India is a country of rich diversity and every state has its own unique charm and beauty. The State of Rajasthan is best explored during the winter months from November to early February. The Summer months are extremely hot to enjoy the beauty of this land. Having been on my travel bucket list for long, I decided to visit Rajasthan during the Christmas- New Year break of 2018. It wasn’t the first choice for the vacation though. I and few of my friends had initially planned to visit Bhutan. However, it didn’t materialize as one by one everyone else dropped out. Not the one to miss out on a vacation, I then decided to explore Rajasthan alone. Thus I started preparing by having a rough itinerary of the key places I wanted to visit and booked the flight tickets to Jaipur and then the train tickets for intercity travel and lodging through AirBnB. A month after booking, one of my friend who had initially backed out from tour of Bhutan told he will be able to join for the Rajasthan tour and thus he ended booking his tickets separately and travelling together.
Day 1 – Jaipur arrival and light exploring
We had booked an early morning flight to Jaipur. Instead of waking up early and travel to the airport, we preferred travelling at midnight and sleep at the airport lounge for which had access to on a nominal charge. Our flight was slightly delayed and we were further delayed when the cab driver dropped us at a different location instead of dropping us at the hotel. Turned out the hotel had given us a wrong address. We finally managed to reach the hotel which was actually quite close to the railway station. We had to wait at the hotel for some more time for the check-in as the previous occupants were yet to check-out. After quickly refreshing we set out to visit Hawa Mahal first. We had rented a two-wheeler for the day from Royal Brothers. Renting a bike, we realized was a good thing to do as the traffic near Hawa Mahal was a total chaos thanks to the narrow roads and metro rail construction work. We reached Hawa Mahal around noon and thankfully the crowd was less considering it was a Saturday.
Hawa Mahal is also known as “Palace of Winds” or “Palace of the Breeze” and is completely constructed of red and pink sandstone. The palace was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh. The palace consists of 5 floors and 953 small windows called jharokhas. The windows served the purpose of letting the royal ladies observe everyday life and festivals celebrated in the street below without being seen. The front elevation pictured below and as seen from the street, is like a honeycomb. This is in fact the backside of the palace and the entry is from the other side. The numerous windows and passages help maintain a cool atmosphere inside irrespective of the high temperatures during summer.
Post lunch at a roadside stall savoring the popular Chole -Kulche, we headed next to Jantar Mantar which is located close to the Hawa Mahal.
The Jantar Mantar (which means calculation instrument) is an equinoctial sundial, intended to measure the time of day, declination of the Sun and the other heavenly bodies. There are 5 Jantar Mantar’s in India, all constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur in the early 18th century. These are located at New Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, Mathura and Varanasi with the one at Jaipur being the largest of the 5. The Jantar Mantar at Jaipur is one of the UNESCO’s heritage sites present in India.
The Jantar Mantar at Jaipur features many instruments along with the world’s largest stone sundial. Some of the instruments include Samrat Yantra, Jai Prakash Yantra, Disha Yantra, Rama Yantra, Chakra Yantra, Rashiwalay Yantra, Dingash Yantra and others. A brief purpose of some of these instruments is listed below –
- Samrat Yantra is the largest instrument in Jantar Mantar. The device is about 90 feet from the surface.
- Jai Prakash Yantra are unique bowl-shaped instruments used to know the sun’s presence in any Rashi.
- Disha Yantra is a simple device made in the center of Jantar Mantar used to know the direction.
- Rama Yantra is the two instruments located near the western wall of Jantar Mantar and used to know important celestial calculations.
- Chakra Yantra is made of two huge chunks of iron.
- Rashiwalay Yantra indicates 12 zodiac signs and are similar in view, but the mechanism of these instruments is different, indicating the position of the zodiac signs in the sky.
- Dingash Yantra : This instrument used to know the angular measurement in a spherical coordinate system
Opposite to the Jantar Mantar is the City Palace which we skipped for the day as we were nearing sunset time and we intended to see it atop the magnificent Nahargarh Fort
This beautiful fort was built in 1734 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh atop a hillock overlooking the entire city of Jaipur. The fort can literally be seen from anywhere in the city. The fort was originally named Sudarshangarh, but it was later known as Nahargarh, which means ‘abode of tigers’. Along with Amer Fort and Jaigarh Fort, Nahargarh at the time of construct formed a strong defense ring for the city. The fort today is abuzz with activity due to its proximity to the city and is pictured in many Bollywood movies. This fort is an example of beautiful combination of Indian and European style of architecture.
