Our recent blog post (& the comment it generated) made us realise that the Alwar District was a wholesome getaway. It has the advantage of being close to Delhi NCR (4.5 hours from ISBT) & enough to see & do for more than a weekend!
We dug through our emails, photographs, and memories, & compiled an itinerary of the Milk Cake City.
Day 1 – Drive to Sariska Tiger Reserve
Indian Grey Mongoose
Drive to the Sariska Tiger Reserve & reach by lunchtime. The evening safari takes place at 3 PM. Unlike other tiger reserves, Sariska isn’t too crowded. The probability of getting entry tickets, vehicle & guide at the ticket counter itself is quite high.
The best part about the Sariska Tiger Reserve is the Dhok Tree. Well, apart from the big cat! The evening safari ends at 6 PM.
Return to your accommodation & rest.
We fell in love with the blue sky!
Day 2 – Sariska Tiger Reserve & Bhangarh Fort
Return to the Sariska Tiger Reserve for the morning safari the next day at 6 AM. At different tiger reserves, we’ve taken both the morning & evening safaris & they’ve always turned out to be different experiences! The morning safari ends at 9 AM.
Return to your accommodation, partake a hearty breakfast, & head to Bhangarh (~45 minutes).
If you’re a lover of all things paranormal, the Bhangarh Fort will leave you elated. If you’re not, you can still enjoy the climb & walk through the fort, and listen to the haunted stories.
The Bhangarh Fort is believed to be haunted. There are countless tales that augment its mystery. One legend goes that the saint who approved the fort construction did so on the condition that the shadow of the king’s palace wouldn’t fall on his retreat. But when this condition wasn’t honoured, by the saint’s anger, Bhangarh transformed into a cursed city.
Walking towards the Bhangarh Fort
Another legend attributes it to Princess Ratnavati’s beauty. A sorcerer adopted to entice her with his magic. However, the Princess saw through his trickery. His magical oil morphed into a rock, rolled towards him & crushed him. Before dying, he cursed Bhangarh.
Ensure you engage a guide. Our guide claimed to have heard women crying in the fort! As it’s believed a person can’t come out of the Fort after sunset, the Archaeological Survey of India has prohibited entry after dusk. Irrespective of these fables, do go there & ascertain for yourself if the Bhangarh Fort is really haunted.
The Bhangarh Fort is best visited from November to February. We’d scaled the Fort on a January afternoon & it was still quite warm then.
Introducing our new travel companion, Fluffy! She, then four months old, scaled the Bhangarh Fort with us.
Drive back to your accommodation to call it a day.
Day 3 – Alwar
Check out from your accommodation & head to Alwar (~1.25 hours).
Check in to your Alwar accommodation.
Freshen up, have lunch, & head to Lake Siliserh for watching a first-class sunset. Make yourself comfortable on the terrace of Siliserh Palace or choose one of the many spots around the Lake. Soak in the beauty of the Aravali Hills, the Lake & the hues of dusk.
(To read more about Lake Siliserh & Siliserh Palace, head to our last blog post by clicking here.)
Lake Siliserh on a rainy day
Return to hotel & spend the night at leisure.
Day 4 – Alwar City Attractions
After breakfast, check out from your accommodation & make your way to the Vinay Vilas Mahal complex.
Start with Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri. Head inside the Vinay Vilas Mahal then & proceed to the Government Museum in the end. (To read more about these three attractions, head to our last blog post.)
Have lunch at one of the many restaurants in Alwar & start your drive to Neemrana (~2.25 hours).
Check in to Neemrana Fort Palace. The evening is available to you for leisure.
Baori facing Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri
Day 5 – Neemrana Fort Palace & Back to Base
The last day of a trip is a sad one, isn’t it? Ending it at the Neemrana Fort Palace should lessen some of that sadness. The Fort Palace is an absolute delight to view. Though, we must add, a fair bit of climbing up & down is needed.
Nonetheless, the Palace is sure to immerse you in its centuries of grandeur!
Neemrana Fort Palace waayyy back in 2010!
Check out post breakfast & head home.
While we like to maximize our trips with as much sightseeing as we can, we don’t believe in overdoing it. We recommend the same – don’t treat sightseeing as a competition or a checklist.
So, even if you don’t manage to see a few of the above, it’s okay. It’s more important to enjoy yourself. Happy sightseeing!
It was an airless August morning when we drove to Alwar to see its nameless attractions. By the end of the holiday, we were left wondering how this city retained its allure in spite of being so close to NCR!
Alwar is one of the oldest cities in Rajasthan. It’s surrounded by a moat & wall. It’s dominated by a fort on a conical hill against a backdrop of a range of hills. It’s famous for its milk cake (locally called kalakand).
It took us about four hours to reach Hill Fort – Kesroli, our accommodation. We chose to spend the first evening at the hotel itself, exploring its nooks & crevices. The evening culminated with a poolside cultural performance by Kalbeliya artists.
You ever associate this shade of green with Rajasthan?
Extraordinary Historical Delights in Alwar
We’d one full day in Alwar. It’d been drizzling since morning & we waited before realising that the rain wouldn’t let up & also that we wouldn’t exactly melt if we got drenched a wee bit. So off we went!
Claggy boating at Lake Siliserh
About an hour from Hill Fort, Lake Siliserh & the Lake Siliserh Palace were our first stops. The Lake is man-made but beguiling. It marks a periphery of the Sariska Tiger Reserve. It’s surrounded by forested hills.
There’s hardly any building to blemish the calm of the Lake. Touchwood! It offered a first-class view of the hills enveloped in the monsoon mist. We could imagine watching a fine sunset on a clear day.
One can enjoy boating at the lake but when we were there, we didn’t see any boats plying; it may have to do with the rain.
Lake Siliserh in the foreground & Palace in the backgroun
Lake Siliserh Palace
The Lake Siliserh Palace stands on the banks of Lake Siliserh. It was built by Maharaja Vinay Singh for his Queen Shila. It served both as a palace & a hunting lodge. It’s now a heritage hotel run by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation.
We climbed to the terrace in front of the cafeteria & ordered some watery coffee for the heck of it. It was a late Sunday morning & dozens of locals had flocked to the Lake/ Palace to enjoy the weather. It goes without saying that our COVID angst hit a high.
Smiling despite the COVID anxiety!
But from the terrace, we beheld a picturesque view that calmed our anxiety a bit. The expanse of Lake Siliserh in front of us, the Aravali range surrounding us, light rain falling upon us, steaming cups of (although watery) coffee in our hands, excited chatter around us – for a moment, it felt everything was alright with the world!
We drove back to the city & stopped for lunch at Hotel Grand Ashoka. Threadbare restaurant but the food – 🍚, Aloo Jeera, Dal Fried, Punjabi Paneer & Tandoori Roti – was simple & succulent.
Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri
Bloomy Designs on the Arches
We next drove to the Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri, also called Bakhtawar ki Chhatri. Chhatris (cenotaphs) were a central element of traditional Indian architecture. They accurately mean umbrella. Consequently, these typify structures with domed roofs.
‘Chhatris’ refer to two structures –
The merely decorative cupolas that mark the corners of a main roof
The baroque stone pavilions built at the funerary site of important people
Such pavilions comprise carved pillars supporting the chhatri. Chhatris denote honour; they were built at the cremation site of kings. Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri was built by Maharaja Vinay Singh in memory of his father Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh.
Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri from outside
Bakhtawar ki Chhatri is a double – storied, fantastic piece of architecture. It is a chic structure shaped like a flower. The arches have bloomy designs. Gold leaf paintings depicting mythological characters adorn the ceiling.
The storeys are a mix of sandstone & white marble.
There is an expressiveness about this Chhatri because of the story behind it. Moosi was Maharaja Bakhtawar Singh’s lover. She didn’t get the status of his wife in her lifetime. When Maharaja Singh was deceased, she jumped into the pyre along with him and committed sati.
The White Marbled First Storey
As sati was reserved for wives, Moosi came to be regarded as Bakhtawar’s wife. The Chhatri commemorates Moosi’s love for Bakhtawar & so is also called Moosi Maharani ki Chhatri. Their footsteps are carved inside the pavilion.
If you bask in Rajput architecture and love fables, the Chhatri is a must-visit. & don’t forget to engage a guide to know all the legends.
