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The Rajasthan express


The places visited
- Jaipur
- Pushkar
- Jodhpur
- Bikaner
- Jaiselmer
- Udaipur
New Delhi



November 2008


Our latest travel in India. We decided that we needed to do the "touristy" Rajasthan properly. As we are more and more into photography, Rajasthan was the logic place to get an overdose of colors on film.

The guidebooks used:

  • Rajasthan footprints
  • LP Pdf Rajasthan
  • eyewitness travel guides: Delhi, Agra and Jaipur


The itenary


Friday the 24th of October ’08. Brussels - New Delhi

We arrive at the New Delhi international airport well after midnight. To our happiness the bags soon arrive and we proceed to the prepaid taxi counter. This is a convenient way to get to town without the chance of being ripped off or being delivered at another hotel than your choice.

The drive to town takes more than an hour and costs something like 8 euros. We will be staying at the “cozy hotel” in Pahar Ganj. Pahar Ganj is where the budget hotels are and the reason we stay here is that we can pick up our train tickets for this trip.
Pahar Ganj is also the backpacker ghetto warren with lanes and alleys near the Naw Delhi train station. The crowded bazaar offers an instant immersion into the chaos of which India is capable, as stray cows and cycle rickshaws tangle with the pedestrians, hotel touts, and salesman hawking all kinds of stuff.

The hotel is nothing special, but then we have to take the early morning train to Hardwar at seven in the morning. So we just use the room to refresh ourselves a bit and slip into something more comfortable that European winter clothes.

Saturday the 25th of October ’08.

An early morning train, but the train station is just a 15 minutes walk from the hotel. We have tickets for the Shatabdi express (Sanskrit for centenary), and it is a fast, or rather super fast train for Indian standards. We have the 2017 to Dehradun that will take us to Hardwar in less than 5 hours. On top we are served a good breakfast of tea, toast and fried eggs. By noon we arrive in Hardwar where we have a thali in the train station before we take a rickshaw to Rishikesh. Two hours later we are at the Bhandari Swiss Cottage. This is a huge hotel, located on the hills above Rishikesh. Most of the other guests are long time travellers with plenty of time to waste. After all, this is a place where you can spend a lifetime learning Yoga, Sanskrit, Hindi, Music, etc…


india 1

North of Hardwar lies the holy town Rishikesh, The city of the Rishi’s (holy men/women) is located on an altitude of 356 meter in the foothills of the himalays.
Rishikesh catapulted to Western fame when the Beatles dropped by for a visit to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram (now closed), and the town is still known as the World Capital of Yoga. You can see the same kind of “colourful” foreigners as in the other “hippie” places like as Pushkar, Manali, Dharmsala or Goa.

Ganga Aarti

In the late afternoon we decide to stroll down to Rishikesh. The footbridge that connects both sides of the village over the Ganges is impressive. And of course we end up at Ram Jhula to watch the fire Puja (religious ceremony with singing and chanting). At the end of the Puja, Aarti is performed. This is a Hindu ritual in which light (fire) is offered to the Gods. Small banana leave cups filled with flowers and a candle are set afloat on the Ganges.
A paisa sadhu (paisa = money) clings onto us, for surly we need his blessings and salvation comes at a discount tonight. The hassle is limited as pressure is low and everything remains friendly. Fifty rupees (less than 1 euro) sets us free from the “Klingon” and we can wander around freely again.

Sunday, the 26th of October 2008.

Diwali madness

We walk all the way to the Rishikesh village, which is a lot further from the hotel than we thought. The street stalls are full with Diwali related products for sale, especially fireworks are on display. We decline friendly as these things can explode even when you do not want it. Poor quality firecrackers injure and kill every year, not to mention the noise and pollution! People smile happily when we say “happy Diwali” and we get a Christmas time feeling. INDIA4

Diwali is a five-day festival and is calculated via the Hindu calendar on the new moon day. It celebrates the homecoming of Rama after a 14-year exile in the forest and his victory over Ravana. In the legend, the people of Ayodhya (N. India) welcomed Rama by lighting rows (avali) of lamps (dipa), thus its name: Dipawali

Diwali, or the festival of light (fall) is, together with Holi, the festival of colours (spring), one of the major Hindu festivals. It is worth to plan a trip to India during of theses festivals as they make great photo opportunities.

After a few hours walking around Rishikesh, the crowds, noise and heath get to us and we take a rickshaw back to the hotel. We spend the afternoon talking to the other guests. Their months of travel sure make me jealous, considering we only have 4 weeks of travel in India this time. By the evening we go back to Ram Jhula for a second Puja experience. It never gets boring and we end the evening with a royal thali at the chotiwallah restaurant. This is best-known restaurant in town, and for less than 3 euros you can experience the flavours of India with a royal thali plate.

Monday, the 27th of October 2008.

