Rajasthan – Land of the kings!

17 10 2012

Jaipur is Rajasthans capital city and for tourists it offers some palaces, a couple of buildings influences by british-colonial architecture, a fort on top of a hill overlooking the city, a bunch of pink houses in the old city center, the usual bazaars, and the „heaven piercing minaret“, a minaret overlooking the old city center. I was heading to the latter when an Indian man was telling me that the minaret is already closed and I should visit some other temple instead were I would have similar views and, of course, for free… I ignored the man like one ignores so many other touts offering alomost everything for free. The minaret was really closed so I gave the temple a try. Indeed, one could enter for free and it provided nice views of the bazaar road and the surroundings. I spotted the man who gave me the tip and the only thing I could do was to nod at him in acknowledgement. This is one thing that really annoys me a lot in India. Everyone who depends on tourism for a living or at least is related to tourists tries to rip you off: rickshaw drivers promising to bring you to the best value guest house, which turns out to be a shithole in the middle of nowhere, the best value shops, tours or whatever, that are fairly overpriced or provide low quality. Shopowners, men on the streets and even kids approaching you to show you the best spots of the city for free or only liitle charge… if one is naive enough to follow their call one will most certainly find oneself in the middle of a bunch of Indians trying to sell stuff you don’t need/want at prices up in the sky and it’s really hard to get out without buying anything. On the other side there are a lot of Indians (the ones not related to tourism) who are just friendly and helpful, like the man telling me about the temple. But there is no chance to know beforehand who is of which type so you tend to distrust and ignore simply everyone and by doing so you’ll definitly miss a lot of cool spots 😦 Only by chance you will realize that some people don’t want to rip you off.

Jaipur: flower bazaar

Jaipur: flower bazaar

In the evening I went to the „Jaipur night tour“. It is organized by the Rajasthan tourism office but I guess you’ll never know what is official and what is not. In Delhi there was an „offical tourism office“ at almost every corner… The tour covers all the sights in Jaipur, even these outside the city center. This is the positive thing about this tour. Because you are going by night, you can’t get into any of these because everything is closed. Another positive suprise was the dinner, which is included in the price of 375 rupees. You will dine at the Tiger Fort, the fort on top of the hill with very nice views of Jaipur. The food was unexpectedly tasty: various vegetarian curries/dhals, rice, chapatis, curd… After that we went to some other palace with a very cool light and audio show. Eventhough it was the „offical Rajasthan tourism office“, we ended up in some big shop, selling everything from textiles (they even explained the process of block painting which Jaipur is famous for) over statues to painitings. At some point, the sales clerk at the paintings section asked me if I wanted to see his special paintings he personally creates in his free time. Scenes from the Kamasutra 🙂 and really great works!!

Jaipur: Night Tour with cool light/audio show at some fort

Jaipur: Night Tour with cool light/audio show at some fort

The next day I wanted to see all the sights in the city center we drove by the last night but I ended up in some shop. First, the owner was just talking to me, making jokes about other customers which he knew were doing business with some of his „enemies“. I ended up buying a tailor-made shirt and trouser and some more stuff, always thinking that I am ripped off… The material seemed very good, but I’m no professional and I don’t know whether it is good value or not. During the time my cloth were tailored I went to a nearby cinema to watch a Bollywood movie. Unfortunately they were only showing the movie „English Vinglish“ at this particular time. It’s not a real Bollywood movie, less dancing and sob stuff… but a lot of English so at least I was able to understand most of it. Back at the shop I was still not sure whether I was being ripped off or getting good value cloths. The shop owner had a travel agency as well and because he „really liked me“ he was offering me a good deal for a camel safari in Khuri, a small village near Jaisalmer. I ended up buying this, too. In the end it turned out, that at least the camel safari package was really cheap in comparison to what the other guests where paying per night (I paid less than half for 2 nights than the others for one night), so it might be that the cloth were good value as well. But it is also possible that the cloth were so overpriced that the owner felt sorry for me and therefor offered me that package 🙂