Although the fort itself has remained invincible, it has been a witness to a number of important battles such as the event of treaty between the Marathas and the rulers of Jaipur in the 18th century. The fort has also been a refuge for a number of Europeans at the time of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.
A glass palace and wax museum has been recently opened inside the fort. The glass palace locally known as the Sheesh Mahal was designed to honor the Mughal and Rajput architecture. The significance of this glass palace is that the entire room is made from hand cut glass.
After witnessing the beautiful sunset from atop the fort, we headed back to our hotel for the night. En-route we stopped for some street chats and with the cold winter breeze having picked up, we had our dinner and slept peacefully for the night.
Day 2 – More forts and departure to Jaisalmer
On the second day, we checked out of the hotel and again had some breakfast roadside en-route to Nahargarh Biological Park. In fact, this happened to be the norm for our entire trip. We gorged on the street side food and never once had a meal at a hotel.
Nahargarh Biological Park
Our first stop for the day was Nahargarh Biological Park which is located about 12 km from Jaipur on the Jaipur-Delhi highway. We had read previously that the Park is famous for its flora and fauna with the animals being taken care of very well. However, a visit to the place was quite disappointing as most of the animals seemed to be in slumber and were hardly visible as they stayed back in their dens or caves. Our walk through the park was quite fast for this reason and we were out of the park in less than an hour. We proceeded to the next major tourist spot in Jaipur – Amer Fort and Palace.
Amer Fort and Palace
The magnificent Amer Fort, sometimes referred as Amber fort, is a place of magnificent architecture, grandeur in its scale and a feast to the eyes. It is one of the most well-known and most-visited forts in India. It invariably features prominently on the list of Jaipur’s top attractions always. Amer Fort is known for its artistic style elements. The fort overlooks Maota Lake, which is the main source of water for the Amer Palace. The fort is connected with Jaigarh fort by a subterranean passage. Amer was once the capital of princely Jaipur state, and the fort the residence of its Rajput rulers. Maharaja Man Singh I, who led Mughal Emperor Akbar’s army, commenced its construction in 1592 on the remains of an 11th-century fort.
In 2013, Amer Fort, along with five other forts ( Chittor Fort, Gagron Fort, Jaisalmer Fort, Kumbhalgarh Fort and Ranthambore Fort) of Rajasthan, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort comprises of an extensive palace complex, built from pale yellow and pink sandstone, and white marble, and is divided into four main sections, each with its own courtyard. One can either climb the pathway way to top or opt for an elephant-back ride. For the senior citizens and other needy people, there is also a electrical cart available. There is no dearth of entertainment if you decide to walk the pathway. There are local folks who play mesmerizing music and do simple tricks to keep the public entertained. The entire fort is lit up in the evenings and the Amber sound-and-light show takes place below the fort in the complex near Maota Lake.
After spending a good couple of hours exploring and photographing at the fort, we returned down for a light lunch at the stalls near the entrance of the fort. We then proceeded to the other magnificent fort – the Jaigarh Fort
The Jaigarh overlooks the Amer Fort and was built by Jai Singh II in 1726 to protect the Amer Fort and its palace complex and was hence named after him. The Jaigarh Fort and Amer Fort are connected by subterranean passages and considered as one complex. The fort is highly fortified with thick walls of red sandstone, has lookout towers on all sides, was never been captured and has survived intact through the centuries. The fort has reservoirs, residential areas, a puppet theater, the world’s largest wheeled cannon, Jaya Vana and also has a beautiful garden within it. The canon was constructed in Mughal times and requires 100kg of gunpowder to be fired to a range of 30km.