We take a rickshaw back to Hardwar. The driver doesn’t know the way and gets lost several times. It takes forever before we arrive at the hotel Ganga Azur, which is close to the train station. The rooms are not very special but the restaurant serves pretty good food. It seems that the only guests are foreigners. Strange…


Hardwar, or Haridwar, is one of the holiest places for Hindus in India. Thousands of pilgims flock to Hardwar for the two great Himalayan shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath, as Har means Shiva (the deity of Kedarnath), Hari means Vishnu (the deity of Badrinath), and Dwar means gate. Hardwar is thus the gateway to God.

Today Hardwar is the home of many Ashrams (place for meditation) and Dharamshalas (rest house for pilgrims) that have been established by various swamis, yogis and religious institutions. Throughout the year large numbers of pilgrims come to bathe in the Ganges, especially at the Har-ki-Pairi, where a footprint of Vishnu is worshipped.

Every twelve years the great festival of Kumbha Mela is held and every six years an Ardh Kumbha, or half Kumbha. During these important festivals millions of pilgrims throng to Hardwar from throughout India.

Hardwar is also one of India’s Moksapuris, or Seven Sacred Cities, where moksha (liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth)l may be more easily attained.

INDIA6 Nowadays both towns are bustling places, but in ancient times they were quiet forests groves, nestled along rushing mountain rivers; the perfect place for contemplation and a life in harmony with the way of nature.

We decide to do our pilgrim tour to the Mansa Devi Temple. The temple lies 170 meter above town and can be reached by cable lift. We want to do it by walking up to the temple. Big mistake, it is much better to walk down but then we learn from our mistakes. We buy some monkey bread for the apes along the road but a monkey rips it out of our hands even before we make it up the stairs. Monkey business!

Inside the temple we get blessed so many times by the priests we are good for our next five lives. The fun part is where you give a coconut to the priest who slams it to the floor.


The Ganga Aarti is celebrated at 7 pm each night, and it is a spectacular sight to see the ceremony performed at all the temples in Hardwar at the same time.
Hundreds throng to the ghats at Hari-ki-Pairi to participate in the ceremony. Offerings of lamps and flowers are made to the river and it is a moving sight to watch hundreds of miniature lamps float along the river. I have the feeling that this ceremony is more for the Indian worshippers (we are almost the only foreigners) and that the Ram Jhula ceremony is for tourists.

Tuesday, 28th of October 2008. On the road

This is one of those wasted travel days you cannot avoid if you want to see a bit of India. Actually the day starts good as the express train to Delhi leaves and arrives on time. In Delhi we have to wait 3 hours for the Agra connection. No problem we think, we decide to spend this time with a nice lunch at the Metropole hotel in Pahar Ganj. We stayed there last year and they have an excellent restaurant. I just love the Kashmir potatoes and they serve their beer cold!
Then the 15 o’clock train doesn’t show up, and we have to wait till 20. O’clock before the train shows up, so we have to spend a boring afternoon on a Delhi train station platform. By nightfall we arrive in Agra at our hotel Sheela, just around the corner of the Taj Mahal. We had e-mailed before for a reservation so we are no worried for a vacant room. A boring day after all!!


Wednesday, 29th of October 2008

Taj Mahal – the epitome of love


Agra's Taj Mahal is one of the most famous buildings in the world, the mausoleum of Shah Jahan's favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is one of the new seven wonders of the world, and one of three world heritage sites in Agra.
Completed in 1653 AD., the Tāj Mahal was built by the Mughal king Shāh Jahān as the final resting place for his beloved wife, Mumtāz Mahal. She was his third, but favorite wife who died during the birth of their fourteenth child.

Finished in marble, it is perhaps India's most fascinating and beautiful monument. This perfectly symmetrical monument took 22 years (1630-1652) of hard labour and 20,000 workers, masons and jewellers to build and is set amidst landscaped gardens.It is an acknowledged masterpiece of symmetry. Verses of the Koran are inscribed on it.


Today we will visit the Taj Mahal for the third time in our live. We get up real early, as I hope to make a photo of the Taj with the morning haze. The Taj Mahal is still as impressive and fairy looking, as it was the first time I laid my eyes on it 21 years ago. I still vividly remember watching the white marble shine in the sun thinking it was a mirage, and I remember the feeling that came over me, I had the same unreal feeling when I walked around the Potala Palace in Lhasa or the Red square in Moscow. You have seen it a thousand times on photo, but the real thing doesn’t come even close to the best shot.

Some things do have changed tough! There is a tight security to get in. I am not allowed to bring in the remote trigger for my camera and I have to leave it in a secured locker.

An Englishmen we meet inside was also here 25 odd years ago and comments it as follows “now I come to catch the early morning light on the Taj with my digital Nikon. Twenty-five years ago I do not remember the time I came to visit. I just remember us laying on the grass, smoking a spliff and dozing off while gazing at the Taj.” Yes, time has had little effect on the Taj, but is sure has changed us over the past 20 years.

To learn some more about the Taj Mahal I read the “Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire” By Diane and Michael Preston. It is not the greatest book I ever read, but it does give some good information on the building and maintaining of the mausoleum, as well as information on the lives of the Mughal Emperors and of course the live of Mumtaz. A much better, albeit heavier and costlier book is “Taj Mahal” by Amina Okada.

