In Week 8, we continued on through Rajasthan stopping in the Blue City of Jodhpur and the desert town of Jaisalmer. While there was lots to do in both places, going on a camel safari in the Thar desert takes the cake. You can catch up on the last update here.
There isn’t a direct train between Udaipur and Jodhpur, so instead of taking the bus, we opted to hire a car/driver. It also allowed us to stop at the exquisite Jain temple in Ranakpur.
This 15th century Jain temple made out of solid white marble is gorgeous with intricately carved pillars and domes. We had a basic understanding of Jainism, but it gave us the opportunity to learn more about this gentle religion that revers all forms of life.
The foreigner entry fee included an audio guide, which allows keeps our kids engaged. Getting in was an experience in Indian bureaucracy. Foreigners cannot enter before noon (to give Jains privacy to pray in the mornings). As is common at Indian sites, you have pay for each camera you bring in, which in the day of smart phones, is quite outdated. So after checking our bag, getting our audioguides, renting pants for Paul, we were finally ready to enter. It was definitely worth the stop as the carvings are incredible.
After traveling independently for 7 weeks, we made the mistake of asking our driver to take us somewhere for lunch. Of course, he took us to an expensive tourist trap restaurant where prices were 3x what we had been paying. We decided to leave, to which, they chased us negotiating what discount they would give us (we ended up at 40%). It just goes to show, in India, you can usually work something out.
The Blue City of Jodhpur is an Instagrammers dream with its deep blue buildings and narrow streets, all set around the magnificent Mehrangarh fort.
We were looking for another home stay experience and had organized one. However, when we got there, it wasn’t quite what we expected. The rooms were very basic (like just four walls and a simple bed), we were going to have two rooms on different floors, there was only a shared squat toilet and the house was under renovation. After sitting there for 30 minutes, we made the hard decision to leave and find somewhere else to stay. We felt incredibly bad, but the hosts were very gracious. We find when travelling with kids we don’t need to force ourselves to stay in situation we aren’t comfortable with. We ended up staying at a more comfortable home stay around the corner, Jaswant Bhawan. Our homestay rooftop had great views of the Fort and was in an interesting local neighborhood.
Mehrangarh Fort is one of the best Forts in all of India. You aren’t supposed to need a ticket to enter the Fort itself, just the Museum. However, the Museum staff will try to make it seem that you need a ticket. It would have cost over $50 for our family to visit the Museum, so we skipped it. If you make your own past the artillery and gardens at the top, you can visit the Temple, which has great views of the Blue City.
We did the morning walk with Blue City Walks and this was a great way to learn more about the city. We had to drag ourselves out of bed much earlier than we are used to for the 7 am start. But it was worth it to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Rock Park with nice views of the Fort. We also saw many native and migratory birds, including pelicans of all things!
We learned lots of tidbits of information, but one that I found interesting was our guide pointed out the cow pails that are affixed to posts through the neighborhoods. People put their leftover chapatis and food in them for the street cows to eat. Much better than the garbage we regularly saw the cows rooting through. Mid-way through our tour we stopped for breakfast at an old haveli (home).
Having a guide allowed us to ask lots of questions we were curious about. We talked about the role of caste in India, University entrance, religion and more. One of the things that resonated with me was a comment he made about Hinduism and how you can practice it how you want to; there aren’t strict rules. I think if I was exposed to this way of thinking about religion, it would be more appealing to me.
One thing we didn’t do that would have been great was go up to the Fort for the afternoon kite feeding. The Royal Family has been feeding the kites for centuries and it quite a sight to see them flying high over the Fort.
It is possible to see anything on Indian roads, including elephants! This elephant caused quite a stir in the streets one day and the kids had fun feeding it apples and bananas.
The last main activity we did in Jodhpur was a visit to a Bishnoi village. These are regularly offered in Jodhpur, but I wasn’t sure how authentic they would be. The Bishnoi are a Hindu sect who follow 29 rules, mostly devoted to protecting the environment. We went with KYLA place and it was only an okay tour. We went on a 4WD jeep safari into the country side where we did see wild peacocks and a few deer. Afterwards we were taken to a Bishnoi home, but most of the family members weren’t there and it felt quite ackward. The kids found an adorable puppy and played with it, but we weren’t given that much information or contact with the family.
Next we went to a pottery maker and we all got a chance to try making a bowl on the huge, manual wheel. We thought we were going to see another couple artisans, but were taken to the guide’s family compound where we were taken into the kitchen and were to watch his sister-in-law make lunch. Again, we had no real interaction with anyone and sat there for 30 minutes while she cooked. She was evidently quite sick, coughing and blowing her nose. A week later and I have inherited that cold☹ After a simple, but tasty lunch, we were shown the device they used to make carpets, but not actually shown a demonstration. And of course carpets were dragged out for us to inspect to buy. They were okay with us not buying, but it did feel like the tour was a thinly veiled shopping trip and we wouldn’t recommend it.