We spent a good 2-3 hours here again till sunset before returning back to Jaipur. After a tiring day, we felt like relaxing a nice secluded cafe and with help of some Google search, reached at the Warehouse Cafe. We absolutely loved this place, service and the food served. With the night getting colder, a cup of amazing hot beverages was a perfect antidote for us. We gorged on some tasty delicacies served here and by the time we were finished, we didn’t realize we had spent close to 3 hours at the place. We certainly recommend a visit to this cafe for anyone new to Jaipur.
At about 9.30 in the night, we rode back to return our rental bike and headed to the railway station for an overnight journey to the desert land – Jaisalmer.
Day 3 – Camel Desert Safari and sleeping under open skies
The overnight train journey was an unpleasant one for us. The windows of the berth would open irrespective of how hard we tried to fasten it. The cold winds of the night left us chilling to our bones for the entire journey. As the sun rose in the morning, we were praying that it would be hot day. We reached Jaisalmer by around 11. We had a quick breakfast near the railway station and decided to walk to the hostel that we had booked through AirBnB. On reaching the place, we made an enquiry at the reception for arranging a camel safari and camping. They immediately arranged for it at a reasonable cost of INR 1500 per head. We started from the place in a jeep till the camel safari start point. We were joined by another couple en-route. Our first stop was at Kuldhara – an abandoned village established around the 13th century. It is believed that Kuldhara and other neighboring villages were abandoned because of an earthquake. Kuldhara has acquired reputation as a haunted site. The local legend claims that while deserting the village, the Paliwals clan that lived here in the 13th Century imposed a curse that no one would be able to re-occupy the village. Those who tried to re-populate the village experienced paranormal activities, and therefore, the village remains uninhabited.
The local residents around the area do not believe in the ghost stories, but propagate them in order to attract tourists. In the early 2010s, Gaurav Tiwari of Indian Paranormal Society claimed to have observed paranormal activities at the site. The 18-member team of the Society along with 12 other people spent a night at the village. They claimed to have encountered moving shadows, haunting voices, talking spirits, and other paranormal activities. Below is a panoramic view of the village.
After spending a good 30-45 mins at the place, we proceeded further for our camel safari in the desert. The camel safari starting point was roughly about 45 km from Jaisalmer. We had the company of a guide – Lilu and Ratnaji who would be cooking food for us during the desert stay. The safari was for little over an hour as we crossed multiple sand dunes and reached our camping place by about 4.30. We spent some time photographing the vast desert landscape and also spotted some local wildlife which included the endangered Chinkara. We enjoyed the rest of the evening soaking in the beautiful sunset over the sand dunes and by nightfall, Ratnaji had prepared some snacks and a hot cup of tea for us.
We were expecting to spend the night in cold weather as we camping under the open sky and not inside tents. We were however surprised to see that the night wasn’t too cold and in fact it was much warmer than the nights we had spent in Jaipur. As the darkness fell, we were left speechless by the beautiful cloudless sky. A late moon rise meant we had fantastic couple of hours gazing at the countless stars. Although I did try to do night photography, I was fairly unsuccessful as I did not carry an intervalometer which would have aided me to capture star trails. We were served dinner by around 9 PM and our menu include Rota, a local thick bread prepared by roasting directly on fire, along with curry and dal. After dinner, both Lilu and Ratnaji entertained us by singing few local folk songs till we finally decided to hit the beds by around 11 PM.
Day 4 – Jaisalmer sightseeing
The Christmas morning greeted us with a beautiful sunrise. Just at the stroke of sunrise, the camels returned as well from their own nightlong adventures. After a hot cup of tea and breakfast, we were all set for another camel safari to return to the same point where we had started from on the earlier day.
While for the first safari we had 2 members seated on a camel, during this return safari we all provided our own individual camels to ride upon. By the time we reached the safari end point, it was quite hot and we had a break in a Lulu and Ratnaji’s village from where our jeep was ready to head back to Jaisalmer. After returning to Jaisalmer and freshening up, we started the local city exploration. We hired an auto from the hostel for full day city exploring.
We first headed to the famous Jaisalmer Fort which is locally known as Sonar Quila and is considered as one of the largest forts in the world. It is considered as one of the “living forts” in the world, as nearly one fourth of the old city’s population still resides within the fort. In fact, for much of its 800-year history, the fort itself was considered as the city of Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer Fort is the second oldest fort in Rajasthan, built in 1156 AD by the Rajput Rawal Jaisal from whom it derives its name. The fort’s massive yellow sandstone walls fade to honey-gold color as the sun sets, and for this reason it is also known as the Sonar Quila or Golden Fort.
