Rajasthan September 1 - 20th 2016.
After our month in Sri Lanka we had planned to head for Srinigar and spend time exploring the far northern state of Kashmir. Sadly, recent unrest (more so than usual ...with enforced curfews) meant that we dodged the area and instead headed to Rajasthan.
I was last in Rajasthan in 1995. It was my favourite state on those Indian travels. In 21 years you would think things had significantly changed but it didn't appear that way - which was a good thing, the only diffference I found was more urban sprawl and an internet that sometimes worked! It was fun to revisit some places, but also see new places and experience things i hadn't before. We are travelling a little differently than my backpacking days in the late 90s - a step up from hostels to 2&3 star hotels with the odd home stay thrown in. Booking.com has been invaluable for accommodation and trip advisor for reviews of things to do compared with the old faithful guidebook.
India is a half, or more, cheaper than Sri Lanka (thankfully for our budget !). On average we spent $70 nzd a night for 2 rooms with breakfast, and you can feed team hepburn for $15-20 NZD..more if kingfisher "beersies" are in the mix.
After 2 months away (Italy, UK and Sri Lanka ) there has been a shift in our family unit, we are definitely in the groove of backpacking and exploring and i am enjoying getting to know and enjoy my kids more (its hard in the day to day routine of everyday life to find the time to have those moments). I am also super proud of them as they take in the often confronting scenes of India .. beggars, dubious hygiene in restaurants and toilets can be challenging, rubbish / trash everywhere with no respect for the environment and learning to dodge cow poo on the streets...they take it all in their stride.
First stop was Agra, by commuter train from Delhi, to see Agra fort and the Taj Mahal. We stayed in a great little home stay with home cooked food in an wee oasis in what was a pretty crazy, mad, dirty city and had our first intro to India. The Taj is certainly impressive...but we enjoyed the fort much more with its grand, decandent spaces, harem, gardens, summer and winter bedrooms and genius heating / cooling design elements. It also boasted not one but two moats that contained roaming tigers and elephants in one..and crocodiles in the other to keep intruders out.
We then headed to Jaipur by sleeper train (my memories of these were that they were a bit rough and things hadn't changed !). Trains in India allow you to see / meet a cross section of Indians but also take the back routes past cities and dwellings that you wouldn't otherwise see. Sometimes getting to see things best left to the privacy of bathrooms ;)...we also got to see the train conductor sweep the garbage thrown on the floor of the carriage out the open door of the moving train...a real welcome to India! The highlight in Jaipur was the pink city palace, its intricate detailing and majestic spaces and getting to taste all the amazing curries of this part of India .. malai kofta is now a family favourite - a deep fried paneer (like cottage cheese) and flour dumpling served in a rich creamy gravy accompanied by yummy butter naans!
Next stop was Pushkar and its holy lake, a favourite sleepy haven from my last trip but unrecognisable this time around...it was more like a mini Varanasi with bathing ghats and traffic chaos ( motorbikes and cows :). It was so magical to wake up in the hotel room overlooking the ghats and watch the rituals and chanting take place, and to wander the streets. There were two major highlights: the first being the barber where David had a cut throat razor shave. The barber then turned masseur and gave us both a classic Indian head massage / rub / scratch. While all this was happening we met the local dairy farmer, witnessed the barbers chiropractic abilities on the dairy farmer, had a chai (black tea, milk, sugar & spices), a French guy then taught the kids magic tricks and a wee village boy got to meet his first white kids!...and we got to watch the world roll by the door. India captured in a moment...kinda amazing.
The second highlight was an indian cooking course we all did together on Fathers Day at Mrs Shavani's school of cooking http://www.pushkarcookingart.com/index.htm. (There's some tasty recipes on the website too). We all learnt to cook various dishes - a great experience and one that would help us well on our next leg.
We then decided to get a taxi driver to take us from place to place. Its quicker than the train but a tad riskier on the road dodging cows on the motorway. Next stop was the lovely Updaipur - clean streets with no hassle ! and with a european feel "the Venice of the east". Udaipur is also where the James Bond film "Octopussy" was a filmed and we go to see it up close from a boat trip around the lake. We also watched the entire movie while eating in a restaurant....some classic moments with the kids!
Another 6 hour drive took us to Jodhpur.. we didn't really get the vibe of this city ..however the Unesco Mehrangarh fort had an intriguing history, the old blue city dwellings originally for the Brahmin caste (highest Indian caste) were interesting but smelly to wander, and there was an amazing 6 stage zip line / flying fox that David, Isla & Rory did.
Then out we ventured on another 7 hour drive to the edge of the Thar desert, to India's only living fort - Jaisalmer the "Golden city" a formal medieval trading center and princely state. The Lonely Planet says "The fort of Jaisalmer is a breathtaking sight: a massive sand castle rising from the sandy plains like a mirage from a bygone era". Although this time i found the sandy plains surrounding it further out as the urban sprawl was evident. We loved our haveli hotel (a traditional townhouse ) the rooftop was amazing to just sit and see the palace within the fort walls and watch the sunset ..and also just pretend "one" was a prince or princess.
The highlight here was going on a camel safari in the desert. We stayed in a tent in the dunes overnight and also watched local dancers and drummers under a starry sky. We all loved it and Rory was in heaven on the dunes chasing and catching ! lizards and dung beetles.
We headed back to Jaipur to catch a flight via Delhi to Dharmashaa at the foothills of the Himalayas where the next stage of our journey would begin.
As they say - India is a land of contrasts ..the rich and poor divide is huge, you can get a grossed out kinda vibe and feel depressed at the impact on the world environmentally then turn a corner and see a magical sight of architecture, a glimpse of a bygone majestic era or marvel at the public displays of devotion and ritual...or just receive a simple genuine smile. India gets under your skin for sure.
Below are some little observations that sum up our time in Rajasthan for us, along with some photo highlights and also our Lightroom album link if you want to see more Rajasthan Photos
"Horn ok please" (on the back of every truck ..a code that replaces indicators!)
"Hello, where from?" America? England ? you come see my shop no problem...
Driver dodging cows coming at us on the motorway !
"Same same but different"
Dirty and depressing environmentally :(
Incense infused with undertones of cow Poo
Magical Rituals and public displays of devotion
Cows and chaos
Pink City palace - Jaipur
Indian cooking class
Tuk Tuk crew
Davids cut throat razor shave
Forgotten corners of Pushkar
Our room overlooking the ghats - insert chanting and music to accompany the daily bathing rituals
"Wheres that hotel ?"..
The stunning colour of the local markets
Udaipur "The Venice of the East"
Typical scene from a tuk tuk - life happening all round us
Back lane wandering
Jodhpur 6 stage zip line
Faces in the lanes of the Blue city
henna gals (Skye's not so convinced!)
Thar desert buildings
Rory's future dream machine