Rajasthan, India Travel Journal
Colourful, vibrant, exotic, chaotic. India sounds like an ideal destination for someone who loves arts and crafts, architecture and design. However wonderful it sounds, I was cautious about visiting because of the reputation the country has for female harassment, scams and hassle.
After much though and consideration, we decided to visit Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Jaipur in the desert state of Rajasthan.
Nothing can quite prepare you for the cultural shock you’ll experience upon arrival. The first thing you’ll notice is that there are cows everywhere. Even in the most incongruous places - like motorways, roundabouts or shopping streets -, you’ll find them relaxing or sunbathing without any care in the world. After all, they’re considered holy animals in Hinduism.
The other things that shocked me were a) the amount of rubbish and b) the maniac drivers with road rage, honking incessantly. These things were the backdrop to our visit.
The first thing to see is the Jaisalmer Fort located in the middle of town. This impressive construction dates back to 1156 AD and was build by a Rajput ruler in beautiful yellow sandstone. There you can visit the Patwon Ki Haveli - a former mansion decorated with intricate architectural details -, the Jain Temples - build in the 12th century - and you can also wander around the streets. There are lots of small shops selling handicrafts, jewellery and decorations, and rooftop cafes where you can have authentic Indian food and enjoy the view.
About 20 minutes walking from the fort is the Gadisar Lake, from where you can enjoy the sunset walking around the shore or renting small boats. Scattered around town there’re also various well preserved Havelis (Mansions) that you can visit for a small fee.
Being located in the desert, there are many options to do desert safaris riding camels. However we decided not to do this, because we weren’t sure if the camels were well cared for. I’m glad we didn’t do it because the poor animals we saw, didn’t look good and our money would have contributed to their suffering. If you ever visit India I encourage you to avoid riding animals and instead enjoy them in their natural environment, without chains.
“If you ever visit India I encourage you to avoid riding animals and instead to enjoy them in their natural environment, without chains.”
We decided to travel by train to Jodhpur. On the way we saw wild camels nibbling trees, lots of cows and goats, pigs and piglets wandering on the train tracks and small towns painted with bright colours.
The main attraction in Jodhpur is the Mehran Fort, an imposing construction build in 1459 that stands in the middle of town surrounded by thick pink walls. Walking to the Fort is much easier than it seems and on the way up you’ll get to see the blue-painted town below and tiny Indian squirrels and birds chirping and running around the walls.
The museum inside the Fort is absolutely wonderful. There you’ll find a selection of well preserved cultural artefacts like palanquins, swords, costumes, etc. My favourite part was the Marwar-Jodhpur paintings with bright colours and lots of animals and the lush decoration of the rooms and doors.
The Museum shop is a treasure chest! There you’ll find among other things golden blocked-printed notebooks, hand-embroidered bags, scarfs, tops, etc, small bright paintings, delicate jewellery, etc. If you’re not interested in buying anything just wander around the shop and enjoy the beautifully decorated walls and archways.
HOUSE OF ROHET - ROHET GARH
About an hour from Jodhpur is the Hotel Rohet Garh in a small town called Rohat. The hotel is an oasis amongst the chaos of the city with beautifully manicured gardens with all kinds of colourful flowers, neem trees, frangipani, bougainvilleas, etc.
Next to the hotel there’s a lake surrounded by trees, great for bird watching. We saw spotted-owls, rose ringed parakeets, ducks, etc.
The spacious rooms are decorated with hand painted designs on the walls, the curtains are handmade with floral block-printed designs and the cushions on the bed and sofas are hand-embroidered by the family of a man who has a small shop right across the main entrance. I highly recommend visiting this shop where you can buy hand-embroidered shoes, bags, cushion covers, tablecloths, etc. The man is very polite and not pushy at all and the prices are quite reasonable.
Included in the price of the room there’s a safari to the nearby desert; there you’ll see wild animals such as blue bulls, spotted deer, etc; and will also visit a tribe that lives there. There you will learn about their way of living and their culture and traditions. Afterwards you’ll visit a Brahmani Village with beautifully blue painted walls. (The Brahmin are the members of the highest cast in Hinduism and they’re know for painting their houses blue). In the village they’ll take you to see an opium ceremony and a demonstration of pottery. On the way back to the hotel all the villages and desert were bathed in the pink light of the sunset.
We finished our visit in the capital of the state of Rajasthan, rich in history, ancient architecture and famous for its pink coloured walls, painted this colour in 1876 by the Maharaja of Jaipur to impress prince Albert.
There are quite a few things to see in and nearby Jaipur. The City Palace in the city centre is a spacious complex of palaces, museums and other buildings where you can admire the intricate craftsmanship work in hand painted walls, hand carved wooden details and superb architecture.
About 11 kms you can visit the Amber Fort build in 967 on top of a hill where you’ll see well preserved architecture, etc.
Avoid the elephant rides offered to climb to the Amber Fort. I’ve never seen such sad, scruffy animals. It’s utterly heartbreaking!
Ask your driver to take you to the carpark by the main door or choose to walk from the bottom of the hill. The landscape is beautiful and outside of the city the air is clean. Not far from the Fort, you’ll find the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing where you can see live demonstrations, learn about the different designs and how they’re trying to keep the traditions alive. At the museum there’s also a nice cafe to drink chai masala and eat biscuits. Other places to visit include the Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, Patrika Gate, Stepwell Panna Meena, etc.
4 hours away from Jaipur you can visit the Ranthambore National Park to see wild tigers and other endemic animals. The chances of seeing the tigers in the dry season is very small and despite going at 2 different zones within the park and different times we didn’t have any luck. However we saw lots of deer, peacocks, parakeets, crocodiles, an owl, wild pig, etc. Even though we didn’t see any tigers, I’m glad we went there, because this is a good way to support locals and to help to protect wild animals.
All images © Gina Maldonado