I found in Jaipur something that I’d not had for what felt like a long time: people that I actually liked to socialise with. I’ve met plenty of people in India, some of whom I’ve had a connection with, some I definitely haven’t, but I think the last time I genuinely met some fun people was back in Munnar (even if we did part on bad terms). After many days of laughter with Americans, Canadians, Israelis and the odd Brit, I needed somewhere to relax on my own. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I’m very choosy about who I socialise with, so wanting to stay in Rajasthan limited my options somewhat; I could either head south to Udaipur or west to Jodhpur and, after consulting a book or two and asking a few people back in the hostel, Pushkar seemed like the quiet escape I was after; it was relatively close to Jaipur and on a natural route south to Udaipur.
Pushkar, to my surprise, was not quite the escape I’d hoped for, not in terms of peace and quiet anyway. The town, or more the lake that it surrounds, is a place for pilgrims of the Hindu persuasion. Here you will find many devout Hindus as well as a hoard of foreigners; the main street that winds itself around the lake is basically one large bazaar where you can find pretty much anything you need, from good food and drink (alcohol has to be ‘sourced’), to medical supplies and yak wool made ponchos; every time you stroll this street you will see something different.
Sadly though, Pushkar also seems to be a place filled with pseudo hippies. I’ve made a point so far of trying not to criticise anyone whilst blogging but, alas, these f**kers really p**s me off. Yes, there’s no escaping the harem trousered, tie-dyed clad, flip-flop soled system fighters who’s mummies and daddies are bankrolling their journey through a country that laughs at them and their ridiculous hairstyles. Now, I consider myself a tolerant person, but these morons need to realise that a counter culture movement just isn’t possible in India, and that their movement (or the movement they think they’re following) died two decades ago.
Anyway, if you can avoid the would-be flower people, you’ll find that the lake in the centre of town truly is a beautiful place and is somewhere (whether you’re spiritual or not) you can just absorb its atmosphere. The lake is lined by many ghats (baths) that are dedicated to various figures (such as Gandhi) and are made use of during the day by the locals and the many pilgrims who’ve reached the end of their journey. If you head here around sunset you can sit around and take in the calming atmosphere whilst prayers and chants fill the air; it really is a little special.
If you land in Pushkar at the right time (which I did not) you can catch the Camel Fair; other than that, the only other things to see really are the Brahma temple (dedicated to the creator God of the same name; these temples are very rare in the world) and the Savitri temple. The latter is sat high on Ratnagiri hill and is about an hour’s walk from bottom to top (please don’t get a rickshaw or taxi to the bottom of the climb as it’s literally a 10 min walk). You can also catch a cable car to the top if you’re feeling particularly lazy or worn out which, as you will find out, is not something to be laughed about.
OK, so I got worn out; dehydrated in fact. The climb to the top wasn’t a problem, and neither was the stroll down but, after deciding to go wandering to find ‘desert people’ (as I referred to them in my head), I got a little lost and ended up spending a few hours wandering amid tumbleweed (no, really), and sand covered roads; none of which seemed to be heading in the right direction. How I got lost in such flatland is beyond me but it’s safe to say that by the time I got back to my guesthouse I was more than a little shattered. Now, this wasn’t a problem as such; I felt a little thirsty naturally and a little tired but, after a drink or two I felt fine…for then.
Now then, Udaipur. This place couldn’t be much more different to Pushkar if it tried (other than the lake); everything about it is more grand than Pushkar (though not as important in terms of religion). Jaipur is the pink city, Udaipur the white city. The city of lakes has it all: beautiful palaces, grand hotels, delicious food and, above all else, a charming and somewhat grandiose atmosphere. Now, this would all have seemed very charming and exciting if, for my first day and a half here, I’d not been recovering from dehydration. An unquenchable thirst (which I first thought was high blood sugar) plus leg cramps and dry skin confirmed my theory; all I did during the first day here was drink water and lay in bed. But, thankfully I got away lightly and managed to explore for a couple of days undeterred.
As you can imagine, I was very reluctant to go wandering off and walking everywhere but, being the fool that I am, I did so anyway. There are various hills you can climb here for a great view over the city, the easiest of which being the Neemach Mata. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you can wander up the Atravalli hills to Sajjan Garh Palace (Monsoon Palace), though you may have to pay 300r depending on which security guard is working at the time (be warned as this isn’t the shortest of climbs and can take quite a while). The inspiring Raiput architectural style, plus the incredible views over the city’s lakes, made this place a personal highlight and can be a stop off on a hilltop tour I walked of the area.
If you’ve got a spare couple of hours it’s worth having a walk around Pichola lake before heading into the main, congested part of the city. No matter which way you walk to the City Palace, you’ll be faced with narrow pathways, crammed roads, and steep hills but, once you reach the top and stop off for a Dosa and some fresh juice (Shree Nath is a great place to go- it’s on the last right before entering the Palace grounds), you’ll feel like tackling the Palace and the rest of the city. It’s notable that there are many small art shops in the narrow alleys surrounding the palace; if you find yourself wandering into one of these you’ll be offered chai and a tour of the shop (I was lucky enough to be shown how to paint a traditional Rajput miniature painting; most of which are themed on old tales and sanskrit).
One thing you’re bound to notice as you stroll around is the many signs showing the Bond film ‘Octopussy’ in the evenings (every evening for that matter); this is due to the film being shot primarily in the area (the locals finding a sense of pride in this fact), which takes in the Monsoon Palace, Lake Palace, and the Jag Mandir. Both of the latter are simply stunning to gape at, especially from the Karni Mata Temple around sunset time and, if you really want to splash out and feel a little like royalty yourself, being sat in the Haveli restaurant drinking a beer and eating fine food really will do it. I don’t care how tight your budget is; what’s the point travelling the world and not splashing out a little? So what if a meal and a drink costs twice as much as most places; sometimes you’ve just got to remember where you are and enjoy yourself.
One thing I noticed (and earlier mentioned in my blog) is that the Lake Palace and Jag Mandir really do outshine the Jal Mahal in Jaipur; they make it look like a poor relative; an afterthought even (though of course historically significant). No matter how long you spend wandering around Udaipur, you’ll find it difficult to tire of the contrasting chaos of the city and the calming areas adorning the lakes. Udaipur then really is a place to flash some cash and treat yourself like royalty, even if just for a few days.
So, after a great introduction to Rajasthan in Jaipur, and having overcome my first illness in my 4 months here, I was ready to face the more formidable city of Jodhpur further north; if Jaipur is the gateway to Rajasthan, then Udaipur is definitely its crowning Jewel; so what will Jodhpur be?