My first two weeks in India were spent travelling around Rajasthan. The province, which shares a border with Pakistan in the west of India, bears the name ‘land of kings’ for its rich history of Rajput, Maratha and Mughal kings and emperors.
Today, it’s one of the most popular destinations in India for both domestic and foreign tourists, thanks to countless palaces and forts – plus a few natural spots such as the Ranthambore National Park and the desert of Jaisalmer that I unfortunately didn’t have time to visit. Rather, I went on a tour of its cities.
Jaipur’s Palace of the Winds
First up was Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. The Pink City, as it’s known, was painted pink in 1876 in honour of the visit of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales as a sign of hospitality. It’s apparently now law for inhabitants of Jaipur to maintain the pink hue.
The city was founded by Maharaj Jai Singh II, a keen scientist, mathematician and astronomer, which I felt was evident I walked around – from the logical, square way that the old town was built around the main bazars; to the Jantar Mantar, a larger-than-life observatory in the middle of the city.
On the outskirts of town, Amber Fort is worth a visit for its Mirror Palace (above) and its beautiful gardens, but it was when getting lost around Amer town itself with new friends that I had the best time. We wandered around until we stumbled upon Panna Meena Ka Kund (below), a small stepwell of sorts that a local told us used to be a religious site, but is now used as a pool.
He said that thanks to it, people from the area know how to swim – something that’s rare in India. A little up the road from there, we found Hanuman Sagar Lake, and from there watched the sun set over the Fort up the hill while monkeys played all around us. Let me tell you: that’s worth travelling for.
Inside Jaipur City Palace
The view of Amer Fort’s gardens from the top
More than any other in Rajasthan, the city of Jodhpur stole my heart. On my first night, I found myself watching the sun set over the Blue City from the old walls of Mehrangarh Fort and had a little ‘pinch me’ moment. Blue’s a colour that feels like home to me, somehow, and I felt instantly at ease in Jodhpur. Compared to the other cities I visited in India, Jodhpur felt a lot more welcoming. I’ve never said ‘hello’ as many times as I did on the day I walked around the narrow market lanes of the old town. Everyone had a smile and wave for me; and not in the sometimes obtrusive way I experienced in other places.
And I ate pyaj kachoris – fried onion-filled pastries – feasted on Rajasthani lamb stew eaten with fresh, warm rotis; and rounded up meals with fleshy, sweet chikkus. Jodhpur ain’t bad if you’ve got an appetite.
I spent just two days in Pushkar, most of them in a hammock recovering from a bout of delayed Delhi belly – so I don’t even have photos of the town to share. A shame, because it’s worth seeing: Pushkar is known for its holy lake, where Hindu pilgrims from all over the world travel to. The town is also home to one of very few Brahma temples in the world.
I spent a little time walking around, watching the puja, a prayer ritual, without quite daring to take part. People would queue to enter the temple, where they would ring a bell before approaching the temple priest. They would pray and give an offering, and in return receive a blessing, physically represented by a coloured dot on their forehead. It was one of those cases when I didn’t know where to draw the line between getting to know the culture and staying at a respectful distance, so chose the latter by default.
Finally, I travelled to the White City (Rajasthan’s got its colours down), renowned for its imposing and beautiful lakes, and its palace. They are best seen from the top of the little Manik Lal Verma Park. From there, beer in hand if you remembered to bring one along (I luckily did), you can watch sunset fall over Lake Pichola, the palace, the peninsula of Cheerwa village, and on the other side of the hill, the lit-up town of Udaipur.
Udaipur City Palace
The view from the top of Manik Lal Verma Park at sunset
What I loved best, though, where Udaipur’s ghats – points by the water where people can bathe, wash clothes or enjoy the water. Some were busier, with tourists walking past and youth jumping in the water in the afternoon sun. Others were quieter; I found one near my hostel with a little tree to sit by, where I spent some time saying goodbye to Rajasthan before heading south.