Agra Fort

After a little nap at the hotel we take a rickshaw to the Red fort. We have decided to skip Fatehpur Sikri and we have no intention to walk around congested Agra during Diwali time.

The Agra Fort (sometimes called the Red Fort), was commissioned by the great Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1565, and is another of Agra's world heritage sites.. The red sandstone fort was converted into a palace during Shah Jahan's time, and reworked extensively with marble and ietra dura inlay.

When we are chatting to an upper class Indian family from Mumbai we get an example of Hindi superiority sentiment. The oldest daughter asks us why we do not speak Hindi. I reply by asking why she does not speak Marathi (the official language of Mumbai). “Oh” she says “ all my friends at school speak Hindi, so I have no need to talk that stupid language”. I asked this because I had just read in an Indian paper about the clash between Mumbai residents and other Indians trying to settle themselves in the Mumbai area. Apparently there are strong anti-migrant feelings and this particular clash  was about some Bihari’s coming over for a government exam.

Raj Thackeray formed the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The party was founded on the ideology of being the benefactor of the local Marathi population (Marathi Manoos). Since its inception, the party has been attacking the north Indians in Maharashtra politically as well as physically.

The other side

In the afternoon we take a Rickshaw to go to the other side of the of the Yamuna river, where we want to see the sun go down on theTaj Mahal. While we are driving to the other side we get another example of India. The driver stops and asks if I have 10 roepies (17 eurocents). I give it to him and then he turns onto the wrong side a one-way traffic road. He stops at the policeman who stands to check the traffic, quickly gives the 10 roepies and continues to drive against the traffic. He smiles and says this is much faster; otherwise I have to drive a long way around.

We drive through a poor neighbourhood towards the river. Poverty is all around. The houses get smaller and in the end, the houses consist only of some plastic bags over sticks. We look at it and do not speak much. It is easy to forget this side of India when you just concentrate on visiting the highlights.
Only a handful of people are at the river to watch the sun go down. Still there is a camel you can mount to have your picture taken with the Taj in the background. We think it is silly and decline the offer. When I am now writing this I am a bit sorry I declined, it is the livelihood of a family and all I thought was ‘this is a silly tourist thing I do not need’.


Thursday, 30th of October 2008. Jaipur (The pink city)

We do not like to stay longer in Agra, and take the early morning train to Jaipur. After all, Rajasthan was to be the theme for this trip!

The early morning Marudhar express 4853 train of 6 o’clock leaves at 9 o’clock, but it is a pleasant ride and about seven hours later we arrive in another pushy “tourist” city. We are already touted before we are well of the train and onto the platform. As we need a taxi anyhow we accept, and thus are left alone by the other touts. The enterprising rickshaw-wallah gives a price for all the transport we need in Jaipur. We except as we do not want to waste too much time looking for a taxi and argue about the price each time.

Jaipur city Palace

We stay at the Karni Niwas, which has clean, spacious room with AC. It does not have a restaurant, but the food is delivered to the room, which has lovely balconies where one can eat the meals.

So around 4 o’clock we drive to the tiger Fort to watch the sun set over Jaipur. I arouse the curiosity of the Indians around me when I open my tripod for the night photography. The classical questions as “what country are you from sir?” pop up, as well as “can you make a picture from us?”, as friendly as it is, I want to concentrate on the landscape. Luckily Rita is happy to converse with them, and I am left alone with my stuff.

Driving back we are a bit worried, as we have seen our driver drinking a small flask of rum and bragging about his drinking capacities. The winding road full of potholes, the wild 4wheel jeeps overtaking us and his constant swearing are giving us an uncomfortable feeling but we arrive safely at the hotel with a couple of cold beers from the liquor store where our driver needed to be for his rum refill.

Amber Fort

The next morning we are given another driver by him. We do not really mind and are off to the amber fort. We stop on the way at the Hawa Mahal or “Palace of winds” for a photo and have an Indian breakfast of puri’s, this is fried dough with lentils on the inside. It is a hot and heavy pastry, but is seems very popular with the locals and it is made fresh before our eyes. Amber fort can be accessed by foot or by elephant. We have read about the hardship of these elephants working in the Indian heat and our guidebook also asks not to fall for the “tourist” trap. So we walk up to the fort. The fort is one of the highlights of Rajasthan, but we are not so much into Palace hopping and we walk around it in less than 2 hours.


On the way back to Jaipur we stop at the at the “best” lassi shop in town, or so the driver claims. Lassi is a sort of yoghurt that gets served in clay pots and is a good source of probiotics for your stomach. We love the stuff, especially with banana or mango fruit.
Breakfast of Puri and paratha

INDIA14Then we are of to visit the Jaipur City Palace and the Jantar Mantar observatory. I am surprised at the amount of Indian tourists. When we visited these places in 1987 we were the only visitors. Today the City palace and observatory are full of Indian tourists and schoolchildren. India has progressed a lot in 20 years. We take the audio guide at the castle, which is included in the entry fee. We check the time in the observatory garden. It checks out.


