Eleven days was all we had to travel through the very east of Rajasthan in April 2012. With so little time at hand, we focused on a limited number of places, to have some opportunities to scratch below the surface. We allowed three days each for Agra, Jaipur and Ranthambhore National Park, and last but not least 1.5 days to explore Delhi.
A first glimpse of India?
Eleven days are just enough to get a rough overview of eastern Rajasthan’s historic highlights. Even though we only visited Agra, Delhi and Jaipur, the sheer number of highlights in each city was a challenge. At least we did not have to rush around and could choose the best time to visit the main attractions. For instance, Amber Fort is definitely best done in the afternoon, once the tour buses have left. This time frame also allowed us to wander around some alleys and check out markets hidden in backyards. With lower temperatures, we could have probably covered a lot more, because between noon and 04:00 pm, walking around was extremely unpleasant and best to be avoided.
Hate it or love it?
Travelers to Indian always return with an opinion, no matter how experienced and widely traveled they are. Compared to other countries, these are rather extreme. Before starting out on this trip, we wondered in which category we would fall: the India Aficionados, or the India haters…
Well, how about somewhere in between? Rajasthan is an amazing place to visit, offering some of the most spectacular and unique Moghul architecture. There is an immense richness in culture and its glorious past can hardly be overlooked. On the other hand, Indian cities can be truly oppressing, mainly due to the horrific traffic. The noise, especially the constant honking of horns, the pollution and the congestion are overwhelming, tiring and annoying. We kind of anticipated all this and spent the last three days in the quietness of Ranthambhore National Park, even though it was not as grand as we had hoped it to be.
After all, travellers’ opinions are probably shaped by various factors, the time of the visit (temperature!), how much time they allow themselves to spend in each place and how well prepared they arrive.
How easy is it to travel?
Rajasthan is incredibly easy to travel: there is a wide range of comfort levels, from the cheapest backpacker to 5 star accommodation, from luxurious tours to riding a train in 3rd class.
Public transport and infrastructure in general are very good: modern buses crisscross all cities and Delhi’s metro is ultra modern. A longer journey is best done by train. Booking second class and higher, means you have a bed that can be turned into a seat. Food and tea is served, toilets are fairly clean and the air-conditioning neither too cold nor too hot. Trains are not only an extremely efficient and pleasant but also a cheap way to travel. True, the alleys are really narrow and garbage disposal is appalling (all trash leaves the train through whatever gap can be found).
If a place is a bit off the tracks, renting a car for a day trip does the trick. This is very easy to organize through your hotel and very cheap as well.
Friendly and very open to foreigners would be the first attributes that come to our mind if asked about how we were received. Those who speak English will use the opportunity to talk to tourists on trains, at tourist sights and whenever there is an opportunity. So often we were asked to pose for photos with the whole family and, most important, “questioned” how we liked their country.
- Incredible Moghul architecture
- The elegant Taj Mahal… Yes, it is magical!
- Agra Fort, which we found not less impressive than the Taj Mahal
- Amber Fort near Jaipur, in the afternoon
- Hawa Mawal in Jaipur, the world’s most elegant hide out
- Monkey Palace in Jaipur
- Riding those long Indian trains
What will always be remembered?
- Grand architecture influenced by the three different cultures and religions
- Hazardous rides in autorickshaws, those three-wheeled Tuk-Tuks
- People, most often whole families asking to have their photos with us… Especially Heidi was high in demand!
- Colors… Really bright dresses everywhere: a photographers dream!
- The omnipresent pollution, especially in cities, and the garbage everywhere.
- Skinny men pushing heavy, extremely overloaded bikes, with stuff piled up high
- The constant honking of vehicles, large or small
- The heat: beginning of April is already too late for truly enjoying this part of the country
- Huge social contrast: a wealthy middle class (we did not move around in upper circles) and a few blocks further down, direst poverty
What we would do differently
- Stay away from the noisy, big cities, at least for part of the trip
- Get off the tourist track
- Travel earlier in the season
- Ranthambhore National Park is a place to enjoy maybe once, but definitely too much of a circus of go back
As a conclusion?
This short trip, a first glimpse made us want to see more of what is actually a continent. So we plan to return there over Easter 2013, which is especially early in the season this year. And this time, we will concentrate on some of the lesser touristy, more remote places in Rajasthan.