I’ve generally found Indians to be extremely passionate and territorial when it comes to mangoes! Most of us never give up on the mangoes we grew up on. The consequence of this is that every year my doting father sends across 20-30 kgs of mangoes plucked, packed and transported under his personal jurisdiction for his daughter who craves for the Dudhiya Malda Mangoes of Digha Ghat, Patna (yes, that is how specific I am regarding what I want!). A side effect of the arrival of those boxes is a lot of socialisation that happens in my attempt to distribute them before they start rotting. It was during one such “mango diplomacy” at a friend’s place that my friend’s mom mentioned the arrival of a guest from Germany and asked if I would like to accompany them for Bharat Darshan. Living on the philosophy of never say no to an adventure I agreed hands on! What happened was a crazy, hectic road trip of three women, as Aunty very aptly put it: one blond, one young girl and she herself, starting off from Delhi for Jaipur and then covering Bera, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Chand Baori and Agra before coming back a week later. After seeing a plethora of forts & palaces, leopard at Bera, step wells and the Taj Mahal, when we returned, our guest remarked, “we will need a vacation to get over this vacation.” I guess what kept us going was our desire to show her all that we could and her enthusiasm to see all that was shown!
What follows is our itinerary that was decided upon after immense deliberation.
Day 1: Jaipur
For a German visiting India for the first time, we would be failing in our duty as hosts had Rajasthan been left undone. Where better to start than Jaipur, with the beautiful Hawa Mahal, the imposing Amer Fort and the City Palace apart from the plethora of other experiences that this beautiful city has to offer.
Time taken (from Gurgaon): 3.5 hours (thanks to good roads and barely any traffic)
Place of Stay: Hotels and guest houses abound in Jaipur and there are amazing deals to be had on the online portals. We stayed at Sunder Palace Guest House, a cozy, neat and comfortable place within a budget of Rs. 3000.
Day 2: Bera
It was our guests explicit desire to see some wildlife. With contenders such as Ranthambore, Sariska and Bharatpur we finally zeroed in on the relatively unkown Bera, located near the Jawai Dam in Pali district. The place is known for its leopards and it definitely did not disappoint.
Time Taken (Jaipur to Bera): 6 hours, initially the roads are good but the final stretch of about 30 kms is bad; until you are within a 30 km radius of the place you will get blank stares if you ask at the tolls or at petrol pumps about Bera. Google Maps is your only option.
Place of Stay: Given the remote location and the obscurity of the place there are not too many options available, and those that are are quite overpriced. The two we considered were Castle Bera and Leopard’s Lair. We zeroed in on the latter on account of reference from acquaintances. The services were good, staff courteous but careless and the place overpriced (the tariff is close to Rs. 7000 per person, all meals and safari included).
Day 3 & 4: Udaipur
Udaipur was something all of us were looking forward to. I had heard so much about the “feel” of the place and its beauty that I had to see it and judge it for myself. Living upto all the hype, Udaipur is a tourist and a traveller’s dream. The magnificent City Palace, the boat ride to Jag Mandir, the view from the Monsoon Palace and the aarti at Jagdish Temple are the touristy must-do’s.
The city abounds with “lake views” and “sunset points”. Cafes overlooking the lakes (Pichola and Fatehsagar) and cafes that screen James Bond’s Octopussy (because parts of it were shot in Udaipur) abound. We did a walking tour with Virasat Experiences, and for Rs 1500 per person it was really not worth it. While they are extremely courteous, accommodating and take you around the lanes and by-lanes of Udaipur at your own pace, their knowledge is extremely shallow with barely any idea about the history and architecture of the place, the tour is more on what is than what was. Our guest enjoyed the walk since she got a glimpse of traditional India, but me, hell no, I have seen enough of that already to pay 1500 for it!
Time Taken (Bera to Udaipur): 2.5 hours, really good roads, really good terrain
Place of Stay: One of the high points of my stay at Udaipur was Hotel Hilltop Palace. Thanks to online deals, not only was this hotel economical, it had a terrace bar (& rooms) with a view. Chilled beer in hand, Fatehsagar lake ahead and a cool night breeze is exactly my way of ending an awesome day in an awesome city. I do yoga everyday but doing yoga on the terrace of this hotel with the city under me, sunrise about to happen and birds starting their day was as ethereal as it has gotten so far!
And the staff. They guys at the reception were two amazing, enthusiastic and fun loving souls! This place (the city and the hotel included) was worth every penny spent on it.
Day 5: Chittorgarh
It was time for tales of valour, beauty and sacrifice. That is what Chittorgarh stands for. Symbolised by the Vijay Stambha, erected by Rana Kumbha between 1458 and 1468 to commemorate his victory over Mahmud Shah I Khalji, in popular imagination, I was taken aback by the beautiful architecture and the sheer spread of the fort. It is surprising that Chittor is not as famous as it ought to be: Tales of the 3 jauhars that the fort was witness to, of Rani Padmavati’s beauty and of Mirabai’s devotion are amongst the many stories that were played out over time within the walls of this fort.
Time Taken (Udaipur to Chittorgarh Fort): 2.5 hours
We decided to start our journey for Agra (halting at Jaipur for the night) instead of staying at Chittorgarh.
Day 6: Head to Agra via Chand Baori and Fatehpur Sikri
It was through Steve McCurry’s photography (he is the photographer behind the iconic photographic portrait Afghan Girl) that I came to know of Chand Baori. Barely an hour’s diversion on the Jaipur-Agra road, reaching the place is not a hassle despite its obscurity thanks to Google Map’s accuracy. Its only after you reach it, see it, observe it and let your gaze slowly follow the series of steps to the layer of water at the bottom do you realise how beautiful it actually is.
Time Taken (Jaipur to Chand Baori): 2 hours
From Chand Baori, our next destination was Fatehpur Sikri. The beautiful carvings on sandstone and the imposing Buland Darwaza, supposed to be the highest gateway in the world, were the two highlights for our guest. Finally we left for Agra and reached in time to see the sound and light show at the Agra Fort! Hectic? Tell us about it!
Time Taken (Chand Baori to Fatehpur Sikri to Agra): 2 hours and 1 hour (to Agra Fort) respectively.
Day 7: Agra
It is a cardinal sin to not show Taj Mahal to a tourist visiting India for the first time. So seriously did we take our responsibility of showing the Taj Mahal that we showed it to our guest in the morning from its premises, in the afternoon from the Agra Fort and at sunset from the Mehtab Bagh, across the Yamuna! We also had plans and arrangements in place for viewing Taj Mahal by night (full moon) but last minute change of plans forced us to cancel it (damn!).
Place of Stay: A life lesson learnt during this trip was to never, under any circumstance book a stay via OYO. It is a recipe for absolute disaster. Having booked a home-stay via OYO, the place turned every notion of hospitality on its head. At 11 pm in the night we cancelled our booking from the reception of the home-stay and eventually stayed at Clarks Shiraz which is definitely recommended.
So came to an end a trip of unlikely companions, trying to complete a not-so-easily-achievable itinerary (and succeeding at that!) bound together by a desire to explore.
P.S.: The hero of the trip was our driver! I’ve developed a lot of respect for that one man dealing with the three of us.