What We Like About…

It may still be a bad time to talk about travel as India has emerged from the second COVID-19 wave only two months’ back. However, there is a post idea that has been on our minds for weeks now & we felt this would be the perfect time to write it down.

So, we have travelled to 21 states & 6 union territories of India. Not all of them for sightseeing but nonetheless… & something or the other has always caught our eye!

Now, even in states, a lot changes between districts. Thus, this is not a generalization but just an account of the things we have experienced & liked about a place.

So, here we go with what we like about…

Andhra Pradesh

P visited Andhra Pradesh as a child. The memories are faint but if we had to choose, it would be the beaches of Vishakhapatnam.

Bihar

What to say about the state that has been home? Yet, Biharis’ zeal to achieve stands out spectacularly.

Chandigarh

The planned sectors & the bungalows… Retiring here would not be a bad idea!

Chhattisgarh

Limited exposure that too in childhood & not from a sightseeing POV

Dadra Nagar Haveli and Daman Diu

We have been to Daman. Loved its laidback vibe. Also, what we coined “poor (wo)man’s Goa”!

Moti Daman Fort

Delhi

Heritage, history, more heritage, more history!

Goa

The lush greenery & the intimidating Arabian Sea during monsoon

Gujarat

The farsan!!!

Sabarmati Riverfront

Haryana

Dhabas & dhaba food!

Himachal Pradesh

The far Himachal of Lahaul, Spiti & Kinnaur… the dangerous Hindustan – Tibet Road… the friendliness of locals…

Jammu & Kashmir

Without a doubt, the valleys. & The dried berries & fruits!

  • kashmir, shikara

Jharkhand

Limited exposure not from a sightseeing POV

Karnataka

The backwaters! (Yes! Unknown compared to the Kerala ones but quite pretty.)

Kerala

How we can go from hills to seas in less than five hours! & The Malabar cuisine.

Between Karnataka & Kerala can be a competition for the best backwaters. We weren’t complaining though…

Ladakh

The sheer grit of the locals! It is a difficult terrain to live in; yet we never found a single person without a smile!

Madhya Pradesh

That fact that it is SO underrated! It has everything – hills, water bodies, geographical formations, indigenous cultures, heritage – & yet it is not the first name that pops up when we speak of ‘Incredible India’.

From the hills of Pachmarhi to the river of Orchha…
Sunset on River Betwa

Maharashtra

The Western Ghat undoubtedly! & Konkani food!!

A pink sky on the Western Ghats

Odisha

P visited Odisha as a child. But she remembers the Chilka Lake vividly…

Puducherry

Favourite beach town in all of India! Great food, colourful buildings, heritage, & max – chill vibe!

Punjab

Mustard fields. Sarson ka saag & makke ki roti. & Harmandir Sahib.

Rajasthan

The fact that when all north India shuts down in winter, this state comes alive! Also, the folk music! & The royalty!

Sikkim

How clean! How safe! How pristine!

Tamil Nadu

The headshake to start with… & Mysore Pak (We know Mysore Park originated in Karnataka, but we have always eaten Mysore Pak in TN ☹)

Telangana

P visited Telangana as a child. She remembers the musical clock at the Salar Jung Museum…

Uttar Pradesh

Home. & Kashi.

Mustard fields, Eternal favorite, uttar pradesh, india

Uttarakhand

The difference between Garhwal & Kumaon. The omnipresence of rhododendrons.

West Bengal

The romanticism. Many movies & series are made with WB as the backdrop. & The outcome is nothing short of beautiful…

There is still a lot to be seen. We hope to cover at least all the states & union territories in our lifetime even if we are unable to see them in entirety. Frankly, one lifetime is inadequate to experience all of Incredible India!

Doors of Rajasthan

So we’ve been wanting to do this for a LONG time but something or the other made us put it off. Finally, the Holi post of Incredible India made us bite the bullet!

Isn’t that a treat to the eyes? So, here we go, with our version of ‘Doors of Rajasthan’!!

Doors of Rajasthan… Or colors of Rajasthan!

Do you like it? Do you’ve a version of ‘Doors of Rajasthan’ too? Please let us know in the comments.