In front of the Chhatri is a Baoli nestled in the shadow of the Bala Quila.
Alwar City Palace/ Vinay Vilas Mahal
Next to the Chhatri is the Alwar City Palace, also called the Vinay Vilas Mahal. The Jaipur & Udaipur City Palaces are famous & while the Alwar City Palace isn’t as grand as they are, it’s its own appeal. It’s a vibrant chronicle.
The City Palace is a faultless blend of Mughal & Rajput architecture. It’s a treat with its mirrorwork. We hung around the courtyard for a bit, listening to our guide narrate the history of the Palace & taking pictures.
Clicking our way through the Alwar City Palace Courtyard
The Museum is located inside the Alwar City Palace. We traversed a sloping passage to the top floor. Its run – down feel made us sceptical about the Museum but it turned out to be a hidden gem. It’s well – maintained & home to fabulous exhibits.
The Museum presents a glimpse into Maharajas’ lifestyles & the rich Indian culture. The miniature paintings with complex brushwork and bejewelled colours declare the artist’s mastery. The armoury section is fab with its pistols, shields, swords etc.
A Gold & Velvet Throne
Alwar is an explorer’s enjoyment. Writing about this holiday has us elated, knowing that we’d witnessed something exceptional.
Hill Fort Kesroli was one of the best heritage hotels we stayed in. It was well-maintained & had all the modern facilities we needed. Yet, when we scaled its ramparts, we felt we’d time – travelled to the 14th century.
Time Travel to the 14th Century
But please note that entering the hotel needed climbing up a steep incline/ flight of stairs which may be troublesome for the elderly.
Food (particularly Mutton Curry & Rogan Josh) & service were excellent. We saw the Rajasthani hospitality in action.
Our rooms were Bhawani Mahal & Hariyal Mahal. Bhawani Mahal was located on the first floor & shared a veranda with Shankar Mahal. It had a bedroom, an ensuite bathroom, a living room, a private balcony & a private terrace.
Portraits in Bhawani Mahal
Please note, there were quite a few steep steps to reach the room; it may be unsuitable for the elderly.
Hariyal Mahal, in accordance with its name, was coloured in shades of green. It was a smaller room compared to the Bhawani Mahal but quite adequate for a couple. The ambience of this room, however, was extremely soothing.
We had been to Churu earlier. When we were drawing up our itinerary for the Rajasthan road trip, we knew we had to include another Shekhawati town. Mandawa was our fourth & last destination.
We left our Jodhpur hotel after breakfast. Jodhpur to Mandawa was close to 330 KMS. We did not halt anywhere except when needed. The road was terrible; it affected our mood negatively. But we found our solace in spotting birds along the way. We managed to click an Indian Roller & a Black Drongo.
Here is a blogpost on Mandawa.
We were at our hotel in Mandawa by early evening. Tired from our journey, we sat under a tree & sipped on steaming masala chai. Then, we were out sightseeing. Our hotel provided us with a guide who took us around the town.
It is not just Marwar & Mewar that are rich with history; Shekhawati has its fair share too. The region is unique. Shekhawati towns are full of havelis that once were homes to rich business families. The businessmen constructed their havelis & baolis with painting on the walls, called frescoes.
The region reminds of cultural amalgamations with fresco themes ranging from Hindu motifs to Rajasthani women to Europeans wearing hats. Religion is an extremely common fresco theme. Scenes depicting Lord Krishna, His childhood antics, His Leela with Radha etc. are found commonly in the frescoes.
On the other hand, when the Mandawa merchants returned from their Europe travels, they would get these frescoes made to give an idea to the local populace about life abroad.
Today, the havelis lay abandoned as the business families are now settled in Kolkata & Mumbai. A few havelis have been converted into hotels. A few others have been restored with caretakers allowing sightseers to visit. Sadly, we saw only a few caretakers take active interest in care taking.
Sightseeing is now the only way to ensure that the havelis do not remain abandoned. But, even with sightseeing, most havelis need TLC. We wished the owners would take charge. We call all Agarwal’s, Birla’s, Chokhanis, Goenkas, Jhunjhunuwalas, Ladias, Nemanis, Saraf’s to please restore their ancestral residences in Shekhawati.
A little love, a little renovation & a whole lot of old-world charm.
Now, there are no specific sightseeing ‘spots’ in Mandawa though Chokhani Haveli, Ladia Haveli & Saraf Haveli are a few of the splendid ones. The havelis are located close to each other & in narrow alleys. The best way to see the town is on foot.
So just walk around the town & see the havelis & the frescoes. You can enter a few of the havelis to see brightly colored rooms.
Our first stop was a water well. Mandawa & its surrounding areas have several open & tube wells, highlighting the scarcity of water in this region. We could imagine the importance of the wells by seeing how beautifully the well was constructed.
Next, we explored the havelis. We discovered something new at every turn.
At one haveli, a bright green & yellow door caught our eyes. The door was a tourist magnet; it gave us decor goals. We saw more such beautiful doors.
Given that many havelis are neglected by their owners, it was heartening to see Saraf Haveli in good shape. It is a great example of Shekhawati art.
At one haveli, we came across evidence of Mandawa’s trading past. The town was once important, lying on the route between Delhi and Gujarat, and China and the Middle East. How did a Burmah-Shell Oil Storage & Distributing Co. of India Ltd. board find its way here?
An enterprising caretaker had taken to selling goods (which we believed come from the haveli) to tourists.
The Kedar Mal Ladia Haveli is called ‘Golden Haveli’. It has a golden painted room which was a result of competitions to build the most opulent Havelis. Even the main gate leading inside is grand. It is fair to call the Golden Haveli a one-room museum.
A form of stained glass greeted us. This was another exquisite part of the Shekhawati havelis. Belgian Glass was embedded in the doors. We saw scenes from Indian scriptures come alive on the walls. Little gold remains on the golden room frescoes, but colors make the room lively.
The ‘gold’ paint has peeled off in places. But it gave us an idea how the room would have looked when it was intact.
In a few havelis, the frescoes date back to the 18th century. & naturally, these transported us to the days of yore. Mandawa is 360 degrees of art. Decoration exists on every conceivable part of the walls. Do not forget to look up as even the underside of arches have art on them. The attention to detail is astounding.
Ceiling frescoes seemed like carpets above our heads. How did people manage to paint entire tapestries on the ceiling? The outer walls have fine decoration. The inner walls are equally attractive.
An interesting bit is that only the rooms in which visitors were entertained were painted. The private quarters would be kept plain.
If architecture/ art/ heritage/ history interest you, you will enjoy the havelis & kothis. The lapse of time has not taken away the grandeur. We were out of words to keep describing the frescoes. Each stood out in its own way.
After the visual extravaganza, back at our hotel, we found tourists gazing at frescoes & restoration here. We lounged by the pool enjoying a local shisha & ended the day with a homely dinner.
It was time to head home but only after a hearty breakfast at our hotel. Mandawa to NCR was ~290 KMS. We halted at Indulgence, Manesar for lunch. It is a food court having multiple restaurants inside its campus. Even though the campus is big, the parking is inadequate. We had to park on the side of the road itself, which is not ideal as NH8 is a heavy – traffic, high – speed highway.
Having said this, the inside is made quite well. There are food joints for every kind of palate. It is a family – friendly place. Washrooms are available & were clean. We filled our stomachs at Berco’s, Burger King & Giani’s.
Painted havelis & carts pulled by miniature donkeys were just a couple of sights that made Shekhawati a tourist’s paradise. The entire Rajasthan road trip was about experiencing calm in different ways. Every time we visit small cities, life magically seems to become simpler.
After an art & heritage filled road trip, we knew we would sleep easy for some time to come. Before the travel bug infected us again.
After the bumpy ride, our accommodation in Mandawa sprang a surprise on us. Knowing that it is a small town, we were not expecting much in terms of hotel quality. But our minds were blown off by the Mandawa Kothi. Everywhere we looked, we saw art.
We thanked God for the person who decided to restore this century – old ‘Kothi’. It would have been heartbreaking to lose such art. This boutique hotel has old world charm coupled with modern amenities. Living in places that echo with history is always an enchanting experience. By staying at Mandawa Kothi for a night, we became a part of its history.
