GUEST ARTICLE: The best way to see Rajasthan, India’s largest and most picturesque state is by road trip. Our first destination was to Jaipur also known as ‘The Pink City.” It was only a 235km drive but it ended up taking us over six hours to get there. One thing I learned while in India was ‘patience’ and relaxation!
Just before we entered the Rajasthan state (driving from Agra) our driver recommended our first sightsee should be to Jodha Bai’s Palace located near Orccha. It is said to be the largest and the most important of the palaces in the Imperial Harem (Haram Sara) in Fatehpur Sikri. It was built using Mughal architecture by Akbar the Great for his favourite Rajput queen Jodha Bai.
Unfortunately once again we had to go through the rigmarole of getting transportation from the parkade to the palace and then being bombarded with tour guides and buskers. While trudging through intense +37C heat this wasn’t exactly something we wanted to stand around and do. In the end we were shown to a ‘free’ bus shuttle and we ended up hiring a guide.
When we arrived at the palace the guard taking the tickets started arguing very loudly with our guide. Unbeknownst to us (we later found out) he wasn’t an ‘official’ guide and this made the guard very angry and proceeded to bully him about getting a cut of the money we were going to give him after the tour. Rather than stand around listening to that idiocy we ended up just pushing through and continued on our tour of the beautiful red sandstone palace.
We soon came upon a section of the palace that had a huge courtyard with a massive bright green pool located on another level down below. There were a few guys hanging around down there and they said they would jump into this pool for some rupee, so we thought why not? It was a massive jump but the guys did it in style, hope they didn’t swallow any water!
Our tour guide ended up being pretty bad (obviously), and besides not having his facts straight we couldn’t even understand him…man I hate getting ripped off. We weren’t even halfway through when that guard turned up again and started yelling at the guy and giving him some shoves. By this time we’d had enough and as more men came out of the woodworks to gather around and put their two cents in we thought it best to get out of there. So we literally ran back to the bus and insisted we leave pronto! The last we saw of our ‘guide’ he was being surrounded by at least 20 men… So that was a bit of unfortunate excitement but we didn’t let it sway our journey.
When we arrived in Jaipur we grabbed a quick delicious lunch (as you always do in India) and then continued on our way to see the Amber Fort located just on the outskirts of the city. Before long we were gazing at the massive fort walls lining the mountains and the grandiose Amber Fort.
The Amber Fort is a palace complex within the original fort of Amber that is today known as Jaigarh Fort which is situated on top of the hill. It is said to be one of the most beautiful Forts in all of India and I would have to agree. The grounds were beautifully done and the palace structure, striking. There were many areas to explore and thankfully the cool rooms throughout gave us some reprieve from the heat.
Our next stop was to the Nahagarh Fort situated not too far away. It stands on the edge of the Aravalli Hills overlooking all of Jaipur. Nahagarh means the abode of tigers and is also called the hunting residence of Maharajas. The Fort was a little run down but it appeared to be restoration mode. The best part was a stone path that led to a lookout over the city. The view was incredible and it gave us a real insight as to how massive Jaipur actually was. We also got a good look at the Jal Mahal (Water Palace) situated in the middle of Lake Man Sagar Lake.
After a big day of driving and sightseeing we finally packed it in and checked into our hotel the Khandela Haveli. The hotel was really beautiful and the accommodation was excellent. For dinner that night we had some delicious Rajasthani cuisine at their rooftop restaurant.
The next day we awoke bright and early and continued on our journey, this time to our final stop at Jodhpur located about 324kms away. Along the way we made a special stop at an Ashram in a little village called Jadan in the district of Pali. A guy I went to school with back in Australia ended up moving out there about 14 years ago and has since become Swami Jasraj Puri (or whom I know as Jason) and currently manages the Ashram and in particular the very special Shree Vishwa Deep Gurukul Maheshwaranand Ashram School.
It was a bit difficult to find Jadan since it’s situated a little bit off the beaten path. Fortunately all we had to do was ask a few friendly locals along the way and they all pointed us in the right direction. It seems that the Ashram and Swami Jasraj Puri are quite well known and deeply respected throughout the region. Unfortunately Jasraj Puri was out of the country at the time on Yoga business but we were still warmly welcomed and graciously shown around by his co-worker Agni Davi.
The Ashram grounds covered quite a large area of the countryside. During our tour we saw some pretty good developments, most very beneficial to the surrounding community. They have managed to build and establish a school for the surrounding community and they currently have about 1500 fortunate children that now attend. The kids all looked very happy and the place looked really organised.
Agni Davi said that this school was especially important for the girls since under normal circumstances past a certain age they wouldn’t be given this opportunity. They have also just recently built a massive hospital that will also be a great help for the region. All of these projects are based on donations (and earnings from a worldwide network of charitable yoga centres). And judging by the smiles on the kids’ faces it seems that those funds are being put into good use.
It only took us an hour to get to Jodhpur from Jadan and before we knew it we were tucked into our room at the Devi Bhawan. A massive room cost us about US$65! Rather than drive from Jodhpur back to Delhi we decided to take a cheap flight. Driving in India (even if you’re in a comfortable Mercedes) can be very tiring. What looks like a short trip on the map can turn into a long, winding journey with many obstacles. For this reason one-way trips are advisable.
India is a peculiar place, one minute we’re driving down a dirt street strewn with garbage, packed with honking cars and wandering livestock, and then the next minute we’ve pulled into a quiet oasis off the road protected by huge iron gates. The difference between the rich and the poor is blatantly obvious. We went through a myriad of emotions while in India and witnessed both the glorious and the downright ugly. Overall though I would highly recommend everyone to come and experience it at least once. It’s definitely unique in every way and something you will never forget.
This travel diary has been written by Machalle Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!