P. S. This has to be our shortest blog post EVER!

Nathdwara

A Quick Halt at The Shrinathji Mandir

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.

statue of belief, nathdwara, rajasthan, india
Statue of Belief under construction

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:

AartiTimings
Mangal Aarti5:15 am to 6:00 am
Shringar Aarti7:15 am to 7:45 am
Gwal Aarti9:15 am to 9:30 am
Rajbhog Aarti11:15 am to 12:05 pm
Uthapan Aarti3:30 pm to 3:45 pm
Bhog Aarti4:45 pm to 5:00 pm
Sandhya Aarti5:15 pm to 6:00 pm
Shayan6:50 pm to 7:30 pm

1.1   We Recommend –

  1. Plan to spend a night at Nathdwara. The different darshans have different meanings. Try to see more than one.
  2. 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.
  3. As mentioned above, there are multiple parts in the haveli. Try to see them all.
Photography outside the temple as it is prohibited inside!

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 –

  1. If you are staying at Nathdwara, take local transport to the temple.
  2. 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.
  3. If, like us, you are lost in the lanes, ask locals. Do not rely on GPS.
Running up the incline to be in time for Shayan!

3     Darshan

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. 😊

Sunset on our way down…

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 –

  1. Keep time available for the security checks & for depositing your belongings.
  2. Photography is prohibited inside the temple. Leave your camera behind.
  3. Keep your balance in the crowd. You would not want to fall down & be trampled upon, would you?
  4. Keep your eyes focused to see the Shrinathji idol. It is a small time-frame. Do not get distracted.
  5. 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.

HAVE YOU VISITED NATHDWARA?

Udaipur

The City Of Lakes In 36 Hours

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.

Marble Ganesha from Kishangarh

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

A collage of memories

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.

Khamma Ghani

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

All things Udaipur

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.

A photo-montage of Udaipur

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.

Tripolia Dwar

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:

Kaanch Ki Burj
  • 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.
Ivory Door, Baadi Mahal, City Palace Museum

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.

Jagdish Mandir

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).

Things that steal our hearts – colors, breathtaking chandeliers at Zenana Mahal, gorgeous reflections, Rajasthani paintings of Lord Ganesha, glimpse of Lord Vishnu at Jagdish Mandir, Gangaur Ghat & colorful streets

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

Stained glass window at 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.

Swinging through the balcony

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.

Gangaur Ghat

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.

Gangaur Ghat seen from the opposite shore

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

Watching the world go by at the Gangaur Ghat

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.

Lake Pichola Hotel

Mohan Mandir

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.

Lunch With A View – Mohan Mandir in the foreground

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.

City of Lakes

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

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.

Ascending to the top

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.

Suryavanshi Mewar

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.

Model of City Palace Museum at Hall of Heroes

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.

A dreamy sunset

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.

The City Palace Museum lit up

Ambrai

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.

Reflections…

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!

A last glance at the lake

Accommodation

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.

Chandra Niwas Home Stay

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.

mosaic, mirror, peacock, mor chowk, city palace museum
5k mosaic pieces & concave mirrors make up the peacocks at the Mor Chowk

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.

Jaipur

The Pink City In 36 Hours

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

Laghu Samrat Yantra, Jantar Mantar
Laghu Samrat Yantra, Jantar Mantar

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.

Our shopping spots for the evening were Gulab Chand Prints & Neerja International.

Gulab Chand Prints

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.

Mubarak Mahal, City Palace
Mubarak Mahal, City Palace

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!

Neerja International

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!

blue pottery
Blue pottery love!

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.

Spice Court

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.

Keema Baati, Missi Roti, Safed Maas, Spice Court, Jaipur
Keema Baati, Missi Roti, Safed Maas

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

Naqqar Darwaza

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.

We ended the day at Jammie’s Kitchen.

City Palace

Rajendra Pol/ Sarhad Ki Deohri, City Palace, Jaipur
Rajendra Pol/ Sarhad Ki Deohri, City Palace

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.

Jantar Mantar

Vrihat Samrat Yantra, Chakra Yantra, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
Vrihat Samrat Yantra on the left. Chakra Yantra on the right.

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.
  • Chakra Yantra
Digamsha Yantra, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
Digamsha Yantra

Hawa Mahal

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.

Johri Bazar

Johri Bazar
Johri Bazar

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!

Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar
Where delicious magic happens…

The restaurant is always crowded but the service is quick.

Amber Fort

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.

Fresco, Amber Fort
Fresco at Amber Fort

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.