INDIA15 By now we are exhausted and go back to the hotel. We have a nice nap and then we shower and dress up for our “Indian night”. The driver takes us to Chokhi Dhani (, which is an ethnic theme park, where the old traditions of Rajasthan are performed. The whole thing is rather kitschy, we were the only foreign tourists but the Indians seemed to love it. The 250 Roupies entry fee is quite expensive, but the place was packed. For this money you get an all you can eat buffet and walk around the candle lit park land watch the different artists perform (Story tellers, magicians, fortune tellers, dancers, acrobats, merry-go-round, camel and ox-carts) We enjoyed it! We did however miss a visit at the Raj mandir cinema for an evening of Hindi drama. Also recommended, even just to watch the Indians react on the film events.



Friday, the 31st of October.

We take the morning train to Ajmer and from there we want to continue to Pushkar. The train is on time for once and we share a compartment with two Dutch girls. We agree to share a taxi to Pushkar rather than take the local bus. As we have no hotel reservation we follow them to “Bharatpur Palace” with beautiful views of the lake just in front. Alas, you need to be able to sleep trough the nightlong chanting and early morning bells of the ghat next door.

india 21

Pushkar Lake is one of India’s most sacred lakes. It is believed to be the spot where the lotus thrown by Brahma landed. Several of the old temples were destroyed by Aurangzeb (Shah Jahan’s nasty son), but there is no shortage of temples. There is also no shortage of (fake) priests pushing flowers and puja (prayer) for paisa (money). As Pushkar is a sacred site it is not allowed to drink alcohol or eat meat. Even eggs are off limits. The large community of “long haired” tourists suggest that other “stuff” is available for recreation time.

Pushkar is also famous for its cattle and camel fair (Kartik Purnima). This allows the hotels to triple and quadruple their accommodation. We decided to give the fair a miss and arrive a few days beforehand. Still we can see vast camps grow on the outskirts of the village. I am able to make some nice shots of the camel traders. It pays to come to Pushkar a few days before the market actually starts!
Saturday, the 1st of November2008

We roam again around the camel and cattle camp. People from all over Rajasthan seem to come here to do business. The men wear beautiful coloured Turbans and the women have their saris and jewellery to show off.
Otherwise there is not so much to do in Pushkar, hence we do what most of the western tourists seem to be doing and that is eating western style food. The menus in the restaurants offer Pizza’s, Israeli veg. food; even toast with nutella is available!


We end the day watching the sun go down on the lake. The place to be is the sunset café where jugglers and musicians show their craft. The cows go by and all is peaceful!
The camelfair comes with all kinds of attractions


Jodhpur - The blue City

Sunday, the 2nd of November 2008.


We are reluctant to bus and train to Jodphur, so we dig into our wallet to pay for a taxi for the five-hour drive. As a lot of the live in India is located on or around the street so you actually see a lot by driving along the road. Never a dull moment!

We are very happy with the hotel in Jodhpur and can only recommend it., a charming hotel with a social conscience as it is involved in the training of young women to learn a trade (Sambali Trust). The meals are served at the communal table in the courtyard and are an excellent place to meet other travellers.



Jodhpur is Rajasthan second biggest city and is completely dominated by the fort towering over the town with absolute authority. The fort is in an excellent state and although we do not like palace visits to much, this one is the best we saw in Rajasthan. The entry fee comes with a free audio guide, the rooms are nicely restored and the views over the surrounding area are astounding.

We then take a walk around the clock tower. Worth noting is this is the place where we had our best lassi ever! Also the somosas are delicious. The hotel gives you a map where all these places can be found. Very helpful!

Tuesday the 4th of November 2008.

As always, the best places are found outside the city. That is why we decide on a day tour to the Bishnoi villages and a visit to Osian. The tour is arranged by the hotel and the nephew Bundi take us around by his car.

First we visit some Bishnoi farm houses. Bundi acts as a translator and we are given tea, The Bishnoi (+/- Vishnu) follow a path of non violence and respect for nature. They are known for their reverence for wildlife and careful environmental management. Killing animals and the felling of trees is prohibited.



The martyrdom of Amrita Devi
Amrita Devi protested against the Maharaja's men who were attempting to cut green trees as it was prohibited according to Bishnoi principles. She told them that she would consider it an act of insult to her religious faith and would rather give her life to save the green trees (Prosopis cineraria). “Sar santey rookh rahe to bhi sasto jaan” (If a tree is saved even at the cost of one's head, it's worth it)
Having said these words she offered her head. The axes, which were brought to cut the trees, severed her head. Her three young girls Asu, Ratni and Bhagu were not daunted, and offered their heads too
Since the supreme sacrifice by Amrita Devi and her daughters had not satisfied the royal party, and the felling of green trees was continued, it was decided that for every green tree to be cut, one Bishnoi volunteer would sacrifice his/her life.
There was pandemonium. The tree-felling party was badly shaken. With their mission unfulfilled, they left for Jodhpur to relay these events to the Maharaja. As soon as he learned about it, he ordered the felling of trees to be stopped.
By that time, three hundred and sixty three (363) Bishnois, young and old, men and women, married and unmarried, rich and poor had already become martyrs. Tree hugging avant la lettre.


india32At another place we visit the farmer shows us the opium tea ceremony. The opium is a blackish form which is mixed with sugar and dried to form a solid cake.The pieces of this cake are grinded and are diluted in the form of liquid and offered by filling shallow of palm.This is a practise that is slowly disappearing and is also being discouraged by the government.