Walking under its arched gates was memorable. We had to cross three gates/ doors to get to the main living area. (We love how old houses had the concept of multiple sections.) Mandawa has been a favored location for Bollywood. A gate in the Mandawa Kothi featured in a prominent scene in the movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
The parking is right in front of the entrance. Mandawa Kothi has just six rooms but all have been carefully restored & upgraded with modern amenities. Our room was beautiful & spacious. There seemed to be just a handful of young men managing the hotel but ever so efficiently.
Sad, we stayed only for a night; wish we had more time at Mandawa Kothi! It felt like a home away from home.
Getting to Mandawa
You can easily do a long weekend road trip from Delhi NCR.
A train to Churu is available from Delhi. Churu to Mandawa can then be done by bus/ cab.
Make your way to Mandawa between November & February. You will not be disappointed.
If you visit Mandawa in winter, do remember the nights can be cold. Do not forget your woolens.
Take a guide with you for the fresco sightseeing as s/ he will be able to point out details you would not notice otherwise.
On our Udaipur to Jodhpur stretch of the Rajasthan road trip, Pali (92 KMS from Ranakpur) turned out to be a spontaneous halt. We had known about a unique temple existing in Pali but when we found it right on the highway, we had to stop.
The temple is called Om Banna Dham and/ or Bullet Baba Mandir. We write the key points from our visit here.
Pali is situated on the banks of the river Bandi. Since the 11th century, it was part of one or the other kingdom – Guhilas, Songara Chauhans, Champavata Rathores & more & finally Marwar. Pali has the distinction of being Maharana Pratap’s birthplace. During India’s struggle for independence, its ‘thakurs’ had confrontations with the British.
Pali is famous for a sweet called ‘Gulab Halwa’ & for its kulfi & ice-cream. It also has many industries. & like any other industrial city, Pali has been struggling with a pollution problem.
What’s Unique About the Temple?
The temple is dedicated to a local youth called Om Singh Rathore. What makes the temple unique is the legend behind it. In 1970, Om Rathore died in a road accident at this spot. The police hauled his motorcycle, a Royal Enfield Bullet 350, away to the police station.
But the next morning, it was mysteriously discovered back at the accident site. The police again hauled the bike to the station. The next morning, it was again found at the accident site. The police watched the motorbike one night.
The fable goes that it started on its own & stopped at the accident site. After this ghostly happening, the police returned the motor bike to Om Banna’s family. A shrine was erected at the accident site. Since then, Om Singh Rathore’s spirit is said to protect other riders.
The motor bike is the idol at this temple. It draws huge crowds specially the local population. It is almost a rite of passage for bikers. Ironically, Bullet Baba is offered alcohol. We wonder how he manages to protect his drunk devotees!
We Recommend –
Photography is allowed inside the temple.
It can become crowded. Keep your wits about you.
All around the temple, there are ‘dhabas’ (roadside eating joints). Hop into one, chat up with the locals & find out more about the legend of Om Banna.
India – A Land of Temples – & Unique Ones at That
We doubt you can travel even a kilometer in India without coming across a temple. Many of them are ancient while others will, nonetheless, carry ‘ancient’ in their names. Each temple, however, has its distinct belief system.
It is rare to find one devoid of devotees asking for their wishes to be fulfilled or thanking the deity for fulfilled wishes. However, there are a few that are totally unique.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi Temple in Telangana
Devji Maharaj Mandir (exorcism & ghost fair) in Madhya Pradesh
Devaragattu Temple (devotees hit each with sticks) in Andhra Pradesh
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Temple in Tamil Nadu
Stambheshwar Mahadev (vanishing temple) in Gujarat
We had been to Jodhpur earlier but never together. When we were drawing up our itinerary for the Rajasthan road trip, we knew we had to include the blue city. It was our third destination.
We left our Udaipur home stay after breakfast. Our first halt was Ranakpur (94 KMS from Udaipur). You can read about our visit to this Jain temple village here. Post lunch, we continued towards Jodhpur. Udaipur to Jodhpur was close to 250 KMS. Google Maps insisted we take a state highway which was a mix of good & bad.
While Ranakpur was a planned halt, Pali (99 KMS from Ranakpur) turned out to be an impromptu one. On a whim, we stopped at the Bullet Baba Temple. We promise to write a super short blog post on this separately. For now, let us continue onto Jodhpur.
The First Evening
We were at our hotel in Jodhpur (72 KMS from Pali) by evening. A cup of tea & stretch of legs later, we were out dining. Zomato recommended Khaas Bagh to us for dinner.
The first word that struck us was ‘heritage’. Khaas Bagh is built incorporating Colonial, Indo, & Islamic architectural styles. A heritage property, the haveli is decorated with European & Indian art objects, paintings & wall pieces.
It was refurbished to bring back its stunning architecture. Its USP – a large collection of British – Raj vintage cars. What our dreams are made of… The garden restaurant overlooks the regal structure & the cars on display.
We settled down to a romantic dinner with mellow lights & heaters to give us company. Despite the restaurant being full, there was never any disturbance. Service was great. Of all the dishes we had, Brooke Swan’s Bailey’s Ice Cream & Travancore’s Pepper Chicken Rasam, were outstanding!
It was a great place to have a candlelit dinner. One that we will remember forever. The restaurant can seem to be expensive, but it is worth it. After the delectable meal, we toured the grands, oohing & aahing at the dazzling cars.
Chevrolet, Ford, Plymouth, Rolls Royce & more. Alluring colors. Robust builds. Intriguing details. Splendor. After visiting Khaas Bagh, we were left fully convinced that it deserved the high ratings it had! Ample parking available.
THE NEXT DAY
Fresh after a restful night, we were ready to explore Jodhpur. After breakfast, we were picked up by a Jodhpur Village Safari driver/ guide & jeep. After the safari, the vehicle dropped us to Gypsy Restaurant.
We had an hour to spare before we headed to Mehrangarh Fort. We used this time to return to our hotel by Uber & take a nap! Mehrangarh in the evening was followed by a sundowner at Indique.
We had done a last-minute booking but luckily got it. Our driver/ guide first took us to the Guda Bishnoiyan where we met a Bishnoi family, saw their traditional house, & participated in their opium ceremony.
At the ceremony, our guide first showed us all the ingredients that go into making an opium drink. The head of the household then brewed an opium water. He is ~100, our guide said, & yet, he has no ailments. They credited it to regular opium consumption.
We expected to swing as soon as we sipped the opium drink. But, sadly, nothing of the sort happened. It just felt like bitter water! However, we would never criticize a hospitality gesture.
We knew the Bishnois are animal lovers because of the black buck – Salman Khan episode. Our guide told us more stories about their love for animals. The lady of the house was known for breastfeeding orphan fawn in her younger days. This is a common practice now with Bishnoi women.
Also, the Bishnoi filter their water at least twice before putting the cooking pot on the fire. This is so that tiny bugs can escape into the red earth.
Two young girls were sitting behind the old couple. Our hearts fluttered to know that both attended school & to see that they were studying.
We then headed out to see wildlife & weren’t disappointed – peacocks, antelopes, demoiselle cranes, green winged teals, black winged stilts, chinkaras, green bee eaters, red-Wattled lapwings, chousinghas, black bucks, Eurasian collared doves, & Indian rollers.
Antelopes peeped out from the undergrowth, as curious about us as we were about them. There were herds of playful but shy deer. We watched them bound behind the shrubs. Alarmed by the sound of our vehicle, the deer leapt for cover. It was a sight to see them leap high in the air & cover wide distances in one go.
Blackbucks proved to be shyer. While we briefly glimpsed a couple behind the bushes/ in the distance, our guide scouted the area thoroughly to get us a good sighting. The male blackbuck is gorgeous!
The white fur on the chin & around the eyes makes for a striking contrast with the overall black color!! Not just for the Bishnoi, the black buck has significance for many Hindus. In many villages in India, and even Nepal, villagers do not harm the antelope.
Jodhpur has not been considered a traditional bird watching spot, but we were grateful to see many bird varieties. Within the Guda Bishnoi village, a manmade lake has been created to provide water for black bucks & migratory birds.