Amber Fort, Light & Sound Show
Amber Fort lit up during the Light & Sound Show

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

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.

Bacon Wrapped Chicken, Jammie's Kitchen, Jaipur
Bacon Wrapped Chicken

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!

Accommodation

Jaipur Friendly Villa, home stay
Warmth at the Jaipur Friendly Villa

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.

Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur
Albert Hall Museum

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.

ROAD TRIPPING THROUGH RAJASTHAN

Living in Delhi NCR, a trip to Rajasthan becomes almost compulsory every winter. In the past, we’ve made short trips to Churu, to Jaipur, to Kishangarh, to Pushkar, to Ranthambhore, & to Sariska.

City Palace, Jaipur
City Palace, Jaipur

However, in 2019, we decided to do a proper, week long road trip of the desert state, flitting from place to place. Why a Rajasthan road trip you ask? Well, where else can you get a combination of culture, heritage, history, good food, an arid landscape, & tonnes of color?

We’d nine days to spare around Republic Day. We also have a principle of not driving more than 300 kilometers in a day. We feel it’s an optimal distance – covering fair ground, not too tiring, & gives scope to sight see on the way.

With these points in mind, we chose the route of NCR – Jaipur – Udaipur – Jodhpur – Mandawa – NCR. A few of these places were repetitive for us, but we’d not visited these as a couple. So, our itinerary looked something like this –

Amer Fort, Amer
Amer Fort, Amer

Saturday, 26 January 2019 – NCR to Jaipur (289 KMS)

We left on time, had brunch in Behror (146 KMS), & were in Jaipur by afternoon. A cup of tea later, we were out shopping & dining. Overnight in Jaipur.

Sunday, 27 January 2019 – Jaipur & Amer sightseeing

Jagdish Temple, Udaipur
Jagdish Temple, Udaipur

After breakfast, we visited City Palace & Jantar Mantar, strolled through Johari Bazar to reach Hawa Mahal & Laxmi Mishthan Bhandaar (where we’d lunch), & then to Amer (8 KMS from Jaipur) for seeing the fort and the light & sound show.

Back to Jaipur for dinner & overnight stay.

Monday, 28 January 2019 – Jaipur to Udaipur (391 KMS)

Ranakpur Jain Temple, Ranakpur
Jain Temple, Ranakpur

We began after breakfast & halted at Kishangarh (102 KMS) to buy marble products in its famed marble market. We’d made an exception today & chosen ~400 KMS. So, today was going to be a long drive. We stopped for lunch at a dhaba in Kishanpura.

We were crossing Nathdwara (248 KMS from Kishangarh) in the evening when we spontaneously took a break to visit Shrinathji. We finally reached Udaipur by late evening. After refreshing, we headed out for dinner. Overnight in Udaipur.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019 – Udaipur sightseeing

Guda Bishnoi Wildlife Safari, Jodhpur
Guda Bishnoi Wildlife Safari, Jodhpur

Done with breakfast, we visited City Palace Museum, Jagdish Mandir & Bagore Ki Haveli. We ate lunch at a lakefront, rooftop restaurant. We made our way to Chetak Smarak & were back in time for sunset watching at The Sunset Terrace.

We ended the night with the light & sound show at the City Palace, & then dinner. Overnight in Udaipur.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019 – Udaipur to Jodhpur (253 KMS)

Jhunjhunuwala Haveli, Mandawa
Jhunjhunuwala Haveli, Mandawa

We started for Jodhpur after breakfast & a little before lunchtime, we were at Ranakpur (84 KMS). We visited the Jain temple & then lunched at Ranakpur itself. We were at our Jodhpur hotel by early evening. We just went out for dinner tonight.

Overnight in Jodhpur.

Thursday, 31 January 2019 – Jodhpur sightseeing

Mubarak Mahal, Welcome Palace, City Palace, Jaipur
Mubarak Mahal (Welcome Palace), City Palace, Jaipur

We began our day with a safari in the Guda Bishnoi village areas (24 KMS). The first half of the day was spent in visiting a traditional Bishnoi household & spotting wildlife in the surrounding areas. We returned to the city for lunch & then visited the Mehrangarh Fort.

The Fort visit was followed by a sun downer, a walk in the Sardar market, seeing Ghanta Ghar, & an early dinner consisting of local specialties. Overnight in Jodhpur.