Then we are treated on a typical Rajasthani lunch. The meal consists of Bati (chapatti’s), pretty spicy dahl and pickled berries.



india33 After the lunch we set off to visit Osian. Osian in an ancient oasis town in the Thar Desert about 65 km north of Jodhpur. Osian is famous as home to the cluster of ruined Brhama and Jain temples dating from the 8th to 11th centuries.. Of the 18 shrines in the group, the Surya or sun Temple and the later kali temple,  Sachiya Mata Temple and the main Jain temple dedicated to Lord Mahavira stands out in their grace and architecture.






Friday, 7 November 2008.

We have met Martin, who is a professional travel photographer at the guesthouse in Jodhpur. We immediately bond as we share the same interests and Martin decides to join us to Bikaner for photographing the Sadhu’s at the sacred lake of Kolayat. There is little info on Kolayat, which is good, as it is the undiscovered Pushkar. A well-hidden pearl.

Martin is a bit of a character, having been already 28 times in India, he sure knows his way around and is very much in love with the country. Except for the food, for he absolutely abhors spicy food (I guess that is his Italian roots speaking). We experience at a Bikaner restaurant, much to our surprise, that if you take out the spices you are left with an acceptable Italian dish where the taste of the vegetables prevail. De gustibus non est disputandum ! We have a great time on the train by naming on turn our favorite Italian dish, Italian Singer and we end with the most favorite 60ties soap series. I lose badly in the last category. Rita and Martin end on par.

portraitWe stay at the guesthouse of Vijay Singh Rathor a.k.a. the camelman and loved every minute we stayed there. The rooms are spacious and cold drinks are available. His wife is a perfect host and went out of her way to please us (spiceless veggies,  …) The dinners were great, and a free whisky from camelman. When we couldn’t find a taxi to get to the station for our night train to Jaiselmer he drove us in his car.

Saturday the 8th of November 2008.

This morning we have a visit of Bikaner on the program. We go by rickshaw to the Bikaner Castle. The castle is nice, but not as beautiful as the Jodhpur one. We wander a bit around the old town to have a look at the old merchants building (the haveli’s) which are beautiful on the outside, and probably in ruins on the inside.


A nice lunch gets us in the right spirit and we head to the train station to find a taxi driver who is willing to take us around the area for a reasonable price. When we finally agree with a driver we also fix our ticket from Jaiselmer to Jodhpur as Martin advised us against traveling directly from Jaiselmer to Udaipur, but instead take the train to Jodhpur and then travel by car via Ranakpur with an overnight at Ghanerao.
We spend the late afternoon relaxing at the hotel, talking the time away with Martin and with the lady of the house.


The lakeside at Kolayat

Sunday the 9th of November 2008.

I am very excited for our visit to Kolayat today. Kolayat is a pilgrim’s site with a lake, a bit like Pushkar, but than without all the tourists and all the commercial stuff associated with it. I was not able to find a lot of information about Kolayat, so I am hoping to find a gem, but it could be nothing. Fortunately, and I am a bit hesitant to put this information on the internet, it is an undiscovered gem. The place is full of Sadhu’s who are there for the religious aspect and not to make a quick buck. They seem surprised to see tourist walking around asking to make photo’s of the whole happening, but they are amused, curious and as all over India good humored.


We are such a novelty here that a reporter makes a photo of us to put it in the newspaper to report the strange visit of foreigners to the Kolayat site.

Click to enlarge

portraitWe spend the whole morning making photos of the locals, and Martin is happy to show me how to make them and also how to interact with the people. 28 years of travel to India pays of, and he is a master of persuasion. He approaches people with English – Hindi babble, they start laughing, he then acts like clown, maybe a song or so, and before they are aware of it he has them posing for a picture.

By noon the nice light is gone and we have a nice lunch at a local hotel/restaurant. In fact we decide to pay for a room to have a nice siesta and by 4 we go back to the lake for more photos, maybe a sunset. And again Martin shows his power of persuasion. He finds a perfect spot for the sunset but he misses a person to place in front of the lake. No worries, he walks to a group of people a bit further, somehow gets a person to agree to come along and sit in front of the lake. Voila, the picture is perfect! Rita in the mean time films this whole comedy and a summary of our shoot can be seen here

In the evening we are all very excited as the photos we took are of excellent quality and we did not endure the pressure of vendors or whatever when trying to this in Pushkar. We enjoy the dinner at our guesthouse to end a perfect day. And if that isn’t enough we are treated on a wedding parade passing the guesthouse. The groom sits on a horse and the musicians making music to announce his arrival. This is peak wedding season and you can see the parade all over the country in this time of the year.