As Marwar cools down in winter, migratory birds make their way here, with their numbers increasing each year. We were thrilled to spot Demoiselle Cranes. It is estimated that more than 5,000 demoiselle cranes migrate to India in a season.
With such deep love from the Bishnoi community, it is but natural that animals & birds have no qualms in living freely in this area. It respects cows & deer the most & protects them from hunters.
Apart from being animal lovers, Bishnois are also environmentalists. In the 1700s, many of them laid down their lives by hugging trees to stop them being felled by the Jodhpur Maharaja’s army!
The concern the Bishnoi have for the environment is way above normal – almost Godly. As we left the lake, we spotted a melange of colors formed by flowers, sand, sky, & almost barren trees. David Hockney said well, “I prefer living in color.”
Once we had had our fill of fauna, our guide dropped us to Gypsy Restaurant for lunch. If traditions and/ or wildlife interest you, this safari is highly recommended.
Gypsy came highly recommended. It has two sections – downstairs is a fast food restaurant while upstairs is the thali place. The thali is famous here. The restaurant was fully occupied but due to the quick nature of thali service, we did not have to wait much.
Once served, the number of items stumped us. The tastes tickled our taste buds. Every dish was delicious, be it Ker Sangri Ki Sabzi or Hari Mirchi Ka Achaar or Daal Baati.
All that food had to be worked off! What better than sightseeing?! As we pulled into the Mehrangarh Fort parking, its grandeur made our jaws drop for the second time. For more than five centuries, the Fort has been the headquarters of the senior branch of the Rajput clan known as Rathore.
We could see why Rao Jodha (the founder of Jodhpur & the one who commissioned the Mehrangarh Fort) chose this site to build a new fort. Spread over 5 KMS. Isolated rock. Higher elevation. Better natural defenses.
A 500 yards long, 120 feet high & 70 feet thick delight. We bought tickets to view the Mehrangarh Fort inclusive of the elevator. There are two ways to explore it – you start climbing on foot or you take the elevator up & then make your way down on foot.
At the entrance, frescoes depicting Hindu gods caught our attention. From the top, we saw a panoramic view of Jodhpur. It seemed a blue carpet was laid at the foot of a hill. The ramparts house preserved old cannons. Our imagination made us think of them booming to safeguard from enemies. But legend says the canons never had to be used in conflict.
Up the stairs from Suraj Pol, we came to the Shangar Chowk (Coronation Courtyard). Apart from Rao Jodha, all other Jodhpur rulers have been crowned here. The Shringar Chowki at the Shangar Chowk makes for a pretty picture with its marble, peacock armrests, & gilded elephants.
The Fort interiors are a visual delight. Dancing Room, Toran & Maud, Elephant Howdah, Phool Mahal, King’s Howdah, ceilings that look like carpets, Sheesh Mahal, & Moti Mahal. The Moti Mahal Chowk is especially noteworthy for the 18th century apartments around it.
We mused how visiting forts always seems like homecoming to us. At the Jhanki Mahal, we got reminded of our love for latticed windows & of the purdah system. Jaalis & small windows allowed the women to observe the proceedings without being seen themselves.
Rao Jodha brought goddess Chamunda Devi idol from Mandore. Since then, the Chamunda Devi Mandir holds significance for the locals. As we moved to other parts of the Mehrangarh Fort, we saw vermilion palm prints on a few walls. These are jauhar prints imprinted by princesses & queens who committed ‘jauhar’ for their husbands.
The Fort is aptly called the Citadel of the Sun. Much has been written about it; it is, after all, impressive. Do not rush your visit at the Mehrangarh Fort. There is a lot of walking & climbing involved; so, wear comfortable shoes.
Good idea to hire a guide so that you understand the place well. (We always hire a guide but this time, we did not. & we still regret it.) Apparently, there is a night tour of the Mehrangarh Fort too. If we return, it will be for the night tour.
From the Fort top, we spotted the Jaswant Thada in the distance. We could see how sunlight illuminated this monument. A beauty of Rajputana & Mughal fusion architecture! We missed Jaswant Thada on this trip. Hope to return to Jodhpur to see it.
We also saw the Umaid Bhawan Palace from the Mehrangarh Fort. Another of those ridiculously – priced hotels we will not have the heart of staying in. But, perched on Chittar Hill, we are sure the hotel offers views of the blue city & the sand dunes!
Indique was an open-air museum. View of the setting sun, Mehrangarh Fort, Ghanta Ghar, Jaswant Thada, Gulab Sagar, city lights… The mix of Rajasthani food with exotic beverages in a stately ambiance claimed our hearts.
If sundown were so picturesque, we could imagine the gastronomical experience under the moon. However, the service disappointed us a bit. The servers seemed to prefer foreigners over Indians. Indique will be an indulgent affair if they can reduce their bias.
The Gulab Sagar was built as a water storage replacing an old Bawdi. As dusk turned to twilight, the tranquil Sagar underwent a color change too! What a fabulous sight!
We had spotted the Ghanta Ghar from the Mehrangarh Fort. It is a Jodhpur landmark, has a market by its name, but is also an architectural delight. After Indique, we walked up to the Ghanta Ghar which was lit up in a burst of colors.
A market that dates back centuries, everything that is sold here is exquisite. After all, it is made with unparalleled energy & time devotion. Most of the shopkeepers have been in this for generations. Have a chat with these simple people but also do not hesitate to bargain if you buy anything.
We did not buy anything but loved roaming around in Sardar Market.
Janta Sweet Home
We always prefer street food over fancy cuisines. To relish Jodhpur’s famous street food, we made our way to Janta Sweet Home. Walking in the old city lanes helped us in building an appetite. We hogged on Mirchi Vada, Onion Kachori, Rabri Ghevar & Samosa.
A Mirchi Vada is a thick, less spicy green pepper stuffed with tangy potato stuffing, dipped in a gram flour batter & deep fried until crispy. An Onion Kachori is a whole meal. While Ghevar is famous during festivals, a Rabri Ghevar on a regular day can transport you to another plane. & Samosa, there is absolutely no need to say anything about this snack!
Just writing about this meal makes us salivate…
The Last Morning
It was time to head to our next destination but only after a hearty breakfast at our hotel & a hot cup of tea at the famous Bhati Tea Stall! Even in the early morning hours, the small stall was crowded.
It seemed the locals were quite fond of the place too, not just for the tea but also for the gossip. The parking was on the road itself. We had masala chai & it was delicious! There seemed to be a few food items available too, but we did not try those.
After two home stays, Ratan Vilas was practically luxury. The most lavish hotel of our entire road-trip. This architectural beauty was built in 1920. It is beautifully made with ample parking, outdoor seating in its restaurant, & a swimming pool.
Our room was nothing short of grand. It had a pool view along with its own balcony seating. It was tastefully furnished & had portraits of the royalty as decor. The bathroom was worth seeing. We truly felt regal.
The surroundings of Ratan Vilas were quiet. We had our breakfasts at the hotel. The food was delicious. The buffet breakfast had a good spread. The service was spot-on. Because of the intensive sightseeing we were doing, we could not enjoy the hotel fully; hope to return to just relax here.
On our Udaipur to Jodhpur stretch of the Rajasthan road trip, Ranakpur (94 KMS from Udaipur) was a halt that had to be made. P had been here earlier; there was no way N could not see the marvel that the Jain Temple was.
A photo-log from our visit to the Ranakpur Jain Temple.
Ranakpur is a village with greenery & water bodies in an otherwise largely arid Rajasthan. It is often ignored by sightseers, sandwiched as it is between Jodhpur and Udaipur. But Ranakpur holds dear its heritage & history.
The small village is known for its Jain temples dedicated to different Tirthankaras. The temples were built under the patronage of Rana Kumbha (of the Kumbhalgarh fame). Their history – Dharna Shah, a local Jain businessman, dreamed of paying homage to Lord Adinatha by building a temple in His honor. This is a common backstory of many Indian monuments. That a king or a noble dreamed of a god/ guru who either asked for a temple to be built or who pointed to the place where an idol could be found etc.
The temple complex is a large one with multiple temples inside. Each beautiful… But the main one is the Adinatha Temple. The first word that pops into our heads on seeing the temple is – Majestic!
