All this while I've consciously kept my family out of my travelogues, trekalogues etc. I'm like actor Vikram when it comes to the comfort level of sharing the details of my family members with others. One other reason to avoid is to give myself some rest from the things I feel as if a mandatory thing after every trip. In fact when I went to Dilwara Jain temple in Mount Abu I felt relieved without the camera around my neck.
I've this thing of marking the first day of trip as Day 1 and subtracting the travel days from Chennai. But here let me keep the starting day as zero and start henceforth. I really like using zero, no great thinking otherwise.
Day 0 - Start
With all bookings done we started on a Saturday night to Delhi. Yes Saturday. One day wasted, thanks to my sister's exam. But I used the day well by watching PK and completing reviews of Volga to Ganga but couldn't use it as judiciously as I thought by watching Pisasu too the previous day. If that had happened it'd have been a complete day. But that would have meant me going alone for the movie as a Friday night show which would have of course been awesome but you know about parents. They get a little cranky about these stuff. Never mind, not every things are meant to happen.
I had set a rule that come what may, it should strictly be four bags. But it became a five bag thing. We had to carry one whole baggage for food and water which was quite heavy but we never regretted. Anyone who travels by train would know how pathetic the food is and how atrociously it's overpriced. The tamarind rice was heavenly for the next two days.
We booked an Ola cab which got us to central on time with decent fare. The driver seemed to be a guy who had all the recent Tamil tracks on his USB. Good for us. Any trip which starts with Vikram's song would have been awesome. We got there when 'Pookale Satru Oyvedungal' was playing in his music player.
Central was as usual, crowded and shabby. In spite of telling a lot of times that we shouldn't eat anything in central dad started asking people whether anyone would like to have milk. Milk post dinner is our routine. We rather went to Saravana Bhavan and had Pongal and Idly. You know HSB's pongal. Nothing divine than that. When I was in school I used to get up just to visit HSB in the morning. We'd be the first customer in the morning where they'd be filling up the rooms with sambrani fumes. Pongal, Idly, Tea, coffee in various combinations would be my morning exercise.
After the nostalgic pongal and the bad idly we got on the train. Took all the blankets out just to be cautious. I started watching Modern Family and train started in a while after dad made a call to grandma. We all slept in quite a while
Day 1 - Train
It was so darn cold the previous night. We thought we'd be using the blanket just as a cover but we wouldn't have survived the night without it. After 1 AM it got terribly cold and it was cold till afternoon that day. We covered ourselves with the blanket till lunch.
For the breakfast, had Podi Idly majorly along with curd rice and continued with Tamarind rice for lunch and dinner. We even had some pending for the next day morning. Good for us.
We were wondering about when Andhra became such a cold place. We didn't know what was waiting for us. I got scared of asking my folks to travel by sleeper class. Sister wanted flight. Mother wanted part flight part third AC but I had the final say. You know the real charm is sleeper class no matter how much inconvenience it causes.
For most part of the day it was cold. I continued watching Modern Family and took nice long naps. The only place I was waiting for, was Nagpur, for their delicious chat masala Orange juice. For fifteen rupees it's the best evening snack. I don't remember trying anything else that day. That night everyone were shrewd enough to close both the metallic and glass windows beforehand.
Day 2 - Delhi
We survived yet another cold night. But the story doesn't end there. It was so misty outside even at noon. Even though it was awesome to look we were shivering inside out. We didn't have anything post breakfast. We were waiting for Delhi to arrive till eternity but it took forever to reach Delhi. The train which has to reach Delhi by morning 7.30 reached at 4 in the evening. A good 7.5 hours late. We couldn't do much. Hurriedly went to prepaid taxi and got a taxi for 350 rupees. The prepaid wala wasn't actually giving out the bills. He was saying that there weren't enough taxis so he wasn't giving out the bills. Fraud, all part of the job.
The place wasn't far off for 300 rupees but we had to find out the address. Somehow we did. Had good meals from nearby restaurant. Mom's office guest house was brilliant with heater, geyser etc. Took a much deserved bath and got into thermal wear. Everyone took their winter wears and wore them. We went out to check the thermal wears for others but as it was Monday most of the shops were closed. Seems that in Delhi each area will have off on one particular day in a week.