Friday, 1 February 2019 – Jodhpur to Mandawa (320 KMS)

town of 365 temples, Amer
The town of 365 temples – Amer

This stretch of the road was horrible. We reached Mandawa by afternoon & went for a walking tour of the town in the evening. Back to hotel for dinner & overnight stay.

Saturday, 2 February 2019 – Mandawa to NCR (275 KMS)

We’d kept this day open, thinking if we needed more time in Mandawa, we’ll stick around for a day more. But we managed to see a fair number of havelis on our first evening itself, & thus, decided to head home today.

Mohan Mandir, Lake Pichola, Udaipur
Mohan Mandir on Lake Pichola, Udaipur

Wondering why we’ve made such a brief post? 😀 It’s because we intend to write detailed posts for each of these four destinations. This blog post was to give an overview of how a week long road trip can be planned for Rajasthan.

Stay tuned for our post on Jaipur!

P. S. There can be endless variations of this road trip. E.g.

Clean & quiet temple, Ranakpur
Clean & quiet temple, Ranakpur

NCR – Churu – Pushkar – Udaipur – Kishangarh – Surajgarh – NCR

NCR – Jaipur – Ajmer – Churu – Surajgarh – NCR

NCR – Mandawa – Ajmer – Surajgarh – NCR etc.

Meet the Maharaja

For us, a holiday is not about rest and rejuvenation alone. At different points in time, it is about adventure, luxury, new experiences, new cultures, new food and discovering each other. One such place which gave a new experience was Kishangarh, Rajasthan, India.

Kishangarh is a big town divided into an old and a new segment. The new segment houses large marble companies with their factories, offices, and lots of small marble product retailers. This is the not-so-interesting side.

The real charm is in the old town of Kishangarh, which houses the Kishangarh fort and the Phool Mahal palace. It is about an hour before Pushkar when traveling from Delhi. Both Ajmer and Pushkar are at easy accessible distances.

IMG_0243
The old town that still owes allegiance to the maharaja of Kishangarh. The blue reminded of Jodhpur…

We came to know about Kishangarh from the 2012 edition of Outlook Traveler. But when we mentioned it to people, they either did not know about it or dismissed it saying it has nothing.

It left us skeptical but not disheartened; skeptical because we were taking our parents along too. Nonetheless, we were determined to find out for ourselves. And, we are glad we did.

We started from Delhi fairly late, at about 9 AM. We got all the city traffic possible. The road from Gurgaon to Jaipur was quite bad too; there was construction going on. Diversions marked our route, making the roads even more congested.

IMG_0233
It may be small. It may not be as glamorous as other heritage properties. But it had a soul…

Once we turned onto the Ajmer- Pushkar road, it was smooth sailing. Phool Mahal palace is available accurately on GPS. Within Kishangarh, we crossed the market to get to the palace. This added to our skepticism as the market was narrow, with a fair degree of hustle and bustle. One of the roads branched to take us to the palace.

Once we reached there, all our skepticism went flying out of the window. Located on one side of the Gond Talav (pond), made of yellow stone, and having the fort as its backdrop, the Phool Mahal is not your typical luxury heritage hotel. It is more of a budget heritage hotel, but with all the old-world charm intact.

Kishor, the caretaker, showed us our rooms, which were on the first floor and were pond-facing. Our parents’ room was in a theme of blue with large bay windows overlooking the lake. It had a bathroom the size of a flat in most metros.

IMG_0247
The prettily done-up rooms. Great lighting, great views!

Our room had a pastel shade, and was circular & small. But it got its beauty from the paintings done on the wall. These were the Kishangarh style of miniature paintings. We also had a small verandah which opened to the lake.

The fort and the palace are retained by the royal family of Kishangarh. The current king is His Highness Maharaja Brajraj Singh. He is the 20th king. Kishangarh was set up when the second son of the Jodhpur Maharaja came here and established his own kingdom. His name was Maharaja Kishen Singh, from which the town takes its name. And true to its name, the town follows Lord Krishna.

The Royal Kishangarh has two more heritage properties – Roopangarh about 25 kms away from Phool Mahal, and Kishangarh House in Mount Abu. The lounge on the ground floor had a wall full of portraits of the 20 kings to have ruled Kishangarh. The dining hall had the photographs of the current king and his family.

