Feb 24, 2013

Running across Rajasthan: Part 1 - Jaipur



So, I have finally kicked myself and got around to finishing a post about my trip to Rajasthan! Read on.
(warning: this is a pretty long blog post, so I will break it into several city-wise posts).
P.S.: I will also include a section called 'My learning' at the end of each city, for tips, suggestions based on my experience.

Rajasthan has always been one of the top destinations on my wishlist, for a reason. India is stunning, and Rajasthan is one of the foremost places in the country to visit, housing a treasure trove of culture, astounding structures, colour and warmth!

THE PLANNING:
Now, one thing one must keep in mind while planning a Rajasthan trip is that the railways in that state are very disconnected. The cities you might want to visit are probably not entirely connected, and access can be tough. Road is an option if you have the money to hire a car throughout, or are with a big group and willing to sleep in that uncomfortable position. But otherwise, all you need to do is sit down with a large map and plan out a route. Which is precisely what we did. And knowing what are the challenges, questions we faced, I thought it would be a good idea to share them for future travellers.

There are so many places - the big cities like Jaipur, Udaipur, temple towns like Ajmer, Pushkar and Nathdwara, historical places like Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, also Bikaner... but we had limited time. We chalked out a route with the help of a map, and the Indian railways. www.Indianrailinfo.com is very useful to check the list of trains between cities.

WHEN TO VISIT- Weather:
Rajasthan is partly a desert state, and the climate reflects the same. We visited in mid-Jan, which is peak winters, with temperatures dropping to 3 degrees in certain regions. Despite that, Rajasthan is wonderful at this time of the year, as you escape the sweltering heat, or 'loo ki garmi' as they locally call it. Personally, I loved the chilly air, that was pleasant during the day, but needed 3-4 layers of clothes as night approached. Avoid March to June as far as possible unless you are someone who can bear being roasted in the sun. September November is pleasant too, but extremely crowded, being festive season.

You can also time your trip around the myriad of local fairs and festivals in the state if you want a taste of the festivities. But if you are doing that, be sure to have your stay and travel in place well in advance since everything will be booked otherwise.

USEFUL WEBSITES:

  • http://www.rajasthantourism.gov.in - The Rajasthan government website is very useful, especially if you are not familiar with destinations.
  • http://www.rtdc.in/ - The government website for bookings and practical needs. You can book hotels, journeys and more here.
  • http://indiarailinfo.com/ and https://www.irctc.co.in/ - Look up trains and routes with the former, book from the latter (warning: irctc website is reaaallllyyy slow)
  • The fairs and festivals, though crowded, are a memorable experience. If you want to time your trip around them, here is the calendar: http://www.rajasthantourism.gov.in/Attractions/Fairs-Festivals.aspx
For everything else, the state is quite friendly and you will be able to get around quite easily.

Our itinerary was:
Mumbai -> Jaipur (1N) -> Jaisalmer (1N) -> Jodhpur -> Nathdwara (1N) -> Udaipur (2N) -> Mumbai

Let me warn you, except for the time in Udaipur, our trip was very hectic. But I must add, I loved how the Rajasthan government has made the state tourist-friendly. Right from audio guides (They are amazing!) to English signs, information desks and so much more.

JAIPUR


We took the night train from Mumbai to Jaipur, which is pretty convenient, and got us there by around noon.

Where to stay
I would recommend staying in Central Jaipur. The area close to Indra Bazaar would be convenient as you can walk down to the market/palace area, and are still a little away from chaos. You can take a leisurely walk down the streets, flanked by the pink shops on both ends, with the burst of colours, or take a cycle rickshaw.

Sightseeing
You can get a combined ticket for about 6 tourist spots. I say - BUY! You don't have to bother about lines and tickets everywhere and it is cheaper too.

Albert Hall Museum, Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal, City Palace are all within walking distance of each other. Amber Palace and Nahargarh are about 20 minutes away, but there are regular shuttle bus services from the market centre.

Most places shut by 5 pm, so you plan your day accordingly. We strolled the markets on the first day as it was already 3 pm by the time we left the hotel. We started early the next day and visited the City Palace, Hawa Mahal and Jantar Mantar, with a lunch break in between. And it was already 5 by then.