For the 9'o clock train we started by 7 by the caretaker's car. The hassle of the bargain reduced. It was so misty outside with very limited visibility. The station was quite far from our place so the journey was lovely. It felt like we were travelling in the roads where Hanshika danced in 'un vizhigalil'. But I guess that song was shot in Chandigarh.
As soon as we got down in Old Delhi station, we felt the chill. Mom was okay. Dad got scared like hell and sister was speechless. She said it was unbearable and dad said that we have to buy thermal wear the first thing the next day. That got me scared. I started to repent on my decision of asking them to travel during winter. Everyone had warned.
Good that I knew the place beforehand. We settled in McDonalds which had heater. We had a couple of coffee from outside because the IRCTC canteen which was inside didn't have any beverage. They were kind of okay till they were inside but once again after coming out of McDonalds they were frozen.
We hurriedly got into the train but to our dismay there was this vegetable vender who was smoking beedi and would never stop doing that. Worse than that, he had to open the window for the smoke to go out. When we were conversing about the climate, a localite was telling that it was the coldest during that period of the time in last 11 years. These guys will have stats for every day in winter. Whatever, 3.2 is not a weather a Chennai folk would like to be in. We went through another horrid night.
Day 3 - Jodhpur
We reached Jodhpur around 7'o clock. It was cold but after having faced the Delhi chill, cold is overrated. Jodhpur was one of the two locations we hadn't booked rooms. Everyone said the rooms would be cheap and autos would be really cheap. So we went with the same notion.
After taking a walk along the road, opposite to the railway station, we checked a few hotels. Anything below 1000 rupees didn't have geyser and was on lift less top floors. After checking on a couple of hotels, a coat clad autowala hijacked us saying that he'd get us hotels for cheap rates. You really can't escape them. They'd surround you from all sides. But finally we got our room for 1500 rupees for two days after negotiating for a while. Room was decent with geyser, bed sheets etc. It was on ground floor so it was an added advantage.
There wasn't much time to think. The autowala had already got us into taking him for sightseeing. We were stupid enough to take it without inquiring for the charge. They really have a great network. They all give the same name 'Sunil' and share you their phone numbers. Wonder who that Sunil is. A Keyser Soze I guess.
After quickly getting freshened up we started our sightseeing at around 11 AM. Our first point was Umaid Bhawan Palace which is a museum cum 5 star hotel. It was closed due to some private party. Our auto driver informed that whenever Bollywood people come they used to stay in Umaid Bhawan Palace. So we started off with disappointment.
Next was Mandore gardens which was like 7 Km from the city. It's a nice little park/fort/museum. You're going to read a lot about this combination below. We had pudina lime soda outside to quench our thirst which was fabulous with black salt, pudina, lime and soda. As soon as we entered there were people playing a Hindustani instrument which was great to hear but the sad fact was it was a disguise in which they were asking for alms. We got a few photos clicked and there was a museum but other than that there wasn't much to see and museums are something you got to take time off and see. Not in a hurry.
Next was Mehrangarh Fort, considered the best among all forts in Rajasthan. More famous now because of Batman. I wasn't sure which scene was shot there. I wasn't flabbergasted as expected. It was too crowded, too organized, to have fun. If I had zipped across the fort in flying fox I'd have been happy but that wasn't to happen. Near to Mehrangarh Fort there were a couple of temples which would have been a nice little hike but we couldn't visit as it was around 5, a standard closing time for all the forts.
Tip: Carry an audio guide. Which is the best thing to do. You don't know about the authenticity of the guides and their English could be quite bad. Audio guides are authorized by tourism of Rajasthan so you can be assured that it's authentic.
