In the Land of Kings (Rajasthan)

My three week tour of Rajasthan started by being met at my hotel in Delhi, by my driver Jackie who reminds me a lot of an old boss I used to have, although a lot less serious.

The road to Bikaner in the Great Thar Desert was not particularly pleasant – progress was really slow as the road was not in good condition. In some parts there were deep holes and the whole journey was generally rough. Jackie said that it was only like this on this particular road, and once we left Bikaner again it would be a lot better. After 10 hours of driving it became dark, and it was then that I realised that a “buttock-clenching moment” has an entirely literal meaning, as not all of the other vehicles on the road had lights. Needlesstosay, once we arrived at Bikaner, we checked into quite a nice hotel, and I could rest my aching back and neck caused by the bumpy road.

The Bikaner Fort was the first of many Rajasthani forts that I would visit, and like the others, was very impressive and full of tourists! Fortunately, the group I was placed with for the guided-tour had no other westerners and was in fact a group of tourists from Mumbai! The guide said everything in Hindi, and then walked over to me and repeated it in English, which I think some people appreciated as they didn’t hear him the first time.

Next town on the route was Jaiselmer. As Jackie said, the road was much better, but eerily spooky as we drove about 300km, but hardly passed any other cars and went through only two towns. Otherwise we were surrounded by desert. On the way, we met Claudia, a French-Canadian, who was with her driver from the same company as Jackie. She has spent three-months working at an orphanage in Bangladesh, and is about to embark on another three-months in Nepal! We had a good dinner together that night and spoke about many things in India, Canada and the UK. It also became clear that I really need to improve my French.

Jaiselmer is known as the “Golden City” for the sandstone used in its buildings, and some of the views of the city from the fort were stunning.

Alex in Jaiselmer Fort

After a few hours however, it was time to head out to Khuri, further into the desert, to start a camel-trek. Jackie also decided to bring a long a few of his friends for the ride, which resulted in an interesting car-party.

I know that everyone says it, but these camels are so much larger than one expects. The camel has to sit down for you to get on, and when he stands up again, you have to hold on for dear life, as he lifts you two metres into the air. My camel was called “Lul”, which I found quite amusing since that’s a rather funny word in Dutch.

After the short-trek to catch the sunset, we came back to a show of Rajasthani folk music and dancing, boosted by promises of a woman dancing with seven pots on her head. Unfortunately I was rather disappointed to see only six pots on a woman’s head, but there were three women doing it, so perhaps that makes up for it. Off to bed under the stars, and it was absolutely fantastic to see so many stars – so so many – and even the Milky Way while drifting off to sleep.

The serious camel-trek started the next day, and with Lul and two guides I headed out into desert (with plenty of sunblock). For lunch, Wol Singh and Babu Singh (not sure of spelling) started a camp fire and cooked me rice, potatoes, lentils and onions – a marvellous feast. Dinner was pretty much the same thing, except with whiskey. I also made it clear that unlike most tourists I DO (really really) like chilli, and they should add as much to my portions as they did to their own.

The second day was very much like the first except I had eaten too much the day before, so it became necessary to do a number-2 in the desert… not very nice. Anyway, I was pleased when we returned to the ranch, as I would now recommend that a one-and-a-half day camel-trek is enough for anyone. I then got a chance to look around teh village of Khuri itself.

Kids in Khuri

Next we were off to the city of Jodhpur, with a short stop at Pokram Fort (near were the nuclear weapons testing goes on!). Jodhpur is known as the “Blue City” as many of its building as painted blue (d’oh!), to keep insects away apparently. Again another nice fort and city. That night however was Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, and there were many fireworks in the sky. Jackie, a friend of his and I got quite drunk on some whiskey however, so the celebration did not last quite as long as I would have liked. (So if Sophie and Charlotte ever get to read this – sorry I never made it out to you guys!)

Ranakpur, home to some amazing Jain temples, was our next stop. Ranakpur is in a nice wooded valley and it was a relief to leave the desert behind us. The main temple was quite impressive, although a rather pushy priest insisted that I pay him Rs100 for what turned out to be a 5-minute tour.

Alex in front of Ranakpur Jain Temple

That night I had dinner with Chiharu, a Japanese tourist staying at the same hotel as me. The evening took a downturn when her driver, and a friend of his, sat down to eat with us, and the friend started making lewd suggestions about how he and Chiharu could go into the jungle and “spend time together” (not that I was jealous). Anyway, we got into a debate about the role of women in the UK (where “sex is a game”, but “women have choice”) and India (where “everyone has a family”, but “some women are trapped in a place they don’t want to be”). It did make me think that many people in the West are alone and concentrate on their careers too much, but I still thought that his attitude to Chiharu was inappropriate.

The following day I went off on a trek up the valley wall to a village near the top of the ridge – with a guide who spoke no Engish. It took three hours and three bottles of mineral water to get there, but the views from the top were stunning – my guide obviously thought the same, as he kept suggesting that I take photos of everything. The hundreds of monkeys we passed on the way however, seemed to get very worked up by our presence.

Our next stop was the “romantic” city of Udaipur, where they filmed a lot of the James Bond film Octopussy. Again another impressive fort, but the city has lost a lot of its charm, as the lake on which it sits has dropped about 10 metres from its full level: there has not been proper rain in the area for the past seven years and the area of the lake is only about a third of what it should be.

Sunset over Udaipur

That evening I rather randomly met Jules from London, who was also at Imperial, although he left several years ago. He is also a management consultant (like what I’m going to be 😀 ), and we discovered we had worked on the same project while I was on my internship in Edinburgh last year, and even attended the same meeting! Small world – huh?

Today I am in Pushkar, where the waters from the lake are holy to Hindus. I prayed with a “priest” for the happiness of my family and friends, who suggested that if I “donated” $70, it was very likely that the gods would ensure that all of my wishes would come true. The donation couldn’t even be put in the clearly-marked donation box, but had to be given to an “official representative”. Unfortunately I had to make my excuses and make my own private donation into the box (smaller than $70 I’m ashamed to say), so hopefully good things should be happening to all of you soon!

6 Responses to “In the Land of Kings (Rajasthan)”

  1. Aqib Aslam Says:

    All sounds wonderful. The scope of your trip is fantastic! So many timeless cities and places! Glad to hear you are enjoying the land of my ancestors – the Rajputs – and meeting some nice (if somewhat familiar) people on your travels. I’ll keep watching this space!

  2. sara Says:

    ey alex, fun to read about your adventures. a bit more exotic than delft eh. dutch rainy winter seems to have started today. 😦 so… i’m not jealous at all… go on having a wicked time!

  3. seema Says:

    Hey alex, just wanted you to know that i am still v jealous!! But im glad you are really enjoying it – i somehom thought you would! Rajastan is so beautiful – make the most of it! I hope the rest of the trip goes well! lots of love

  4. Chiharu Says:

    Namasute Alex, hope you are enjoying your travel – envyyy,
    missed trecking in Ranakpur, looks be wonderful walking to the top. Looking forward to reading your adventure stories – this site is amusing !!!
    p.s. Hope you did not take my drivers’ stories in serious.

  5. Helen Says:

    Hi Alex, so excited to read the adventure of you, you looks very enjoyed from the pictures. Hope to hear new storys from your adventure. I have an indian friend here now, he is first year student of MoT, so i helped him a lot when he just arrived. I told him a bit about your adventure, and he also told me a lot of India and his culture and religion, it’s very interesting…Take care…

  6. reena Says:


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