Hawa Mahal
The HAWA MAHAL is a beautiful structure, with a magnificent fountain greeting you as soon as you enter.
View from the top
Stained glass
The rooms are adorned with stained glass that makes the light dance in hues of red, blue, green and yellow. The palace has an open terrrace that gives you a breathtaking view of the entire city with the backdrop of the Nahargarh Fort on a mountain.

The City Palace is humongous, with the artifacts in numerous rooms testimony to the glorious history of Jaipur. 
Darbans (palace guards) dressed in traditional attire spell royalty as you wade past the large embellished doors and the stone jaaliwork (net-like carving).

Jantar Mantar is fascinating with the sun-dials and astronomy instruments, but you can skip this if you have   seen the one in Delhi. If not, do pay it a visit.
The sun-dial at Jantar Mantar
We did not get a chance to visit Nahargarh Fort or Amber Palace, but they are definitely worth a trip. You can head there in the morning, and lunch at the government-led restaurant (Durg Cafe - http://www.rtdc.in/durgcafe.htm), with a view you will not forget. I insist you make time for this in your itinerary.

Another must-visit in Jaipur is Chokhi Dhani. Now I agree there are many versions of this spread across the country, but this is the real deal. We planned the visit in the evening, leaving the hotel at around 5 pm. Our hotel booked us the rickshaw (at a reasonable cost - Rs. 500 both ways) that would take us to and fro since it is out of the city. But we were not prepared for the freezing winds that attacked us due to the open vehicle. At Chokhi Dhani (Rs. 400 for entry and dinner), we loved every bit, from the performances, the ambience, just strolling about the 'village-style' property, magic and puppet shows, fireplaces and cots strewn about, and finger-licking food.


Shopping and Food

Let me start with 'Carry a large empty bag', because Jaipur is quite a shopping haven. The best part is that the shopping area is one big central location, a few kilometers long. Starting from Indra Bazaar to Babu Bazaar and a few others, walk down the roads with pink shops on both sides. I would suggest take a walk, check out everything, compare prices, then go back to buy.

Among the things you can look for are - colourful tie and dye dupattas (for about a 100 rupees each), tie and dye sarees in all kinds of materials (I bought a lovely thin silk one with embroidered peacocks for only Rs. 500), mojris in camel leather starting from Rs. 150, jewellery (pretty and cheap on the streets), bedsheets (these are awesome and not expensive either), wall hangings, and ethnic home decor items... I can go on. There is an intricate shopping area (like Crawford Market in Mumbai) called Purohit ji ka Katla, where you can find items at wholesale prices.



But remember one rule - BARGAIN BARGAIN BARGAIN.

For food, we would just stop by and taste the street food whenever hunger struck. You can walk into the small restaurants and order a 'thali' too. If you don't have the stomach for all that, there are restaurants with a variety of cuisines outside the main market area. In the evening on our second day, a friend took us to a rooftop restaurant - The Terrace Grill, which had nice ambience and interesting heater lamps if you are in the mood for it.

My learning

  • One and a half day is not enough is Jaipur.
  • Carry empty bags for all the shopping, and if Jaipur is first on your itinerary, be prepared to lug it around (read: backache)
  • Local buses are pretty convenient and cheap too, and definitely worth a try.
  • The local cops are extremely helpful, especially if they know you are two girls travelling alone.
  • Don't fall for the 'we are selling at cost price' plea while bargaining.
  • If you like something, pick it up. You will not remember the shop when you try looking for it again.
  • Carry warm clothes, especially something to cover your ears (Three layers were not enough).

We took the night train directly to Jaisalmer, reaching there by about 11 am.
(Read about Jaisalmer in the next post)

P.S. All pictures are my copyright ok! Takes a lot of effort to lug around a DSLR, so don't take away my credit please. :)

2 comments:

Rohan Korde said...

Try and post all your travel blogs also on www.ghumakkar.com

Nice community there

tellmeyourdreams said...

good work haem..