Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jodhpur - Part I

The Blue City

The Blue City

That's what it is called. That is how it looks when you look down from one side of the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.

Travelling to Jodhpur

We travelled from Udaipur to Jodhpur by car. The distance from Udaipur is around 266 kms which makes it a journey of around 5-6 hours. On the way are two places that you should visit: Kumbhalgad fort and Ranakpur Jain Temple. I'll talk about them momentarily.

Neatly piled flat stones that make the farm hedges
What thrilled me in the road travel was the landscape that changed from Udaipur to Jodhpur. Udaipur falls in the Mewar area which has a fair amount of greenery. As you travel towards northwest, the vegetation becomes sparse. Trees change into shrubs and bushes that line the borders of farmlands. Farms are neatly arranged with hedges that are flat stones piled neatly to form a small wall.

Passing through villages, you can see similar kinds of village houses. Each, however small it may be, has the same design. The facade is a small door with a couple of rooms to welcome the guests. Inside is an open square bordered on all four sides by rooms. At the far end is the kitchen. Peek inside and you'll see the women folks busy with their household chores. That's the real Rajasthan that you can see.

As the sun set while we were travelling to Jodhpur, we could enjoy the orange hues of the sunset and the long, increasing shadows.There were still miles to travel and we were quite tired as we reached our destination.

There was an exciting moment as we traversed the long highways. We were going at quite some speed when our driver suddenly slowed down, and for good reason too. Right in front of our eyes passed a pair of beautiful nilgai, the largest Indian antelopes. To see them in the wild was quite a treat and we really felt ourselves to be lucky.

Kumbhalgad Fort

Kumbhalgad
Situated around 82 kms from Udaipur, this is the birthplace of Maharana Pratap. Kumbhalgad is a beautiful fort whose boundaries extend to up to 36 kms. From the top of the fort, you can view the boundary on all sides far into the distance.

Built by Rana Kumbha, Prince Udai, the founder of the city of Udaipur was smuggled here for safety when Chittorgarh was under siege. There is an interesting tale about Prince Udai. His Dai Ma, his caretaker sacrificed her own son for Prince Udai. When Chittorgarh was under siege, she hid Prince Udai. She laid her own son on the bed that Udai was sleeping on. When soldiers came in to kill Prince Udai, she pointed to her son who was sleeping as Prince Udai. Her son was killed by the enemy soldiers and she smuggled Prince Udai to safety to Kumbhalgad.
Ranakpur temple

Kumbhalgad is a massive structure and definitely worth a dekko. We were in a hurry to reach Jodhpur and could spare only half an hour here. But to reach the top of the fort and to see everything, it would take at least two hours.

Ranakpur

The next stop was at Ranakpur. Ranakpur is famous for its Jain marble temple which houses 1444 marble pillars. No two pillars are alike. All pillars are carved in minute details and are full of animals, humans, gods, goddesses, and imagery. The roof too is intricately carved and it is mesmerizing to look at the beauty of the temple.
Roof of the Ranakpur temple
It is also said that it is almost impossible to count all pillars. With each pillar carved differently, it would definitely take hours together to look and admire each of them.

What to See in Jodhpur?

In Jodhpur, you should certainly not miss the Mehrangarh fort. If you really are interested, you can visit the Jaswant-da-Thada. And you should also visit the Umaid Bhavan Palace. Also, do not miss the main market place, also known as the Clock Tower area. It is always fun to walk around in the market place and enjoy the local life. 

One of the pillars in the Ranakpur temple
I am going to create separate posts for the attractions of Jodhpur, because this would otherwise be a very, very long post.

Where to Stay?

We stayed at Kiran Vilas and Marvel Umed. 

Kiran Vilas is owned by a Col. Rathore and is a decent place. Col. Rathore has converted his old home into a hotel. They serve good food and the service is good as well. Col. Rathore is a man of around 60 years, complete with a typical military-like moustache. He likes to regale you of tales of how his other haveli is converted to a hotel too where only firangis stay. He has a benign attitude towards life itself, which perhaps comes from his yoga practice, for which he gets up daily at three in the morning. He'll also tell, if you are keen and patient enough to listen, of how he and his son are advocates and happy with what they are doing. He'll boast of all the places that he has visited and the various hotels that he has stayed in. As a gift (of listening to his banter,) he'll give you lots of almonds. But despite all that, the hotel was good and we had a comfortable stay.

Jodhpur and Umaid Bhavan seen from the Mehrangarh Fort
Marvel Umed was the best hotel in our entire trip. We had booked their super deluxe room and really liked the room. The room was equipped with a nice, warm bed with side tables on each side. A big wooden cupboard was provided to keep our belongings. A beautiful wooden writing table was also given which served a nice place to keep our things that were frequently required.

