“Babe, lets chuck Goa and travel to Rajasthan.”
“Will it be fun Sou?”
“Of course! We’ll hit the palaces which have been turned into fancy hotels, take cool pictures having high-tea, meet hot princes, eat yummy food, shop and generally chill out.”
And my innocent friend consented to the plans to travel to a very colorful state of Rajasthan.
Now did we do all the above in our list? No, yes, partial yes, oh yes, yes and yes.
Jaipur was cold when I landed there on a cold mid-morning in early January. The room we booked at The Colonel Homestead for 2 days was even more cold. But the very gracious Mrs. Vijaya kindly provided us hot-bloods from the South, a heater which hummed through rest of our days there – radiating light and enough warmth to ensure sound sleep.
This place that Nat, my travel and otherwise – buddy, found was very pretty and came with added advantage of greenery and dogs!
First stop: Jaipur – the pink city
City of mahal for queens to air out without being seen, of scrawny cycle rickshawallas and a city that is more of a dusty brown than pink.
What did we do in Jaipur? The usual. City palace, Hawa Mahal, dare the crowded and polluted streets for those beautiful Mojris, , bloat up on thick butter-floating Lassis and spicy Aloo Tikkis and then frantically scrounge for Gelusil tablets, salivate at beautiful silver jewellery… It was during this delightful street surfing that we had our first brush with royalty.
On a serendipitous visit to a small vintage car museum, I was happily chatting up to an old Portuguese gentleman over the beauty of the big fat car in front of us when I turned back to see my friend looking all excited as a tall, very drop-dead handsome chap passed her by in a hurry. Assuming it to be another of those firang travelers, I ran up to her to gather details. That’s when she told me that he was an Indian prince and said hello to her. Cursing the old Portuguese who ruined my night of staring open-mouthed at a prince and later dreaming about him, we trod homeward.
Second stop: Osiyan
Oasis that lies in the border of the mighty Thar, a little piece of heaven that turns one’s existence into oblivion by its quintessential quietude and tranquility. A place where I let the silky-smooth sand run between my fingers.
As per trusty-bestie Wiki, “Osian (Osiyan) is an ancient town in Jodhpur District of Rajasthan state in western India. It is an oasis in the Thar Desert, and has been known as the “Khajuraho of Rajasthan” for its temples.”
How many temples did we visit? Nada. Because we only had time and intent to hit this delightful desert camp run by a very charming and helpful Raj Bakshi called Safari Camp Osian . This place amazed me with its suave tents that come complete with plumbing and electricity set right in the middle of nowhere. Often I would look around and find just a baby camel chewing cud for company. All that made the very cold overnight travel in train to Osiyan fade away into thin crispy-cold desert air. A wild jeep safari to view a beautiful , orangey sunset and a visit to a small Choki Dhani where we got on like fire with the goats, found us appreciatively tucking in the sumptuous fare later at the camp. But the night was still young.
Raj arranged house music for us at night by the bonfire. By which, I mean native singers who stay in the camp and give us city slickers, a glimpse into mystical Rajasthani music. Songs normally began with an alap, which set the tune of the song and then recital of the couplet called the dooba. They are best enjoyed under a starlit sky. My fav was the one that Raj so considerately translated, called ‘Chhappar Purana‘. It is the plight of a young wife whose husband has gone to a far away city in search of more money. She writes him letter saying the old roof is leaking, you have to come back and repair it. The husband understands the intention behind and says, it hardly rains in our place, it can wait. The wistful wife comes up with a barrage of such excuses to make him come home, all just to be ignored. Then in her desperation, she reasons with him, what good is a few extra notes if we spend our youth in separation? Does the husband return home in the end? I wish I knew enough of the language to find that out.
Third stop: Jodhpur – The blue city
The city of blue dotted streets, rude bus operators and a musical fountain with jazzy lights.
Mehrangarh fort. This one had me at ‘hello’. Gigantic, half sand stone-half fort, it is a powerful reminder of how earnestly valiant men protected their own. At the same time, having a lot fun. I’m not judging, but just look at the size of Zenana(quarters of queens of the king) and the abundance of opium. King’s rulebook says no other man is allowed inside the Zenana and the servants employed in there are women and eunuchs. Each queen was provided with a personal eunuch who along with seeing to her needs, also attended to increasing her sexual prowess to grab attention of the king. Every queen out of 1000 or 2000 vied for most power to make her, her children and her entourage safe and these eunuchs played a very important part in the political drama that ensued in securing one the power of the main queen.
I love these guide books, don’t you?
This mammoth of a fort sports so many galleries out of which we covered may be 4? Because then the ziplining beckoned.
Flying Fox runs a ziplining institute which offers to zip you out on 6 different lines across the pond, batman shoot site etc. Quite a thrill when you look to your left and see blue houses dotting the mundane dirty brown landscape and over to your right, you see your shadow zipping across the pond where queens used to take their secured royal baths. Good times!
There is also the Umaid palace that we went to in Jodhpur, which was oh such a waste of time. Because like all palace turned hotels, this pompous one doesn’t allow visitors inside. So if you’re interested in just roaming the grounds or walk around a tiny museum that hardly earns its name, be my guest.
Fourth stop: Udaipur – the white city
The city of lakes, lake palace-hotels running choc-a-block and clean streets with no overturned garbage bins.
City palace here is quite spectacular too in its attention to detail on all kinds of art forms. Though we replenished our energy levels up at the palace café, a stroll through the palace with its exuberant description of history, display of artifacts and sheer sense of period drama hanging around like a veil took a toll on us very soon. But thankfully the streets are aplenty with very nice restaurants that lets Indian travelers not to go hungry. It also have shops selling fine meenakari jewelry, paintings, camel leather wallets and mouth-watering Gulab Jamun, Roshgulla and Gajar Halwa. Bargaining is your BFF.
We took the last boat out of Lal Ghat on the edge of Lake Pichola to circle around the summer palace of the king along with other palaces each of the successors made for their own leisure. Just circled around because like I said, they don’t entertain visitors as they have all been bought by hotel giants like the Taj group who just do not want you even inside their restaurants if you’re not spending on a room there. Quite a harsh separation of classes, I tell you.
Fifth stop: Jaipur – the misnomer city. Seriously, where is the pink??
The city of traffic honkers and pee-stinky streets
Yes we went back and stayed at the same delightful homestay as we still had some places to cover. The colonel and his wife made it a point to sit down and chat with us during breakfast every single day of our stay. We also made friends with a lone Argentinian traveller who was very fed up of lecherous Indian men. She happily invited herself for rest of our trips around the city. Mind you, she knew so much about India – especially the floral designs on the palaces that she provided a very deep insight as to their placement in the structure.
We visited Jantar Mantar, Amber (pronounced Amer) fort – another jaw-dropping event for me and the fun-filled Choki Dhani. It is a group of villages recreated to give the same feel that one has while attending a village fair. The ground is filled with stalls selling pretty clothes, accessories, dancing women, rope-walking men, puppet shows, animal rides, games and so on. Entry fees of Rs. 500 or 700 also ensures a tummy groaning under the bulge of food by the end of it.
Sun rose again and it was time to leave. Rajasthan in a nutshell is a bundle of colors over silky desert sand, rich Lassis over very spicy flavored Thalis, elaborate and detailed art over exquisite antique jewelry, polite and helpful people over cars full of people staring at you in the dark. Beautiful and gracious as it is, it sure has a piece of my heart. Yes it does.