Jaisalmer, or more specifically Khuri, was my next destination. Jaisalmer is a small city built around a huge fort made of sand stone near the Pakistan border in western Rajasthan. It is also famous for camel safaris. My „resort“ was in Khuri, a small village some 50km southeast of Jaisalmer. I had to take the local bus to get there. And there it was agian. The rickshaw drivers and some random people told me, that there was no more bus going to Khuri that day. But they could take me there or knew somebody who could. Others told me there will be a bus but everyone was sure it was going at a time that didn’t match with the times the others told me. I figured out that most stated a time between 1PM and 3PM and in fact, the bus showed up at 1.30PM. I asked the ticket officer for the price and he answered almost immediatly with 100 rupees. I was sure I read something about 30 rupees (but in a book that was 2 years old) so I started to ask the others on the bus. They confirmed the price of 30 rupees so I started a little argument with the ticket officer. After 30 minutes of riding in a absolutely overcrowded bus were I wasn’t able to move and some really old Indian beggar started to rail against me/foreigners in general (I was sure about that although he didn’t spoke a word English) I finally got back my 70 rupees.

Khuri: accomodation at my "resort"... the hut was my one

Khuri: accomodation at my „resort“… the hut was my one

The two nights in the „resort“ were quite okay. A complex consisting of some tents and some shanty huts is regarded as „resort“ over there 🙂 On the first evening I had my first ride on a camel to the dunes to see the sunset. Afterwards I had sore legs and muscle ache in the arms… riding a camel is definitely the most uncomfortable mode of travel… 🙂 Every night was the same entertainment program with traditional music and dances. But the music wasn’t exactly my taste and way to loud… the dances were nice though.

Khuri: my camel, I named her Trudy, watching the sunset...

Khuri: my camel, I named her Trudy, watching the sunset…

On the third day I went back to Jaisalmer, paying only 30 rupees for the bus right from the start 🙂 in Jaisalmer there are many guest houses, almost all of them with views of the fort and roof-top terraces. I went to the Roop Mahal which had very basic but clean rooms for only 300 rupees. Try to avoid eating at the roof-top restaurant… I was feeling a little bit sick a couple of hours after I had breakfast there and I just met two fellow travellers which had even more serious stomach problems after eating at this place. In the afternoon I tried to send a parcel back to Germany… not an easy task in India. You have to go to a tailor first that tailors some kind of bag that fits exactly around your parcel and seals the stitching with wax. After that you can go to the post office and pay a fortune to send some kilos via land and sea… and still, some bloke of the post office, probably the supervisor, came around when I had to pay and asked for a bribe… as if it was the most natural thing… I refused to pay and now I hope the parcel won’t get „lost“ somewhere… This is exactly the type of people that make travelling in India a less nice experience and making you suspicious of most Indians because as tourist you normally deal with these people more often.

Jaisalmer: panorama of Jaisalmer Fort

Jaisalmer: panorama of Jaisalmer Fort

The next day I visited the Jaisalmer Fort which is very impressive and the audio guide highly recommended. It’s even included in the admission fees. It was the first time I tried an audio guide and I think I will go for it more often from now on… if the price is reasonable 🙂 In the afternoon I met Kai, the Japanese-German guy I met in Leh, and we went to the bus stop to start our 14 hours overnight bus ride to Udaipur… the bus ride was an advendure for itself. We had the berths in the rear section of the bus. With every bump the bus was crossing we were jumping back there… and if you are taller than 1.70m there won’t be much space to jump! The bus driver was driving like a madman… in Europe you would barely recognize the street as mogul slope. Here in Rajasthan it was a highway! If there were some animals on the street he chose the last chance to brake… I’m sure we even hit some of them… I think I managed to sleep at least 2 hours before we arrived in Udaipur the next morning.

Sunrise in Udaipur after our 14h bus ride... What a relief!

Sunrise in Udaipur after our 14h bus ride… What a relief!