The Adinatha Temple is huge. ~1450 marble pillars are needed to support its structure. At the entrance, an akichaka is carved into the ceiling. It is a man with five bodies representing fire, water, heaven, earth, and air. The akichaka guards the temple.
The temple is, undoubtedly, beautiful from the outside. But it is the inside beauty that amazes us. Marvelous is an understatement for the architecture. The clean, cool & quiet Ranakpur Jain Temple is a break from the overwhelming chaos that life otherwise is.
When you visit Ranakpur,
Spend a night at Ranakpur if you really want to do justice to the large temple complex.
Alternatively, stay at Kumbhalgarh. Cover Ranakpur from there as well as visit the Kumbhalgarh Fort & Wildlife Sanctuary. (We would really like to see its wolves!)
Ranakpur is a popular day trip from Udaipur.
There is a huge parking lot in the temple complex.
Leather products are forbidden inside the temple.
Legs must be covered when visiting the temple. Long pants are available on rent at the ticket counter in case you are wearing shorts, skirts etc. (This rule is relaxed for children.)
Like we always recommend taking a guide when visiting Indian monuments, same goes for the Ranakpur Jain Temple. The guide will be able to point out unique bits. You can take an audio guide too.
If you need to do photography inside, you must purchase a ticket separately for that.
An on-premises canteen offers affordable Jain food.
There is a market too in Ranakpur, where one can buy curios and souvenirs.
October to March is the right time to visit. The rest of the year, the Sun will roast you alive!
If you intend to have lunch at Ranakpur, head to Fateh Bagh. The heritage hotel has beautiful gardens & interiors and is usually sparsely occupied. And the vintage car!!
On our Jaipur to Udaipur stretch of the Rajasthan road trip, Nathdwara (351 KMS from Jaipur) turned out to be an impromptu halt. On a whim, we turned inside from the highway to bow our heads to Shrinathji (a form of Lord Krishna). We write the key points from our visit here.
1 But First – What’s Unique About The Temple?
Shrinathji Temple is known as Haveli (mansion) of Shrinathji. The haveli itself is fortified & was the Mewar royalty’s palace at one point of time. Interestingly, the haveli has amenities/ rooms for different purposes – chariot, betel storeroom, flower storeroom, jewelry chamber, horse stable, gold & silver grinding wheel etc.
Shrinathji is not seen as a God but as the Lord of the Mansion. So, the form of worship is unusual – service to the living image. The Lord is attended with daily functions like bathing, meals etc. Moreover, as He is a form of Lord Krishna as a child, special care is taken. (Shrinathji has a nap time, play time etc.)
Now, as Shrinathji is a living image, He can be met (seen) only a finite number of times a day. Thus, devotees & visitors can do the darshan only eight times a day when His aarti & shringar (dressing up & beautifying) take place. The darshan timings, according to the official website, are:
5:15 am to 6:00 am
7:15 am to 7:45 am
9:15 am to 9:30 am
11:15 am to 12:05 pm
3:30 pm to 3:45 pm
4:45 pm to 5:00 pm
5:15 pm to 6:00 pm
6:50 pm to 7:30 pm
1.1 We Recommend –
Plan to spend a night at Nathdwara. The different darshans have different meanings. Try to see more than one.
If you cannot spend a night, time your visit appropriately. It would be heartbreaking to reach all the way here only to find out that you cannot see the Lord.
As mentioned above, there are multiple parts in the haveli. Try to see them all.
2 Finding The Temple
Once we turned in from the highway, we kept going around in circles trying to find the temple. GPS was of no help. We must have maneuvered through multiple narrow alleys before a kind traffic policeman advised us to ditch the car & run as it was almost time for the Shayan, our last chance to see Shrinathji.
Unfortunately, there was no parking in sight. We did not want to leave our vehicle on the road either. Finally, another kind soul told us the way to a gaushala (cow shelter). There was space to park & a shortcut through the gaushala to the temple, though uphill.
2.1 We Recommend –
If you are staying at Nathdwara, take local transport to the temple.
If you are just visiting, there is a parking lot on the highway itself. Park your vehicle there & use public transport to get to the temple.
If, like us, you are lost in the lanes, ask locals. Do not rely on GPS.
We literally ran up the incline to be just in time for the last darshan of the day. Like mentioned above, the idol of Shrinathji is open for public viewing only eight times a day. As we did not have a plan to stay in Nathdwara, we had to make it to the last viewing.
Luckily, we reached in time, even after depositing our cameras, phones, shoes & wallets at the storeroom. People were still scattered around.
The curtains were drawn within a few minutes. It seems the entire place came alive as soon as that happened. The crowd thronged towards the viewing queue, separate for men & women. We did not have to make any effort to move forward; the crowd carried us along! 😀
The darshan time is small as all the devotees need to be accommodated in the 45-minute window. So, do not expect to get a leisurely time to pray. And, do not even think of getting distracted, as it could be a blink-and-you-miss-it situation. 😊
The atmosphere was emotionally charged with devotees getting overwhelmed. We believe people from far & wide come to catch a glimpse of the Lord.
3.1 We Recommend –
Keep time available for the security checks & for depositing your belongings.
Photography is prohibited inside the temple. Leave your camera behind.
Keep your balance in the crowd. You would not want to fall down & be trampled upon, would you?
Keep your eyes focused to see the Shrinathji idol. It is a small time-frame. Do not get distracted.
It is, after all, a crowded place. Keep your wits about you. Do not hesitate to ask for help if you feel the need.
4 Getting Out
Outside the temple, there are scores of small shops selling idols & photographs of Shrinathji as well as material for worship. We bought a few memorabilia & had cups of tea.
We then used the earlier route & climbed down the incline towards our vehicle. It was now that we realized we were essentially walking between houses. At one spot, we saw the sun going down. At another, we came across a group of men huddled around a fire, right under a sign that read – “Do not idle around”! 😀
(As we clicked the signboard, the men began to laugh. We turned out, grinned & clicked them as well. Nothing breaks barriers as humor does. Do not leave your sense of humor behind when you go sightseeing!)
We made our way back to the highway & started towards Udaipur. Just then, we spotted a large Shiva statue, under construction, by the highway. A little googling told us it is called Statue of Belief. It was expected to complete in August 2019. We, unfortunately, do not have an update if it is open to public now. But, once it is, it will be worth visiting as it will be the second tallest statue in India.
Recently, a classmate reached out to get a three-day itinerary for Udaipur. As we dug through our emails, photographs, and memories, we couldn’t help compiling an itinerary of the city of lakes…
Day 1 – City Palace Museum, Jagdish Mandir, Bagore Ki Haveli & Lake Pichola
Start at the City Palace Museum. It opens at 9:30 AM. Get here as early as you can as it tends to get crowded as the day progresses. Also, this is the most time taking activity today. Take a guide as it may be difficult to understand things on your own.
The best parts about the Museum are Mor Chowk & Zenana Mahal.
Exit from the Tripolia Dwar of the City Palace Museum & walk to the Jagdish Mandir via the Hathipol Bazar. Jagdish Mandir has amazing carvings in its architecture. It’s a small temple; so, you’ll not take much time here.
Note – it involves climbing about 30-40 steep steps.
If you entered the City Palace Museum at 9:30 AM, you’ll be done there by noon (if you see each part properly). Walking till Jagdish Mandir & darshan will take another 30-45 minutes. We suggest lunch now.
The area is full of rooftop restaurants with Lake Pichola views.
Post lunch visit Bagore Ki Haveli Museum. This was the residence of the prime minister of the Mewar dynasty. It was falling to pieces but has been painstakingly restored. See the before & after of restoration.
Plus, this museum has made galleries of traditional Mewari life. Lastly, it has a collection of turbans worn in different cultures. This museum isn’t crowded, mostly foreigners. So, you can be done here in an hour.
If the sun isn’t too strong, boat on Lake Pichola.
For the evening, you’re spoilt for choice. Sunset boating at Lake Pichola is a popular activity. & once the sun sets, the City Palace Museum has its Light & Sound Show (L&SS). The Bagore Ki Haveli Museum has a dance show – Dharohar. Watch the sunset from The Sunset Terrace.
End your day with dinner at one of the lake – facing restaurants.
