Travel with family (4, including senior citizens) and kids (1)....sends a shiver down the spine of even the most hard core of travelers!! A 9 day expedition that too over the year end weekend and that too aiming to cover almost all of the core Rajasthan sites was a challenge in itself. Of course the budget is something that always juts out when you take liberties with time and bookings. Considering all these expectations, keeping the cost around USD 2500 was going to be a herculean task!!
Out came the planner in my wife and we decided to hunt down itenaries from all the main travel sites and that fit in our time / budgetary constraints. The best way is to zero in on an itenary that fits and book all the hotels / events that they cover.
TIP: The cheeky way is to do that on their own websites :). it is surprising how you can find deals on the internet even if it is peak season for tourists.
As the planning for the trip was done a couple of months in advance, we had a slight advantage in terms of flight bookings. We were able to get return flights to Jaipur for under 65K. Next came the local travel. The best way is to find a good travel agent or a decent sized car rental firm i.e. Wings Radio Cabs and ask them to book a cab for the entire duration; airport to airport. We were lucky to find an Innova for under 30K to cover close to 2000Kms including driver fees.
TIP: The best way is to find a good travel agent or a decent sized car rental firm i.e. Wings Radio Cabs and ask them to book a cab for the entire duration.
With the travel reservations in place, the next step was to vet the itenary using the SME knowledge of the travel agent or the cab company. You can get some really good tips and also include some offbeat spots in your itenary as they are on the way. As a first timer, you would never be able to plan for these locations yourselves. After validating the itenary, we set out to book the hotels. As a preference, we always book budget hotels (under 3K per room per night) because you spend a large part of your travel on the road and not in the hotel. All the hotels (2 rooms) were booked under 35K for 8 nights.
TIP: Vet the itenary using the SME knowledge of the travel agent or the cab company or a local relative / friend
Jaipur: Take the early morning flight from Mumbai. Risk is that they may get delayed if the fog doesn't permit flights from landing in Jaipur. Visit the AMER fort and the Jaipur Palace. Nothing else is worth the effort in case you are running on a tight deadline. A night in Jaipur is enough to cover AMER and you can cover the Palace on the day, you move to the next city i.e. Jodhpur. Hotel Blue Heaven hotel is decent, staff is very courteous. It is not too good in terms of amenities and food. On the way to Jaipur, you can cover Pushkar and the Khwaja Dargah. Not a must, you can skip if you are not in the mood for too many stop overs.
Jodhpur: The best of the lot!! You must visit Umaid Bhavan Palace, Mehrangarh Fort. Two of the most beautiful historical monuments in the country. Umaid Bhavan Palace is a sight for sore eyes. Do take the trouble to go thru the museum in the palace. It gives you a peek into the lives of the Maharajas of yore! Mehrangarh is a treat to explore. Spend 2 nights in Jodhpur as you will find it tiring and cumbersome to cover both these places in one day. Please do not buy anything from the so called "government shops" they are over priced. Jaisalmer was a lot cheaper than Jaipur in many ways so hold onto to your artifact shopping spree. Hotel Suncity is a good option but it is slightly overpriced. Please have food outside.
TIP: Mehrangarh, please do take the elevators while going up as you will be tired and wont have enough energy to cover the fort. You can see everything on your way down!!
Jaisalmer: The places to visit are Jaisalmer Fort and the abandoned village of Kuldhara before you make your way to the dunes in Khuri. Kuldhara makes you feel as it has been captured in a time capsule. The houses, the temples are intact enough to assume that someone still stays there. It is best to cover the fort before you drive to the dunes. You can cover Kuldhara on your way back to Bikaner. Hotel Pansari Palace is decent but you will be better off staying in the tents by the name "Garh Marwarh" just at the start of Khuri. Temperatures can dip drastically in the evenings in winter so please be prepared for a cold experience no matter how much you layer up. Please experience the sun rise and sun set in the dunes. Nothing beats these 2 events. Spend 2 nights in Jaisalmer, truly worth it.
We spent the year end in the dunes. It was an experience to cherish away from the usual dinner / drinks and loud music events in the cities. You tend to find yourselves a lot lighter and fresher as you leave from the place on Jan 1st.
TIP: The distance from Jaisalmer to Jaipur is quite a lot to be covered in one day. Please stop over at Bikaner on the way back!!
Bikaner: The Junagarh fort in Bikaner is a must watch. Probably the best artifacts in the state are in this fort. Do take the guided tour, definitely worth it. Shop for sweet meats and eatables near the station from 2 of the biggest shops in the city. Hotel Desert winds is good value for money and the owners are extremely courteous. On the way back from Bikaner, we saw the Khurja bird sanctuary.
We booked a hotel in Jaipur close to the airport for the stopover at night. You can get a good bargain if you return on Saturday nights for example as majority of the smaller hotels are sparsely occupied on Sundays. Take the next morning flight back to Mumbai!!
Rajasthan was a dream come true especially the Umaid Bhavan Palace, Mehrangarh and Khuri!!. Definitely going back for the sunrise in dunes!!