To be upfront with it: if I had to live in one of the cities I’ve seen so far in India… without any doubt, it would be Udaipur! The city spreads around the lake Pichola and is surrounded by some hills to the west. The houses rise steadily from the banks of the lake so that almost everyone has a rooftop terrace overlooking the Lake Palace hotel situated in the middle of the lake and only reachable via boat. Our guest house is situatedon a small headland on the bank opposite Lal Ghat and the main city with splendid views of Udaipurs City Palace. In my opinion, you will have the best views of the city right there and it’s a bit more quite with less tuk-tuk drivers and shop owners competing for your attention. We searched for accomodation and weren’t lucky at first… not enough free rooms for the three of us or just too expensive. But then we were taken to a „new“ place of the brother of one of the guest house owners, the Araveli Palace guest house… everything is a palace over here, no matter how old and in which state 🙂 our’s was definitely not new but provided clean (Indian standard of cleanliness) and very good views from the rooftop terrace for only 300 rupees per night. I wished it would be always that way!

Our hotel was one of the higher ones in the background, overlooking the sunrise scenery!

After we recovered from our bus tour, we started to walk around the city and finally took a taxi to the Monsoon Palace, which is situated on top of one of the hills, for sunset. It is a bit pricey, 600 rupees for the taxi that will wait for you while you explore the Monsoon Palace and wait for the sunset, another 130 rupees parking fees, and finally 160 rupees admission per person, so share at least the taxi and parking fees if possible. The views of the city and the hills are really good, the palace itself is not too interesting. The next day I went with Kai to see the Udaipur City Palace and it’s museum and we spent over 2 hours in there. Unfortunately the audio guide was a little bit too pricey. In the museum one can enjoy the amazing architecture with beautiful stone and wood carvings and the sheer size of the palace. There are uncountable rooms, many of them displaying paintings and other exhibits of past times, and occasionally open areas with gardens and springs and whatever a moghul or king needed 🙂 after visiting the City Palace I was keen to find a quite and green spot for reading. I finally ended up in some park behind the City Palace that turned out to host the zoo of Udaipur, a little toy train, and I was sure there was some karaoke going on somewhere near, too…

View from the Monsoon Palace in the opposite direction of Udaipur

View from the Monsoon Palace in the opposite direction of Udaipur

During the day one could see preparations going on for some festival starting the 16th in the evening, the Navarathri festival. It will last for 9 nights and as I heard, there will be a lot of dancing. Unfortunately I will travel a lot the next days but I hope I can attend some ceremony somewhere. The first night we missed the festival because of a cooking class with Sashi, an Indian woman here in Udaipur. Besides the 14 dishes we prepared or at least discussed that night we learned a lot about her life and Indian rules according to casts. She, for example, is of a family from a very high cast, and the members are only allowed to eat vegetables that grow over ground. Being from a high caste doesn’t necessarily mean you are rich and when her husband died she really struggled for a couple of years to care for her son and herself. Again, being from a high caste can be cumbersome: she had no job then and as soon as her husband died his family turned away from her and her son. According to the rules of her caste she even wasn’t allowed to do some jobs like laundry and such. Finally, with the help of many western tourists which encouraged her to learn English, she opened up the cooking class and now she’s very proud to be the number 1 tour attraction in Udaipur on TripAdvisor 🙂 The cooking class was really a memorable event… we spent 5 hours in her home around a small table or the cooking plates, discussing a wide range of Indian recipes, chopping vegetables, kneading dough, or frying dishes. Now I know how to prepare a really fresh Masala chai (not using any powder mix), Pakoras, Chapatis, Curries, different types of Parathas (sweet, plain, buttered, stuffed… you name it!), and even Paneer cheese… will definitely try these back home!

Quintessential choice of spices needed for Indian dishes

Quintessential choice of spices needed for Indian dishes

Spices lessons with Shashi and my fellow students

Spices lessons with Sashi and my fellow students

In a few hours, a most likely tiresome session of travelling will begin. First I will have to go to Ahmedabad by bus only to board the night to Mumbai train 3 hours later. Arriving there in the morning, I won’t waste time and get onto the next train to Aurangabad in the early afternoon, arriving in late evening. All this to be able to see the Ellora caves. Hopefully these are as good as everyone is telling me 🙂

Lal Ghat in the evening...

Lal Ghat in the evening…