Major points of interest within the fort include – four massive gateways through which visitors to the fort must pass, the Raj Mahal Palace, 7 Jain Temples, Laxminath temple and numerous havelis (large houses built by wealthy merchants with ornate sandstone carvings).
We spent good time exploring the vast fort and enjoying the scenic view of the city from the view points. We had some light snacks for lunch before heading out to the next stop at the Patwon ki Haveli.
Patwon ki Haveli
The Patwon ki Haveli is not a single haveli but a cluster of 5 small havelis. The first among these havelis was commissioned and constructed in the year 1805 by Guman Chand Patwa. Built in red sandstone in the period between 1800 and 1860 AD, the haveli is well known for its beautiful latticework on its porticos made of stone and wood. Inside the haveli you can find numerous ornate wall paintings, intricate yellow sandstone-carved jharokhas or balconies, gateways and doorways, art work, carvings, exquisite mirror works, antique furniture etc.
Our next stop for the day was at the Mandir Palace, a prominent landmark in Jaisalmer that had been the residence of Jaisalmer rulers for over 2 centuries. Similar to the haveli, Mandir Palace has beautiful ornate balconies, delicately carved windows and doors and large canopies. Several films have been shot at this location. The place also has a tower known as Badal Vilas which stands out as the tallest structure below the main Jaisalmer fort. The place also has a museum which displays various antiques and artifacts. Maharaj Hukum Singhji, son of Maharawal Jawahar Singhji, transformed this palace into a heritage hotel. He and his family still reside inside at this palace.
Our next stop was at Bada Bagh which is located about 6 km north of Jaisalmer on the way to Ramgarh. Bada Bagh literally means large garden, but the place is not really a garden and rather is a place of Royal Cenotaphs . The cenotaphs are of different sizes and carved of sandstone. There are cenotaphs for rulers, queens, princes and other royal family members. The oldest among them is the cenotaphs of Maharawal Jait Singh who reigned from 1470-1506. Each ruler’s cenotaphs has a marble slab, with inscriptions about the ruler and an image of a man on a horse. These cenotaphs are called “Chattris” in Hindi, due to their tomb shaped structure at the top.
The place is a delight for photographers and we could see many people conducting candid photo-shoots at the place. It has been pictured in hundreds movies across various languages of India. After spending an hour or so here, we were nearing the sunset time. So without much ado, we headed to our final stop for the day – Gadisar Lake
Located at just about 2 km from the railway station, Gadisar lake is a man-made water reservoir and earlier was once the only source of water in Jaisalmer. The lake was built by Raja Rawal Jaisal, the first ruler of Jaisalmer. We reached the lake by around 5 PM and booked a paddle boat for a 30 mins duration. Boating was nice experience here as the crowd was not too much, the environment was calm and with sun setting it provided a perfect antidote for the hustle we had been through for the entire day while exploring other places. Various migratory birds could also be seen on the bank of the lake, adding to its beauty. There are several watch towers built which one can climb to view the lake waters and its surroundings from a higher elevation. We stayed put at the place for quite a long time, positioning ourselves towards at the far end of the banks, to photograph the sunset and enjoy the serenity of the lake.
As the darkness fell, we returned back to the hostel where we had kept our luggage at the reception and decided to spend rest of the available time relaxing at a nearby restaurant. Post dinner, we headed towards the railway station where we had to board a train for our next destination – Jodhpur.
Day 5 – Jodhpur arrival and sightseeing
We had spend more time at the railway station as the train we were to board was late and subsequently reached Jodhpur late as well. Reaching our hostel booked on AirBnB was not a pleasant experience this time. The hostel was located about 3 km from the railway station and with much difficulty we were able to book a cab. The cab driver though dropped us at a point about 1.5 km away and said the rest of the distance had to be walked through as the lanes are very narrow for vehicular movement. We had a bit of a tiff as if this was known earlier to us, we wouldn’t have booked a cab or would have booked only till the point where he dropped us. We ended up paying the full amount even though we didn’t travel the full route. Reaching the hostel, we checked in and were happy with the fantastic fort view from the hostel’s roof top. Post breakfast, we had a small power nap and after waking up refreshed, we headed out to explore the city.