Followed by Mehrangarh Fort we visited Jaswanth Thada, cenotaphs built in marble around the lake. It was quite small but offers a good view of Mehrangarh fort and the lake is quite beautiful to watch with pigeons, duck, swan etc. forming various patterns. We also watched the sunset from the platform outside Jaswanth Thada which also offers a great view of the Blue City of Jodhpur with sunset background. Being in Rajasthan you get enough of sunset points as the fort timing matches with sunset timings.
Even though we didn't want to go on any purchase our driver insisted on stopping by various Rajasthani handloom shops. We hardly had a look at it. We felt cheated as we had to shell out 1000 rupees for that. But mistake was ours we should have asked for the rate beforehand. We decided to go to the missing Umaid Bhawan Palace the next day for 250 rupees.
After taking rest for a while we walked the streets and purchased thermal wear for dad along with garam thoppi and gloves for the rest of us. For dinner we had chat in Mishrilal's lassi, doodh jelabi and a dish which had idiyappam in doodh. By far the best lassi I've ever had. But as it was all sweets it became difficult to finish them.
Came home damn tired and slept like crazy. If we had visited Umaid Bhawan Palace too we could have had a sound 10-12 hours' sleep but that was never to happen.
Day 4 - Jodhpur
Our second day in Jodhpur was a casual affair really. I was tired from the time I got up but still we had Chola Batura and Idly en route to Umaid Bhawan Palace. After all the struggle it was quite disappointing. And by repeatedly sitting in the front seat of auto my back pain got aggravated. The museum didn't interest me much. With Volga to Ganga fresh in my memory all I could think if kings was that they were cruel towards people by collecting exuberant taxes and putting them through evasive work. As if I'm already not cynical enough.
We next went to Umaid Garden which was nothing but a beggar's park and also had a zoo. I wasn't feeling that great so skipped the zoo. Didn't feel bad though. I don't think it'd have been good and if you are going with family skip Umaid Garden. I'm sure more people would be doing grass there than the grass around the park.
Once home, I got the much deserved afternoon nap and followed it up by evening nap. I didn't want to be the reason behind the trip being cancelled. So I backed myself up for Jaisalmer. If at all anything happens to me let it happen after Jaisalmer was what my mantra. I have this starting trouble. But by the time I went to the station and got into the train which doesn't seem to have been cleaned from the time it was built, I became normal and had a sound sleep.
Day 5 - Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer is the one place which everyone warned us. Some called it a stupid idea, some said it'd be near death experience out there but come what may we went there. The train which was supposed to reach by 5 AM reached at 6 AM as it started late. All the desert train route which websites boasted off wasn't to be seen. But we were holding our breath not for the scenery but for the coldness. The temperature was around 6 in the city I guess and we called the Divine Nilalohita Resort owner for the jeep. He hadn't set it off by then saying 4.30 is the check in time. But as we insisted, the jeep came in an hour. We thought it would be better to stay inside than to be out there in the coldness.
As promised the jeep came by 7'o clock. It was still dark. The driver was a charming guy. He asked the ladies to sit in front as the window shield would protect them from coldness. But mom and I chose to sit in front as I wasn't feeling well the previous day. He gave us all a blanket to cover ourselves.
It was an hour's long drive which felt like eternity. It was my coldest ride ever. The roads were brilliant but. With desert landscape on both the sides it was a site to beckon. By around 8 when we got to our resort in Sam Sand Dunes the sun was slowly rising. There was already someone with a camera on hand. I too came out immediately to take a beautiful shot of orangish sun. It took a while for the coldness to seep out. As soon as we were okay we had our buffet breakfast which was sumptuous.
We then inquired about the days plan, to the resort owner. He suggested to go ahead with dune bashing and camel safari which we of course did, but dune bashing was underwhelming for the 1800 we had to pay. Camel safari for 50 per person was a good deal even though it was short lived. After having lunch I had a sound nap followed by sunset and camp fire where traditional rajasthani dance was being performed. It wasn't my cup of tea really as I started feeling bad for them as they have to dance bare foot in such cold climate. It was freezing outside too. But stayed and watched till the end for the heck of it and completed dinner in a while. Best part was standing next to the campfire after the dinner.
