Namaste! Hope you’re having a great Easter weekend!
I’m currently in Udaipur, enjoying the last day in the North before I’m heading southwards to Kerala later today. I’m excited for the wildlife and the landscape of the South and I’m also looking forward to being on my own again. Don’t get me wrong: It’s been a great experience to travel with Magic Tours! The benefits are manifold! Initially, I wanted to do the North of India entirely on my own. However, friends of mine who’ve been to India advised me to do the North with a tour operator. According to them and books that I’ve read in preparation, it has turned out to be hard for women to travel on their own in the North. In retrospect, I think it would have been possible without my own driver and guides, but it would have taken much more time and patience. Having a driver and guides is part of a convenient way of travelling, especially when you just started your big Asia tour and first need to adapt to a totally different culture. Having Subhash and guides by my side helped me to understand the Indian culture better and to get more confident for the rest to come without them by my side. Also, I’d argue that when you have a driver who knows the places and can recommend you where to go, you have less to worry about and can enjoy more. Magic Tours has organised everything (except the flights) for me in the North, from hotels to the driver, the guides and the tour itinerary! They’ve also reacted immediately when my flight was cancelled! It’s been a great experience. Yet, now I’m ready to be on my own. But before I head off to Kerala, I want to tell you more about my experiences in the North or in Rajasthan, respectively.
The next stop after Jaipur was Chandelao. This stop was originally not planned, but due to the cancellation of my trip to Leh, I added it to my itinerary. Chandelao is a very small village just an hour outside of Jodhpur. I stayed at the Chandelao Garh, which used to be a fort. It’s one of the most beautiful hotel complexes I’ve ever seen! My room was in the former stables of the fort. I had everything I needed and more!
After check in, I was picked up by a ranger for a village safari! What an experience! We drove from one village to another by jeep. I enjoyed the wildlife (antilopes, water buffalos, etc) as well as the landscape. On the way, we stopped at a pottery where I could try to form a pot out of clay. My pot didn’t turn out very well, but it’s been a great experience.
The visit of a family’s home to observe an opium ceremony was also part of the safari. Before the men started the opium ceremony, the farmer lady milked the cows to make Masala Chai Tea for all of us. I was lucky enough to be invited inside their tiny stone house. It’s incredible how they built their house: The floor is made of cow dung and mud whereas the roof is made of grass and wood. They even have electricity for TV and fan.
The opium ceremony was – I would say – special. I observed every step curiously. I was asked to try, but I declined respectfully. The best part of the safari was the reaction of the kids though! In all the villages, the children were so excited that they ran after the jeep and waved. When we stopped, they wanted to touch my hands. They showed me their biggest smiles! It was absolutely heart-warming!
The adults were generally much more reserved. Subhash had told me before that for many Indians, people with fair skin represent the British. So when they see a person with fair skin, they think that the British have come back to rule over their land again. I guess this is a fair thought to have when one considers that India was ruled for so many years by the British.
After the safari, I had one of the best dinner experiences of my life! I was the only guest at Chandelao Garh since it is low season at the moment. So for dinner, I had the whole rooftop for myself. I enjoyed the amazing sunset and then the myriad of stars while eating an absolutely delicious meal. They served steamed rice, chapati, tomato and pumpkin with a super nice gravy, fried okras, Dal and tomato soup. For dessert, I had vanilla ice cream and a Masala Chai Tea. It was amazing! I talked to the men who maintain the property and learnt a lot about their lives. One boy, only 18 years old, has been working at the hotel since he was 13. I learnt that he’s working and studying at the same time. So before and right after school, he works at the hotel. He seemed very curious about my life and asked a lot of questions. The perfect end to an incredible day was the telephone call with my boyfriend. Needless to say that I wished he was there with me to share all these amazing memories!
After an amazing breakfast the next day (one of the best orange juices ever), I already had to leave this picturesque place again. The next stop was Jodhpur. Jodhpur is the second biggest city of Rajasthan. It was a lot less busy than the other cities I’ve visited before. Subhash pointed to some Army bases. He said that Jodhpur is the closest bigger city to the border of Pakistan. As it is known, the relationship between Pakistan and India is a very difficult one. However, as Subhash affirmed, the city of Jodhpur was a safe place to be. Subhash drove me directly to the homestay where I was welcomed very warmly. Before I met my guide, Subhash took me to a restaurant called On the Rocks. The decor was really nice and special, and the food heavy but delicious! Narendra, the guide, met me directly at the restaurant. We started the tour with Jaswant Thada, a mausoleum dedicated to Maharja Jaswant Singh II. The architecture and the setting were breathtaking!
