One of the biggest advantages of my year teaching in Korea was being able to fit in so much traveling. At the end of my contract, I set off on a 7 week backpacking trip around Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka. One of my favourite parts of the trip was spending 2 weeks in Rajasthan.
When I told everyone my plan, most hit me with the usual response- “Oh, it’s not safe for a girl to travel there”, “So many people get raped.”, “Why do you want to go there, it’s so dirty?”, “Aren’t you scared.” “Are you worried you’ll get food poisoning?” I feel as though there are so many horror stories about India all over the internet and there is a common misconception among a lot of people that India is somewhere that should be avoided, where all people want to scam you (or worse), where every meal comes with a side of salmonella and every place is covered in cow shit. Like any place, there are people who want to take advantage of you, there are restaurants that you should avoid like the plague and there are definitely some extremely dirty places (ahem, Agra.) But for a country of it’s size and scale, I’d say this is to be expected. If you really want to visit India for whatever reason, take a chance and see what it’s like for yourself- don’t let fear planted by other people hold you back!
I’m going to outline the route that I followed during my 2 weeks in Rajasthan- what I did, what I felt I missed, how much I spent in each place and how I got from A to B. I was only there for a short time but I feel that I managed to see a lot of the region- I know that there is still so much that I never got a chance to see, but I was satisfied after my time there. This is another one of those issues that so many people will want to stick their nose into. A lot of people will tell you “2 weeks is not long enough to see *insert name of place* properly.” While I agree that staying in one place for a long time allows you to absorb more of that place’s atmosphere, it’s still completely do-able to see far off places in the limited holiday time that most workers in the UK are entitled to. You don’t have to be a full time backpacker to be able to see these places and, despite the high flight prices, sometimes it can be more economical to travel further afield than to go to a European holiday destination since things tend to be much cheaper. Don’t think that you have to pack up your job and leave your life behind to be able to see somewhere new.
Throughout this post I’ve quoted prices in rupees, please note, 100 rupees is usually around £1/$1.50.
Jaipur- The Pink City
I started my trip by taking an internal flight from Mumbai to Jaipur. However, this was due to time constraints so it’s not necessarily the route that I would recommend. I would say though, that if you do find yourself in the position that time is an issue, budget airlines in India are generally cheap and much more comfortable than the European budget airlines that I am used to flying with. They have a fairly generous luggage allowance so you don’t have to worry too much about extra fees adding up.
When arriving in India, it’s most likely that you will start your trip in either Delhi or Mumbai.
From Mumbai the trip to Jaipur takes around 1 hr 45 mins depending on the airline that you decide to fly with. Flying is significantly more expensive than making use of India’s extensive public rail system and we only chose this option due to our time constraints. If you are flying into Mumbai but also have the luxury of time on your side, I’d suggest taking an overnight train to Udaipur (around 16 hours) and following this itinerary in reverse.
From Delhi you can reach Jaipur by train. This takes between 4.5 – 6.5 hours. A ticket in sleeper class will cost around 200 rupees (£2/$3) leaving you plenty of money to spend on food and souvenirs!
We stayed at the Vinayak Guesthouse which I would thoroughly recommend. Our private double room (Non AC) was extremely good value at only 600 rupees per night (£6/$9) – that’s only 300 rupees person! One of my favourite things about this hostel was the rooftop terrace were we could chill out (with a cheeky Kingfisher) after a long day of sightseeing. They also serve a pretty well varied breakfast menu to get you set up for the day ahead!
We had heard great things about this place both in Lonely Planet and on other blogs so we decided to check it out. Peacock Restaurant is on the rooftop of the Hotel Pearl Palace and is very popular with travelers. We chose to go here for the food and the ambience and it really was a lovely way to start off our trip. Andrea, my travel pal, is a good friend from home, and we hadn’t seen each other for one year since I had left Scotland to teach English in Korea, so we were up for going all out and making a good night of it! Peacock is fairly expensive for Indian standards and you can definitely find a cheaper meal in the city but with the panoramic views and awesome food, it’s definitely worth it and MUCH less than you would pay for a meal of the same standard in the UK.