Umaid Bhavan Palace
Our first stop was at the popular Umaid Bhavan Palace which we reached by booking an auto. Umaid Bhavan Palace is one of the world’s largest private residences. A part of the palace is managed by Taj Hotels. Named after Maharaja Umaid Singh, grandfather of the present owner Gaj Singh. The palace has 347 rooms and is the principal residence of the former Jodhpur royal family. A part of the palace is a museum. The palace consists of a throne chamber, a private meeting hall, a Durbar Hall to meet the public, a vaulted banquet hall, private dining halls, a ballroom, a library, and other amenities. The museum has exhibits of stuffed leopards, a very large symbolic flag given to Maharaja Jaswant Singh by Queen Victoria in 1877. The classic cars of the Maharajas are also on display in the garden in front of the museum.
The place today is also a prominent venue for destination weddings for the celebrities and business family houses. After checking out the various artifacts, paintings and historical plaques placed in the museum, and before heading out, we had a kulfi at a small cafe inside the premises. We booked a cab to next visit Jaswant Thada
Jaswant Thada and Mehrangarh Fort
Jaswant Thada is a cenotaph built by Maharaja Sardar Singh of Jodhpur State in 1899 in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, and serves as the cremation ground for the royal family of Marwar. The cenotaph’s grounds feature carved gazebos, a tiered garden, and a small lake. There are three other cenotaphs in the grounds. The cenotaph of Maharaja Jaswant Singh displays portraits of the rulers and Maharajas of Jodhpur.
Located close to Jaswant Thada at a distance of 1 km is the magnificent and the imposing Mehrangarh Fort. The fort is a marvel in architecture and is visible from anywhere in the city. The Fort is one of the largest forts in India and was built in around 1459 by Rao Jodha. The fort has been a favorite location for shooting movies including Hollywood movies such as The Dark Knight Rises, Jungle Book (1994) and many more. Rudyard Kipling has aptly said that the fort is “a palace that might have been built by Titans and colored by the morning sun”.
Entry to the fort is gained though a series of seven gates. The most famous of the gates are:
- Jai Pol (“Gate of Victory”), built by Maharaja Man Singh in 1806 to celebrate his victory in a war with Jaipur and Bikaner.
- Fateh Pol, built to celebrate a victory over the Mughals in 1707;
- Dedh Kamgra Pol, which still bears the scars of bombardment by cannonballs;
- Loha Pol, which is the final gate into the main part of the fort complex.
Inside the fort, there are several palaces known for their intricate carvings and expansive courtyards. Palaces include, Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), Sheesha Mahal (Mirror Palace), Sileh Khana and Daulat Khana. The fort also houses museum that has multiple galleries that showcases Elephant’s howdahs, palanquins, Daulat Khana i.e. treasures, armory, paintings, turban gallery, howdahs, royal cradles, miniatures gallery, musical instruments, royal costumes, ancestral furniture etc.
Mehrangarh fort is home to some of the most beautiful festivals celebrated in Jodhpur such as Rajasthan International Folk Festival, World Sacred Spirit Festival and others. For the adventure enthusiasts, the fort also conducts ziplining activity called Flying Fox, which provides a fantastic view of crossing over huge bastions, walls, and lakes of the fort on the north side.
The fort also provides an excellent bird’s eye view of the blue city of Jodhpur. Once upon a time considered as an indicator of social class, a Brahmin dwelling there, the blue color has over period of time has gone on to become an identity of the city itself.
After spending close to 3 hours exploring the huge fort, we decided to walk back to our hostel enjoying a hot cup of tea at a local stall on the way. Pretty tired by now after spending the whole day walking around the places, we relaxed in our rooms watching a movie before having our dinner at the roof-top restaurant and retiring for the night.
