Jodhpur & Udaipur

Nick and I spent 2 days in Jodhpur, the blue city. Traditionally, the highest caste, Brahmins or priests, painted their homes blue. Now, not only Brahmins, but also individuals in other castes paint their homes blue to add to the vibrant hue of the city.

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Jodhpur, the blue city

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Like in most Rajasthani cities, the prize of the city was the fort. We explored the fort, the clock tower and watched little donkeys carry heavy loads of rocks to and from work sites throughout the city.

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Jodhpur’s clock tower

We took an 8-hour government bus to the last Rajasthani city on our list, Udaipur. On the ride we noticed a change in dress. Local males wore hot pink or enormous turbans (pagris), which we learned, can tell one’s region, caste and social class. The women wore thick matching plastic bangles from their shoulders to their wrists. Widest near the shoulder then smallest toward the elbow. Then they would start again, the widest at their elbow and smallest at their wrist. No part of their arm was exposed and the funnel of plastic was very unique to this area.

Udaipur is known as the city of (manmade) lakes. The landscape was hilly with bodies of water dispersed throughout. Nick and I CouchSurfed with an extremely friendly family, which included, Raja (King), Rani (Queen) and their daughter. We enjoyed interesting conversations and researched international universities that offer scholarships to Indian citizens for their daughter. The mother and daughter were more than upset to find out I wasn’t carrying any cosmetics on me as they love foreign cosmetics. The mother told us that she felt unlucky to have been born in India, as she was an intelligent and hard working woman, but her currency wasn’t worth anything and because acquiring foreign visas is difficult for Indian residents she will never be able to leave. When her husband, Raja asked us about our new president, Rani interrupted, only to tell us that a famous Bollywood actor (who has god-like status in India) went to visit the U.S. however was either refused or the process took hours, as he was Muslim. Later in Mumbai, we drove past this Bollywood actor’s house, to hear the story again by another CouchSurfer. Exaggerated or not, this was extremely embarrassing and a terrible reflection of our new administration and the travel ban.

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CouchSurfing with Rani (Queen)

On our first evening in Udaipur, Nick and I hiked a small hill to enjoy a sunset point. The next day we visited a famous 18th-century haveli (Bagore-Ki-Haveli) with 138 rooms and the city palace. This palace, built in 1599 was the largest in Rajasthan. It was the most restored and really gave a complete understanding of what it must have been like as a royal family at that time. The palace was enormous and grand and the museum seemed to go on forever. After, Nick got a 40 R ($.62) straight razor shave.

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Sunset over Udaipur, the lake city
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Nick dancing with Rajasthani puppets at Bagore-Ki-Haveli
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City Palace

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Nick’s 62 cent straight razor shave

The next day, we visited a Hindu temple at the center of town and Nick worked on applications. The end of our trip is beginning to come into sight and neither of us are ready. We walked around some lakes and experienced a hindu funeral. We saw parade of men walking by us as and they threw flowers onto a deceased man they carried. His face was powdered with colors. We watched as his body slowly turned into a cloud of smoke. We were thankful to experience this tradition. We learned that woman are never allowed to attend funerals, as they are more emotional than men. Some foreign traditions seem strange, however at least wives are no longer being burned with the husbands. We ended our last day by visiting the Monsoon Palace (Sajjan Garh) for a beautiful sunset with psychotic and aggressive food driven monkeys.

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View from Mansoon Palace

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Sajjan Garh

 

Favorite Eats:

  • Hotel Priya- best lassi ever. Thick yellow custard flavored with saffron topped with dried fruits and nuts. They also have the biggest dosas ever!
  • Om Juice – right behind the northern gate, serves great mango lassis
  • Start the morning at an omelet shop at the northern gate and wash it down with some chai
  • Millets of Mewar – a delicious organic Indian fusion restaurant that offers vegan and gluten free options.

