Another article in our OBT series.
We took a private tour in India around the Rajasthan region which also included Varanasi and Nepal. Our fabulous tour was arranged through IVAT and included all transportation, hotels, activities, and guides in each place we visited.
While I wrote about my impressions of India in Everything is Possible in India and Mike wrote about the food in Food Glorious, Food in India, we haven’t told you about the places we visited. There is much to say, so here is part one.
We really had only one day of sightseeing in Delhi, but we packed in a lot of stuff. First, we visited Jama Masjid, the oldest and largest mosque in Delhi, built by the Muslim Mughal kings. They came from Persia and brought their food, customs, and Islam with them. This is interesting historically as they invaded Hindu lands that already had extensive Fort/Palaces. Because these palaces were used for defense, they were frequently destroyed or damaged, so there just weren’t that many remaining to see.
In addition, Hindu temples had images of their many gods, but Muslims don’t believe in showing images of animals or people, so they would remove the faces from the Hindu carvings and reuse the stone for other things. In contrast, the Muslims built ornate tombs, like the Taj Mahal, which had no military significance, so the tombs are very well preserved and there are lots of them to visit. Including the tomb of Humayun and Qutub Minar, the tallest stone tower in India.
To cap off our busy day, we took a bicycle rickshaw ride through the alleyways of old Delhi. We had to be sure to keep our hands and arms in because we frequently brushed against tuk-tuks or motorbikes or other obstacles in the alleys. If you have been following our travels, you know we have already done quite a few of these rides in Asia, but India is in a class by itself. I was honestly pretty happy to have that ride end.
Udaipur (The Lake City)
To make our trip more pleasant, we flew to Udaipur, a small city of 700,000, and our driver was there to meet us at the airport. (He drove all night to get there.) Udaipur is the city of lakes. There are three man-made lakes with palaces around and in them. At one, we saw an Indian military band playing bagpipes.
We saw beautiful gardens with gravity fed fountains and a beautifully restored Jain home. There was a palace with a museum where learned about the local Maharanas (the name given to an independent king.) Kings in other cities that were essentially ruled by the Mughals were called Maharajas. I also had my first experience with people wanting to take a selfie with me. Many of the people from outside of the cities have never seen a white person before, so they want a picture to show their friends.
The Jain Temple
On the way from Udaipur to Jodhpur, we visited a very large and famous Ranakpur Jain temple. There was a ceremony going on with much chanting and dancing. Our guide in Udaipur is a Jain priest half the year and a tour guide the other half. He told us a lot about the Jain religion and called them the Jews of India. They were traditionally merchants and bankers, but aspire to let go of all worldly things to attain Nirvana. Frankly, I was a little confused. The Jain temple was full of monkeys, we saw 2 different types that were all being chased away by someone whose job it is to chase away the monkeys. The whole time at the temple, I was thinking this is what Rudyard Kipling wrote about. I wanted to watch Disney’s Jungle Book again so badly.
Jodhpur (The Blue City)
Jodhpur is a medium-sized city with 1.5 million people. The city gets its nickname from the blue color used by the Brahma to paint their houses. Now it is just a tradition to use blue paint. Here we stayed at a former Maharaja Palace, a heritage property. In looking at the pictures of the Maharajas on the walls of the hotel, we noticed that they were mostly playing polo and, being the astute folks we are, we realized that the name for the pants worn while playing polo (jodhpur) came from this town.
We started our tour at a beautiful tomb/crematorium on a hill made of white marble, then we visited the imposing 15th century Mehrangarh Fort on the hill. It was made of beautiful red sandstone, sitting imposingly over the town. All of the palaces we visited had stone honeycombed screens over the windows used to shield women from view. We were told that the holes were thicker in the middle, creating a venturi effect that provided cooler air for the palace and I can attest, cool air is required. In some of the neighborhoods, there are still step-wells, which are beautiful ornate bathing and gathering places. We saw them all over this region.
We visited a huge textile merchant that produces beautiful embroidered fabrics and makes pashmina scarves for Hermès, Anthropology and other western retailers. The man we met said they employed more than 8000 people. We got their card and think we might order some things later when we are ready to settle somewhere.
Later, we took a Jeep ride to a Bishnoi (a different ethnic group) farm. The Bishnoi are agrarian and live by 29 (bish+noi) principles including the sanctity of all life. We have seen a lot of farms while driving around India and it turns out that the grain we thought was corn is actually millet. It is traditional to grow the millet along with lentils and sesame plants in the same field. On the way to the village home, we saw herds of deer and peacocks, but we knew the big event would be in Ranthambore in a few day’s time.
Jaipur (The Pink City)
The drive from Jodhpur to Jaipur took eight hours over some of the worst and best roads we have seen so far in India. Jaipur is a big city of 4.5 million people. The town was first called the Pink City because the people painted the buildings pink for a visit from Prince Albert sometime in the middle of the 19th century. I must say that the nicest fort/palace that we have seen so far is probably the Amer Fort in Jaipur. There is a massive canon, Jaivana, at the Amer Fort that could shoot 35Km. It is 500 tons and was only fired once.
We had another melty day sightseeing that began with an elephant ride up to the Amer Fort. We didn’t think the walk up the hill from the pickup point seemed too cruel, but we were told the elephants only work from 7 to 11 am. In SE Asia, our tour company didn’t do elephant rides because it was cruel to the animals, but, of course, this is India.
The Maharaja’s Observatory
Another really interesting thing about Jaipur is the Jantar Mantar. The Maharaja’s observatory is a collection of outdoor devices that Maharaja Jai Singh commissioned in the 1700s, including the world’s largest sundial. The sundial is so large it can measure time with 2-second accuracy. There were other huge devices that mapped the sky for astronomy and astrology. Of course, we saw the current palace, a textile museum with the various Maharaja’s robes of beautiful embroidery, embossing, and brocade textile works. Finally, we saw another lake palace and the Hawa Mahal or the Palace of the Winds, which is the symbol of Jaipur.
Please read Tigers, the Taj and the Ganges for the rest of our travels around India.
Here are a few extra interesting pictures.