Sadhu saying hello by raising hs hand

Monday, the 10th of November:

When we get up we are greeted by the lady of the house giggling to us that our photo is actually in the newspaper. Indeed three funny looking people with the Kolayat Lake in the background and in color. When we arrive in the rat temple at Deshnok, we are recognized many times by the locals asking if this is us. No autographs please, Martin jokes.

rat temple

The temple itself is a bit weird; Rats are revered as the pet of Ganesh and are given milk by the priests. They run around the temple, which is surrounded by a wire netting to prevent predator birds to enter. With all the rat droppings on the floor, we are glad that we covered our feet with plastic bags. Still we are not at easy, definitely we will not follow the worshippers who donate food offerings to the rat. Whatever the rat drops from the offerings can be eaten by the people.


From here we drive to a desert village were we take a small camel tour into the area before we go back to the guesthouse.


dancerIn the evening we have dinner at a posh hotel for a buffet and dance show. The buffet has plenty of Italian food and is prepared for the palate of the western tourist. The place fill up quickly and I am surprised about the number of tourists there are doing the Rajasthan tour. We have seen very little other tourists so far. The music and dance performance is excellent! The girl dances with pots on her head who are on fire, and if that is not enough she dances barefooted on broken glass, and on the sharp edge of swords.







Dancing with fire in the pots




When we arrive back at the guesthouse, Vijay, the camelman has returned from a business travel to New Delhi with presents for his wife and some whisky to share with his guests. Alas, we do not have so much time as the midnight train will take us to Jaiselmer. Reluctantly we say goodbye to our hosts and it is with even more regret that we have to say goodbye to Martin. The last few days with him has been such a pleasant time and I have learned so much about photography from him that I could not have learned from a book. Repetitio mater studiorum est of Ubung macht der Meister as the Germans say.





Dancing with bare feet in glass





Tuesday, 11 November 2008: 

The night train turns out to be a nightmare, the only wagons on this train are 2nd berth and when we do not almost suffocate from the sand getting in the train, we are freezing our but of from the desert cold. We arrive early morning and hurry to the Shahi Place hotel where we have a reservation for tomorrow, but luckily things are flexible. While our room gets prepared, we are allowed to sleep in another room, which we do gladly. A recommended hotel with a nice restaurant a superb view over the city:

We purposely booked a hotel room outside the old city, as several guidebooks asked to do so as the city eco-environment is not made for a huge amount of tourists all wanting a shower and thus slowly eroding the foundation of the sandcastle.


Jaisalmer is in itself a small-fortified town; about 5000 people still reside in its imposing walls. The history of Jaisalmer is as turbulent as the character of its bandit chiefs would lead one to expect. Ferociously independent, brave, even foolhardy, in battle and often treacherous as allies, the Bhati Rajputs were the most feared of all desert marauders. When they were on the rampage, the gates of neighboring fortresses were closed and the cowering citizens barred their doors and windows against these "wolf-packs of the wastes." Their major opponents were the powerful Rajputs of Rathore clans of Jodhpur and Bikaner and endless battles were waged for the possession of petty forts, or meager waterholes. Cattle stealing was a major pass-time, along with falconry and the hunt. The source of income was forced levies on the great caravans that traveled the ancient Spice Route on their way to imperial Delhi.

I am impressed to learn about the rite of “Johar”. When all hope was lost, the Bhati’s would make a huge fire in which the women and children would throw themselves to escape capture by the enemy, in the mean time the men, clad in ceremonial saffron and opium-intoxicated, opened the gates and rushed out to meet a heroic death. Morituri te salutant the Romans already said, and even before that , the Lykians preferred dead over defeat like in the city of Xanthos (Herodotus I, 176 - BCE 546) - see our visit to Turkey 2006

bhangAfter lunch we take a slow stroll to the city and visit the palace. The palace is definitely worth a visit and the accompanying audio is really good. We then have a walk through the maze of small streets in the city, which is fun and gives excellent views. We have our dinner at the hotel terrace with the city as a beautiful background.

One of those crazy things, only in India, a government authorised coffee-shop.


Wednesday 12 November:

We decide to have a slow day today, to much travel has tired us and we already decided that a multi-day camel safari is not what we need right now. So late breakfast, getting our papers in order, lunch, a stroll through the city and to the lakeside and before we know it we are having dinner with the beautiful background

Thursday 13 November:


At the hotel we have booked a jeep to take us to Khuri in the morning and pick us up in the evening. We will spend our time with Mr. Badal Singh, a friendly man who has a few basic room for accommodation and can organize camel treks. We have a nice traditional breakfast and do a little walk around town. Khuri has remained very traditional and it is nice to walk around a village with the traditional buildings still intact. After lunch we have a nice siesta and a few hours before sunset we go by camel to the sand dunes. This is more than enough for us, we do not need an uncomfortable trekking in the desert. In the evening we are rushed back to Jaiselmer where the night train to Jodhpur is waiting for us. This time in a more comfortable sleeper.