Camel Trek

From Pushkar, Nick and I took a bus to Ajmer, a train to Phulera, and another train to Jaisalmer. Although 18 hours of transit and feeling ill we made the best of our situation and made a friend at 2 am in the station. As we approached our destination, we peered from the window of the train and watched as a massive fort emerge from the sand. It resembled a life-sized sand castle sitting in the middle of the desert, overlooking a gold city below. The inside of the fort was extravagant, however different from the many other forts we’ve visited in Rajasthan. Built in 1156, it holds 3,000 residents and resembled more of an ancient city with crumbling infrastructure than a well preserved historic site.

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Jaisalmer Fort
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The Gold City
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Homes inside of the fort

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Outside of the fort, Nick and I enjoyed good views and, of course, impeccable food. The streets were more quant in Jaisalmer, however as always, honking motorbikes and cows eating trash roamed the lanes. The desert heat was extreme as temperatures reached 110 F and observing nomadic life in the desert was unfathomable.

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Haveli

The next morning, Nick and I began our camel trek. You may be thinking, a little hypocritical, I often write in my posts to do research before riding elephants. Nick and I have looked into riding camels and with Sahara Travels in Jaisalmer the camels are very well cared for.

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Goat escape in a desert village
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mud home

Our guide, Napu, Nick, and I rode our camels in a line for a few hours and visited a desert village. The camels had 1 hump and were taller and more slender than the camels we rode in Mongolia. However, this made sense due to their environment. When the sun became too strong, we relaxed under a tree, what seemed like the only shade for miles. A nearby goat herder joined us, and he and our guide must have had a deal as he gave us fresh milk for chai and in exchange we all drank tea and ate lunch together. Providing fresh milk for our tea entailed taking my empty water bottle, squirting milk into it from 3 goats utters and pouring it into our chai.

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Goat herder, providing us fresh milk for chai

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Over lunch, Nick and I had some touching conversations with our guide. As I was reading, Untouchable, I had many questions about India’s caste system, Hinduism, and woman’s role in society. Napu told us that in the villages, the caste system is still very much alive. It determines your job, friends and who you’ll be arranged to marry. Speaking in perfect English, we were shocked to learn that he never attended school. He could not read or write and this seemed to trouble him. Some of the other boys in his village were able to get an education (none of the females) but he began guiding camel trips at the early age of 14 (he is now 20). He had never left Jaisalmer and said that sometimes when he sleeps, he prays that he wasn’t born in India. We asked him why and he said, “Because Indians follow and change isn’t happening quick enough.” He heard that in China, years ago, they had a similar caste system and arranged marriages and that gave him hope because if a China had changed, India too could change. Nick and I often find individuals that work in tourism have it tough as they idealize Western culture, however are stuck in the confinements of their own.

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After lunch and some deep discussions, Napu let us “drive” our own camels, although they knew exactly where they were going. We spent the next few hours riding along and enjoying the sandy landscape. A dog that had been following us the entire trek was running ahead of us, laying in shade, then catching back up to us. We were told he was a “wild” dog but had recently began following treks. As we passed through a village, 3 dogs attacked the dog following us and had him pinned to the ground. They were going to kill him. When he finally got away there was blood all over his neck and head. Again, they tried to attack but Napu chased them away on his camel (this was a sight!) The dog was persistent and followed us in the heat and hot sand to the dunes where we camped for the evening. When I tried to give the dog water he was extremely uncomfortable, as he had probably zero positive human interaction. However, he soon let me poor water into his mouth.

That evening, we enjoyed sleeping under the full moon on the sand dunes among the dung beetles and mosquitos. We were only 55 miles from Pakistan but all we could see was desert. I woke up several times just to take in the view, and unconsciously check on the dog. The dog got attached again as he obviously was in another dog’s territory. After that, he slept next to Nick and I. I was so concerned for this dog that it seemed silly. Sure, have compassion for all sentient beings and if you can prevent a death, obviously do so. However, I don’t think I was as fixated on this particular dog, rather what the dog represented.

