Â We were both happy to leave Delhi on Tuesday and even happier when our driver showed up at our hotel to start our trip around Rajasthan. Our first destination was Pushkar; the home of a famous camel fair and a very holy Hindu city with over 500 temples. It was an 8 hour drive from Delhi, and I am sure glad I didnâ€™t have to drive in that craziness! We made our way out of Delhi and onto an expressway with tolls through the suburbs. Eventually we were in the countryside with little towns every so often. The road had a lot of construction, so in each town we found ourselves in a jam, as the road was busy with people traveling for Diwali. One neat thing to see was the decorations for the festival on the trucks!
Â Pushkar is a small town centered around a lake and surrounded by green hills. The scenery is really pretty, and it was nice to be out of the hustle and bustle. We spent the evening checking out the market and had a lovely dinner on a rooftop overlooking the lake. The atmosphere within the town was buzzing, as it was the eve of the big celebration, and many of the locals were walking in their fancy and colorful clothes. Diwali is the festival of lights, and fireworks are a major part of their celebration, so we got to see some really pretty ones during dinner. As far as we could tell, anything goes for the size of the fireworks. Some of them sounded like small bombs going off and others lit up the sky like a small townâ€™s 4th of July!
On Wednesday, we started our day with a 2 hour camel ride. I decided since we were in a town known for its camels that we should experience it by riding them, and Mike was game. Mike got on first onto a 6 year old female named Badle with bells around her ankles. Then it was my turn to get on Felicia, who was a 2 year old female not fully grown and frisky. The saddle was very similar to a horse, with stirrups and a horn to hold onto. For Felicia to stand up, I had to lean back in the saddle, and then she got her back legs up first then her front legs. It was a bit jerky, so I held on tight, and then I was really high in the air!
Each of our camels was led by a guide and we started our tour by walking on the outskirts of town to the camel festival arena and trading area. The festival was scheduled to start next week, but there were already lots of tents set up and camels grazing. During the festival there are 30,000 camels and 150,000 people! Iâ€™m glad we got to see a glimpse of the action. One of the main events are the camel races, and we got to see a camel and rider running at full speed practicing for the race. I was surprised how fast the camel could run. We dismounted the camels here to give them a break. The dismount was awkward, and I was happy not to fall off! After we got off, the camels rolled onto their sides and wiggled around itching themselves. The ride back to town was pretty, as we got to see the town from the other side of the lake. It was a great experience, but I donâ€™t think I will need to ride a camel again.Â Also, I know that Mike will never get on another camel after spending two hours sniffing the gas cloud that was floating up from his aging camel.
Â Our other highlight from Pushkar was participating in a lakeside ceremony (Pushkar Puja) with a local priest to receive a blessing. Our blessing ceremony started with a repetition of prayers in both Hindu and English asking for safe travels and good karma. We also scattered rose petals into the lake and gave a small donation. At the end, the priest tied a red string around my wrist 5 times to signify the number of family members he blessed. We had read that once we completed the ceremony and got our red bracelets that people would stop bugging us, and they were right. Plus, locals even came up to us afterwards while we were walking around town to tell us they were happy we did the ritual. It did feel weird to have rice on my forehead, but we kept it on all day.
We spent the remainder of the day chilling out in the hotel garden. It felt nice to have some downtime after sensory overload from the past few days. That evening, we walked around town and to the lake to watch the Diwali celebration of bringing small oil lamps to all the shrines and Ghats. The lake looked beautiful with the lamps scattered around it, and we had fun watching the ladies in their pretty saris bringing the lamps. Back at the hotel, we watched the fireworks from the garden and went to bed.
Our next destination was Udaipur, nicknamed the Romanic City due to its location on the side of a lake and its beautiful palaces. Udaipur was a 4 hour drive from Pushkar, and the scenery changed to be lush green hills with lots of trees. We didnâ€™t hit as much traffic since today was still a big festival day. Our driver, Surender, has only been driving tourists for less than one year, so he was not very familiar with Udaipur and spent a good deal of time on the phone trying to get directions to city center. When we arrived, many of the roads were closed to cars due to the festival, so we had to have the hotel worker come to us on motorbike. I nominated Mike to ride to the hotel to checkout the room to make sure we wanted to stay there while I stayed behind with Surender and our bags. Off Mike went on the back of a scooter holding on tight! About 15 minutes later, Mike called to say that the room was okay, and that they were sending the scooter for me. There wasnâ€™t room on the scooter for our bags, andÂ I had to trust that they would come back for them, but I trusted Surender to keep an eye on them. Then I was off down the curvy roads on the back of the scooter holding on as tight as I could! The boy driving did a good job and we didnâ€™t crash into a cow, another scooter, or the mass of people on the streets. I was happy to arrive at the hotel intact!