Day 2 – Monsoon Palace, Fateh Sagar Lake, Sukhadia Circle Fountain, Shilpgram
Start day two at the Monsoon Palace. It was the hilltop residence of the Mewar royal family. The Palace has great views of the lakes & countryside. It opens at 9 AM. Vehicles go up the hill; so, getting there wouldn’t be a problem.
You’ll typically take an hour or so to see this (modest) palace. But the drive up the hill is nice.
Head to the Fateh Sagar Lake. If the sun isn’t strong, opt for either boating or a tanga ride around the lake or just walk around it. There are ample food stalls around the lake. Cold coffee with ice cream, served in kulhad, is a visitor’s favourite here.
Fateh Sagar has two parks on two of its islands, a solar observatory & an aquarium. See either of these.
Another place for boating (when you go to the City of Lakes, boating is unavoidable :D) is the Sukhadia Circle. It’s a roundabout but has a garden & a pond (in which boating takes place). Quite a few street foods options here.
Go to Shilpgram next. It is a village created to give visitors a taste of Rajasthani art, craft, culture, folk dance, food etc. Camel riding, puppet show, pottery etc. Pick souvenirs from here – ceramic, pottery items, oxidized jewellery etc. Spend a good amount of time here, if interested.
In the evening, you’re again spoilt for choice. Sunset views from Monsoon Palace are excellent. (There is a dedicated sunset point.) So, maybe you can opt to go to the Monsoon Palace towards evening, rather than morning. See the palace, catch the sunset & return.
Else, sunset boating at Fateh Sagar Lake is hot. Or catch City Palace L&SS or Bagore Ki Haveli Museum Dharohar Dance, whichever you missed the first evening.
End with a lake – side dinner.
Day 3 – Day Trip
Done with the main attractions, you can either relax & just walk around today. Or catch up on anything you missed from the above. The third option is to take a day trip from Udaipur. A few options:
Start early & go to Haldighati (about 45 KMS from Udaipur). The drive is through the Aravalli mountains. At Haldighati is the Maharana Pratap Museum. A good place to learn more about Maharana Pratap’s life & the battle of Haldighati.
They show a good small film. The museum is conceptualized & run by a history – loving individual. Just passing through Haldighati gives goose bumps. There is a place called Rakht Talai a little ahead of the Museum which is where the actual battle took place.
It’s said the color of the soil changed with all the blood that was spilled. Also, at the museum, there is a special kind of rose water available for purchase. It’s made from cheti Gulab, a species brought by Akbar to this region.
On your way back from Haldighati, take a slightly different route to visit Eklingji. It’s a temple dedicated to Eklingji (a form of Lord Shiva), the ruling deity of the Mewar dynasty. (In fact, Eklingji is considered the king, & the ruling Maharana is considered His dewan.)
The temple has suffered repetitive attacks from the Islamic invaders but the Mewaris rebuilt it every time. It’s an 8th century temple!
From Eklingji, return to Udaipur. Make a stopover at Forum Celebration Mall to grab a bite.
Another day trip option is Kesariyaji Rishabhdev Mandir. However, it’s in a different direction altogether & can’t be combined with any of the above. It’s about 75 KMS from Udaipur. It opens at 6:30 AM. The temple is worshiped both by Bhils & Jains.
The Mewar dynasty followed four religious’ institutions; this is one of them. Like all Jain temples, this one is artistic.
While we like to maximize our trips with as much sightseeing as we can, we don’t believe in overdoing it. & we recommend the same – don’t treat sightseeing as a competition or a checklist. So, even if you don’t manage to see a few of the above, it’s okay. It’s more important to enjoy yourself. Happy sightseeing!
We’d been to Udaipur earlier but never together. When we were drawing up our itinerary for the Rajasthan road trip, we knew we’d to include the city of lakes. It was our second destination.
We left our Jaipur home stay after a hearty breakfast. Our first halt was Kishangarh (102 KMS from Jaipur). On our first visit to Kishangarh, we’d noticed the town was famous for marble products. Since then, we’d been wanting to buy a marble Ganesha idol for our home. It was time to tick that off.
After a few marble purchases, we continued towards Udaipur. We usually don’t drive > 300 KMS in a day but Jaipur to Udaipur was close to 400. Phew! Lunch was a quick affair at a Kishanpura dhaba.
While Kishangarh was a planned halt, Nathdwara (248 KMS from Kishangarh) turned out to be an impromptu one. On a whim, we turned inside from the highway to bow our heads to Shrinathji. We promise to write a super shot blog post on Nathdwara separately. For now, let’s continue onto Udaipur.
The First Evening
We were at our home stay in Udaipur (46 KMS from Nathdwara) by late evening. A cup of tea later, we were out dining. Zomato recommended Khamma Ghani to us for dinner.
The restaurant is on the banks of the Lake Rang Sagar. The first thing that struck us was the panoramic view. We settled down to a candlelit dinner with buildings on the opposite shore lit up & reflecting in the lake. The shimmer of the reflections made for a pleasant, relaxed & romantic ambience.
Service was great. The servers were cooperative & helpful. Our server was patient enough to answer even our touristy questions! While they serve multiple cuisines, we would recommend sticking to Rajasthani. Of all the dishes we’d, the Chicken Banjara Tikka & Mewari Maans Dhungar were outstanding!
By the time we left, we felt more like guests than customers! The restaurant can seem to be on the expensive side but it’s worth it. Ample parking available.
THE NEXT DAY
Fresh after a restful night, we were ready to explore Udaipur. After breakfast, we drove to the City Palace Museum & parked our car in its parking. We bought tickets for the Palace Museum as well as the Light & Sound Show at one go.
After the Museum, we advanced through the Hathi Pol Bazar to reach the Jagdish Mandir. We then went to the Bagore Ki Haveli. Once we’d seen the Haveli, we moseyed along the lakeside & landed at the Gangaur Ghat. We then climbed the Daiji Bridge & had lunch at Shamiana Rooftop Restaurant.
Post that, we took an Uber to Moti Magri & ascended to the Maharana Pratap Smarak. We took an Uber back to the City Palace Museum precincts where we went to The Sunset Terrace. Our evening was reserved for the Mewar Light & Sound Show, & dinner was decided at Ambrai.
City Palace Museum
Let us put a few words & phrases together. Corridors, entrances, galleries, insignia, jharokhas, legends, elephants, facade, frescoes, reflections, views, miniature paintings, private quarters, royal kitchens, kerosene-operated fans. What do these words make you think of?
The City Palace Museum is all these & more. When a grand palace is converted into a museum, you can be sure to find rich history in each corner. Corridors where you can walk only in a single file. Picturesque entrances to the private quarters of royalty.
Multiple galleries displaying buggies, silver, arms, clothes etc. ‘Jharokhas’ that take your breath away. Legends of Rajput horses wearing trunks so that Mughal elephants don’t attack them. Frescoes & miniature paintings of Indians gods & goddesses.
The moment we entered the Mardana Mahal under the Ganesha Pol, we knew we were in for a treat. We didn’t know what to click & what not to. It was a good place to understand the whole of Rajasthan & the Rajputana culture.
A few parts we loved:
Mor Chowk – It’s aptly named for its 19th-century glass peacock mosaics & the Surya Prakash glass work. 5k mosaic pieces & concave mirrors make up the peacocks. Radha Krishna miniature paintings in the inner court (also at Bhim Vilas)
Zenana Mahal – It’s a diverse array of art. But, more than that, the blue walls are soothing. Breathtaking chandeliers!
Chini Chitra Shala – European tiles. Exquisite blue & white ceramic-work. & oh, the city view!
Laxmi Chowk – As you emerge from Badal Mahal & Rang Bhawan, you’ll reach the Laxmi Chowk. Sprawling & vast. Its surrounding greens make for a sight not to be missed.
Manak Chowk – The Manak Mahal opens into the Manak chowk. The religious insignia of the Sisodia dynasty can be seen at the entrance.
Kanch Ki Burj (Mirror Palace) – Dazzling room with glass inlay work
Baadi Mahal – It’s a Charbagh layout but not connected to the Islamic Charbagh design. Alluded more to Lord Shiva’s abode, as is reflected by its older name, Shivprasana Amar Vilas Mahal. So pleasant!
