Rajasthan is truly spectacular, from every labyrinthine sandstone jali to vibrant, hand-painted marble pillar. There’s something so stately and sublime about the place that you end up feeling like a ribbon slipping through its landmarks, imbibing their grandeur, coming out fuller and more alive. Rajasthan is much more than a geographical wonder, made of endless stretches of sand, sprawling palaces and mighty forts. It is a land of lore and rich history where even the gardens and blocks of stone have stories to tell. It’s virtually impossible to condense the length and breadth of Rajasthan, and the depth of its virtues, in a single blog post.
In our travel diary here, we hope to recount the offbeat, enriching experiences we had in Rajasthan during our recent visit – when we stopped to spend a few moments immersed in curiosity over something extraordinary, the sudden waves of excitement that washed over us when we discovered new aspects of the local culture, and the little things that seemed to be bigger than us and our imagination.
Winter is a marvelous time to be in Rajasthan as the temperature is just right to warm your shoulders during the day and nippy enough to have you bring out the long-forgotten woolens during the night. We started our sojourn in Jaipur, a city bustling with bazaars that distend from palatial gates, populated by small shacks selling everything from clothes to joothis, houseware to groceries, and the marginally more spacious bhandaars of all ilk and order, ranging from bartan (kitchen utensils) to mishtan (sweets).
Where to stay in Jaipur
Umaid Bhawan (Bani Park):
A beautiful heritage hotel that is a true testament to the mastery of Rajasthani artisans. A well-kept lawn with a zen fountain, traditional wall art, beautiful flower arrangements dotting the property around every bend and mezzanine are some of the things you’ll notice as you make your way to your room. We stayed in a suite with a cozy balcony, overlooking the garden on one side and the pool on the other, and absolutely loved it. The room decor is traditional, and we had a big diwan to lounge around on, decorated with satin-lined cushions and a silk spread.
Breakfast was a meal fit for royals and it was one of the highlights of our stay here!
We also recommend – The General’s Retreat:
A gem of a place, the retreat was built in the early 60s, and comes with a plush garden and simple, homely touches to the decor. Centrally located and peaceful, this property is perfect for a budget stay, and comes with complimentary breakfast and wifi.
Tadka tip for getting around in Jaipur:
You can hire a cab for 8 hours x 80 kilometers at Rs. 1500.
Kachoris at Doodh Mishtan Bhandar (DMB)
We had a lavish, deep-fried goodies spread on the breakfast table the day we landed in Jaipur at DMB and would highly recommend it, even if you have to wash it down, like we did, with a tall glass of fresh lassi, replete with malai!
Shahi Samosa at Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar (LMB)
You can’t miss the Shahi Samosa at LMB if you’re in Johri Bazaar! A unique, cone-shaped, open samosa, this is a snack that will make you feel and behave like royalty!
This street food comprises spiced mung dal vadas dunked in a mustard-based fermented liquid. You can find kanji sellers at every other turn, in any of the shopping markets.
A lovely little cafe attached to the Anokhi store, perfect for grabbing sandwiches and salads, pastas and soups and other multi-cuisine delicacies, if you’ve had your fill of traditional Rajasthani fare.
Sireh Deori Bazaar (near Hawa Mahal):
Stop here for joothis and mirror-work skirts, kurtas and stoles, and little knickknacks.
You’ll likely happen upon a Biscuit Thelewala, selling stacks of baked goodies, around here. If you can elbow your way through the milling crowds, you might even find a cup of chai to dunk them into.
The go-to place for silver jewelry. A snaking trail of jewelry shops beckons here, with sterling and oxidised silver jewelry, with that distinctive antique finish. You can also find kundan and minakari inlay on gold and silver jewelry in certain shops. Also, this is a great place to buy saris and dresses – tie and dye, block print, gota patti and hand-embroidered fabric and the likes.
A Trip to Bagru
Bagru is a small village about 30 kilometers from Jaipur, where the Chhipa community of block printers live and run their small businesses. We hired a cab to take us to Jodhpur, and stopped in Bagru for a couple of hours to witness the Chhipa community in action, and were bowled over, to say the least.
With the exclusive use of all natural, vegetable dyes and wooden blocks to print on fabric, the 300-year-old Chhipa tradition continues to thrive in this little community. It’s a tough life for the Chhipa artisans, and we highly recommend buying directly from them rather than from bigger stores.