Things to Do
As we only had one full day in Jaipur, we decided to hire a tuk tuk to take us around to the cities major attractions. Jaipur isn’t a huge city but I don’t think it would be possible to see the whole place on foot. The cost for us to hire a tuk tuk was only 500 rupees for the full day (£5/$7.50) and was a bit of a life saver in the 43C heat!
Neither of us are really big history buffs and forts/ museums aren’t really our thing. However, when in Rome! So we went to all the usual tourist places, as suggested by our tuk tuk driver.
Most tuk tuk drivers will take you to their friends’ shops but if you don’t want to go there just be firm and say no. If you do decide to shop there they will end up charging you a bit more in commission. We do love shopping so we were quite happy to have a look around- especially in the textile factory where we got ourselves some handmade bedcovers for 1200 rupees! (£12!)
Pushkar- The Holy City
Pushkar! My favourite place on the trip… the land of cows and just totally chilling out and slowing down. I don’t know why I loved Pushkar so much- on paper, it doesn’t have that many special attractions, and looking back, I didn’t really do any particular special thing while I was there that made me so fond of it. The city had a really laidback vibe and I enjoyed spending long afternoons sipping chai on rooftop cafes and walking around its’ endless bazaars. The perfect place to slow down after busy Jaipur
Getting to Pushkar from Jaipur
Our hostel owner advised us of a morning bus that could take us to Pushkar. I’m sure that it left around 8am and the fare was roughly 200 rupees. This is a local bus- an extremely local bus! Don’t expect much in terms of comfort but for such a low fare you can’t really complain. The bus takes about 4/5 hours so you can expect to arrive in Pushkar around lunch time.
When we arrived in Pushkar we were surrounded by men on motorbikes touting out their guesthouses. We already chosen were to stay but decided to take a free ride into the centre of town from one of the guys and check out their guesthouse- and we were glad we did! We stayed at Diamond Hotel and our amazing double ensuite room with a balcony over-looking the whole town and mountains was only 300 rupees! Our cheapest stay in India!
As Pushkar is an extremely holy city, there are so many options for healthy vegetarian food. We particularly enjoyed breakfast at Honey and Spice, an organic vegan café popular with travelers and we were also partial to sampling the abundance of falafel stands in the area, catering to the many Israeli tourists.
Things to Do
We didn’t see many (any?) of the tourists sites in Pushkar, instead opting to laze around and just enjoy the town and the atmosphere. There’s plenty of yoga classes to be found here in the peak season and we also enjoyed one of the most surreal camel rides ever (blog post coming soon!)
One of the main draws to Pushkar is its’ amazing bazaars! What I loved about these particular bazaars was that a lot of places had a no haggling policy and were selling things really cheap! Best buy- leather handbag for 600 rupees 😀
Udaipur- The Lake City
Beautiful Udaipur, the Venice of India! This was a close second to Pushkar for me. Even if you’re not interested in history/sightseeing, you still won’t be stuck for things to do. And when you’re not busy doing anything, make sure you’re somewhere high up with a roof view and enjoy gazing out at lovely Lake Pichola.
Getting to Udaipur from Pushkar
To travel onwards from Pushkar, it’s most likely that you will take a train from Ajmer, like we did. We got an early morning train, and the journey took just under 5 hours. We sat in the unreserved section and scurried for seats with locals. Tickets cost 130 rupees.
After reading about their rooftop yoga and prime location, we decided to stay at the Nukkad Guesthouse. Lonely Planet printed the price as being around 350 rupees for a double but when we got there it was about 600 rupees. Despite their false advertising in LP, we decided to stay there so we could take advantage of said yoga and be near the lake (plus, we had a bit of a bhang hangover from our final night in Pushkar so shopping around wasn’t an option…..)
Since Udaipur is a bit more touristy than other parts of Rajasthan, expect to find restaurants with meat on the menu and a few cheeky Kingfishers under the table. Our favourite place to eat was Millets of Mewar where we returned every day for their amazing breakfast granola. The prices are fairly reasonable, especially for the high quality ingredients they use.