What we really liked was their service. The hotel is professionally managed and the staff goes out of their way to make sure that your stay is not just comfortable but also something to remember forever. Marvel Umed has their restaurant in an open space. It's private and relaxing. But the open space also makes it very cold. The staff was very helpful and made a separate "shekoti" for us. They prepared a small portable fire for us while we had our dinner. The food was very good and with the warmth of the fire, we really enjoyed it to the fullest.

The next day, we were supposed to leave early by 7.30. Their breakfast is served by 8 a.m. When we inquired if we could get our breakfast before that, they readily agreed to serving it before we checked out. Our breakfast was served to our room within 15 minutes of our informing them, and a complete breakfast it was: parathas, chai, toast, jam, bread, sugar. Hot and yummy. We really had a great stay at Marvel Umed and advise you to book it if you are planning to visit Jodhpur.

Where to Eat in Jodhpur?

The market place! Seriously! If you do not want to eat at your hotel, the central market place offers a great variety of eating options. At a small corner just before the Clock Tower, is a good samosa and chat center which was pretty decent. It is a road-side eatery joint. Have a samosa there or some chat.

But if you want to try Rajasthani thali or any such item, go to Priya Thali. This shop is right at the main corner of the market. It is a proper hotel, but interestingly, it is not housed in proper rooms. It's an extension of the footpath, and you can sit there and enjoy the market sounds, traffic, chaos around you. It is a welcome change and the price is also not too high. You'll see a lot of firangis too here. Priya Thali is indeed a good place to have your lunch or dinner.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Secret Of The Nagas

This is the second book of the Shiva trilogy.

After reading the first book, I wanted to read this book for a very, very long time. After the first book, because I didn't want to finish off the second immediately making it a long, long wait for the third, I did not buy this book at all. I just kept postponing it. Finally, I succumbed to my indulgence and bought the book. Yet again, I kept myself away from it. I deliberately avoided taking it up for reading.

Finally, three days ago, I could no longer wait. I thought of starting off my New Year with a good book and I took it up with a great deal of anticipation of finding it very interesting and exciting.

It definitely is a great read. Most of the times, I could not stop reading and had to pull myself out of it to complete my household chores.

The book starts where the last one ends. Just like the earlier one, it is fast-paced, exciting, full of mysteries, a very unique mixture of mythology and fiction. New characters are introduced, new mysteries are revealed. Old characters grow and develop complete new personalities.

The Shiva, Neelkantha is again the great Lord that everyone worships and believes in. Most of the characters, including the aam jananta believes that he is the One who will deliver them from evil. He is shown as a man of great character, yet he has his flaws. He has his misgivings. He has his highs and lows. He is a warrior, so is he a doting husband, a responsible father. He is accepting and totally in love with his wife. He accepts his wife and her relations without a question, without caring of what their past deeds have been or without giving any undue attention to their physical abnormalities. He is truly great in that sense.

But he has his flaws. To quote a sentence from one of my favourite authors, "his temper is not to be vouched for." Sure enough, just as we know Shiva, the great God of destruction, just as we know of his temper to be truly the ultimate force of destruction, we see similar rage in Neelkanth. It's the first time he actually screams out aloud, getting out his anger in a vehement fashion, not the cool, calm way that we are used to. He really is human after all.

Shiva goes through so many revelations. Faced with the unknown, his discussions with the different Vasudevas are interesting and the discussion of what Evil really is the crux of the book. What was good before no longer is, what seemed to be always bad, may not really be bad. Nothing really is good or bad. Circumstances are. People behave in a good or bad manner. But each would have a reason for doing what they are doing or what they did.

Shiva has lost a great friend in Brihaspati, and that anger is still there in his heart. It is really this incident of losing someone like is brother that urges him ahead in his quest. Whether he is out to find the Good or the Evil, whether Evil is really Evil is what remains to be seen.

The book has it all. Romance, death, fights, battles, complex relationships, carefree moments, happy moments, religious moments, philosophical discussions, betrayals, trust, courage, failures, and all intermingled with good dialogues, and a fast-paced style of writing. The descriptions of the various battles, the minute scene-to-scene descriptions create the whole picture right in front of your eyes. You are transported to the war scene and can see it all from various angles.

Some characters are shown almost on the verge of death and brought back from the precipice, which really made me happy. I would have been sad to see them go.

