at the top of the hill, Mehrangarh Fort. It’s got a lot of interesting history and some secret tunnels inside that were there in case the fort was attacked and they needed to move the women and children. It was also there to move royalty in secret, and only a few people know where the other side is.
Aside from visiting a fort, we mainly just walked around, looking for blue. We found lots of it around the old town, and from looking down from the fort. It is photographers heaven really, so much colour contrast with the ladies and their bright outfits. I found that was the best part of Jodhpur and almost wished I could stick around longer to explore more blue alleyways.
We visited a monument that looked like a small palace, quite beautifully built with marble. It’s a monument for a man named Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, built by his son as a memorial. The entrance fee is quite cheap so it’s worth a visit. Walking back from it, two men on a motorbike stopped by on the road and offered Harry a job as an extra on some Bollywood movie they were filming at the fort. It was an Indian version of Pirates of the Caribbean and he would be a British soldier. A pretty cool opportunity, definitely not something done for the money though (1000 rupees (20 CAD) for 12 hours). Had the hours not been so crazy (6pm-6am) he would have done it, and I would have gotten to join for the free catering. Unfortunately, we had to catch a bus early the next morning, so we’d couldnt say yes. Next time!
The Gold City was our next destination: Jaisalmer, which is right next to the Thar desert. It’s called the gold city because, like Pushkar, most of the buildings are painted/naturally one colour- gold. It’s got a large fort atop which must have been at least a partially man-made hill (maybe not), and it’s so large that there’s a whole city inside. Very touristy, not my favourite city I will say, but we got to go on an overnight camel tour in the desert and that was a lot of fun.
We found the tour from a hostel inside the city walls for 950 rupees each (19 CAD), and it was a good deal because most places were selling for upwards of 1500. We had heard about some bad tours for cheap, but this guy seemed very legit, so we went with his tour. We had made some Canadian friends at our couchsurfer’s hotel who were doing the tour with the hotel for 1700, so we thought we’d compare and contrast after.
On the tour, a German guy and a British couple joined us, which was great for the extra company. We started by getting a jeep ride around 2:30pm to a tiny, abandoned village. The history I couldn’t get super clear…but I believe the ruler was a horrible guy and so overnight all of the inhabitants up and left 200 years ago, and no one returned. Now it’s mostly piles of sand stone and plastic from tourists.
Next we drove off to another tiny village (inhabited) and got on some very healthy looking camels. They are treated well there because the locals know a lot of things wouldn’t be possible without them, so they want to keep them in good condition. We rode for about an hour until we found our private sand dune to camp out at, and stopped there.
Our guides made us a lovely dinner of dal (lentils), mixed vegetables, chapatti, and rice. Then we watched sunset and after they sang some desert songs with a large water bottle and tin plate for instruments. They rolled out our mats on top of the sand and that was where we slept under the stars, no tent required. For India, it was quite beautiful because it’s not that often you can see some decent stars. There were some large dung beetles crawling around throughout the night, but they didn’t seem to want to go on top of our mats so much as underneath them, so that was fine. The best part was that there were no mosquitoes, so for once I wasn’t being terrorized by tiny insects.
We woke up the next morning right before the sun rose. We all had slept fairly well for the mats we were given, no complaints from anyone. Two of our guides made us breakfast while the other one went searching for the camels, who had all disappeared during the night (normal apparently). In the end they found most of them but were still missing one, so we returned to Jaisalmer while the one guide and his brother went searching for this last camel.
That night we met a cool couple, another Canadian and an Australian, and ended up having dinner with them and chatting about our travels, work visas, world politics, and all the things travellers talk about. We then saw the others who had paid 1700 for their tour, and came to the conclusion it was nearly the exact same experience. So my advice to anyone doing it- fine a decent price, but only go with someone trustworthy, otherwise you might end up on one of the bad tours that are supposedly out there.
It was a good end to our stay in Jaisalmer; the next morning we were on a bus by 6am to Bikaner, which is where I’m writing this post. It’s a town less travelled, even we’re not here to see it. We’re just passing through to see Amritsar and the Golden Temple. We’re taking another bus at 6pm, overnighter that will get us to Amritsar around 4am. So it’s going to be a long few days, wish us luck.