Jodhpur is accessible by road and rail, from Jaipur. If you take the road, it should take you about 6 hours and you can make stops along the way, like we did, at Bagru and a little later, at a wayside dhaba a little past Ajmer for a bite.
Sunset at Mehrangarh is the thing to do in Jodhpur, even if it’s hackneyed and painfully touristy.
It is a mesmeric sight, one that goes beyond the bounds of mere words. As we stood there watching the sun go down, leaving behind broad brush strokes of gilded coral across the sky, while the blue houses of the old city that were vibrant just moments ago faded into a distant haze, it wasn’t hard to realize that everything is immaterial in the face of nature’s magic.
From the humble, honeycombed compound walls of standard buildings along winding roads to the magnificence of the seven palaces in the cannon-pockmarked fort, not to forget the fort’s own baroque grandeur and the appeal of the royal palanquins, Jodhpur takes over your senses in one fell swoop.
Jaisalmer is barren and beautiful, in its own special way. It is accessible by rail from Jodhpur, and takes about 7 hours. We spent our time listening to stories and music around the fort and palace areas during the day, and then traversed long stretches of dusty roads in an open jeep, as we made our way to the desert camp in Sam in the late afternoon. Time became a mere onlooker, as the splendor of the desert rose above us in spiraling waves of sheer rapture, taking us with it.
The evening was spent riding on camels, which took us to the Sam dunes, and then boogieing down the dunes on little boards. We drank tea made by our camel boy on a makeshift, wood-fired stove and watched the sun sink slowly into the distant, pink-tinted horizon.
The night was one of revelry on the one hand, and of the quiet comfort of the razai holding us against the cool breeze, under a clear, star-lit sky, on the other. We sipped on our hot teas as the fire eater ate his fire, the dancers balanced their pots on their heads, and the folk artists broke into elaborate rustic tunes. Food was served hot-off the skillet, and the music and dance flowed on until we dug into the last morsels.
We highly recommend Damodra Desert Camp, which is a well-maintained, gorgeous property. The courteous staff and delicious food only add to the charm of Damodra and they’ll arrange to pick you up from the city, if you so desire.
Tadka tip for a good stay option in Jaisalmer city:
We recommend Hotel Helsinki House, a small property that is modest and clean. It is pocket-friendly too. They serve delicious meals on the rooftop, where you can get a wonderful view of the fort.
Tadka tip for getting around in Jaisalmer:
You can hire a tuk-tuk rickshaw for about Rs. 600 to take you around for a few hours, or you could hop in and out of autos depending on your schedule. Typically, a ride within a 6-8 kilometer radius would cost you Rs. 50.
The Ravanahatha is an ancient musical instrument not very unlike the violin. We came across many Ravanahatha players, and even bought a CD from one of them. The music is soulful and plangent and will stay with you long after the notes have dissolved into the air.
The living fort of Jaisalmer is a massive one, holding together bits of royal residences and temples made of marble, sea fossil and yellow sandstone. It is bustling with fort dwellers who sell traditional arts and crafts for a living, and you’ll likely happen upon at least one of the following, no matter where you turn: antique coins and locks, block-printed and applique-work bedcovers, souvenirs, shoes and clothes. The view of the city from atop the living fort is dizzyingly beautiful, too. You could spend a few hours here, or an entire day, and still feel like you haven’t seen enough.
Cafe The Kaku:
A comely little cafe decked up with old-fashioned lanterns and menus encased in camel-leather covers, serving Rajasthani delicacies – particularly a rather spicy version of Ker Sangri – made with desert beans and berries – also offering a terrific view of the fort, especially if you want to catch the sunset.
These were some glimpses into the enchanting and alluring world of Rajasthan – where Padharo Mhare Desh isn’t just a mellifluous folksy refrain that you’ve heard on the telly; it is the very breath of the state, where people are so incredibly warm and welcoming. Rajasthan is where low-walled houses and palaces, myths and realities, the archaic and the modern, all overlap and prevail in their own unique way and you’ll want to go back just to get another peek into the rich tapestry of its culture. Besides, there’s so much more to Rajasthan than the places highlighted here.