Two completely different lifestyles are depicted. The Meluhans are strict and disciplinarians. The Swadweepans are carefree and relaxed. While the Meluhans go strictly by laws, the Swadweepans don't care much for laws, are lenient towards even criminals, and are happy to let each one live life on different terms. What's really required is an amalgamation of the two types of lifestyles. The book is leaning towards that. Extremes do not work. What works is a median attitude. A way of life that is beneficial to all.

The author has done his homework and used all characters in Hindu mythology or history to great advantage. Each character has his own philosophy, ideals, and behaves accordingly.

I probably liked the second book more than the first because everyone has grown in the book. New people are brought in. New secrets are revealed, a new way of life is seen. The book is definitely going towards the end of the story that comes in the third book called The Oath of the Vayuputras. I am eagerly waiting for the third one and I really hope Amish brings it out quickly.

A must read, I'll give this book a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Udaipur - The Lake City

Arriving in Udaipur

Udaipur has good connectivity with other cities in Rajasthan by road and railway. You can also reach from Ahmedabad by road in around 4-5 hours.

We arrived in Udaipur at around noon and found the city to be welcoming and friendly. Truly speaking, in a new state, in a new city, with a different language, you are kind of lost. When we stepped down from the bus, we weren't sure where to go. A rickshaw driver offered us to take us to our hotel and we were apprehensive if he would take us where we wanted to go. But we could reach safely and our adventure started.

Where to Stay?

Our room in The Little Garden guest house in Udaipur
We stayed at a little guest house called The Little Garden. It is a small haveli owned by the descendants of the royal poetto the king of Udaipur, Mahadeo Rao Singh. Two rooms in the haveli are converted to first-class hotel rooms with all amenities. Because it is owned by the family, the setup is quite friendly and not commercialised. Mostly, foreigners have stayed there, and we were told that we were just the second Indian guests to stay there. We came upon it by chance and were extremely happy with the rooms and the service. They do not server lunch or dinner, because the rooms are really a bed-and-breakfast accommodations.

Apart from such small guest houses, there are innumerable hotels where you can find good accommodations.  They also usually have their own restaurants which are good enough.

If you are planning to go in the peak tourist season, it is better to book hotels well in advance.

What to See in Udaipur

There's so much to see in Udaipur. Do not attempt to cover everything in a day. You need at least two days to see the various attractions in Udaipur. Here are some of the things that you can see:
  • City Palace
  • Lake Palace
  • Jag Mandir
  • Jagdish Temple
  • Lake Pichola
  • Lake Fateh Sagar
  • Saheliyon-ki-Bari
  • Gulab Bagh and Zoo
  • Shilpgram
  • Bagore-ki-Haveli
  • Karni Mata Mandir and Ropeway
Out of all these, we covered only the Lake Pichola and City Palace. We were there only half a day and didn't get enough time to cover anything else.

History of Udaipur

Before I proceed to talk at length about the City Palace, it's better to know the history of Udaipur.

Udaipur was founded in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II as the capital of the Mewar kingdom. Udai Singh was the father of the famous Maharana Pratap. Maharana Pratap fought the Mughals and defeated them in the Battle of Haldighat. Maharana Udai Singh II built the City Palace and subsequent generations have added rooms and other structures to the palace.

Udaipur dynasty is one of the longest running dynasty in the country. The current king, Maharaja Arvind Singh Ji is 68 years old, and still stays in the newer wings of the palace.

City Palace, Udaipur

Udaipur Palace as seen from Lake Pichola
The Udaipur Palace was built by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1559 when he established the city of Udaipur as his capital. The palace is located on the banks of Lake Pichola. The palace has been built by 76 generations of the Sisodia dynasty over 300 hundred years. The palace has a facade of 244 meters in length and 30.4 meters in height. There are 11 separate small palaces in the complex. The architectural design is a rich amalgamation of different styles of architecture. The palace complex is built in granite and marble.

Windows of the palace
The interiors of the palace complex has balconies, towers, intricate mirror work, carved marble work, murals, paintings, and windows of coloured glass. The intricately carved windows with support from below present a beautiful picture to the eyes. The whole palace presents the grandeur and royalty in which all Maharanas and their families lived in.

The palace has gateways or big entrances called Pol. As you enter into the palace from the Bara Pol, you enter the courtyard. The courtyard has numerous shops and kiosks lined up owned by craftsmen, miniature painters, cloth dealers, and antiques. The huge courtyard was a place to alight from and climb elephants, and view elephant fights. From this courtyard, you can get a beautiful view of the city of Udaipur.

From the Ganesh Deodhi you can enter the main palace. Here again is a courtyard that leads you up to the rooms of the kings and queens. It's here that you can enter the palace museum which contains a showcase of armoury, Sheesh Mahal, and Rang Mahal along with other rooms and attractions. There is a nice courtyard called the Mor Chowk that has peacocks depicting three seasons made out of coloured glass and fitted into jharokhas.