In Jodhpur we had to try the local lassi, flavoured with saffron and cardamom. We also sought out the best thali (Indian set meal) at Gypsy where the Rajasthani special thali comprises 31 items, allowing us to try lots of things we had never had before. India is so awesome for vegetarians, as most restaurants are “Veg”. Our carnivorous kids don’t think it is as great as we do! We had another great thali at Rani Mahal Hotel, which has lovely owners and good family rooms in an old haveli.
Our next stop was the desert town of Jaisalmer, a much smaller place and the gateway to the Thar desert. Jaisalmer’s Fort rises up out of the desert plains and looks like a full size sand castle. It features a Palace, but its narrow lanes are fully inhabited with shops, homes and even hotels too. We noticed prices were even lower in Jaisalmer.
The only thing we didn’t like about Jaisalmer was the heat. Summer seemed to have arrived early and they were having higher than seasonal temperatures. It was hard to get excited to do much in the 42 degree heat. Luckily we had a great guest house, Wanderlust, where we could lounge on the rooftop.
We have seen lots of Palaces throughout Rajasthan, but we really enjoyed this one. The kids were really tuned into the audio guide and the cool walls provided a welcome respite from the heat. We also visited the many Jain temples in the Fort, which were beautiful, but Ranakpur was grander. It was fun to wander the narrow streets of the Fort, although even the shopkeepers were affected by the heat and put little effort into making a sale.
Ella and I got some more henna done and Paul made friends with a shopkeeper. He told him about his two teenage children and the marks they had achieved. His son wants to be an engineer, but needs to bring his marks up. His daughter has strong marks, but when Paul asked what she wanted to study, he replied simply that she would get married after she graduated. This is typical in Rajasthan where over 50% of girls are married before they are 18.
Ella has written a lovely post all about our amazing camel experience in the Thar desert of Rajasthan (which we will publish in the next few weeks). This will definitely go down as one of our highlights of this trip as it was absolutely magical sleeping under the stars in the desert. We rode the camels out to some gorgeous dunes, where we had cold drinks awaiting us. The kids frolicked in the sand and we chatted away with the nice couple that we were with. After sunset and dinner, the guides set up lovely cot beds for us and we watched the constellations, before eventually falling asleep.
In the morning, we were greeted with a hot cup of chai in bed, breakfast and after the camels were found, we rode for another hour. It was an awesome trip that we booked through Wanderlust Guesthouse in Jaisalmer.
A Night in a Village
We always enjoy home stay experiences, even if they involve less creature comforts. We decided to spend a night in the village of Khuri, a small village in the desert. We stayed at Badal’s House and really didn’t do much other than watch village life unfold. It was extraordinarily hot (over 40) so we spent most of our time lying around, moving between the shade of the courtyard and the fan blowing hot air in our room. Like most people in the village, Badal has a couple of cows and goats and we enjoyed watching the interactions with the animals. Not surprisingly, it was also apparent how difficult life is in the village, especially for women. I have a full post on this coming up as well.
We did walk to the Khuri sand dunes for sunset and as the only foreigners there, felt bad not buying the camel rides, drummer or sodas and snacks from the different people trying to eek out a living. It was so hot that Paul and Ella braved the mosquitoes and slept up on the roof.
We took the local bus back to Jaisalmer and it was so crowded, Paul and the kids rode on the roof. Definitely an experience!
Where We Stayed
Jaswant Bhawan Homestay, Jodhpur – right in the heart of the old Blue city, we had a huge room with 2 large beds for $40 CAD/night. We loved the rooftop area with great views of the Fort.
We ate a meal at Rani Mahal Hotel and met the lovely owners and can definitely recommend this hotel for families. It is an old haveli that has been beautifully maintained and has family rooms at a mid-range price point.
Wanderlust Guesthouse, Jaisalmer – excellent budget hotel with a super helpful owner (Padam). We had two double rooms side by side. Lovely views from the rooftop restaurant. We also booked our Camel Safari through Wanderlust, which was excellent. Double rooms are only $10 CAD/night.
Badal’s House, Khuri – Badal is a gentle host who has been welcoming travellers for years. The rooms are very basic with a shared squat toilet. Badal also organizes camel safaris. $8 CAD/person full board.
How Much We Spent
We found Jaisalmer to be the cheapest place we visited in India and were happy to finally get our daily budget to $150 CAD/day. We did quite a few tours this week and even the 2-day camel safari. Our food costs are still higher than I would like, but we do love a good rooftop dinner and did indulge in a few beers.
Total Spent this Week: $1,051 CAD ($150 CAD/day)
Accommodation: $263 CAD
Food/Drinks: $431 CAD
Entertainment/Activities: $238 CAD
Transport: $87 CAD
In week 9 we wrap up our time in India with a few days in Delhi. We then head to Kathmandu in Nepal to get ready to meet our Australian friends and prepare for our Everest region trek.