You can see an ivory door here. While it’s beautiful, it made us wonder how many elephants would have had to give up their tusks for this door to be constructed.
Maharana Bhupal Singh’s room – In spite of a disability, the Maharana envisaged a life for himself & his people.
Surya Choupar – For the Sun sculpture. The Mewar dynasty is Suryavanshi (children of the Sun). Sun sculptures are found everywhere in the erstwhile Mewar kingdom.
Tripolia Dwar – If we’ve learnt one thing from visiting excessive number of forts, it’s that triple-arched gates are called ‘Tripolias’. Next to the Gate, there is an arena where elephant fights were staged.
The City Palace has many courtyards & buildings. Don’t rush your visit. There’s a lot of walking & climbing involved; so, wear comfortable shoes. Good idea to hire a guide so that you understand the place well. There are also several shops inside the compound where you can buy clothes, mementos etc.
We exited from the Badi Pol & reached the Hathi Pol Market. We collect fridge magnets on our travels. Shops in the Market had good collections of fridge magnets of not just Udaipur but of other Rajasthani cities too. Beyond this was the Jagdish Mandir. It was at a busy intersection (i.e. no parking).
A steep flight of stairs from the road took us to the main temple. There was space outside to remove & keep footwear. We were awestruck with the stone carvings. They reminded us of the Ranakpur temples. The spire was quite high; it dominated the Udaipur skyline.
It was gratifying to get a glimpse of Lord Vishnu in the temple.
Bagore Ki Haveli
Bagore Ki Haveli is a restored 18th century haveli. It was built by Amarchand Badwa, the Prime Minister of Mewar from 1751 to 1778. After the City Palace Museum, the Haveli may seem like an anticlimax, but we must remember that while the former was the abode of kings, the latter was home to the prime minister.
Bagore Ki Haveli has been painstakingly restored. In fact, there was a room which shows the condition prior to the restoration. A room in the Haveli houses marionettes. It was quite lively. We’d a good time fooling around in this room.
Another section of the Bagore Ki Haveli houses turbans. This has (supposedly) the world’s biggest turban. The turban is made in such a way that its left side represents Gujarati farmers, the right Madhya Pradesh & in the middle is the Rajasthani style.
Also catching our fancy at Bagore Ki Haveli were arches, terraces, red colored rooms, & stained-glass windows. The Haveli was almost empty when we visited except for a handful of foreigners.
Despite there being so much to see, Udaipur can also be just about calm lakeside strolls. We found ourselves on the Gangaur Ghat, right next to the Bagore Ki Haveli. This is a primary ghat on the Lake Pichola & hosts festive rituals. We spent a few minutes here, absorbing the beauty of the lake.
We also spotted the Lake Pichola Hotel on the opposite bank. We didn’t visit it but can say that a meal on its rooftop restaurant will be worth it.
Without a doubt, the Gangaur Ghat can be cleaner but if you ignore the dirt, it’s a decent place to click photographs.
Daiji Bridge is a foot way bridge over the Lake Pichola. If you want to go to the Ambrai Ghat from the Gangaur Ghat on foot, this is the path that will take you there. Once you stand at the midpoint of the bridge, you get a terrific 360-degree view of Lake Pichola & its surroundings. Quite a camera-ready situation to be in!
As we took in the view, we couldn’t decide if the blue of the sky or the blue of the water was better. We got reminded of what Rudyard Kipling wrote in Letters of Marque – “If the Venetian, owned the Pichola Lake, he might say with justice, ‘see it and die’”.
Sadly, the bridge is quite dirty with cow dung. You’ve to be careful where you step.
You can spot the Mohan Mandir from the Daiji Bridge. The Mandir is a small gazebo – kind of structure in the middle of Lake Pichola. In the earlier days, royalty would watch Gangaur celebrations seated here.
It was time for lunch. We looked for a place that would afford a view of the Lake Pichola & found one in Shamiana Rooftop Restaurant.
Shamiana Rooftop Restaurant
This is the place if you want to have a relaxed meal. The rooftop gives an unobstructed view of Lake Pichola & the skyline on the opposite bank. & let us say – the view is LIT!
Regarding food & beverages, we drank Cosmopolitan & LIIT, & ate Create Your Own Pizza & Murgh Soola. The F&B was okay – neither great nor bad.
The service was good. Be prepared to climb a couple of floors to get to the rooftop; we didn’t spot an elevator here.
Moti Magri is a hill near the Fateh Sagar Lake. The hilltop offers a view of the Aravalli range & the Lake. On top of Moti Magri is the Maharana Pratap Smarak.
We didn’t want to take our car out from its comfortable parking. So, we called an Uber! We got one near Chand Pole. (Try to explore these lanes of Udaipur too; a different world altogether!)
The Uber dropped us at the base of the Moti Magri. After that lunch, we felt climbing on foot would be a good exercise. (Truth be told – the cab refused to go inside & uphill!) There are two ways to reach the Moti Magri top on which the Maharana Pratap Memorial is located – a winding road for vehicles, & a flight of stairs. We opted for the stairs; it killed our knees, but we took less time.
When all the stories of legends come back rushing to you, you know you’re at the right place! Perched atop Moti Magri, with sweeping views of the city below, the Smarak is a statue of Maharana Pratap atop his beloved horse, Chetak.
Legend has it that Chetak got injured in battle but crossed Haldighati (on three legs carrying his master. The horse gave us its life to save Maharana Pratap. The Memorial immortalizes the bravery of both & evokes emotions of courage. It has plaques narrating history.
The Moti Magri top is calm & away from chaos. The view from the top is beautiful & serene. There are a couple of paths leading down to other statues. Food options are available as are plenty of photo-ops.
On our way down, we halted at Hall of Heroes & enjoyed murals & portraits of Mewari kings & other notable personalities. We also admired mannequins dressed for war & large models of old cities & battlefields.
The Sunset Terrace
We descended the Moti Magri through the winding road & called an Uber to take us to the City Palace Museum precincts. It was time for some sunset watching. We’d been recommended The Sunset Terrace for a great sunset view. It’s an al fresco restaurant in the Taj Fateh Prakash Palace.
We perched ourselves at The Sunset Terrace a little before sunset & made ourselves comfortable with LIIT & Masala Chai. The service was good but a little aloof. The view, of course, is breathtaking. As the Sun disappeared behind the combination of Taj Lake Palace + Lake Pichola + Aravalli, we could only sigh at the sight.
City Palace Museum Light & Sound Show
As soon as the Sun went down, we finished our drinks & hurried inside the City Palace for the Light & Sound Show. The Show is a good way to explore centuries of Mewar history. It’s narrated by Shriji Arvind Singh, present custodian of the House of Mewar. What a baritone!
After an English performance, there’s one in Hindi as well. The beauty of the performance & the melodic sounds offer an enjoyable experience.
This must be the busiest restaurant in Udaipur. We’d to book our table a night in advance. But we understood the fuss once we got here. Located on the Ambrai Ghat with a view of the City Palace Museum across Lake Pichola, this must be one of the restaurants in India that give a romantic experience.
Our table was lit with only a tealight but the twinkling lights from the monuments across the Pichola provided all the bokeh we needed. Our server took really good care of us.
We drank Fire & Ice and LIIT. We ate Daal Tadka, Murgh Dhungar, Maans K Sula Kebab & Steamed Rice. Usually, restaurants with views compromise on food. Not Ambrai. The food was as good as the view. The restaurant is expensive but VFM we would say.
The Last Morning
It was time to head to our next destination but only after a hearty breakfast & clicking photographs of our home stay!
Chandra Niwas Home Stay is a homely & safe place to stay. It’s well located from the heart of Udaipur – near enough to reach Lake Pichola in 10 minutes, yet far enough from the hustle bustle. Samvit, the host, was helpful right from the time of the booking.
His team members took good care of us during our stay. Our breakfast was included & was simple but delicious – aloo paratha & idli sambhar with standard items like bread, fruits etc. We could park our vehicle right outside the house.
The best part for us was that the home stay was economical. We didn’t want to spend too much on accommodation as we intended to be out sightseeing the entire day. Chandra Niwas fit perfectly that way.
While coming from Jaipur by road, we’d a bit of a tough time reaching the Home Stay because of Google Maps pushing us into dingy lanes. We became apprehensive seeing the surroundings, but our fears turned out to be unfounded.