The museum starts with the display of armoury, takes you through the different private rooms of the Maharanas, and then through the Zenana Mahal, the dwellings of the queens. It is an interesting walk through the past and definitely enjoyable.

I would also recommend taking the audio tour of the whole palace. It gives a lot of information about the architecture, history, and use of the different rooms of the palace. The audio tours are made with full sound effects and transport you back in time.

One of the hotels in Lake Pichola
The Lake Pichola houses two more palaces now converted into heritage hotels run by the Taj group and the HRH group. The HRH group is the His Royal Highness group that is owned by the Maharaja of Udaipur. The current king owns 13 such heritage hotels across Rajasthan.

From the lake, if you take a boat ride, you can see the breathtaking view of the palace along with the shore line. Because those are heritage hotels, the prices even in the restaurant are exorbitant and it's better not to buy any food items there.

Once you come back to the shore, do make a point to enjoy the beautiful sunset on the lake. I have experienced one of the most beautiful sunset there. You'll certainly enjoy it.

Sunset at Udaipur
The only thing that I was unhappy about the Udaipur palace is the money that they ask you to pay. A boat ride before 3 p.m. costs you Rs. 300 each person. After 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. (closing time,) it costs you Rs. 500 per person. The palace entrance is Rs. 25 per person, while you need to shell out Rs. 100 per person for the entrance to the museum. If you want to take pictures, you must pay Rs. 100 per camera. This is really too much considering how much the Udaipur Maharaja already earns through his 13 heritage hotels, and the exorbitantly priced in-house restaurants.

The timings of the palace are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Do make sure of checking the timings before you go.

Despite the money that you shell out, the palace is extremely beautiful and enjoyable.

Vintage Car Collection, Garden Court Restaurant

Pebbles
I think this is again owned by the HRH group. The Udaipur Maharanas owned a fleet of old vintage cars. Although we saw the current Maharaja being driven in a Jaguar, the vintage cars they own are really beautiful and in working conditions. You can see different models of Rolls Royce, Cadillac, Mercedes Benz, and a cute car called Pebbles.

Again, the entrance fee to the car collection is Rs. 150 per head (no wonder!)

Around 15 cars can be seen in working conditions. The cars are attended by specialised mechanics who have a whole workshop set up there for each of the car. The cars are really beautiful if you are interested in vintage cars.

Other Attractions in Udaipur

Other than this, you can visit the Bagore-ki-Haveli that stages a dance show every evening at 7 p.m. You can also visit the Karni Mata Mandir using the ropeway. Other places that you can visit are the Jagadish Temple, other lakes, Shilpgram depending on how much time you have.

Bye, Udaipur!

Where to Eat?

If your hotel has a restaurant, you should go for that. Just outside the City Palace is a nice restaurant called Gateway where you get decent Punjabi and Continental food. There are other restaurants too that you can try, especially if you want to try out the Rajasthani Thali.

Saying Goodbye

So much to cover and so little time...that's what you might feel in Udaipur. It is really a beautiful city and I took a liking to it. But our Rajasthan tour had just started and we were ready to head to our next destination of Jodhpur.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

General Information About Rajasthan

The Land of Kings

Rajasthan is a beautiful state in the northwest of India. It is the largest state in India and covers 10.4% of area of India. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is the largest city in the state.

Rajasthan literally means the "land of kings." It was formed on 30-March-1949. Rajasthan enjoys a long history going back to the Indus Valley civilisation. The Rajputs, Rajpurohits, Charans' Jats, Meenas, Bhils, Gurjars, and Bishnois, and other tribes contributed in building the state of Rajasthan. All these tribes have taken great efforts to protect their land and culture.

Geography of Rajasthan

The Aravalli Range runs from southwest to northeast for almost 850 kms. The northwestern Rajasthan is sandy and dry and most part of it is covered by the Thar Desert. The Thar Desert is thinly populated.

Rajasthan is surrounded by Pakistan on the west, Gujarat on the southwest, Madhya Pradesh to the southeast, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to the northeast, and Punjab on the north.

Rajasthan has only one hill station, Mount Abu, that lies in the southwestern range end of the Aravalli range. The southwestern region is the wettest in Rajasthan and has dense forestation.

Rajasthan has various regions such as the Kathiabar-Gir region in east and southeast, Vagad region in south Rajasthan, Mewar just above the Vagad region. Mewar boasts of the famous cities of Udaipur and Chittorgarh. On the southeast lies the Hadoti region. North of Hadoti and Mewar is the Dhundhar region that has Jaipur. Mewat is the easternmost region of Rajasthan.

