Jaisalmer is a small fort town in the heart of India’s Thar desert that dates back to the 12th century. The town itself is pretty close to the Pakistani border, but soon after arriving we traveled 30kms closer, through a few police checkpoints, to a secluded desert camp. From there, Cindy ticked off yet another item from her bucket list; riding camels over desert sand dunes. Cindy enjoyed the sunset ride so much that we came back for a second helping at sunrise (which, on account of the discomfort involved, Sam decided would be the last time he ever gets on a camel).
At night the desert camp put on an elaborate (and a little elongated) traditional Rajasthani dance and musical performance. Our fellow guests in the audience consisted of the British friends we mentioned in our previous post and two dozen curious locals. This made for an experience that felt quite genuine, although at times a little awkward (especially when we were being stared at or photographed). With a bit of humor, though, the four of us foreigners had a lot of fun.
As we drove back to Jaisalmer we got a sense of how it came to be known as India’s ‘golden city’. The sandstone fort city (the oldest living fort in the world) rises out of the desert and under the midday sun the fort, buildings and surrounding sand all have a distinct golden look. Inside the fort we toured the large city palace and a few beautiful Jain temples. However, what we enjoyed most was wandering through the busy streets, which are filled with restaurants, guesthouses and vendors (a point of difference in Rajasthan, since all the other forts are museums open only to day ticket holders). We found the best view of the fort, however, was from the rooftop restaurants and bars outside, where we enjoyed a few nice meals.
Our last night in Jaisalmer was the eve of Sam’s 30th birthday and, with the generous help of Sam’s family, we marked the occasion in style, staying at a beautiful boutique five star hotel within the grounds of its own desert fort. The staff at the hotel did all they could to make our one night of luxury memorable, offering us a free room upgrade, delivering a birthday cake at midnight and surprising us after our beautiful dinner with a room full of flowers and candles.
After a relaxing birthday morning and afternoon in five star luxury, we put our backpacks back on and boarded a very one star overnight bus to our next destination, Udaipur. The city, built around a beautiful lake, features several palaces and $1000+ per night hotels, and has regularly been chosen as an exotic film location, most famously in the Bond film Octopussy. Our accommodation was certainly not one of the more glamorous in town, but it was perfectly located and offered amazing lake views from both our room and the rooftop bar. The main attraction in town, the huge city palace that took us two hours to walk through, was just next door.
To get the best view of the city palace, and Udaipur generally, you need to get on the water. We chose the priciest option, leaving from the grounds of the city palace, circling the iconic Taj palace hotel in the middle of the lake, then stopping at another island palace (Jag Mandir) to take some nice pictures before returning to the city palace just after sunset.
While in Udaipur we visited most of the other tourist hotspots, including the beautiful (but less glamorous) Fatah Sagah and a popular museum built in an old Haveli (fancy word for mansion). We also talked our way into being allowed to have a drink at the most glamorous hotel we’ve ever seen, the Oberoi Ubervillas. We spent the rest of our time in Udaipur wandering through its many lane ways and eating at some really nice rooftop restaurants. Doing this, we found it easy to see how Udaipur has earned a reputation as India’s most romantic city (even easier when we tried to ignore the still omnipresent holy cows and their not so holy sh!t).
From Udaipur we headed north to Delhi and Agra. Many backpackers would have taken the 20-hour train ride, but we were more than happy to pay a premium to fly.