Friday, the 14th of November:

boerIt is still to early for sun worshipping when we arrive in Jodhpur. We jump in a rickshaw to get to the Durag Niwas Guesthouse were we catch some zzz’s. While we wait for Bundi’s father to drive us to Udaipur in two days we get a breakfast offered by Govind and before we know it we are on the road to Ghanerao. We stop in Ranakpur to have lunch at a posh restaurant. A group of Belgian’s is also enjoying the buffet and seems surprised that we are not afraid to be on our own. A remark we often get from tourists doing a package tour. We always reply we would not fit in a group that is organized. Anyway it is nice to hear some Limburg accent in the middle of nowhere.





A Rajasthan Farmer on his way to the market



Ranakpur is one of five holy Jain sites and a popular pilgrimage centre. It has one of the best known Jain complexes in the country and is located in the Pali district between Jodhpur and Udaipur, in a valley on the western side of the Aravalli Range.

The temple complex of Adinatha

Ranakpur is known for its marble Jain temple, the most noteworthy of the three main temples is the Adinatha (1439). The Temple is built in light colored marble and has over 1444 marble pillar to support the temple. Carved in exquisite detail, no two pillars are alike.



Ghanerao royal castle, a bit run down, but loads of character

Gopal Das Rathore, a Rajput warrior from the Mertia clan, founded Ghanerao in 1606. It is a small town but located strategically at the entrance of one of the few passes in the Aravallis, that connects the two major cities, Jodhpur and Udaipur. This tiny village thus formed a link between the territories held by the two traditional strongholds of Rajasthan, Mewar and Marwar, and featured often in the history of both these two erstwhile princely states.


A tribal girl, Bishnoi, in front of her house

The former Royal palace is now converted to a luxury hotel and tonight we will sleep for the first time in our live like Royals. It is Martin who gave us this address, and feeling in the mood, with the driver and all, we decided to have a look at the place. When the hotel manager suggests a discount we immediately accept and soon we find ourselves in the suite, having several rooms to ourselves, with a couple of outside balconies and a huge terrace in front. We feel like kings and we dress up for dinner. We have a few drinks before the dinner and a couple of local musicians start to make music. This is the life! Recommended!


Saturday, the 15th of November:


These Bishnoi's lve at the edge of the jungle

After the breakfast we have to say goodbye to our Royal suite, but before we will drive to Udaipur we will visit a tribal village on the border with the national park. It is a beautiful experience and I try to practice some of Martin’s teaching. It sure is difficult if someone is not telling you what to do.


zzWe use the services of Babu (the elder) to guide us around. The use of a guide is really necessary when you want to communicate and not to offend the people by accident. Anyway, everybody loves to be on the photo, and when the kids can see the results on my small display they go berserk.  To make them go completely out of their mind, Rita shows some film she made while they were doing their thing. It reminds me of what I heard some time ago, about even when you do not know how use a camera; you will make great photos in India.

Street life in Ghanerao



After this great visit to this village it is time to go to Udaipur. When we arrive in Udaipur, again something happens that you can only see in India. Loud music and trumpets attract our attention, and when we look around to see what is happening we see a group of people walking by. The first one however is completely naked and is followed by police, musicians and a group of men and women. The Indian bystanders are less impressed by this than we are and we they tell us “holy men” as that is supposed to explain it all.

Again we will stay in a former palace, converted into a hotel in 1955. It is a great place to stay; there is a lovely lounge room, stuffed with memorabilia from the days of the Raj and it has a small pool. The clean rooms look out onto a pleasant garden with lounge chairs. We paid 1200 Rs per night, which was definitely worth it.

Udaipur is referred to as the "Venice of the East", the "Most Romantic City of India" and the "Kashmir of Rajasthan" (a reference to Dal Lake) and not without reason.The Lake  Palace, situated on the Jag Niwas island in the lake Pichola was build in 1746  and is indeed a beautiful place for romance, but these days it comes at a hefty price. The palace has been converted to a 4 star hotel with I am told mediocre food. The James Bond movie Octopussy was partly filmed here. Still Udaipur is a city of white marble palaces, blue lakes, attractive gardens and green hills.

Sunday, the 16th of November:


We start the day with a boat ride on the lake. I am amazed at the amount of birds we see, Pelicans, ospreys, cormorants and others, living so close to humans and still thrive. The dobhi gats (washer men) are beating the dirt out of the clothes, other people are using the lake as an oversized bathroom, but still it is very peaceful, away from the crowds.

Afterwards we visit the City Palace, an impressive complex, which is a blend of Mughal and Rajput influences. Part of the building is still used by the royal family. At the Tripolia gate the royal used to be weighed against gold and silver on their birthday, which was then distributed to the poor.