The rooms being equipped with nice cozy beds and blankets assured us of a sound sleep. Otherwise it'd have been really tough to sleep in that coldness. I guess the temperature dropped to around 3.2 that night. But it was a hell of an experience.
Day 6 - Jaisalmer
On the second day we were supposed to go for site seeing en route to our station. After our breakfast we first went to Kuldhara village, a supposedly abandoned village where people are not allowed after 6PM. Legend is that during crisis the village was evacuated in 60 minutes. Those who were there were rich people I suppose who didn't have time to take their belongings when they left. It's still rumored to have treasures but as no electrical equipment's work post 6PM they were not able to find them. Seems that even a news channel came once to check about the authenticity but none of their electrical equipment's worked post 6PM. More than anything that place reminded me of 'Un mela asathan...' song.
Next was Jain Temple which was a decent fair. Except for the 50 rupees which we had to pay for camera there wasn't anything irritating. There was a pooja going on which sounded nice. Unlike south India, the north Indian version of Pooja has everyone getting involved in it which was nice to watch
Next was Bada Bagh which was the place which was featured in 'Penne oh penne' song in Naan Sigapu manithan. Wasn't a great place and entrance fee of 50 per head wasn't really worth it. Even our driver wasn't aware of the entrance fee. He was quite shocked by it. Those were the three places which we visited before getting to the city where we placed our bags and went for a quick stroll to watch the rest of the places.
After quick lunch we went to Jaisalmer fort which wasn't as organized as the Mehrangarh fort but that was the one I liked better as it wasn't organized. Got a few good clicks there, even though we were in a hurry.
Our walking picked up pace and we went to Patwon ki Haveli next where there were 7 different palaces with different origin. Being short of time and atrocious entrance fee for one by one separately we decided to skip it. I generally get really upset if I miss on any place but I wasn't for this one.
Gadissar Lake at last was the biggest of disappointments, worst lake I've ever seen. Don't even ask me whether I tried boating on the lake where there were dead birds and fishes. But the walk to these places were awesome. Loved the streets. If we had had more time it'd have been great to walk the streets peacefully.
The auto wala charged an atrocious 80 rupees for us to drop us to Jaisalmer railway station which was like half a kilometer from our place. That too it was where people said no one cheats. But if you are in a new place you can't expect everything to go as per your plan. After covering all these places we got on the train at 5 PM but it again started an hour late. For that night we had to settle for Kachodi in Pokhran but the desert train route that I wanted to see was lovely when the train started.
Day 7 - Jaipur
Our Jaipur train reached late as expected but still it was before sunrise. If you are going by train don't even try to get in the waiting room. That's one hell of an asshole there. I don't know how someone can be grumpy all the time, morning to evening. Thanks to the impounding by autowallas we got one shabby room for our two day stay but the cab driver we got was a gem of a person. If not for him our stay at Jaipur would have been screwed. One thing I could notice was throughout Rajasthan people were anti-Muslim. I'm not sure why this much of hatred towards Muslim community.
We started off the day with Birla Mandir, a neat white marbled Shiva temple which won't cost you much of your time.
Followed by that was Albert Hall, a museum opposite to zoo where the regular swords, knives kind of stuffs were present. We did a mistake of not buying the composite ticket which is of very good use. One, we can skip the lines and two, the total of all the tickets would be much more than the composite ticket with which we could visit 7 places in the course of two days. One good thing about Jaipur was there wasn't any place which charged for the camera.
We skipped the zoo obviously. Followed by Albert Hall we decided to go to Jantar Mantar which again we didn't understand a thing as we weren't having time to read or guide to tell the story but I'm sure the stuffs there are amazing. Have to reserve a day for reading about it. We loved the 30 rupees malai kulfi and papad better than the place.
Hawa Mahal, where it was supposed to have around 1000 windows was awesome. It was because there wasn't any clear route and we had to get into the dungeons, climb up badly lit stairs and stuff which was quite entertaining.
En route to Amer fort we stopped at Jal Mahal for some pictures which came out quite well thanks to the evening sun.