IMG_0232
The prettiest bits – the paintings on the walls, called the Kishangarh Style of Paintings

The staff was skeletal but hugely courteous. The Rajasthani hospitality was quite evident. Kishor was not just our go-to person; he was also our guide to the history of the palace and fort. He accommodated all our requests. Along with him, we had a server dedicated to us.

The palace grounds are quite big with a large parking, the main palace, gardens and smaller standalone structures. When we reached, the Gond Talav was covered with water hyacinths.

The story goes-the pond was used for water chestnut farming. Once, along with the seeds of the water chestnut plant, came a few branches and leaves of the water hyacinth plant. These took over the pond as Alexander had taken over the world. Efforts were made to remove these but given their stubbornness and parasitic nature, it had been futile.

IMG_0207
The water-hyacinth covered lake. Before, during and after the wind blew…

The hyacinths were killing the pond. The lack of oxygen made the fish come to the surface. The pond had a dirty brown-grey color. But, but, but, we got a pleasant surprise when a gentle current made all the hyacinths drift into a corner of the pond. The pond then got a  blue shimmer color. That was the sight that kept us company for almost a day and a half.

We hope the municipality took corrective action. It was just a matter of will, was it not? And not every pond would have catfish as large as an eagle’s wingspan.

Next in line for us was the visit to the fort. The entry fee was INR 200 per person. The tickets were available at the Phool Mahal reception. A guide escorted us and explained the doors, the spikes, the horse-drawn carriages, the treasury, the weapon storage area etc.

IMG_0238
The rampart, the defense arrangements, we could breathe the days of yore

He then handed us over to ‘Mukhiya ji’ who was the priest in the temple inside the fort. The temple was dedicated to an avatar of Lord Krishna, Sri Nath ji but it could not be accessed by the public.

Mukhiya ji took us on a tour of the fort interior, which included many palaces. We just managed to cover the queen’s chambers after which we were exhausted. There is quite of bit of climbing that one needs to do, and it being Rajasthan, the Sun can be pretty strong. So try to go during the evening hours and do carry water with you.

It was heartwarming to see an intact fort which gave a glimpse of how the royalty lived many years ago. The fort also housed Studio Kishangarh which was the art initiative by the princess of Kishangarh. The Studio was striving to revive the old Kishangarh painting style. Worth a dekko!

IMG_0244
Studio Kishangarh- an initiative by the princess to revive the lost art of Kishangarh painting

Maintaining the fort would not be easy on the wallet, especially without a private/ public funding; a fort without a regular tourist inflow, it must be the pride of the royal family, and their memories that have kept this going.

His Highness was doing a pretty good job. Our only regrets – (1) We could not explore the fort in full due to its size and our paucity of time; and (2) We could not pick up a souvenir from the Studio Kishangarh outlet.

As we completed the fort visit, we were greeted by the sight of His Highness sitting in the veranda of Phool Mahal. We struck a conversation where he told us about the history, the efforts to clean the pond, the privacy of the Srinathji temple, and his other properties in Roopangarh and Mount Abu.

IMG_0239
Within the massive fort, lots of palaces for kings, Queens, princes, princesses & all bhai- bhatijas! That’s why they didn’t need a TV those days 😉

His Highness came across as a learned man; we later came to know he was an author and a lecturer on the Kishangarh art. There is something royal about royalty, isn’t there?

This brought our trip to an end. The day we left was the day of Holi, the festival of colors. We found the roads and highways devoid of traffic. On our onward journey, we had taken almost eight hours to reach. While returning, it took us six hours.

We took away nuggets of learning from the trip: (1) Never write off a place without experiencing it; (2) Hit the roads on major festival days.

IMG_0240
Bravery awards, replicas, sun-lit verandas, open courtyards… Sigh! This is the era we should have been born in.

Lastly, for the ease of fellow travelers, we suggest the following itinerary ex-Delhi: Delhi – Kishangarh- Ajmer- Pushkar- Roopangarh- Delhi. Five days, four nights would be sufficient.

Day 1: Leave from Delhi in the morning. Reach Kishangarh by evening. Spend the night at Phool Mahal.

Day 2: Start early and explore the fort in the first half. Head to Ajmer after lunch and offer a ‘chaadar’ at the ‘dargah’. Return to Phool Mahal for the night.

