Rajasthan: the Land of Forts and Sunsets

 

Rajasthan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. I visited the state during the peak season around Christmas and New Years and it was heaving with Indian tourists. Of course, the popularity is understandable. The forts and palaces in this state are breath-taking works of architecture and the crystal-clear skies make for spectacular sunsets. I imagine it would be better to visit just before or after this peak season, though.

 

PUSHKAR

Pushkar is the perfect spot to relax after the chaotic cities of the Golden Triangle. It is a small town centred around a lake known to be sacred due to its connections with Lord Brahma. Lining the lake are the ghats (you have to remove your shoes to walk on them) which connect the dozens of temples to the lake and its bathing pods. As you walk around, you see people bathing and making offerings. You have to be careful, though, as there are lots of “priests” waiting to scam you with ceremonies that they then request ridiculous amounts of money for.

Near the lake, the truly spiritual go about their devotions and feed the birds, cows, and monkeys. Out in the market, though, it’s a different matter. There, its rammed with shops selling clothes, jewellery, wall hangings, etc. Shopkeepers shout at you in an attempt to lure you into their shops, children beg for chapatti, mothers ask for milk, and the people shoo the cows away from their fruit stalls. Camels pull carts in the streets, and their owners try to entice you into a desert safari. I highly doubt the ethics of the treatment of these creatures.

Pushkar has lots of great food ranging from cheap thali to falafel to pizza, and boasts a few cosy cafés with views over the lake. However, despite the similar chilled out vibe as Rishikesh and Pokhara, Pushkar doesn’t have the same choice of organic, vegan, and health foods.

For me, the best thing about Pushkar was the Savitri Temple. You can easily walk there if you brave the hundreds of steps, or you can take the lazy option of the cable car. Once at the top, you have panoramic views over Pushkar, the surrounding hills, and the flat land in between. I was graced with clear skies and could see for miles. At sunset, you can join the small crowd of people to enjoy watching the golden sun rays streaming down as the sun steadily descends until it drops as a red ball below the horizon and the sky lights up with electric pinks, blues, and purples.

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JODHPUR

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I only spent one day in Jodhpur, as there isn’t much to do there. However, I did really like it, as there was a noticeably different feel to the place. Jodhpur was the first place in weeks where I wasn’t constantly accosted by shopkeepers and Indian tourists. Everyone there was friendly and welcoming, and not pushy at all. Most locals just minded their own business. Also, despite being a large city, the old town, which lies in the shadow of the fort, consists of small streets which most vehicles can’t navigate. This makes it an easy place to walk around.

IMG_0729.jpgJodhpur is famous as the blue city, but the blue buildings are few and far between. It only really looks blue from a distance, and there isn’t a specific “blue area” to explore. From what I heard, the city is getting less and less blue each year…

The three main attractions for me in Jodhpur were the Toorji Stairwell, Jaswant Thada, and the Mehrangarh Fort.

Toorji stairwell is essentially just steps down to a deep well of water, but wells like this one were crucial for water storage and keeping cool.

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Mehrangarh fort stands on a hill so that from any roof terrace in the old city, you can look up at it. It is especially spectacular at sunset. Inside is a beautiful palace with latticed windows through which the women in purdah could watch the goings-on. The fort has now been made into a museum of Rajput rule.

Jaswant Thada is a collection of beautiful marble buildings set in peaceful gardens near the fort which house the tombs of the Rajputs.

 

UDAIPUR

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Everywhere had been busy in Rajasthan, but for the week of New Years’, Udaipur was especially packed with tourists and the traffic on the small old city roads was stifling. Udaipur attracts a more high class tourism and is consequently full of fancy restaurants, cafés, and boutique hotels with views over Pichola Lake. Its not the best budget destination, but cheap food and accommodation can be found.

IMG_0745The main tourist attraction is the City Palace, which I wasn’t impressed with as the architecture wasn’t as spectacular as some of the other palaces I had seen in Rajasthan, and the crowds meant I couldn’t really appreciate it for long before being ushered on.

The lakeside cafés are picturesque spots to relax with a coffee, and Assi Ghat is a great place to go for views of the City and Lake Palaces. Sunset from these locations is spectacular.

However, I found the best thing about visiting Udaipur was getting out of the city.

A short scooter ride away in the countryside are some artificial lakes surrounded by gently rolling hills. Lake Badi is the most popular of these, but there are more hidden in the villages, which a local guy from the hostel proudly showed to us. These are beautiful and peaceful spots to walk or sit and appreciate the natural beauty.

The villages themselves, despite being so close to Udaipur, are very rural. People go about their daily lives, herding their goats, tending to their fields. Women wear massive silver bangles on their ankles and the men wear fantastic turbans.

Near Lake Badi is Animal Aid Unlimited, an animal shelter which takes in street dogs and rescues goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, and other animals from work or the meat and dairy industry. It is one of the largest shelters in India, and receives calls from all over the country. Sadly, it struggles to cater even for the needs of Udaipur. For calls from around the country, Animal Aid offers advice on how to help the animal in need and tips on how the caller can set up a shelter themselves.

A big part of the organisation is also raising awareness about the impact of littering on animals (when cows eat plastic, they fill up and end up starving to death) and on how to treat animals with respect (not tying donkeys legs together so tightly it disables them, not beating animals into submission, farming organically and ethically).

The most common issue is motor accidents which disable the animals. Then there are skin conditions, infected wounds from being beaten, and more. All the animals live in harmony together; paralysed dogs who have learnt to walk by dragging their legs, a calf one day old who has lost its mother. On a day visit, you can spend time loving up these creatures. I spent much of my time near tears as every animal had so much love to give in return despite having such a hard life. Many got jealous if you pet a different animal for too long. I was also saddened by the fact that so many animals aren’t blessed with the treatment in this shelter, that across India thousands of animals suffer in silence. I couldn’t recommend a visit or time volunteering at this shelter more.

 

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