Kansai Scene Magazine
 

 

Only in India

The hit sound track from the Chura Ke Dil Mera Bollywood movie couldn't be truer. After almost a month travelling around remarkable Rajasthan I certainly believe that many things do really happen only in India.

Rajasthan, India's most visited province, is well known for its bright colours, delightful dishes, captivating culture, fascinating sights and welcoming people. Like most travellers to Rajasthan, I began my trip from just outside the Rajasthan border in the country's chaotic capital Delhi. After a couple of days exploring Old and New Delhi, I mounted the train for Jaisalmer.

An incredibly picturesque 21-hour train ride west took me past tiny villages and open land as far as the eye could see, into the Thar Desert. Welcomed by hordes of hotel owners as I disembarked the train twenty kilometres short of the Pakistani border, I was happy to finally reach the "Golden City" of Jaisalmer. This glorious city is strategically positioned along the traditional trade route once traversed by camel caravans of merchants. Built of sandstone, the city glows like gold when the sun shines.

The people of Jaisalmer were curious and talkative, eager to explain the ornate Jain temples and intricate hawelis, for a few rupees of course. However, it was Jaisalmer's claim to fame, a massive fort that rises out of the desert that truly captivated me. The large sandstone walls protected the city from invaders for centuries. Once through its gates, I made my way through the labyrinth of winding streets to the small and peaceful palace where the Maharaja still resides, and which also happened to be my hotel. Here I spent a couple of relaxing days meandering through the narrow streets, enjoying delectable dishes, quenching my thirst with Kingfisher beer (the Asahi of India) on restaurant terraces and admiring the incredible sunsets.

No trip to Jaisalmer would be complete without a desert camel safari. So, late one afternoon I took a one-hour bus ride westwards where guides with camels were waiting on the side of the road to take visitors into the endless sea of sand. Clad in my Lawrence of Arabia scarf, I mounted a snorting camel and headed into the sunset. We walked up and over the massive sand dunes to watch the sun set in the distance. Once twilight had descended upon us, we marched towards our tents. I was awestruck when I saw the beautiful tents, complete with private ceramic bathrooms, set up for our group. We had beds, tables, lamps and even running water. I felt like an Arabian princess … until I looked up and saw a massive spider on the wall above my bed. Suddenly sleeping outside under the stars seemed much more appealing.

A seven-hour bumpy bus ride eastwards took me to Jodhpur, known as both the Sun City for its bright, sunny climate and the Blue City for the sea of blue houses enclosed within the imposing city walls. The magnificent Meherangarh Fort, with walls up to 36 metres high and 21 metres wide, is one of the largest forts in India and offers a breath- taking view of the city below. My highlight here was shopping in the bazaars. Jodhpur, home to jodhpurs, is also well known for its artistry: glass bangles, cutlery, carpets and marble products are some of the most popular items.

A few days later I headed to Udaipur, famous for its plethora of splendid lakes and Raj-era palaces, particularly Lake Palace, located in the middle of Pichola Lake and Sajjangarh Fort (aka Monsoon Palace) positioned atop a hill with a panoramic view of the city's lakes. These lakes are considered among the most beautiful in Rajasthan and the twilight boat tour around Pichola Lake should not to be missed.

Continuing east, the next stop was Pushkar. According to my guide, no pilgrimage of Hindu places is considered complete until the pilgrim bathes in sacred waters of Pushkar Lake. This desert city is so sacred that no meat, alcohol or eggs are permitted. Holy men dominate the lake and before I knew it I was blessed by a 'holy man' who proceeded to demand $300 for 'blessing' me. I laughed at his request (softly, as I didn't want to offend) and walked away saying that my karma was all I needed. I sauntered around for half the day with the large red dot and rice on my forehead (one for each family member that he blessed) until it got too itchy and I had to wash it off. Could that be considered bad karma?

Next on the agenda was Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, aka the Pink City. The entire city was painted pink almost 300 years ago to welcome the royal family - and pinkish it has remained. One of the most important heritage cities in India, Jaipur is home to India's second most visited site, the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds. This five-storied pink honeycomb is sprinkled with 953 tiny windows to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. Unfortunately, I had to rely on postcards to see the intricate work of the Hawa Mahal as it was under construction and completely covered up when I visited.

That evening we headed to Raj Mandir, the cinema to visit in India, to see Chakde India, one of the latest Bollywood movies with Shah Rukh Khan. Built in 1904, this is where all the Bollywood blockbusters are played for enthu- siastic audiences that cheer, laugh and cry along with their favourite Bollywood actors.

After almost three weeks of travelling I was approaching the end of my trip. I left Rajasthan and entered the province of Uttar Pradesh. As most visitors do, I headed directly to Agra, home of the famed Taj Mahal. Constructed over 22 years (1631-1654) by a workforce of 22,000, the Taj Mahal was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Arjumand Bano Begum, who had already borne the emperor fourteen children when she died in childbirth. An inte- grated complex of Islamic, Hindu, Persian and Turkish elements, the Taj Mahal is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture. The best time to visit is at sunrise and sunset. Even after paying 750 rupees to enter (the equivalent of 125 samosas) you'll find that the Taj Mahal is truly amazing.

Throughout my trip I met some wonderful people and some that definitely tested my patience. But, like my rickshaw driver said, "How many fingers you have?" "Five", I replied. "All five from same hand", he continued, "but all are different". Then, with a large grin on his face, he tried to overcharge me for ride ... only in India!

Text & photos: Laura Markslag

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Ways & means

When to go

Rajasthan is best during the balmy winter months, from November to March, when days are warm and sunny (around 25C) and the nights are cool. Mid-September, after monsoon season, and October are also fine to visit if you don't mind the heat - temperatures average 35C.

Visas

All visitors require a visa before arriving. Six-month multiple-entry visas are issued to nationals of most countries.

Money

Internationally linked ATMs in Rajasthan are available. However, it is much more convenient to exchange cash (US dollars or Japanese yen) or traveller's cheques.

Getting there

Air India flies to Delhi via KIX Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Thai Airways, Asiana Airlines, and other airlines fly to Delhi daily.

Information

www.incredibleindia.org/
http://india.gov.in/