Afterwards, we went to Mehrangarh Fort. Narendra told me in advance that this will be my favourite fort (so far I had visited three forts). To be honest, I doubted him. Yet, his claim turned out to be true. After all the forts I’ve seen, this one was my favourite!
The architecture and the setting reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones. I told him about it, but as I expected, he didn’t know Game of Thrones. But he added that a lot of Bollywood movies have been filmed at Mehrangarh Fort. On top of the fort, Narendra pointed to the old part of Jodhpur, which is characterised by blue houses. Because of the blue houses, Jodhpur is also known as Blue City. Narendra told me that the indigo keeps the houses cool because it radiates the sunshine off. According to Narendra, the Government pays for the indigo so that the heritage of the Blue City remains. After a very interesting tour through the Mehrangarh Fort, where the Maharajas used to live with up to 30 wives, Subhash brought me back to the homestay. I decided to skip dinner because I’ve developed a so-called Delhi belly, i.e. stomach problems due to Indian food. I knew that many people experience a Delhi belly since they are not used to the spices of the Indian food, so I wasn’t that concerned. The next morning, my stomach was worse, but I had some time to relax since I was only picked up at 3:30pm for the next tour. I didn’t feel well, but it wasn’t as bad as that I needed to take some medicine or cancel the tour. Subhash drove Narendra and I to the Umaid Bhawan Palace, the current residence of Jodhpur’s Maharaja. He used to have the whole building for himself and his family. However, nowadays, part of the palace is a hotel and another part is a museum.
It was the first time that I felt uneasy in my skin because there were a few groups of men that eyed me very suspiciously. They looked at me as if I was an alien. According to Narendra, these men were tourists and came from a rural area where they are not used to come across people with fair skin. It was an interesting but also rather strange encounter for me. Yet, it made me think of how these people might feel in Europe. It’s likely that they have a very similar experience. Anyways, after the visit of the Umaid Bhawan Palace, Narendra and I continued our tour at the clock tower, the former centre of Jodhpur. From there, we walked a bit before we took a tuktuk to the old part of the city. I loved strolling through the alleys of blue houses!
In the evening, I had dinner with the other guests of the homestay, a Belgian guy and three Americans. The Americans, male twins and a woman, are in Jodhpur for work while the Belgian guy is visiting a friend. The exchange with “expats” or travellers is something I generally really enjoy and appreciate.
I saw them again the next morning at breakfast before I headed off. The next destination was Ranakpur. As I learnt from Subhash, Ranakpur cannot really be regarded as a village as it only consists of a few houses, a couple of hotels and the famous Jain temple. I stayed at the Ranakpur Hill Resort. When we entered the driveway, I was really impressed. The hotel looked beautiful! Yet, when I was led to my room, I was kind of shocked. My room was in the employees’ wing and looked like a jail cell. After a few misunderstandings with the driver on the way to the hotel (he thought I was unhappy because I fell asleep in the car: “Why you sleeping? You don’t have reason to sleep. You have very relaxed program. I think you not happy with the tour.”), I was mentally tired. I know he didn’t mean to hurt me, but it’s tiring when you have to justify yourself and cannot even fall asleep during a 3-hour drive without having the driver think that you’re not enjoying it. So when I saw my “cell”, I was close to tears. In this moment, I felt so extremely lonely. Later on, it turned out that the hotel was fully booked. In retrospect, I’m quite ashamed of my own behaviour as I’m not usually a person who makes a fuss about anything. Yet, that day, I couldn’t help myself. In the end, I was totally fine with my “cell”.
In the late afternoon, Subhash picked me up again for a visit of the Jain temple, an emblem of Jainism and so far the most beautiful temple I’ve seen!
The next day, Subhash and I headed towards Udaipur. On the way, I visited yet another fort, namely Kumbhalgarh. The view over the Avaralli Hills was stunning
The drive to Udaipur was my favourite so far because of the landscape. The streets twined around mountains and we were able to observe a lot of farmers taking care of their fields. What has struck me again and again is that women are doing a lot of the hard work. They carry wood, water or the harvest of the fields for kilometres on their heads. I have never seen a man do it. It seems to be the women’s task. Very impressive!
After three hours, we finally arrived in Udaipur, definitely one of my favourite Indian cities! What I enjoyed the most about Udaipur is that it is way less busy compared to the other cities I’ve visited so far on this trip. Therefore, I was finally able to move around on my own and walk to the sights. I’ve missed walking so much! Walking (or running) is part of my everyday life, my motor! Not being able to go for long walks or runs has thus been hard for me. I won’t complain though because I’ve experienced so much in the last few days!