Things to Do
There are so many things to do in Udaipur that you won’t get bored. We started our trip with a Tuk Tuk ride around the city which cost about 500 rupees between us for the day but this didn’t seem as worthwhile in Udaipur as it did in Jaipur as most of the sites are quite compact around Lake Pichola. Our favourite sightseeing location was actually the lake itself… whether you’re having a boat ride across it or looking out over it from a roof top, it is so beautiful and really does look just like a postcard.
One of my favourite things about Udaipur was the amount of non sightseeing, non historical activities we could do. For example, the traditional miniature painting class that we took at Ashoka art. Since we are a little artistically challenge, it took us a very frustrating 4 hours to draw our peacocks. Nonetheless, it was still a really fun experience out of the rajasthani heat and the painting made for pretty memorable souvenirs (even if the mere sight of a peacock makes me cringe now!) The classes cost 150 rupees per hour… most people take around 2 hours, 3 hours if art isn’t really your strong point…. yeah so, we took 4 hours. Like I said, artistically challenged!
Another thing you shouldn’t miss in Udaipur is the Bagore Ki Haveli danceshow. It’s a traditional Rajasthan dance and puppet show… the highlight of which being an old indian woman walking on broken glass with no shoes on and hundreds of pots on her head… and I thought I was hardcore!
We also enjoyed morning yoga classes at our guesthouse however, there is yoga all over the city and it’s usually donation only.
By the time we got to Udaipur we felt it was time to calm down on shopping but still treated ourselves to some more cheap leather goods like bags, bracelets and notebooks.
Bundi- The Chilled Out City
Bundi was the last Rajasthan stop on our itinerary and was the perfect place for us to completely chill out. It was definitely much less built up here with more cows and monkeys than tuk tuks, cars or motorbikes. It was definitely a relief to be able to breathe in some fresh air again and see a side of Rajasthan that isn’t completely aimed towards tourists and trying to get our rupees.
Getting to Bundi from Udaipur
We took an evening train from Udaipur to Bundi. The journey took about 4 hours and tickets were 200 rupees.
As we were due to arrive in Bundi late at night, we emailed ahead to some hostels to barter down the price (due to it being low season) and arrange for a pick up from the train station. We chose to stay at Una Megh Guesthouse. Our large but basic double room was 350 rupees. The highlight of this place was the garden terrace and the prime lake side location.
Of all the (100? 1000s?) cups of chai I drunk in India, I had the absolute best one in Bundi! Make sure you pay a visit to Krishna Chai if you go there. Not only is the chai amazing, but Krishna is the happiest wee man ever. If Bundi is quite far along in your India itinerary, you might gasp at the 60 rupees price tag for a cup of chai- it’s amazing how quickly you get used to India prices and even grudge spending 5p on a banana! But this stuff is too good to moan. While you’re there you can also show off your art skills. Me and Andrea were so buzzing from Krishnas infectious happiness that we even decided to inflict our shite art skills on even more people in India!
Things to Do
Rent out a scooter and check out the nearby temples and Rudyard Kipling’s Summer Residence. There are also some nearby waterfalls which plenty of travel agents will be happy to take you to. We didn’t see this as we were there during the drought period and apparently it was full of dead fish… eww. There is also the Tagarah Fort which we decided just to appreciate from rooftop lunch spots rather than venture up to in the 49 degrees heat.. rooftop lunch spots were a bit of a common theme during our time away!
Onwards from Bundi
From Bundi, we traveled onwards to Agra for the Taj Mahal. We took an evening sleeper train and got in and out of Agra in a day. If history isn’t really your thing then I’d recommend you to also do this as, apart from the Taj Mahal, the only other things to see are forts, fancy buildings and cows eating burning rubbish at the side of the road. From Agra, we went on to Delhi where we spent one night before catching our flights out of India.
We wanted to arrive in Agra around 6am to get to the Taj before all the other tourists got there so we decided to take the slow overnight 12 hour train. However, there are much faster trains than this. Tickets for the slow train were 150 rupees.
I hope this guide can be useful to someone. India is such a large country and can at first seem overwhelming to travel in. If you have any questions just leave me a comment below, thanks!