I just got back this morning from a 17 days trip to Rajasthan. As information I read on indiamike had helped us tremendously, I decided to give something back, share a few of our experiences and review some of the Rajasthan hotels and places we stayed at.
The Arrival into Delhi
My fiance and I arrived in Delhi on the 8th of April 2005, at 2:35am. After an hour’s wait at the baggage claim, we were both quite thrilled and anxious about what was expecting us outside the terminal. As it turns out - nothing. There were only a handful of people there, including our pre-arranged driver that took us to our hotel in Delhi. Maybe it was the off-season affect, or the time of the night, but everything went quite smoothly at the airport.
Delhi Hotel Review and Recommendation
Hotel Alka in Connaught Place. At approximately £35 per room per night, it was highly overpriced. In retrospect, I believe one should either splash out and spend between £70 to £80 and stay at a 5 star hotel, or spend £5 and stay at a guesthouse. No point paying this kind of money and ending up at a place like Alka. We had a look at Nirulas and Marina, and they seem both to fit with the same category as Alka.
First day at Delhi we hired an auto-rickshaw driver for the day to take us around the sites. We ticked off all the highlights lonely planet had to offer. Nothing too exciting. With our tight schedule, we were ready to move on. As far as first days in a new place goes, it wasnt too bad. A bit of a shock, but not too immobilizing.
Day 2 - Agra
Our first and only serious rip off was the price we paid for the bus tickets to Agra. Price should have been around Rps. 150, but we paid Rps. 400. That would not happen again. From now on we bought our tickets only at the bus station.
The Taj Mahal in Agra
At night, we stayed at the Tourists Rest House. It was approximately 500 Rps. for a double room with a bathroom. The place was a refreshing island of sanity. The place had a reputation for unbiased owners and that was indeed the case. The garden area was lovely to sit in, and the food was reasonable.
A note on traveling by Buses vs Trains
We took the bus for all our travels bar the last one. We found it really easy to buy tickets a day or two in advance, and the ride was normally smooth and comfortable on the state, i.e. super deluxe buses. I would definitely recommend the bus for shorter trips. It being off-season also must have helped.
About the India weather
We have been warned that Rajasthan in April is way too hot. While we found that to be unfortunately true on our last days but, for the most part, the heat was bearable. Only when it peaked at 45C, on our day before last, did we feel that it was a bit too much. Our general rule was to stay out of the Sun’s way between 11am to 3pm. Outside those hours it was mostly quite comfortable.
Day 3 - Jaipur
Our Jaipur highlights: On the day of our arrival the Gangaur festival was to take place over the next two days in town. That was lucky. Rajasthan’s tourism office were also very kind to arrange special seatings for any foreginers in town. So we sat on deck chairs on a nice wide balcony, and had wonderful views. If only the elephant riders didn’t keep poking the elephants in the head with that stingy metally thingy.
We stayed at the lovely Madhuban guesthouse. A tiny bit out of the centre, but well worth it. For around £10 it was pure luxury. Nice big room, swimming pool and helpful hosts.
Days 4 and 5 - Jaipur
The Gangaur festival runs for two days, so we went to see it again. This time around it was even less amusing, as one of the horses on the parade refused to walk in line and suffered the consequences. We had two very memorable experiences with cycle rickshaw drivers:
- First one, was when we decided to go with a one-armed deaf driver. He was very sweet. We were scared for our lives. When he finally dropped us off at our destination he got a standing ovation from other cycle rickshaw drivers that happened to be around. They were all very excited and shouted at us - "he’s a good man, good man!"
- The second experience was even scarier and involved an old fearless driver, confidently driving into oncoming traffic, dodging busses, trucks and whathaveyou.
The Jaipur markets
We really enjoyed the markets in Jaipur. We even bought the grooviest wedding invitations (200 for ten pounds. Hurray! made the shop owner very happy). We went to see some of the sights as well. All in all, in my opinion, one who does not enjoy shopping won’t have a brilliant time in Jaipur and might wish to skip it. The number of tourists in town was very small however to our surprise.
A note on beggars, touts and other "annoyances"
One needs to constantly remind oneself the reason behind the constant hassle, and simply accept it and live with it and appreciate how lucky you are not to be living in those circumstances yourself. The reason behind the hassle largely being the appalling POVERTY in my opinion.
As to how we actually dealt with the hassle:
- Touts - politely refused any offer they had to make. Unfortunately we found that most Indians who initiated a conversation with us were trying to sell us something.
- Beggars - By and large, we didnt give money to anyone. That we saved to the last day of our trip where we donated some money to a local charity. We adopted the "banana approach". We had a regular supply of bananas which we have dispensed to whoever approached us for money or food. That worked really well.
Days 6-7-8 - Pushkar
After Jaipur, we loved the idea of going somewhere we didn’t have to rely on any means of transportation but our own legs.
Hotels in Pushkar
However, the place wasn’t the cleanest, and was infested with cockroaches. Furthermore, there was no space to kick back and relax, so we figured we’ll check out some other places. We ended up staying at Hotel Om (my hotel reviews are now all posted in the appropriate forum). we loved our balcony, but had to put up with extraordinary smelly toilet. We bought about a thousand boxes of incense and lit them all simultaneously to get rid of the smell.
