I set out to make a classic itinerary and not too original, but enough to capture the essence of this authentic land. We would tour the Rajasthan region in Bikaner, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, a city in the Thar desert, almost bordering Pakistan. In Rajasthan we can find the Thar desert, the Aravali mountains which, with Mount Abu, are some of the oldest in the world, and the tiger reserves of Ranthambore and Sariska.
Day 1 - Mandawa
The day is long and hard, but we got up at 5.30 in the morning with the same enthusiasm as in our first trip to Rajasthan. By taxi we arrive at the train station. We reach the airport by the metro, and at 10.30 we check-in the bags. After passing a couple of strict controls, we reach the waiting room until at noon, we boarded the Air India flight to Delhi.
The flight to Delhi took place without incident. The only but I can put is that the information that the airport screens provided on the boarding gate was wrong, or was changed at the last moment. It made us live some anxious moments, even though we had something more than an hour to make the change.
In the end, after running through the corridors of the airport, we reached the right door with more than enough time. The flight is comfortable (as comfortable as the economy class can be) with decent food, good entertainment and a diligent crew. In just over an hour (by train it's about 15 hours) we landed at the airport in this city in the state of Delhi.
We pass the controls and pick up the bags heading for the exit. Here the hotel had sent a taxi with where we will stay at our first destination. The problem was that, when we left the airport, there was nobody waiting for us. It was 2 in the afternoon, and we asked for the cost of a taxi. While we were hesitant about what to do, our taxi driver appeared, apologizing for the delay.
We went walking to pick up the car in the parking. After the moment of uncertainty, we settled in the taxi that began its 300 km journey, in the middle of the chaos typical of the big cities. What was a novelty for us, was the presence of numerous cows that ran at ease, not only in the city, but also the highway. They made the driving an obstacle course. This becomes especially dangerous at night, on roads with little or no light.
Out of urban areas and as the night starts it was what I would call the kamikaze race to get to Mandawa. There were a few tense moments, especially one in which there was a competition between a bus and several cars. So with our particular guardian angel in a state of maximum alert, we arrive without incident, but with the feeling that we were unharmed by miracle.
On the way and seeing that it was getting late, we asked the driver to stop us somewhere for dinner. He took us to a restaurant where they were waiting for us since he had called but we did not like the place. We wanted something quick because it was late and we continued until another one where we had dinner and continued.
We arrived almost at 11 at night to Mandawa to go direct to the haveli where we did the check-in, showered and go to bed. I finally sleep, surrendered, after a day of travel.
Day 2 - Bikaner
In the morning we have breakfast and go out to explore the city on foot, famous for its havelis although most are poorly maintained or in ruins. The havelis are merchants' houses that flourished thanks to the trade route from China built by the Marwari merchants in the Shekhawati region, north of Rajasthan.
When we left the haveli there was our driver, a hotel service boy and some countrymen offering us to become a guide to tour the city, which we declined politely. When we had been walking for a while, one of those who were outside the haveli came back to tell us that he is a guide and that we have to go with him to get to know the city well. We ignore and continue.
After a while another guide approached us asking about me. He told us he was a guide and it was better that we visit the city with a guide and that he would not charge us anything. We pass him and continue. We went through several havelis and in front of the fort that we did not enter so we did not delay in going towards Bikaner, a walled city, located in the middle of the Thar desert.
We saw some structures that later I found out they were stepwells and we entertained taking pictures of several children. We bought fruit in some stalls near the haveli and water. We stopped in Fatehpur where there are more than 300 havelis. We visit one of them to see its interior, and although it is not restored, its paintings and the work of the wood of its doors, allow to imagine the past splendor.
We continue the route to Bikaner passing small towns until we stop at the Vaishno Devi Temple at whose entrance is the head of a lion with an open mouth through which we pass into the interior. About 8 km before arriving to Bikaner, we stop to visit the Chhatris in Devi Kund Sagar. This is the real crematorium of the Bikaji dynasty, and each one occupies the exact place where it was incinerated.
We continue our trip to Bikaner where we enter the Junagarh Fort (before it was called Chintamani) built in the 16th century by Raja Rai Singh, Akbar's army general. It is one of the few forts that is not built on top of a hill and which has the particularity of not having been conquered. The main door is the Suraj Pol.
In the interior we find numerous palaces of red sandstone and marble, rooms with delicate paintings, ceilings with mirrors and ivory prints, and courtyards with marble ponds. The Chandra Mahal, Phool Mahal, Durbar Room, Badal Mahal, Diwan-i-Khas, Gag Mandir, are some of them.
In the area dedicated to the Museum we can see various types of firearms, shields, swords, furniture, and a biplane of the World War I. In the old city we visited in rickshaw, doing some stretches on foot. The most interesting or striking was without a doubt two of the havelis that hide their narrow streets.
The most famous group is Rampuria, built by Balujee Chalva under the instructions of the Rampuria family. The oldest one is 400 years old, but the great majority does not exceed 100 years. The magnificent work of carved from the red sandstone in which they are built is surprising. Peacocks, elephants, flowers, geometric drawings and innumerable figures, adorn the façade of this group of havelis.
Another interesting group is the havelis of Daga Chowk. After lunch, we continue to Deshnok to visit one of the most amazing temples I have ever seen, not because of its architecture or history but for its deities. It is the rats.
In the Karni Mata temple rats are worshiped. In total there are about 25,000 black rats and a handful of white rats, at present, the latter being the most fervent among devotees. They are everywhere but what catches the most attention is to see how people kiss the floor, wash their heads with their water or even drink it and eat their nibbled food.
The commotion came when a white rat appeared and people rush to take group photos and selfies, pushing and touching to approach, throwing food to see if they eat it, wait for one to pass them over and all this to have good luck. We tried a sugarcane juice and bought a souvenir to continue our trip to the hotel where a sandstorm arises. It seems that we are in a veil of almost total darkness and we barely see a few meters ahead.
Bikaner was founded by Rao Bika and that was important step in the routes of the caravans. Years later it was governed by the Mughals until the 19th century.
We agreed to have dinner at the hotel because of the storm but since it took us an hour to prepare it we went for a walk in which the thing calms down. We enjoy a walk in which we found a market that we enter as it is away from the traffic hustle. We get back to the hotel with a bag of spices.