One of the most beautiful places I have ever visited (outside of Port Perry) is the Indian state of Rajasthan, the largest of the 28 states of the Republic of India. I guess the history and grandeur of days-gone-by still looms in the shadows of the current poverty and over population. Regardless of modern day concerns, the people are friendly and the sights are magnificent.
Of all the highlights to visit in India, Rajasthan is a must, but try and go in the early part of the year. I was fortunate to trek through India in January and was pleasantly surprised at constant 25 degree temperatures. The summer months bring monsoon rains and extremely hot and muggy days.
Rajasthan was the centre of the Maharaja era. There are forts and Palaces everywhere and a number of them have been converted into luxury hotel. To experience staying in rooms where kings have slept is beyond imagination.
The best way to explore Rajasthan is by private car with driver and guide. Traffic anywhere in India is unbelievable. There are no rules and the roads are shared by trucks, motorcycles, donkeys and camels, elephants and bicycles, people pulling carts and thousands of automobiles. To make matters worse, traffic lights are only for decoration and the odd policeman, standing on a pedestal in the centre of an intersection, is too busy fearing for his life to direct traffic. There are no lanes and traffic seems to drive on either side in either direction. To pass on the shoulder is quite common and if there is no room then the field, sidewalk or ditch will suffice.
Another interesting facet about travel through India is the debris on the roads. When in Rajasthan I experienced three flat tires within a hundred kilometre stretch. Fortunately everyone uses inner tubes and repair spots are located conveniently along the road at various intervals. The equivalent of sixty cents saw us on our way again in minutes.
Minor accidents are commonality and we were involved in two. First a motorcycle ripped our side mirror off and the second time a car took a piece out of our bumper. I asked why we weren’t stopping and was told it would take too long.
But, enough of the traffic. When one goes to India, especially Rajasthan, you do not visit, you experience. To see Rajasthan thoroughly you must go to the three cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. Each one is a former kingdom and is filled with history and splendour. To walk the open air market in Jodhpur can take days, because, as a visitor, you want to look at everything. The aroma of colourful spices greets you before you see them. Bright cloths and saris are hanging at every turn. To walk among the fresh fruits and vegetables creates an appetite and to simply watch the tens of thousands of people is an enjoyable pastime all on its own.
Cows are considered sacred, and roam freely throughout the market (and everywhere, for that matter). I stood and watched a dentist extract a tooth from a patient, who sat on a paved path between piles of turbans and bags of Aadrak (ginger). The people were extremely friendly and my camera would not stop working.
Staying at the Rambagh Palace hotel in Jaipur is like being transported in time. I have never experienced a more luxurious stay anywhere in my travels. As I sat in rattan chairs watching the sunset over green lawns, being waited on hand and foot, I was not surprised to see painted elephants, covered with colourful silks, parade metres past where I sat. Service was unbelievable and the sleeping suites made me want to move there forever.
Lunch in Udaipur was at the famous Lake Palace, located in the centre of Lake Pichola. It was built in 1746 as the summer residence of the Maharana. A short boat ride takes you to the opulent citadel, now transformed into a five star hotel. Book early as there are only 11 suites available. A new section of the hotel has been built on the mainland and although the rooms are splendid, one can not help but feel a bit deceived upon arrival, especially if you expected to stay on the island fortress.
Saying farewell to Rajasthan is difficult especially from Udaipur, as I stayed at the famous Devigarth Hotel, an ancient Palace with themed suites. Mine was the ‘Tiger’ and all three rooms were made of white marble. Even the bed was a solid block of marble with a blue, soft mattress. I can go on about this wonderful part of the world forever, but would never do it justice. Call your travel agent today and book a flight and by this time tomorrow you will be living as a Maharaja in the land of enchantment.