I am the luckiest traveller in the world, because not only I can go far-off places more often than not, but I have the best travel buddy, my baby sister Ája. After a huge success of our durian mission to Cambodia two years ago (2015), we decided to join our superpowers again and explore the world. Monsoon stopped us from going to Sri Lanka and given we were both longing for a ‘shock to the system’, India seemed like the right option. In the middle of July, after a few weeks of skyping, planning and booking, we departed on our one month long journey to north of India.
Our trip can be divided pretty much into two parts. The first 18 days was the touristy sightseeing all over Rajastan, the land of kings, home to the Thar desert and countless forts. It’s the largest state of India (by area) and shares borders with Pakistan in the west. We hit the more spiritual trail during the last two weeks and spent a week in the Himalayan Yog Ashram in Rishikesh, the yoga capital just to move down along the holy Ganges to Varanasi, the most spiritual city in the entire India.
Let me tell you about the first leg now.
We landed in New Delhi before dawn and rushed off the airport to catch a train straight to Agra. We didn’t go for less than Taj Mahal itself on our first day. With help of my uni friend Pramod, we got on a crowded train drenched in sweat of hot Delhi morning. Mind we were travelling in monsoon season, yet the temperatures were in high thirties.
Being dead tired, we had issues holding our eyes open also from the fear of missing our stop. Ladies dressed in beautiful colorful sparkling sarees were laughing at our attempts to sit straight without having our heads fall every split second. They sent us to the upper bunk for a nap promising to wake us up. They did and we made it to our first destination.
Seriously, I don’t understand how a jewel such as Taj Mahal could be built in such a hole like Agra. It’s dirty, ugly, noisy and apart from the few sights there is nothing to do. The sights are worth 2 days stay, whether it was Taj Mahal and it’s little brother nicknamed Baby Taj, Agra fort or beautiful Fatehpur Sikri about 40 km away from Agra.
If you are wondering about my perception of Taj Mahal, it is a beautiful majestic building. It is also rather touristy and covered by scaffolding which is a bit disappointing. I was much more flabbergasted by Ankor Wat in Cambodia, but it is certainly not a waste of time and ticks a box on your travel list.
Before we even knew we were back on a train heading southwest to the most romantic city of India – Udaipur, the city of lakes. Although I booked train tickets almost a month in advance, the airconditioned and a bit more private class was all sold out, so we went the local way and booked the cheapest sleeper. Being a bit overwhelmed by information on the internet, we had our pepper sprays and personal alarms ready, but it was actually a pleasant ride without any annoyances. We got the most upper bunks near madly rotating fans. Despite the heat, with windows with shutters wide open and train woozing through green countryside bringing fresh air in the carriage, the night was pleasant and went by with a blink of eye. Udaipur welcomed us sleepy and glittering after night rain.
We loved the old city with a small town feel and hipster vibe. With yoga classes located right next to what quickly became our favorite cafe, we couldn’t wish for more. The foodie scene was also lively and we enjoyed tasting local organic food in many nearby restaurants (Millets of Mewar certainly winning our loyalty) .Yes, we got sick and not once, we got rained on heavily and yet we had a blast.
One of our favourite days was a motorbike trip to the nearby Tiger lake and then deep into the hills around Udaipur with breathtaking views and picturesque local village life. These Royal Entfields were fun on its own and rain couldn’t stop us. With great company of fellow travellers Jay and Michael and our hostel’s own Pushkar, we totally enjoyed the day that felt like a trailer to a great travel movie.
After four days in Udaipur, it was time for another location – the blue city of Jodhpur (also in featured pic) – where we stayed in a traditional blue house deep in the belly of the old centre, just a step away from large market area where getting lost is as scary as exciting. We dived in with pleasure and didn’t mind spending some rupees for aromatic spices, cashmere scarfs and explored the hussle and bustle of the local economy with eyes wide open. We found refuge from heat and noise of yelling vendors at central Cafe Royal ran by two brothers, who grew up in Belgium and then returned to India. Their mom became mother to us for the few hours and made sure we are sounds and safe before departing for another adventure.
A sight not to be missed in Jodhpur is certainly the majestic Mehrangarh fort, which had a great audio guide and well designed tour. I admit it gets tiring to hear similar stories at each and every fort of Rajastan, but this one was more than worth it. Jaswat Thada, a lovely peaceful temple with beautiful garden and views just a pleasant walk away from the fort helped us restore some energy and tranquility.
A must do in Jodhpur is the famous omelette stall just behind the northern gate of the Central Market (the one with the Clock Tower). Smiley man full of stories, character of his own, makes within a few minutes fabulous egg omeletts flavoured with cheese, spices, veggies and sauces. I often proudly present my own Sunday omelette a masterpiece of morning cooking, but this guy kicked my ass. I had two at once and would have another one if I had space in my daring tummy.
Our arrival to Jaisalmer was indeed glorious with scary overnight train ride and miserable food poisoning. But that did not stop us from enjoying this jewel in the middle of the Thar desert. Jaisalmer is a golden city with the Jaisalmer fort (duh!) rising from the vast sand area. It’s dusty and dirty, but if you stay in the right guesthouse, the views from the fort over the rest of the endless sea of low golden structures going as far as the first sand dunes are out of this world.
We spent our time (apart from hugging the toilet) strolling the narrow lanes of the fort, exploring the beautiful Jain temples and looking for jewels in tiny shops selling anything from used books through Hindu gods replicas to 100 ruppes alibaba pants. Days were hot and tiring and evening storms beautiful and wild, the power of nature magnified in the hostile desert.
The thing to do in Jaisalmer is the camel safari. We went with Trotters and had a blast even though rain caught us after stunning sunset and we decided to return to the city instead of staying overnight. I think we are the only people who ever get rained on in a desert, but it was still a beautiful experiene with streams of water running on the sand and glittering as sun peaked out from clouds here and there.
Not included in any guidebook but usually yielding the best experience is hanging out with locals. I liked to dare sit with men in the street silently sipping their sugary chai and feel the place. In Jaisalmer, I became friends with Lala, a young proud man running one of the guesthouses near Jain temples. I bumped into him on my first day as I was exploring the fort’s streets on my own. He invited me to see the rooftop view from his restaurant and without pushing me to buy anything, we started sharing stories. I left two hours later and we didn’t miss a day to stop by for a cup of chai and lovely talks that helped us understood the desert mentality, Rajastan and India as such.
Our Rajastan journey continued to Bikaner, Pushkar and Jaipur. Check out the the second part of Rajastan adventures here!
Thank you for reading.