We then had to follow Amer Fort which was the most magnificent of all the forts. We chose to walk instead of Jeep as we had time. Jodha Akbar seemed to have been shot there. We were able to spot a few places where it was shot.
There was a garden which was nearby which we were not able to go but it's for good. The driver said the place is quite secluded and it serves as a lover's park. I was happy for it being closed. We ended our day by having a dinner in a nearby dhaba.
Day 8 - Jaipur
We started our second day with Jaigarh Fort which was again a great place to go hide and seek. It has the world's greatest cannon and also provides a fascinating view of the city.
Followed by it we went to the Rang De Basanti place Nahargarh Fort where a look alike of our dad was present. Many a time I mistook him to be my dad. It was around 2PM by the time we finished seeing these two forts and thanks to the traffic it took us almost an hour to go to the restaurant opposite Jal Mahal.
Followed by our lunch we went to Monkey Temple and Sun Temple for which we had to take quite a hike. Even though the other regions were humid, the temple area was quite cold, may be because it was situated in the middle of the valley.
It was 5PM by the time we came back. We quickly hurried to Sisodina Garden which is nothing but a peaceful garden. We hardly were there for 10 minutes. In spite of hurrying we missed to see Vidyadar garden but wasn't disappointed much because from outside we could see that it was just another garden.
We had great dinner in a dhaba recommended by our driver. We went to the railway station about an hour early but the train was late by some two hours. It got really cold by then and that was our worst train experience. It was so badly cold that we weren't even able to feel our feet the next day morning.
Day 9 - Udaipur
We finally reached what's called one of the most romantic place, the Venice of India, Udaipur. There wasn't a single negative thing about Udaipur. Of the whole journey, Udaipur was the one place which I loved the most. It started off with a pre-paid auto for Rs. 82 to our place. Our room was in fourth floor without lift so my parents were a bit worried but once we went out and had our Aloo Paratha overlooking Pichola Lake they got their energy back. And that was the best Aloo Paratha we had.
We went to City Palace first which didn't wow me but had the most exuberant entrance fee. We had to shell out 800 rupees, our combined room rent for a day to just enter the fort. We missed the exit route so mom and sister were pissed by it.
As we took a lot of time in the fort we could just go the temples nearby and the main attraction of it was Jagadish Temple which had pooja going for half an hour. Felt blessed, truly!
Went to Bagore Ki Haveli in the end but that was closed so just sat by the lake for some time and came back to room. Luckily as they had a cow shed downstairs we were able to have cow's milk during our tenure there.
We ended the day with a candle light dinner overlooking the lake. But never did we know that we are going to follow it up with a hat trick of candle light dinners. In spite of our three day stay in Udaipur we didn't catch up with 'Octopussy' which was being played in most of the restaurants. We were supposed to go Ranakpur and Kumbalgarh next but we didn't get the cab so we thought of completing local sightseeing by next day and go to Ranakpur the third day.
Day 10 - Udaipur
By the time I got up mom had decided to not do Ranakpur and Kumbalgarh. She didn't want to pay 2000 just to visit another couple of forts. I thought I should give them a break too so agreed for it. That's the charm of Udaipur, everything is relaxed there, no hassle, the shopkeepers don't pressurize you to buy stuff, you don't feel like going home early, the food takes its own sweet time to arrive and you like that too. That's how it is.
The second day we took an auto, went to Fateh Sagar Lake which had quite a few water activities. But we didn't use them as we had enough of it in our Andaman trip. Opposite to it was a small garden where there was nothing but a museum telling us about Chetak, the horse and Kumbhalgarh fort and its history. Not a great one that.
Just five minutes' walk from there is Nehru Garden where they have government operated boats to take you to the garden in the center of the lake. If you want to experience boating without spending much, take this option. The garden was pleasant and gave us some glorious views of the surrounding.
After a quick lunch we hurried to Dudh Talai where ropeway was the main attraction. Be prepared to wait anywhere between 45 minutes to 1 hour for your turn. Once you are on top you see the whole city. On one side is lake and on the other side are buildings in white, which looks beautiful. We descended during sunset which again was beautiful.
