In April 2012 we had our first brush with India, to be precise Eastern Rajasthan. For eleven days we gazed at the most incredible Moghul architecture in Agra and Jaipur. We also threw in a bit of wildlife by visiting Ranthambhore National Park. When we returned in March 2013, we headed for the Southwest of Rajasthan for twelve days, to marvel at these impressive forts & palaces in Udaipur, Kumbhalgarh, Bundi, Chittorgarh and last but not least Pushkar & Ajmer. Delhi was our hub during both trips.
On The Beaten Track…
Those three weeks were just enough to get a rough overview of the historic highlights and stray a bit from the main tourist path. We certainly did not rush, which would not have been possible considering the temperatures end of March, beginning of April. Between 11:00 am and 03:00 pm, it was best to hide in the shady garden or room of our guesthouse. Walking around was simply too hot. This way we spent mostly three days in a place, which allowed us to wander around the rural surroundings and check out hidden markets and alleys.
How easy is it to travel?
Rajasthan is incredibly easy to travel: the level of comfort covers everything from the cheapest backpacker hostel to 5 star palaces, from luxurious tours to riding in 3rd class trains. We preferred staying in Havelis, the splendid homes of former noblemen. These have lots of cozy places to relax, read your book or chat. Above all, they are the perfect retreat from the noise and hassle of the streets.
Public transport and infrastructure are generally very good: modern buses crisscross all cities and Delhi’s metro is ultra modern. A longer journey is best done by train. Food and tea is served, toilets are clean and the air-conditioning just perfect. Trains are not only an extremely efficient and pleasant but also a cheap way to travel long distances. What we did find appalling was how Indian passengers get rid of their garbage. All trash leaves the train through doors and windows, in AC cars in whatever gap can be found.
Renting a car with driver (long distance taxi) is a great way to do day trips to places a bit off the main drag. These can be organized within minutes through the hotel and are very cheap compared to Europe.
Friendly and curious of foreign tourists, this is how we perceived our host country. Those who speak English will use the opportunity to talk to tourists on trains, at tourist sights and whenever there is a chance. So often we were asked to pose for photos with the whole family and, most important, “questioned” how we liked their country.
- The elegant Taj Mahal… Yes, it is magical!
- India’s Great Wall in Kumbhalgarh… Just us and a few monkeys
- Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds in Jaipur, the world’s most stylish hide-out
- Fatehpur Sikri, with its 40 different buildings…
- Rajasthan’s forts:
- Rajasthan’s Palaces
- Cheerful Holi Festival – best enjoyed in smaller cities and early in the day
- Riding those long Indian trains
What will always be remembered?
- Grand Moghul architecture influenced by three different cultures and religions
- Hazardous rides in those three-wheeled Tuk-Tuks
- Having our photos taken – either with a family or just us… both Heidi & Gilles were high in demand, and 15 year old Kelly almost caused a riot in Ajmer!
- A sea of colors… Bright saris and scarves everywhere: a photographer’s dream!
- Air pollution in cities and people leaving behind garbage everywhere
- Priests and “Holy Men” asking for donation (Pushkar)
- The constant loud noise of honking vehicles, large or small
- The heat – beginning of April is already too late for truly enjoying this part of the India
- Huge social contrast: a wealthy middle class driving around in large SUVs right next to skinny men pushing heavy, overloaded bikes, with stuff piled up high
What we would do differently?
- Stay away from the noisy, bigger cities, if possible
- Invest enough time to move Off The Beaten Track… Which is quite difficult in India
- Travel during the cooler season
- Two days in Pushkar will do – being well aware that people spend weeks there…
- Ranthambhore National Park was truly disappointing, though seeing a tiger in the wild before they have become instinct (and that will be soon, unfortunately) should be high on anyone’s list
As a conclusion?
Even three weeks are not enough to visit the highlights of Rajasthan. This leaves Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner to be discovered on another trip.
India is incredibly easy and cheap to travel independently. For 40 Euros per person / a day on average we enjoyed a pleasant level of comfort and a great flexibility. The only drawback was that it seems to be extremely challenging to go off the beaten tracks…