The atmosphere in Pushkar was lovely. The market had on show some of the best stuff we’d seen so far. We bought a few pairs of thai pants, a few "monk bags" (one of them is already ripped), some incense and hand-made christmas balls.
Restaurants and Cafes in Pushkar
We dined every morning and evening at the "Moon Dance" restraurant. They have a good area at the back where you can sit on matresses under the ceiling fan and relax. Best items on the menu were the pastas. Do not order pancakes in Pushkar. Must be the lack of eggs, the pancakes tasted flat (as a pancake). As Lonely Planet recommended, for sunset, we went to Sunset Cafe. Lovely sunset, and the best Lassis we’ve had in our trip.
We felt that unless you get stoned all day, which we didntt, there isn’t really much to do in Pushkar. Once you’ve been up and down the market a few hundred times, it gets a bit tedious. So three days were definitely enough. If you’re on a tight schedule, two days are sufficient. The most memorable thing we saw in Pushkar was a mutated cow! It had an extra leg growing out of its back, right out of its spinal cord.
The weather in Pushkar
We were warned not to visit Rajasthan in April. While overall I think the warning was in place, I believe that if April is the only time you can visit, as was the case with us, then the hot weather shouldntt stop you. Temperatures averaged at 40C while we were there, and 45C in Jaisalmer. We stayed out of the suns way between 11am and 4pm. Usually spent that time relaxing, either at the pool (if we had one) or just at a random shaded place. Temperatures early morning and evening were lovely.
Restaurants and Cuisines in India
The other cusines some restaurants offered were poor as well. You can’t really expect to have nice Italian food in India. Sometime we had to opt for the pasta option as we dreaded trying another curry. Eventually, we just stuck with plain rich and chapati. We weren’t brave enough to try foods off street stalls. We didn’t feel we had missed out on much, as seeing how these food have been cooked (deep fried into oblivion), we’d probably pass anyways even if it weren’t for the health risks.
The good side to all of this though, is the fact we didnt get sick even once! I suffer from a very dodgy stomach so I was assuming I’ll get sick in a day. We were very careful with our food and drinks, and didnt suffer the slightest of tummy aches.
Days 8-9-10 - Jodhpur
Now, what was amusing about this ride, wasn’t the fact that it was a run down, extremely uncomfortable 2X3 bus (meaning five seats in one row all together, rather than 4), but the fact that it turned out to be a ’village express’ bus rather than direct. Instead of taking the highway, the bus went off road, picking people from random isolated spots, only to drop them off at even more obscure ones. It gave us an opportunity to glance at the real-real India for the first time, and come in contact with lots of different people. The journey probably took us an extra two hours, but it was well worth it.
Our hotel in Jodhpur
In Jodhpur, we stayed at Ajit Bhawan. The place was absolutely beautiful, with lovely big rooms, sensational (as Lonely Planet puts it) swimming pool, a place where one can really do some relaxing. We felt we should stay somewhere nice, and planned to do sight seeing for two days, and just chill on the third.
In hindsight we agreed that Jodphur was the most beautiful town we’d seen in our trip. The awesome fort, the lovely blue painted houses, etc gives the town a real majestical atmosphere. The town centre is full of small alley ways where you can wonder off for hours.
Things to do in Jodhpur
Later we explored the markets. We were again lucky to find there was a festival in town. On backs of trucks were raised platforms where men were dressed up in traditional Rajasthani costumes, wearing make up and all. People we ecstatic, and pulled us (literally) over to their trucks so that we could take pictures. We weren’t quite sure why everyone wanted us to take pictures of their exhibition, but we gathered they were just being proud. The situation soon became too sticky, so we had to keep away from the overly excited crowds.
The next day we came down town again to do some more exploring, and on the third we had a well deserved lie-in and a day of resting by the pool. Shame the food at Ajit Bhawan wasn’t as good as the accommodation.
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India does take allot of getting use to for your average westerner and it is very overwhelming in the beginning, but most of all you need to take the time to get use to Indians as people and the way they do things, react to things, their approach and various other things. Because we are just very different so manny ways, but thats half of the fun of traveling meeting different people from different cultures otherwise it would just be boring and you should rather stay home in London or where ever you are from. And as for the food, i thought the food was the best i ever had...loved it.
Im from South Africa and i found India very cheap, so Brits should shut up and stop complaining with their pounds that they arrive with in India. Spend 8000 rupees a night and get yourself a really nice hotel, it will significantly improve your overall enjoyment, and it wont make the average westerner broke either.
Our first trip to India, going south
I will then go to Udaipur and having read more about this place feel I might stay 2 days before somehow getting to Mumbai, where I will visit the slums and relax before flying back to the UK in October. Just 17 days in all but I appreciate your report and tips.
I am of Indian origin but have been to India many many times. I have also lived in London many years. Either we just have completely different tastes, but the best restaurant in India being worst that the worst take away in London?
That has to be one of most bizarre things I have ever heard anyone say. I am vegetarian as well and think the average road stop diner in India is amazing. I also thought the Indian food (or curry) in London was ordinary and watered down.
oh well. I am actually Australian, so neither offends me :0