Udaipur had decorated its streets with lots of lights and tinsel overhead and fake, lit-up palm trees down the center of the bazaar streets. It was so festive, and we really enjoyed walking around the bazaar in the evening with the locals. Everyone was in a good mood, and it really was fun to be a part of it. For dinner, we went to a rooftop restaurant to watch the massive fireworks and the city palace decked out in lights. Iâ€™m so glad we got to experience Diwali in this beautiful city, and it will definitely be a nice highlight from our trip.
Â On Friday, we got an early start on sightseeing with our first good view of Lake Pichola and the lake palace from a pedestrian bridge. The lake was created in the 1500â€™s by constructing a dam and made for a nice addition to the city. Next, we walked to Jagdish Temple which was built in 1652 and dedicated to Lord Jagannath, an aspect of Vishnu. This was our first Hindu temple that we entered, and we were not sure what to expect, so we followed a tour group inside to make sure we followed the correct protocol. First we took our shoes off, and then we were only allowed to take photos from the outside, not in the interior of the temple. The outside was intricately carved with many rows of different figures. We continued our strategy to just listen into other tour groups, so we got tidbits of information along the way. Inside the shrine was very beautiful and covered with fresh flowers and had a table of offerings in front.
After the temple, we went to the city palace, where we were greeted with mass chaos at the tiny ticket counter. There were at least 100 people in a disorganized mass trying to buy tickets with people shoving and cutting in line. It was nuts. After waiting for about 15 minutes in what we thought was the line, the security guards came in to create organized lines so now we knew we were in a line destined for the ticket counter. The ticket window next to us had both a ladies only line and a male only line and after another 15 minutes, the guards decided that our line should be made into a ladies only and the other window males only. So we were pushed out of the way by a bunch of Indian women who were bee-lining for the head of the line. I stayed put, and Mike tried another line eventually getting us a ticket into the courtyard of the palace but not the interior. I was upset that we couldnâ€™t get a ticket to the interior and frustrated by the crowds, so we walked into the palace courtyard for a water break. There I found another ticket counter with no line, and we bought our tickets to the interior in an orderly fashion.
So onwards to the interior of the city palace which was a one-way path through a series of rooms and courtyards. We got to see beautiful artwork, amazing views of the city and lake, and decorated rooms where the emperor and family lived. I wish I could say that I really enjoyed myself, but I canâ€™t. It was beautiful, and Iâ€™m glad we went, but the crowds were too overwhelming! Many of the passageways were very small and narrow which caused bottlenecks. Instead of waiting in an organized line, everyone pushed and shoved their way towards the door, and I ended up in the middle getting pushed from all sides. I felt really bad for the kids, since they are so much shorter! By the end, I just wanted out and really just had glimpses of the last few rooms in between holding my ground and trying to get out of there!
Â After the madness, we had a nice quiet lunch to refuel for the remainder of our sightseeing. Surender picked us up at the hotel, and we drove to the Monsoon palace which is located onto of a huge hill on the other side of the lake. The views were magnificent of the lake and city on one side and the other side of the rolling green hills of countryside. The palace itself wasnâ€™t much to look at, as the construction was never finished because they couldnâ€™t figure out a way to pump water up to it. But the views made the trip totally worthwhile!
Â Next we drove to Sahelion-Ki-Bari, the garden of the maidens, where the ladies of the court would come to relax. It was a beautiful walled garden with many water fountains and nice big trees. My favorite fountain had four large elephants around the outside and a large center tiered fountain.
That evening, we attended a traditional folk song and dance performance. The place was packed, and we were lucky to get good seats as some people had to stand. The musicians were good, and I really enjoyed the drums and singing. But my favorite was two women who in sync hit different chimes attached to their bodies while sitting down. They hit them on their feet, over their shoulders, and on their hands. It was impressive that they stayed together the whole time! The dancing was excellent too! My favorite piece was an older woman who danced while balancing clay pots on her head. Every minute, they would add another pot until it was at least 6â€™ tall! After each pot was added she would do a balance trick, including laying down and walking on broken glass. It was a great show, and it was a nice end to the day and to our stay in Udaipur.
I really enjoyed these few days in these two great towns, and our time here took a nice turn for the better. It has been nice to have Surender for a driver too as we are getting spoiled by not having to haggle with rickshaw drivers and find our way around. That will come in our second week in India when we are on our own again.