Udaipur Through The Lens

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A Trip to the Kumbhalgarh Fort

02.25.2013

The road to Kumbhalgarh already gave me that big impression that I see India as I expected it to be. Local women in sheer, flowing, colorful sarees, balancing pots, twigs, and cow feeds on their heads. Local men donning big turbans, cows and camels wandering slowly just everywhere in our sight.

Kumbhalgarh fort is not just another fort we visit in India. It is the second largest wall next to the Great Wall of China. It is a fantastic, remote, fulfilling romantic expectations and vividly summoning up the chivalrous, war-like Rajput era. The fort’s walls are too long that it will take days to walk around it.

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The Golden City of Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer is beautiful, golden city that changed my impression about India. Here, locals are literally living inside the fort where the Maharaja palace is situated. It is dusty, and same as everywhere in India, cows are slowly wandering on the streets, or sometimes too lazy to move.

First day in Jaisalmer, we met Deepak, a coffee shop owner slash Couchsurfer. His cafe is located on the west wall of the fort – has the best sunset view in the whole of Jaisalmer (except the desert). A very honest guy giving out tips on how to get the best camel safari tour operators, guest houses, and everything else you need to know about the city. He makes really good cold coffee too.

Find KUKU Coffee Shop in Jaisalmer!

 

 

Jaipur City Palace

Jaipur City Palace is a nice visit, but I personally wouldn’t classify it as a “must-see.” The architecture is interesting, but it has more of a feel as a money-making experience rather than a historical tourist attraction, also –  most rooms said no photography allowed.

The costume museum is interesting and worth a look. The Maharajah’s meeting room is also impressive. On the other hand, the paintings in the meeting room are quite impressive and (apparently) copyrighted – so you won’t see it in other places.

There are some shops outside of the palace where you can get some decent prices. Quality seemed to be good and the shop-keepers are a pleasant bunch.

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The Silver Urn at the Diwan I-Khas

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Chandra Mahal

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Inside the Pitam Niwas, is the ornate Peacock Gate

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Chandra Mahal – atop is the flag of the Royal Family of Jaipur.

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Diwan I-Khas
Chandra Mahal

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Thar Desert Camel Safari Experience

A 30 minute drive out of Jaisalmer into the Thar desert, Valerio, I and the rest of our group were dropped off roadside to meet our guides and camels for the next 3 days.  I was introduced to Mr. Maggoo and after a few minutes adding my bags to the weighty seat in front of his hump and water containers on his hind, I was sat on his shoulders and held on tight as 1st front legs nearly ejected me backwards and then hind legs lunged me forward before we were stable and standing.  With our camel man, Sajjan joined with Mr. Sunday, Valerio’s camel attached to the back of my camel, we set off in convoy away from the road and in to the desert.

The ride went smoother than an elephant as we progressed through scrubby desert with many cactus, dry grasses and occasional trees (with branches drooping to a straight line within reach of hungry camels) and carcasses of cows and crows covering the horizon.

This was our first camel ride ever and it was kinda fun. The others in our group also liked it but they complained about the pain in their thighs afterwards. On our way to the sleeping grounds we’ve seen only a couple of sand dunes but we stopped in a near by village for some insight into desert village life and had some chai there.

The sun has started to set, we all sat down in front of a big bonfire where we camped, and started to get to know everyone briefly in the group. We had so much fun listening to each other stories about travels, worst guesthouses, train experiences – while our camel guides were preparing our veggie curry and chapati for dinner.We later dozed off on our mattresses and that was how I spent my first night in the desert.

It was a relaxing night and the sound that camel bells are making is so lovely I could listen to it each night before I go to sleep.

The early morning mist soon burnt off by the ever increasing heat of the desert.  Camel drivers were making some chapati and preparing chai while Valerio and I went to take some sunrise shots but weren’t very successful in our attempt because the sun was already too high. After our breakfast, we got on our camels again and went back to the desert, this time, it will only be the two of us, with our camels and our personal guide, Sajjan. We continued our tranquil trip and found a small group of trees for a lunch stop.

Sajjan quickly unpacked the camels and left them to wander off to chomp on the grass and trees whilst he prepared lunch.  Relaxed for 2 hours in the middle of nowhere and watched desert birds flutter around trying to pinch a few scraps with our camels watching from afar. This is life.

The tranquility of the trek just about outweighing the pain. Very happy when we made it to another group of larger dry unvegetated sand dunes.  The first ten seconds after dismounting agony as cramp slowly subsided.

I can feel the effects of a full day on a camel and rapidly changing my mind that a camel is more comfy than an elephant! First ten minutes very painful until I settled in to a rhythm, even putting my legs hanging on one side – like a Victorian lady.  As I acclimatized to riding the camel, our guide stepped up the pace as we progressed to a light trot.  Surprisingly, less painful than walking. Today’s terrain is a little unpredictable and needed more balancing as we climbed up dunes and back down the other side.  Thankfully, the camels are obedient in following the guide’s various calls and slowed down or sped up as required by the terrain.  With the temperature well into the 30 degrees, the breeze is very welcome as we pushed on through cactus filled dune valleys.

After another beautiful starry night, I made the effort to get up in time for the sunrise. I climbed back up to the top of the big dune where Valerio was already watching the top of the sun hit the horizon. Quite a cool view with a few turbines silhouetted in the huge sun.

After breakfast, we were back on the camels for the last stint.

We stopped at one more village for an appreciation of local life.  I was a little disappointed by its authenticity with very well built stone houses with a couple of token wooden huts, but Sajjan left us to wander around without giving us any information about the place. Enjoying some last moments in the desert, I went inside a local’s hut (with permission, of course) and played with the kids, while Valerio was helping Sajjan to grab some bales of straw to load on Mr. Maggoo’s back.

We moved on and made it back to the road.

A great trip with the camel riding – only part of the novelty and enjoyment, with the tranquility of trekking through a deserted desert, campfires and fantastic food and company, sleeping under the stars, and lovely sunsets and sunrises all making it a memorable experience. Two and a half days just about right.

We booked our Camel Safari Tour from HERE

Photography and text by Author unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.