So it was a satisfying second day in Udaipur. We took quite a long time to go to a restaurant that day. We checked out quite a few, Doctors Café was one such gem but we couldn't because no Indian food was available. The restaurant was covered with hippie paintings in fluorescent colors and lighting was awesome. It'd have been great to celebrate new year's there but as I was with family I couldn't. Finally we opted for the restaurant which was next to the restaurant we went the previous night.
Day 11 - Udaipur
On our last day in Udaipur we got up really late and just went to the Government museum inside the city palace which was quite bland.
Bagore Ki Haveli too didn't interest us much. It was colorful but, depicting the ceremonies during Rajasthani marriage. We followed it up by a walk around the city and much needed rest. The new year mood was set and the whole city was happy welcoming new year. From our room we could hear a mix of songs from various restaurants. But all we did was to sleep in peace.
Day 12 - Mount Abu
We had booked bus tickets to Mount Abu during our stay in Udaipur so we didn't have much hassle in reaching Mount Abu. As soon as we reached the place we asked an address to a cab driver who said that the hotel is just walkable distance from there but if we wanted to use his service it'd be 100 rupees. That positive vibe was enough to make our day.
The best of hotel was reserved for the last place. SRP INN where we stayed was fabulous. We got a star hotel treatment for such a low cost. Even they arranged a cab for sightseeing for a nominal price.
That afternoon we went for a walk to Nakki Lake and visited Brahmakumari Museum opposite to it. After being in Udaipur, every other lake looked silly so we came back to room quite early, had dal bati churma in a local restaurant and slept off so that we could start early the next day.
Day 13 - Mount Abu
We started off at 9'o clock and went straight to Guru Shikhar which is the highest peak in Mount Abu. That offers a great view around the expanse of the city. But other that, the place isn't of much interest.
Our next visit was to Peace Park, a place maintained by Brahmakumari's which is just another park with an 'Om' symbol.
Adhar Devi Temple probably was the only temple which wasn't built by marbles but again nothing great for people like us coming from the land of temples. Add to it there was a school crowd in all the places which we visited so it was quite irritating.
Our next stop was Dilwara Temples made exquisitely of marbles. Camera's and cell phones were not allowed there which meant I wasn't having any baggage with me. Felt truly relived after letting the pressure of taking photo after photo go. We finished our lunch there which was truly bad.
Post lunch we went to Brahma Kumari's Headquarters which again wasn't for people like who. That too after watching PK just before the trip, it was funny.
We completed the day by taking a horse ride in Sunset Point, which again was not well maintained. If you truly want the thrill, take a hand pulled rickshaw unique only to Mount Abu. Hire a youngster who'll zip through in that brake less rickshaw at such a speed that you'll have your heart in your mouth.
We got government bus from Mount Abu to Abu road to take our train which as usual was late. But in all, Mount Abu was a disappointment. Even our regular tourist places like Ooty, Kodaikanal would fare better than that.
With the amount of liquor shops there and close proximity to Gujarat I guess people from Gujarat use that place like how we use Pondicherry.
Day 14 - Mumbai
In spite of starting late, our train reached Mumbai on time. Even though we did nothing, I fell in love with the city. This is the city I wanted to settle in. That was a decision as soon as I read Shantaram, then I watched Dhobi Ghat. Mumbai has so much positivity around it. Had our best lunch there after a string of tandoori roti and dals. Cabs were proper, traffic was huge, roads were bigger and more importantly autos operated on meter. I felt at home. But good that we didn't visit anywhere so the surprise would still be in tact when I visit the place in future. Had the much coveted vada pav in railway station which was way better than our regular stuff there? Some other time Mumbai!
Day 15 - Chennai
Felt horrible in train. Not only because we had to start our routine but also because we were so accustomed to the coldness, we hated the humidity so much that we wanted to travel back to Rajasthan again. The only thing that saved our otherwise melancholic day was the Buhari Biryani which we were dreaming about in train. That changed the whole mood and made us happy.
And that truly was one hell of a trip!