The room allotted to us was on the roof & extremely sparsely furnished. Ditto for the bathroom. If the rooms are made a little cozier, it will be great.
P.S. We feel Chandra Niwas Home Stay is better suited for backpacking/ budget travelers, or people like us who don’t mind staying in the most basic of accommodations.
We had been to Jaipur earlier but never as a tourist. One time for work, the other time to shop. So, when we were drawing up our itinerary for the Rajasthan road trip, we knew we had to include the pink city. It was our first destination.
The First Evening
Stopping just for a brunch in Behror (146 KMS from our starting point), we were at our home stay in Jaipur (143 KMS from Behror) by early evening. A cup of tea later, we were out shopping & dining.
Rajasthan has a Geographical Indication tag for Bagru & Sanganeri block prints. Gulab Chand was an excellent place to pick the same. We picked stuff up not just for ourselves but also to carry home as mementos.
The prices were economical, thus sparing us the need to bargain. We picked Bagru print sarees, a Sanganeri print dress material, & a printed men’s half-shirt. The shirt had peacocks block printed on it – so cute!
The collection at Gulab Chand Prints stretches to home linen & upholstery too. We got adequate attention from the salesmen. Must visit & must buy!
It’s easy to go crazy here. The blue pottery artifacts are colorful & extremely attractive. We were oohing & aahing at all the wares on display. A pity we couldn’t pick the big pots & vases, as taking them back would have been a challenge, but they were gorgeous. Everything was!
The prices were on the higher side, but the quality was great. We picked up an earrings & necklace set in blue pottery as a memento.
We’d been recommended Spice Court by our hosts for our dinner.
The restaurant had quite a waiting. Luckily, there was a seating area in their cafe (Dzurt) where we’d a cold coffee while we waited. Dzurt seemed quite a hit with the locals. Our cold coffee was delectable. A glass was as good as a light meal for one person. The cafe had a nice, chill vibe, with a soothing white decor.
Once we were seated in Spice Court, we couldn’t help noticing the interiors; they resembled a colonial dining room, with mellow lighting & quite elegant in appearance. The service was quick; the servers were courteous & did a great job of recommending dishes to us.
We’d Keema Baati & Safed Maas with Missi Roti. Both the items were delicious but quite heavy. Between the two of us, we couldn’t finish. (Our desire of sampling the tasty – looking desserts at Dzurt went for a toss too.)
By the end of our meal, we could figure out why Spice Court is highly recommended.
THE NEXT DAY
Fresh after a restful night, we were ready to explore Jaipur. After breakfast, we drove to the City Palace & parked our car in the parking available in the courtyard behind Naqqar Darwaza.
After the City Palace, we visited the Jantar Mantar & then strolled through the Johri Bazar to reach Hawa Mahal & Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar (for lunch). We then drove to Amber (8 KMS from Jaipur) to see the fort and for the light & sound show.
One may feel the City Palace ticket is expensive but it’s worth it. This Palace is not as well-known as its Udaipur counterpart but is grand, nonetheless. A buggy is available to visitors, for a fee, to take a round of the premises.
The City Palace has many courtyards & buildings. So, don’t rush your visit. A few parts we loved:
The Mubarak Mahal facade has a hanging balcony; the carving gives an illusion of a decoupage.
All the gates (Pol) have beautiful marble inlay work.
The Greek design on the marble floor of the Sarvato Bhadra is eye-catching.
The Chandra Mahal is the residence of the royal family.
The Peacock Gate in the Pritam Niwas Chowk is outstanding.
The Jantar Mantar is across the road from the City Palace. We purchased a composite ticket that included entries to both Jantar Mantar & Amber Fort (& also to Albert Hall, Hawa Mahal, Isarlat, Nahargarh Fort, Sisodia Rani Garden, & Vidhyadhar Garden). (You can book these tickets online too.)
The innovative architectural instruments are designed to observe astronomical positions with the naked eye. It’s quite pointless to come here without a guide as you can’t understand the instruments on your own.
We were awestruck with the masonry of the instruments! Noteworthy were the:
Digamsha Yantra which calculates sunrise & sunset timings & the solar azimuth angle
Laghu Samrat Yantra (small sundial)
Vrihat Samrat Yantra (‘great king of instruments’) – It’s the largest sundial ever built.
The Hawa Mahal is at a walking distance from the City Palace/ Jantar Mantar. It’s in the shape of Lord Krishna’s crown. The Mahal has jharokhas (windows) on its decorated facade. Do note that it’s almost impossible to find this place sans people.
You can buy a ticket & go inside too; we chose not to.
This market is a great place to buy anything & everything. If you’re looking for traditional Rajasthani items, you’ll be spoilt for choice here. If you’re looking for wedding – related finery, this is the place.
The entire market has been made in a consistent color scheme of ‘Pink City’ giving it a charming look. Do note there’s no parking available here. So, leave your car behind & catch a public transport.
Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar
It was our second visit here after more than five years. But nothing seems to have changed. They have a shop in the front & seating space at the back. We hogged on Dal Kachori, Mirchi Vada, Pyaz Kachori, Samosa, Stuffed Paratha, Sweet Lassi, & Virgin Toddy. Oh, the kachoris are delectable!
The restaurant is always crowded but the service is quick.
After that kind of a lunch, we were just too full to scale a fort. Also, there seemed to be hordes of visitors. So, we parked in the Amber Fort parking & promptly dozed off! Of course, the winter afternoon sun helped!! Around 4 PM, the crowds started thinning. That’s when we took our car up from the back alleys right to the top of the hillock on which the fort is built.
Inside the Amber Fort, all the structures are captivating & have immense history behind them – Suraj Pol, Jaleb Chowk, Diwan – i – Aam, Shri Shila Devi Ji Mandir, Ganesh Pol (awe-inspiring), Sukh Niwas, Diwan – i – Khaas (beautiful glass work), & Chand Pol.
The architecture is a blend of the Mughal & Rajput styles. The fort base is made up of the Maota Lake, which was sadly almost dry when we visited. The Amber Fort wall is the third longest wall in the world.
We recommend taking a guide (though the guide is sure to take you to one of the commission shops).
Amber Fort Light & Sound Show
Post sunset, we headed to the Kesar Kyari for the Light & Sound Show. A good way to grasp the history of the Kachwaha Rajput royalty & understand it in relation to the Mughals! The Rajput royals’ lifestyle, story & tradition is enamoring.
The narration was good, the lighting average. In the winter months, it can get cold to sit in the open; so, ensure you wear enough warm clothes. There is no parking around the amphitheater; you must park in the main lot & then either walk or take a gypsy ride for a fee.
On our way back from Amber, we took a detour to Albert Hall Museum. You cannot possibly miss this piece de resistance… A fine example of Indo – Saracenic architecture! It was made prettier with the colorful lighting.
Jammie’s Kitchen is cozy & feels like you’re eating in someone’s home. The butter chicken was highly recommended at this restaurant; unfortunately, it came out as average to us.
We had Bacon Wrapped Chicken, Butter Chicken, Chicken Clear Soup & Plain Tandoori Roti. All the dishes (& the service) were average.
The Last Morning
It was time to head to our next destination but only after a hearty breakfast & selfies with our hosts!
At Jaipur Friendly Villa, it didn’t seem we were meeting the Mehras for the first time. Sir & Ma’am have built a cozy home that they open with warmth to tourists. We reached here by early evening & were welcomed with hot tea. Over tea, the Mehras recommended to us the eating, seeing & shopping spots of Jaipur. & all their suggestions turned out to be on-point!
Our room was adequately sized with all amenities (including a kitchenette). It was January & there was no dearth of warm water. Across our room was a large balcony where we could dry our towels etc. & sun ourselves – though we never got the time.
The breakfast spreads were more than we expected from a home stay – Banana bread (yum), Bread omelet, Cornflakes with milk, Samosa, Tea, Upma, & Uthappam.
They had a foreign couple staying at the same time. All of us had a nice time around the breakfast table, sharing cultural stories.
The location is excellent. JFV is nestled in a residential area but the old city is hardly 15 minutes’ drive from here. Parking is available right in front of the house. It sounds cliched, but this was truly a home away from home.