Like Julius Caesar’s lineage with Aeneas and thus with Venus, the Mewars claimed descent from Ram and therefore from the sun. They sure knew how to pick their friends. Maharaja Karan Singh gave the young prince Khurram (later Shah Jahan), refuge here when he was in revolt against his father Jahangir in 1623, ensuring a lasting relationship with the future Mughal Emperor. During the mutiny, European ladies and children were given sanctuary by Maharana Sarap Singh.


After lunch we walk to the Jagdish Mandir Temple, build in 1651. The temple is the scene for Paisa sadhu’s, flower vendors and others trying to relieve the hordes of visiting tourists. It is quite busy, but we decide to enter anyway. A service is going on and no photography is allowed. We have already seen enough temples so 15 minutes later we are back on the street and we stroll slowly to the hotel while watching the shops selling all kinds of Rajasthani crafts, some of it really beautiful.

On the way to the hotel we meet another wedding party. This time is a girl’s day out to the temple. Sure I am allowed to make a photo, they all wear their best sari. A dip in the pool and a couple of beers give me a great holiday feel and we end the day in a nice restaurant.

Monday, the 17th of November:

spiceIn the morning we have an Indian cooking class. As the only male attendant I get the honor to prepare the first item which is of course Indian tea, and I make it to the official chai wallah. We learn distinguish the different spices and we take turns at preparing the many different dishes. A fun course with an edible result. It looks all so easy when you have someone holding your hand. Recommended!

The shop also sells nice spice boxes which are a must if you want to continue with Indian cooking. For a small prices you can then keep you spices sealed together in 1 box.


Good fun and no written exams

We walk a bit around Udaipur, visit the post office, some government emporia and before we realize it is time for the night show at the Bagore ki Haveli, an18th century haveli, build for the prime minister of Mewar. Here they hold nightly Rajasthani music and dance performances. The show is great and the setting, in the courtyard, of the haveli is enchanting. See our film on youtube!

Tuesday, the 18th of November:

In the morning we pack our bags as we will take the night train to Delhi and need to vacate the room before noon. I want to take a dip in the pool but the weather has changed and the water feels a bit cold. We walk a bit around one of the lakes, look at the dobhi gats and generally feel sad we have to leave Rajasthan, which is a great place to be, regardless of the tourist influx. The hotel management offers us to spend some time in the huge hotel lounge which we do watching some films on TV.


The Mewar Express night train is on time and before we know it the monotone rhythm of the train lulls us to sleep.


New Delhi

Wednesday, the 19th of November:


The Red Fort - from Shah "Taj Mahal" Jahan

After dropping our bags at the hotel in the Paharganj area, we head towards the old city, where we take a cycle rickshaw to take us to the Red Fort (lal Qila), Between the river Yamuna and the new city, this fort was built in red (lal) sandstone by Shah Jahan in 1639.

jjjFrom here we go on foot into the maze of small streets and before we know it we are seriously lost in the crowds.  The spice market is full of activity and fun to watch, but there is no quiet spot from which to watch from as the trader, porters, and buyers use every available space.







Walking through these streets is as bad as it looks on the photo






The Jama Masjid (Friday mosque) is close by and makes a nice break from the hustle and is remarkable empty. It is the largest mosque in India and one of the last works of Shah Jahan.

We jump into a rickshaw to take us to Connaught Place, my favorite spot in Delhi for some seriously good food. We spend the afternoon shopping around the area. We see the sun go down at the India gate, and have another great curry night in India.


Thursday, the 20th of November:

jWe start the day by going to Quth Minar complex.Build in 1199 to proclaim victory of Islam over the infidel is not a pretty story. In the 12th century Muhammad Ghiri’s the Turkish slave and chief General ransacked the gangetic planes down to Benares destroying the temples and Buddhists centers, slaughtering the monks. This was the foundation of the so-called slave dynasty. The complex was built on the rubble of Hindi temples and some of the pillars still show Hindi deity.

Lunch at the Connaught Place again.


When I was in Delhi in 1987 there was no fence around the pillar yet. In fact all visitors tried to get their arms around the iron pillar as the story was that whoever was able to touch his hands around the pillar was able to rule an empire. I guess to many volunteers tried




The evening is reserved for a qawwali night. Sufi devotional songs, called qawwali, are performed every Thursday evening in the open air in front of the 16th century marble shrine of Sufism's greatest saints, Nizamuddin Auliya. I am a bit disappointed as it is nowhere near as good as it is in Lahore. Here in Delhi it looks more like a picnic gathering and the floor is littered with food remains and papers. Walking barefoot is no real fun. The musicians are ok tough and much to my surprise I see Sikhs attending the worshipping of the Sufi Saint. Still a nice thing to do when in Delhi on a Thursday night.

More info:

Friday, the 21st of November:

Our last day in India as we fly out tonight. We only have time to visit the gurudwara Sis Ganj at Chandi Chowk and some last minute shopping keep us running around all day. It has been a great time and we hope to be back soon.