Rajasthan – a wild desert state.
We stayed in two separate cities, completely different and each breathtakingly beautiful.
Jaipur – The Pink City
Called the Pink City due to all the buildings within the walled historic centre painted a terracotta pink colour, this is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen. Not meaning to go on and on about the architecture in India, but especially in this city it really is breathtaking.
We decided to grab a tuk tuk and agreed a price with the driver to take us around some sites for the day (the best and cheapest way to get around and see most things in a few hours). First we visited Amer Fort, a massive 16th century fort sprawled across a hillside overlooking Jaipur. Inside we saw the chamber of a thousand mirrors and incredibly beautifully decorated interiors throughout.
Unfortunately, elephants can be seen climbing the steep inclines up to the fort in the hot midday sun – used as a means of transport for hundreds of tourists. This is incredibly cruel for the animals, please please just walk instead!
Next we passed The Jal Mahal or Water Palace. One of the most serene sights amidst the chaos of Jaipur, this low-rise symmetrical palace appears to float in the centre of Sagar Lake and was constructed in 1750. The light sand coloured stone walls of the Jal Mahal contrast with the deep blue waters of the lake and the mountainous desert behind. It is one of the most photographed sites in Jaipur.
We spent a few hours in the afternoon exploring Jantar Mantar, a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments (completed in 1734). It features the world’s largest stone sundial, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The observatory consists of nineteen instruments for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking location of major stars as the earth orbits around the sun, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and determining the celestial altitudes – basically it was really really cool for the secret science geek that I am.
It also features a zodiac circle called a Rasivalaya that is only found in Rajasthan so here’s me being a Taurean under my sign!
After an evening meal of (yet more) spicy curry we got the tuk tuk driver to take us up to Ngharah Fort for sunset.
This incredible fort sits right above the city and it was honestly one of the most incredible sights watching the sun set on Jaipur and the city hustle and bustle come to life as lights lit up the streets as far as we could see.
I wish I could capture the feeling of listening to a whole city come to life from above as the sun sets because this picture doesn’t do it justice – it sounded incredible & it made me feel v v small…in a good way.
Day trip to Pushkar
We decided to take a day trip to Pushkar from Jaipur which took around 3.5 hours each way (probably not worth it in hindsight…)
We spent the afternoon wandering the streets but it was SO HOT we ended up not really achieving very much. Pushkar is even further into the desert than Jaipur and each year they have a Camel Fair where camels are traded, raced, made to dance and entered in beauty contests…obviously we didn’t attend a Camel Fair and I urge people not to take part in yet more animal cruelty which seems engrained in parts of the culture here.
I’m glad I got the chance to see Pushkar but to be honest it felt like a strange hippy town placed in the middle of a desert, which if you’re into that, is a place not to be missed.
Jodphur – The Blue City
India is a MASSIVE country, and even just travelling around the North took at least 7/8 hours by bus between places. We ended up getting a lot of night buses, and let me tell you, night buses in India are not something to be taken lightly. Be aware that getting on a night bus there are no toilets and you will only stop when the driver wants to (sometimes after about 5/6 hours!) so drink water sparingly.
We booked beds to sleep in each time we got on a night bus, resulting in little cabin like areas with sliding doors so we actually had some sort of privacy from the families of Indian people sleeping on the floors and all around the bottom bunks…
The suspension on the buses was horrific, being flung around in the dark whilst lying down in a tiny cabin surrounded by strangers isn’t really very fun, especially when you reeeeaally need a toilet break after 6 hours of holding it!!
Although, let’s just make a point of what the toilet breaks were actually like in the desert in India. So, think of the worst public toilet you have ever experienced, then times that by 10. Honestly, I have never seen toilets (if you can call them that) in such a bad state. It was far cleaner to just go in a hedge than in some of these, you could hardly step anywhere in some of them due to the amount of … all over the floor and even the WALLS.
Let’s just say, some of the sights and things I experienced on those night buses are things I would be more than happy to never have to endure EVER again (and that is me not being dramatic…there was one point that I actually fell into a pile of faeces…HUMAN AND ANIMAL SHIT).
ANYWAY, we finally arrived in Jodphur after a 7 hour night bus through the desert and stayed in a hostel called “GoStops” that we were really really pleasantly surprised with. We met some lovely people there and it was such a nice place to chill out and hang in the common area, a safe place away from the streets of the city.
The heat in India is constant and exhausting but we ventured out without fail every day to explore.
In Northern Indian states like Rajasthan (and Gujarat at the edge of the Thar desert) the area sees torrential seasonal monsoons, and then watches water disappear almost immediately. With summers routinely over 100 degrees, and silty soil that cannot hold water in ponds, step wells were created with some likely dating back to about 550, the most famous built in medieval times.
It is estimated that over 3,000 stepwells were built in the two northern states. They collect water and some are over 100 feet deep.
Our favourite area in Jodphur was the clock tower and market square where we found a coffee place called “Cafe Royale” on the side of the street. It was tiny but the local family that run it are so incredibly friendly that we found ourselves going back each day we were there! Sitting and people watching was the only thing we found ourselves capable of doing in the midday heat.
We attempted to walk back to the hostel on the first day and got extremely lost. I have such a love/hate relationship with Maps.Me (an app that houses maps you can download onto your phone and use without signal or data), it’s so so helpful but also often took us on the most complicated routes!
This was one of those times. We got so lost down back streets and ended up walking through a street where a huge family were sat eating…it was a bit awkward…
Although, we found ourselves on-top of a hill with an INCREDIBLE view of Jodphur and sat with some locals watching a setting sun and listening to the call to prayer ring out over the city. Walking through the local streets we saw children playing cricket and families shouting hello to us from doors and windows above. The children ran down the streets with us and it was so humbling.
Sometimes it is so worth getting lost.
Whilst we were in Jodphur there was a massive Bollywood film being shot in the fort and some of the guys we met ended up being extras in it! So much money was being put into this movie with famous actors from around the world.
I will never be able to understand or fully come to terms with the contrast between rich and poor in India. Home to some of the richest people in the world and also some of the poorest, it’s really hard to be appreciative of the immense beauty, incredible architecture and grand forts and palaces without being completely ignorant of the unbelievable poverty that surrounds them and that can be seen on every turn.
I left with very mixed feelings about India, and I think hindsight is making me more fond of this country as a whole.
(Still don’t know if I’ll ever go back though…)