Foreword: Here I am jotting down the experiences that I gathered during my recent trip to Udaipur and Jaisalmer in the Rajasthan state of India. This is record of what I did, ate, saw and encountered over four days of my solo exploration in the land of the Rajas, which, I feel, needs to be shared with my readers.
Day 0, 21st Dec 2017: My direct Indigo flight to Udaipur at 5:30 pm from Mumbai was on time. Getting an Uber cab from the Udaipur airport was pretty effortless and I started a 20 Km long journey into the old part of the city where I had booked a guest house for a night. Nukkad Guest House turned out to be an old Rajasthani Haveli skilfully converted into a neat accommodation for travellers, seeking a taste of old-fashioned arty mansions. Travellers like me, who cannot afford the overly-expensive luxury palaces, sought resort in these old havelis-turned-guest houses. I was impressed by the colors, the intricate artwork and the curios that were preserved in my night haunt. After choosing a room, I quickly headed for Ambrai Restaurant to taste the famous Laal Maas. The wait was long but the sight of the lit-up palaces lining the Pichola Lake more than made up for it. It was a setting to die for; where even the most unromantic heart would wish for a special company. While returning to the guest house at around 10 pm, I came face-to-face with a funny-looking man offering “stuff” openly on the road. I realised this may be one of the reasons why Udaipur gives tourists a high! 🙂
Day 1, 22nd Dec 2017: I found myself wide awake at 5 30 am for no reason and spent the next three hours looking around the haveli and loitering in the roof (basically, doing nothing). At around 9 am I set out on a long walk to Gulab Bagh to locate the Sai Baba Nashta Center, known for its Parathas. On my way, I asked for directions from several people, one of whom, immediately after giving his response, asked me nonchalantly “Madam panty lenge? Udaipur mein bohot famous hain”. I had thought that Udaipur, being a tourist hotspot, is accepting of solo woman explorers. This was quite an unpleasant surprise. The humiliated me dished out an expletive which got suppressed in the din of the city. Probably, pricks are everywhere and more (as I found out later) were to come my way.
A plate of one big Methi and one Paneer Paratha was enough to serve as brunch. After a little stroll at Gulab Bagh I headed to Doodh Talai and later moved to a view-point to get an eyeful of Lake Pichola, Jag Mandir and Taj Lake Palace encased by the blue mountains and the infinite sky. Next on the list was Taj Lake Palace which took a solid 2 hours to explore. I was terribly tired after this and pushed off to my guest house to catch a quick nap. In the evening I again resorted to walking through the old bazaar in Hathi Pole area and went till Delhi Gate to taste the fresh super-crispy Jalebi at Bhole Misthan. As darkness descended, I returned to my guest house area and stood at the bridge on Pichola witnessing the last rays of the fading sun with the temple bells forming a perfect background music. I must have been there for 15 mins when a middle-aged man (shabbily dressed with unkempt hair) walked to me and said “hi” in a burly tone. Before he could continue, I turned around and scurried in the opposite direction till I reached a more crowded area. That probably was the shortest conversation the guy would have had with anyone in his life.
I had a bus to Jaisalmer at 8: 45 pm from Reti Stand. As planned I went to Chandpole to catch an Uber from there to the stand. As I stood there lost in my Uber app, a tall hippie-looking fellow initiated a conversation with me starting with “Where do you want to go?”. Though I was answering him at the beginning, his out-of-the-blue suggestion that he would drop me to the bus stand on his bike did not sound benign to my ears. This was a situation where I had not even asked for help from him. I maintained my disregarding attitude and thankfully to my relief, he left from the scene with time.
The bus operator had not shared the bus number with me. I called their office several times only to be snubbed each time. I was at the verge of missing my bus but luckily the conductor’s “Jaisalmer” summons reached the ears of my Autowallah and he managed to stop the bus for me.
As I lay on the 6 by 2 feet shoddy bed in the so-called AC Sleeper bus, I recounted all the “exciting events” of the day in my head only to pray to God for a less exciting night.
Lake Pichola, while the sun descended on Day 1.