The next morning, I was picked up by Shakti, my guide for the next two days. Shakti was born and raised in Udaipur and thus knows the city by heart! We started our tour with a visit of the Jagdish Temple. It was very impressive to see how Hindus celebrate their religion with singing and dancing. A very colourful and cheerful spectacle!
Shakti said that very few Hindus suffer from depression because of their vitality, their joy of living and their positive attitude towards any obstacle in life. After experiencing the joy of the people in the temple, I understood what he was saying. I asked him about beauty standards as this is a major topic in “Western” culture. Too many Western women and men put a lot of pressure on themselves to follow the beauty standards that society portrays. Of course, it is a complex subject, but one that has occupied my mind since I can think. Shakti said that there are certain beauty standards, but most people believe in individuality and inner beauty. I’m sure there’s more to it. But what Shakti said is also the impression that I’ve got so far. If I have the chance to get more information on this subject, I will broach it again in a later post.
After the visit of the Jagdaish Temple, Shakti and I continued our tour and walked to the close-by City Palace. I have to admit that it was not nearly as impressive as the City Palace in Jaipur. Yet, I really enjoyed the views over the lakes.
After the City Palace, Subhash picked us up and dropped us off at Sahelion ki bari, a very nice garden in the new part of Udaipur.
For the rest of the day, I was on my own. By noon, the temperature was almost unbearable – 43 degrees! Therefore, I decided to go to a nearby cafe, which I had already visited the day before. Ironically, the cafe’s name is Edelweiss. They serve Indian food but also German cakes. Since I couldn’t eat anything hot because of the heat outside, I decided to go for some cake! Cake for lunch is totally normal, no? I met an English guy, Tom, who’s in India for three weeks. He told me that he has been traveling through India for 6 months some years ago. We chatted about our experiences and how traveling in India has changed from his point of view. Later on, a Swiss couple entered the cafe and we started talking. I learnt that the woman is also a solo traveler. Her boyfriend is just visiting her at the moment. It was nice to learn about their experience with their long-distance relationship. So far, it’s been great in terms of communication with my boyfriend and my family. I have been lucky enough to have Internet in all the homestays. I know that there will be times when I won’t have Internet or when the time difference to Switzerland is much bigger. However, I don’t want to worry about that yet!
Before the dancing and music show at Bagore Haveli, I went for a nice walk through the streets of Udaipur. Just before the show started, I enjoyed the stunning sunset. Tom decided to join me for the show, so we watched it together. The show was great to get an authentic account of a big part of Rajasthan’s culture. It was a mixture of dancing, singing and acting. I can highly recommend it.
The perfect end to this day was dinner on the rooftop of my guesthouse: A nice Paneer Mutter Masala!
After a peaceful night, I started my last full day in Udaipur with a tour to the ancient temples, Eklingji and Nagda. Whereas Nagda is no longer an active temple, Eklingji is the oldest active temple in India. It was built 700 AD. We were at the Eklingji Temple before it opened and I have never seen so many people waiting to go into a temple! There were hundreds of women, men and children. It took us about half an hour until we were at the actual temple since the queue was so long. But the experience was totally worth waiting for! People donated flowers, food and money to the gods while singing loudly. There are no cameras allowed in Hindu temples, which is why I cannot share any pictures. I can only tell you how amazing it was! Again, I was amazed by the Hindus’ joy and passion! If you have the chance to experience it, you should definitely go!
In the afternoon, I was on my own again. Since it was simply too hot (way over 40 degrees) to do much of a walk, I decided to go back to the Edelweiss cafe and write on my blog. By 5pm, I thought it had cooled down a bit and thus went for a walk. Even though I didn’t notice it that much while I was walking, I suddenly felt how my blood pressure sank. I started to tremble and felt dizzy. The planned sunset boat ride on the Lake Pichola thus had to be cancelled. After a lot of water and some sugar, I started to feel better and was able to enjoy the last evening on the rooftop of the hotel.
As usual, please find below further information regarding hotels, restaurants and sights that you should not miss! Thanks for reading! Talk to you very soon! xx
Hotel: Chandelao Garh
Sights: Village Jeep Safari
Sights: Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Umaid Bhawan Palace, Ghantaghar Market area, Blue City
Restaurant: On the Rocks
Hotel: Ranakpur Hill Resort
Sights: Jain Temple, Kumbhalgarh (on the way to Udaipur)
Guesthouse: Mewar Haveli
Sights: City Palace, Jagdish Temple, Sahelion ki bari, Monsoon Palace, Eklingji and Nagda Temples
Restaurant / Cafe: Edelweiss