I come from the land renowned mostly for its snake charmers, majestic elephants, brilliant techie gurus and kamasutra colonies. But let’s go beyond merely dispelling myths here. I was born and raised in India, and have spent a little over 2 decades in this promised land, and I assure you – There’s more to India than what popular movies and propaganda media seem to project. Hailing from the south, I hadn’t quite explored the country in its entirety. So, ironically, it was after I moved to the U.S. that I felt the need to set foot on more patches of unchartered soil that belonged to the same mainland.
We were on one of our annual trips home, but decided to splice up our time (and ourselves) as we weaned away from relatives and loved ones to experience north India.
Our mighty plans included a visit to – Delhi > Agra > Jodhpur > “a night under the stars” > Jaisalmer
To make the most out of our one night in Delhi, we opted to stay in a boutique hotel called BNineteen (check out the construction worker portraits. Thought that was a very cute idea by the owners) that overlooked the Humayun Tomb. Geographically this was perfect – right in the middle of all the places on my visit wishlist. We even took a stroll down the India Gate late at night, right after our food cravings were taken care of.
Vintage Poster, BNineteen, Delhi
Lassi, Paranthewali Galli
Delhi to Agra: Shatabdi Express (2.15 hours ride)
Going to Rajasthan or visiting the Taj has always ranked high on my to-do bucket list. The Taj Mahal was everything I’d ever imagined and so much more. I actually truly understood the word ‘breath taking’ for the first time! In a way it was absolutely surreal as the mausoleum lifted itself like a larger-than-life painting and came alive with the bright blue sky, lofty tress, whimsical reflecting pool and the brilliant symmetries that did their magic in the background. That Mumtaz is one lucky gal!
Things to do in Agra:
Eat Petha – A milky looking translucent sweet made out of ash gourd (a vegetable). You should try it, it’s absolutely delectable.
Oberoi Amarvilas for a lovely evening with a view of the ghastly glowing Taj and the entertainment of the mughal dance performers.
Eat Mughal Cuisine – Bhuna Gosht, or goat curry simmered in spicy sauce is quite the ‘hot’ favorite.
Agra to Jodhpur: Overnight Train
Trains used to be a common occurrence in my dreams. I only remember missing one, or panting breathlessly in the process of chasing one that left the platform a little too early! Nevertheless I have fond childhood memories of long overnight train journeys peppered with interesting strangers, exotic experiences and fun little games of running around in the little passage-ways. My dad infact used to have a pen-pal who he met during one of his journeys.
Jodhpur is the ‘Blue City’ of Rajasthan, named after the blue roofs of white washed houses. This is where you get your export quality silk wear and tie-and-dye printed fabrics.
We stayed in a heritage Jungle lodge called, Ajit Bhavan. There was an Indian American wedding taking place at the lodge, so the place was dolled up and had all the glitz and glamor to break into a Bollywood film. Eye Candy – Double Check.
But the food in the lodge wasn’t impressive. Bad food – Bad Karma.
Jodhpur Fort & Museum
This surely is one of the finest and most well presented museums that I have seen in India. We had a guide who took us through the lives of the Rajput Kings through the exhibits but he was intrigued when we posed our supposedly odd questions. I swear I saw him squirm when we asked about the number of wives each King had!
Interiors of Jodhpur:
Dined at an outdoor restaurant called On The Rocks
Visited the Clock Tower Market, to see where the locals shopped for their spices and vegetables. An interesting find – this Omlette shop that stressed so much about its ‘Lonely Planet’ mention.
Yummy Makhaniya Lassi
Off to Desert Tented Camp: Midway between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.
Stopped by Manvar Resort, 10 kms away from the camp for our afternoon lunch and check-in.
Typical Rajasthani Thali (Veg): Consists of Aloo Matar, Lentils, Yogurt, Chapatis, Papad, Steamed Rice.
Thali (Non Veg): Laal Maas (Red Meat curry, typically Mutton) with Kadi Pakora, Spicy Papad curry and steamed rice.
Jeep Safari – Dune Bashing, which by the way is oodles of fun!
This place needs a DRUMROLLLLL.
Pretty purdyy perty place on earth!!!!!!!!!!!
Deluxe Tent, Manvar Desert Camp
Amazing Bathroom with the desert view
The people at the camp were unbelievably hospitable. We were so pampered and well taken care of, that by the end of day one, the staff knew our likes and dislikes and were catering to us like we were part of their family. The Desert Safari package includes all meals, entertainment, camel ride, and village safari, absolutely WORTH IT for 300$/nt.
Rajasthani food has a variety of dishes, but the most common options are mostly Vegetarian. Having said that, meat lovers can feast on a variety of Tikka Kababs and Goat Curries in different flavors and spices. If you’re trying to stay fit or go on a diet, you need to look AWAY from Rajasthani food, cause it is extremely rich. They saute, simmer, cook and bathe their food using generous amounts of ghee, milk and heavy cream in their sauces. (Read million calories a day)
Enroute to Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer is the farthest end of Rajasthan, getting us close to the India-Pakistan border. I have never seen that many number of Army Cadets, Battalions and fighter planes screeching in the sky.
Popularly known as the ‘Golden City,’ Jaisalmer is famous for yellow sandstones that are used for their buildings, which gleam like gold during sunset.
Gadissar Lake, Jaisalmer
Gadissar Lake Temple, Jaisalmer
Havelis lining up the streets of Jaisalmer
We stayed in a 500 year old haveli inside the Jaisalmer Fort, (world’s only living fort. What’s even more interesting is that about a quarter of the city’s population lives in the fort.)
Dined at a very modest restaurant with a very grand view of the city.
While you are in Jaisalmer, you’ve got to go to the Sam Sand Dunes to watch the sunset!
Sam Sand Dunes
End of an exotic time in India!
As odd as it may seem, I have to say that I felt like a tourist in my own home country. Every country has its own diversity, but in India it’s a whole other ball game. What else will you say about a land where the culture, language, cuisine, dressing, art forms, dance and music changes ever so drastically as you traverse from one state to the next!
I was so glad that I got to practice my Hindi speaking skills in Northern India, but funnily enough it was English that got us through the day. Ironic, that!