Day 2, 23rd Dec 2017: Having been charmed by Satyajit Ray’s Shonar Kella at an early age, I was very excited about Jaisalmer, the Golden City! I had booked my night stay in a desert camp in Sam Sand Dunes, around 20 Kms from the city. Since check-in time was 3 pm, I had the entire morning to explore the place and the golden fort. Jaisalmer fort is a “living fort” with a lot of the city population still residing inside the fort. The fort and the old areas of the city are a treat for the old-fashioned vintage-loving hearts. By the time I finished checking out the fort and tasting Ghotua (a traditional Jaisal sweetmeat), the owner of my desert camp had arrived in the city. He picked me in his car and we started our journey for Sam Sand Dunes. On the way, he was kind enough to take a small detour to show me Kuldhara (probably because I could not stop blabbering about how badly I wanted to see it). My excitement died an unnatural death with the very first glimpse of Kuldhara. Err.
Inside Jaisalmer Fort, this elderly man was churning out the most beautiful local tunes.
The first view of the luxurious tent in the middle of endless sand dunes was exhilarating. In the evening, I was clubbed with a family of four for Dune Bashing in an open jeep and to watch the sunset in the desert. Watching the sunset in the desert was a beautiful experience but probably, would have loved it more if the place was less crowded and wasn’t strewn with beer bottles! In the evening the two hours’ long cultural program at the camp and the delicious traditional Rajasthani dinner (consisting of Ker Sangri, Rajasthani Kadi, Daal Bati Churma and Mutton Saag among others) thereafter, rendered a perfect ending to the day. I slept like a kid in my super-comfortable tent bed.
This is how the inside of the tent looked.
Day 3, 24th Dec 2017: I was up at 5 30 am again, this time to see the sunrise in the desert. Well, this was my first time in the middle of ‘sandy nowhere’ and I wanted to make sure I had enough of it. My four-legged companion, Sultan and his owner arrived at 6 30 am to take me on a ride into the yellow infinity. Sunrise happened an hour later and I was right there to appreciate it with all my heart. After a quick breakfast I tagged along with the family, whom I had met the day before, to see the Longewala border post (battle place of Indo- Pakistan war of 1971) and Tanot Mata temple which is famous for being the site where the bombs dropped by Pakistan did not explode. I hung out with them for the entire afternoon till they dropped me at Jaisalmer Air Force Square from where I supposed to catch my overnight bus to Udaipur. What felt good was the bond (albeit temporary) that I built with them, which transpired into some beautiful memories.
Sultan and I after our morning rendezvous!
Day 4, 25th Dec 2017: I reached Udaipur early at 5 am on the day of Christmas. Since my guest house would not allow an early check-in, I decided to head to the Karni Mata Temple on the top of a hill to visualise the sunrise. This time I found company in a Brit called Thomas, whom I met at the guest house. Though we kind of missed the sunrise for reaching 5 mins late, the hike nevertheless released endorphins and set the mood for the day. After descending the hill, Tom and I rampaged the breakfast scene with Poha, Aloo Paratha, Mirchi Vada and Coconut water. It felt great to see a foreigner dig into the local street food so heartily. Late afternoon, we visited the Fateh Sagar Lake and gorged on some local fare again. Next in the list was Sajjangarh, where an hour long queue to go up the hill tested our patience to the fullest. The fact that it was Christmas made things worse. However, witnessing the sunset in Monsoon Palace atop the hill was worth all the effort. The Sun created waves of the most delightful colours on the Aravallis as it disappeared slowly – a precious beautiful consummation of the day with night.
My day ended over a hearty dinner with a company of three by the Pichola lake over some Christmas music.
Day 5, 26th Dec 2017: This was a no-frills morning when I flew to Mumbai at 12 noon and got mired again in the hustle of life.
Looking back, this was my fourth time in Rajasthan and, honestly, the previous three times had a deeper impact on my mind. However, I am grateful for temporary bonds I formed with the people through the trip and the permanent moments they created in my life. Cheers to solitary wanderings!