Day 3: Start late and head to Pushkar. Visit the Brahma temple and others, if you wish. Or shop at the bazaar and eat delicacies at the German bakeries. Head to the lake towards evening and be a part of the ‘aarti’. Back to Phool Mahal for the night.

Day 4: Head to Roopangarh. Explore the fort by day and rest there at night

Day 5: Leave for Delhi

Recommended time to visit: October-March

Recommended eats: Laal Maas (a very spicy mutton dish)

Recommended buys: A souvenir from Studio Kishangarh, lac bangles

Ram-ram sa!

My Gangtok Chronicle – Chapter 3

Continuing from Chapter 2, a few kilometers before Nathu La, I switched to the other car. I was in for making new friends. A group of Rajasthani couples was on holiday to Guwahati, Shillong and Gangtok.

When I say Rajasthani, I mean ‘proper’ Rajasthani. The men wore dhoti – kurta with pagdis; the women were in ghoonghat. All middle-aged folks, they first assumed I did not know Hindi. I hastened to correct them, and we got chatting.

One of the gentlemen was an ex-farmer, now a linesman with the electricity board. He had educated his children who were now doctors and engineers. The pride was evident in his voice. And then, of course, my interview followed.

My Rajasthani friends
My Rajasthani friends

Indians are such a curious bunch. They wanted to know if I worked, if I was married, if I had children, why I had moved to their car etc. but, surprisingly, they did not seem astonished that I was traveling alone. I loved interacting with them. N calls me antisocial, but I am pretty social when not overshadowed by his incessant chatter!

The tourists from Rajasthan were also proud of the fact that they had traveled to Guwahati in a ‘plane’. It made me realize how badly we take for granted the things that are still luxuries for millions.

They asked me about the pollution in Delhi; I bared my heart to them – my wish of not returning to Delhi but of settling down in Gangtok itself. Maybe, take up organic farming. I wish it was as easy as talking about it…

Sikkim can be called Land of Colors too!
Sikkim can be called Land of Colors too!

Chatting and laughing, we were at Nathu La. From the drop-off point, the climb was not too much but the lack of oxygen made every step difficult. I am unsure where I found my courage from. I marched ahead of others and was soon at the top. And I was stunned!

A rope marks the international boundary. It is easy to crossover to China, except that the Chinese would dislike it. The building on the left belongs to India, the one on the right to China. Even neighbors in the posh colonies of Delhi have higher fences & boundaries.

A Chinese soldier walked out to click a photograph. He looked like a teenager in front of our tall and strong Dogra regiment jawaans. But, underestimating them would be suicidal.

Nathu La
The temperature was still a bearable 10 degrees at the pass but the winds would penetrate the strongest of defenses. The smaller building is India while the taller one is China…

Having contented my heart soaking in this piece of my personal history, and having saluted the Indian tricolor, I started my descent.

Let me not make you think the climb was easy. Everyone struggled. A few senior citizens abandoned their plan of going all the way to the top. Walk slowly, take deep breaths, and travel light. In any case, camera, mobile phones and handbags are prohibited. Sip frequently on water. If you feel faint, do not proceed.

A 15-minute visit causes such tribulation to us; imagine how our soldiers man their posts 365 days of the year, in any weather. They are definitely made of superhuman elements.

I see empty roads & want to move here.
I see empty roads & want to move here.

On my way down, I picked up a warrior certificate; one that says I was brave enough to visit Nathu La. Yay!

Once back down, I realized my co-passengers were still making their way down. I had some time to click photographs. While doing so, the cab driver paid me a rare compliment – that I was the first Dilliwala he had liked. He wanted me to stay back in Gangtok and was ready to lease his land to me for organic farming. I smile every time I think of this.

It is uncommon for the people of the plains to extend innocent friendships; anything remotely friendly seems creepy to us. This cabbie was not the last person to become friendly; I was to encounter this again and again in Gangtok. I realized that it was just openness towards a guest but the cynic in me questioned their motive, even if my demeanor remained friendly. It is sad that the people of the metropolitan cities have completely lost their goodness. For us, everything seems to have an underlying agenda.

Another Friendly Encounter
Another Friendly Encounter

Coming back, a last note on Nathu La – carry an identification card (any government – issued one except a PAN card).

We made our way to the Baba Mandir where my own cab awaited. I bid a hearty goodbye to the Rajasthani tourists but I was to bump into them again.

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