Climate in Rajasthan

Rajasthan has a wide range of climatic variations with extremes of hot and cold in the desert areas, and relatively moderate climate in the hilly areas of the south. In peak summer in May, June and July, on an average day temperatures can reach a high of 44° - 46° C (111-114° F). The evenings are cooler and there is a palpable drop in night temperatures. Similarly, the winter temperatures can go lower than 0° C. 

Best Time to Visit Rajasthan

The best time is the winter season in India, between October to February. This is the time when the sun is mild enough even in the desert for you to enjoy the harsh, arid landscapes. Even during the day, you can feel the chill, and may make you wear light warm clothes. Nights are pretty cold with a biting nip in the air. You should pack good warm clothes for the night.

What to Eat?

Good hotels on national and state highways provide Punjabi food, and Gujarati and Rajasthani thalis. The thalis usually consist of numerous vegetable preparations (sabjis) and lentil curries, along with a sweet, rotis, and rice. If you do not want the whole thali, you can also choose from Rajasthani vegetable preparations, and rotis. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is available. Mostly, chicken and eggs are preferred to any other non-vegetarian items.

What to See?

There are so many places in Rajasthan: Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Ajmer, Ranakpur, Kumbhalgad, Mount Abu, Bharatpur, Ranthambore, Pushkar, Chittorgarh. You can research about these and choose your own places.

Get Going

For more information, you can just google for Rajasthan and you'll get plenty of information. So, what are you waiting for, get set, and start planning your next trip to Rajasthan, the Land of Kings.

Places That We Saw In Rajasthan

Destinations in Rajasthan

One of the first few things, apart from the number of days of leave that you can get from work, that you need to finalise is the places that you want to visit in Rajasthan.

You can choose from the following places in Rajasthan.

Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Ajmer, Ranakpur, Kumbhalgad, Mount Abu, Bharatpur, Ranthambore, Pushkar, Chittorgarh

And there are many more that I have not listed here.

Depending on the days that you have in hand, you can select the places. One thing that you must keep in mind is the distances between two places. Rajasthan is a huge state. Really big. The distances between two cities worth seeing is most of the times not less than 250 kms. That means around 5-6 hours of travelling. So plan your trip accordingly.

Our itinerary

After a lot of deliberation, we decided on the following places:

  • Udaipur
  • Jodhpur
  • Jaisalmer
  • Jaipur


You can see the route that we took in the adjoining map. The distance from Jaisalmer to Jaipur directly was long and we opted to go back to Jodhpur from Jaisalmer, stay there for a night and then from there we moved to Jaipur.

The roads are good in Rajasthan, at least the roads that we travelled. There's not much traffic too and you can travel fast. But as I said before, the distances between all these cities was more than 250 kms each and that can be quite tiring.

Nevertheless, a good itinerary is what you need for sightseeing in Rajasthan.

Ideal itinerary

I would recommend at least 7 days in Rajasthan for just the three cities of Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaipur. An ideal itinerary would look like this:

Day 1: Arrive in Udaipur, sightseeing. Stay in Udaipur.
Day 2: Sightseeing in Udaipur. Stay in Udaipur.
Day 3: Start early morning to Jodhpur. Sightseeing in Jodhpur in the second half of the day. Stay in Jodhpur.
Day 4: Sighseeing in Jodhpur. Stay in Jodhpur.
Day 5: Start early morning to Jaipur. Sightseeing in Jaipur in the second half of the day. Stay in Jaipur.
Day 6: Sightseeing in Jaipur. Stay in Jaipur.
Day 7: Sightseeing in Jaipur. Stay in Jaipur.
Day 8: Back to your home.

If you want to add another destination, you should add 2 days so that you are not just travelling and find time for relaxing too.

On the way to Jodhpur from Udaipur, you can stop over at Kumbhalgad and Ranakpur.

You can get detailed information about all the places that can be visited in these three cities in separate posts.

So, go ahead and plan your trip to royal Rajasthan.

Royal Rajasthan

I am back from a week long holiday in Rajasthan and boy! What a time we've had! We've travelled a lot and  visited four cities in Rajasthan. There were so many new things, different people, different landscape, different weather, different surroundings, and so much to see and learn and enjoy!

I am going to attempt capturing all that we experienced in our trips in my blog posts here. The aim is to help other tourists to plan their Rajasthan trips. And of course, I want to pen down all my thoughts as I travelled in unknown lands. I also want to note my experiences, my understanding, and the rich culture and history of Rajasthan.

Do wait for my next posts. Till then wishing you all a very Happy New Year! Have a safe, joyous year ahead!