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Sleeping beauty

I felt as if this dog represented all of the street kids in India. I have the ability to give some food and water, enough to survive for x amount of time, however by doing so I habituating a behavior. I am ultimately making the matter worse only to feel like I’ve helped. There are so many people that need help, support and compassion and I don’t have enough for everyone. I felt conflicted. The next morning, I gave the dog a little more water and he patiently waited our group to pack up before eating the scraps we left behind. He had enough energy to hunt a small desert antelope, however was unsuccessful. We rode the camels for a few hours back to Napu’s village where we said goodbye to our guide and the dog.

Nick and I would have loved to do a longer trek, however since we had to buy our train tickets in advance (as they fill up quickly) we were on a constant schedule. India is a large diverse country and 2 months is not nearly enough time to explore it.

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Local Recommendations:

Chandan Shree Restaurant – serves spicy Rajasthani, Punjabi, South Indian, Gujarati and Bengali dishes.

Hotel Fort View – cheap and clean rooms (250 R) with friendly staff and zero pressure to book a camel trek.

Sahara Tours – great camel treks, cheaper than other companies in town, ask for Napu.

Try breakfast from a street cart across from Sahara Tours. It’s similar to a large papadam covered in curry with fresh red onion.

Bhang Shop – This government authorized shop sells a variety of bhang lassis, juices, cookies and candies. It also appeared on Anthony Boudain’s tv show and there are photos plastered on the walls to prove it.

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Jaipur & Pushkar

We arrived to Jaipur, the pink city (although I thought more peach) by train. We ate delectable masala paneer dosas at the train station before catching a 45 R ($0.69) Uber to our CouchSurfing host’s home. Nick and I love Couchsurfing as we meet local people and learn about a city from the inside. Our host’s wife, a professional cook, made us delicious homemade meals and we enjoyed spending time on the rooftop, watching kites litter the sky.

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Jaipur, the pink city

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CouchSurfing at Joshi’s

Our first full day in Jaipur, we visited Jantar Mantar, an observatory built in 1728. This UNESCO World Heritage site included “instruments of calculation” and the world’s largest sundial. After, we visited Hawa Mahal and walked up an ancient tower for a view of the city. Next, we visited Tiger Fort.

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Hawa Mahal, 1799
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The world’s largest sundial

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Tiger Fort

On our second day, we woke up, drank creamy lassis and headed to the Amber Fort. This expansive fort with secret alleys and rooms was built in 1599. It was amazing to see how many tourists were interested in riding elephants when there are warnings in our guidebook and on the internet that suggest not to encourage the poor condition in which these animals are kept and treated. When elephants are being jabbed by their owner, ridden along city roads with honking motorbikes, and have open sores, maybe you should considering walking. Outside of the fort, Nick and I walked to an old stepwell. After, we visited the Albert Museum before running some errands and heading back to Joshi’s, our Couchsurfing host. We spent the evening hanging out with a couple from Angola and discussed hip-hop, corruption and exchanged travel stories.

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Lassiwalla
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Amber Fort

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Panna Meena Baori (stepwell)

After 3 nights in Jaipur, Nick and I packed our bags and headed to Pushkar. Pushkar is known by locals as a Hindu pilgrimage town with a holy lake and over 52 bathing ghats. No meat, alcohol or eggs were served in this town. It is also a touristed hippie backpacker oasis that offered cheap accommodations and food. The town was extremely friendly and Nick and I found that the western influence seemed to have positive influence on the local culture rather than negative like we’ve seen in other parts of Asia. Most travelers seemed to spend 1 week to 3 months there, when we asked some foreigners how they filled their time, they simply said, “drink chai.” After 2-days of exploring and meeting up with our friends from Angola, Nick and I avoided the tempting trap to relax and continued on our way.

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Pushkar
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3 of 52 bathing ghats