Day 6 – Ajmer sightseeing
We had booked an early morning train to Ajmer so we checked out early from the hostel and the property owners offered us a free drop to the railway station as well. Without much hassles during the train journey, we reached Ajmer close to noon and checked in to our hotel that we had booked through Oyo rooms. After freshening up, by late afternoon, we visited the Akbari Fort and Museum which was quite close by.
Akbari Fort and Museum
Akbari Fort and Museum was once the residence of Prince Salim, the son of the Emperor Akbar. The place was a resting place for Emperor Akbar during his visits to Garib Nawaz in Ajmer. It presently houses a collection of Mughal and Rajput armor and sculptures. The place itself is not too huge but was very maintained extremely well and had very less crowd. The various collections from the Mughal era were organized and presented to the public very well.
From the Akbari fort, we next visited the Ana Sagar Lake which was about 2 km away.
Ana Sagar Lake and Ajmer Sherif Dargah
Ana Sagar Lake is an artificial lake was built by Arnoraja, the grandfather of Prithviraj Chauhan, in 1135 -1150 AD. This is quite a huge lake spread over 13 km. There is an island in the center of the lake which is accessible by boat. The place is also popular for huge herds of seagulls that have made this place their home also thanks to the puffed rice that is offered to them by the visitors.
Boating in the company of the Seagulls
We spent close to an hour enjoying the company of the seagulls and after witnessing the beautiful sunset, we savored some local chats at couple of stalls near the entrance. We then took a horse -rickshaw to the most famous place of Ajmer – Ajmer Sharif Dargah.
Ajmer Sharif Dargah is a shrine (dargah) of a Sufi saint, Moinuddin Chishti. It was constructed in 1332 by Mohammad Bin Tughluq. It is believed that Akbar and his queen used to come here by foot on pilgrimage from Agra every year in observance of a vow where he prayed for a son. Today, it has been estimated that around 150,000 pilgrims visit the place every day.
Ajmer Sharif Dargah
We did not spend much time here though and after some shopping near the Dargah, we walked back to our hotel. Back at the hotel, we had a late dinner and enjoyed a hot cup of almond milk by the roadside around midnight.
Day 7 – Visit to Pushkar and return to Jaipur
While enjoying our breakfast at the hotel, we enquired at the reception if a vehicle could be arranged to visit Pushkar and return by evening. The hotel gladly obliged and arranged a vehicle for us at a reasonable price. The word ‘Pushkar’ means lotus flower, which is said to be the seat of Brahma, one of the Hindu holy trinity, who is worshiped as the creator of this world. Though Brahma is considered to be the creator of the world in Hinduism, Pushkar is the only temple of this important deity in the whole world.
Pushkar is just about 10 km from Ajmer and we reached there in hardly 15-20 mins. We had a cup of tea on reaching there at a roadside restaurant where we happened to meet an old college colleague as well. We three then decided to visit the places in Pushkar together. Though there are numerous temples in Pushkar, the most famous one is the Brahma temple. Devotees are prohibited to carry anything inside the temple premises, not even mobiles or wallets.
Before visiting the temple, we visited the other most popular place in Pushkar – Pushkar lake which is considered as a sacred lake like the Mansarovar Lake in Tibet. Pushkar has become a place of Hindu pilgrimage because of this holy lake. Legend has it that this lake was consecrated to Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe when a lotus dropped from his hand into the vale and a lake emerged in that place. The lake is bordered by numerous ghats where all three of us offered our prayers and also performed a small puja.
Post this, we duly visited the Brahma temple and offered our prayers there. We also explored the nearby market and gorged on some local delicacies – Kachori Kadi, Malpoa, Gulkhand Lassi. We also bought some Gulkhand to take back home.
Pushkar is also famous for the camel fair that is normally conducted during the month of November. The fair is one of the largest cattle fairs in the country. Animals, including over 50,000 camels, are brought from distant places around to be traded and sold. All the camels, horses, and cows are colorfully decorated for the occasion. There is also a desert safari conducted with fair as the starting point. We enquired for the safari and found the cost to be too high for the one – hour safari. Having enjoyed the camel safari already in Jaisalmer at a much reasonable cost, we didn’t do the camel safari here in Pushkar. We thus returned back to the parking lot from where we parted ways with our college colleague. She was to head to Jodhpur while we were headed to Jaipur next. While returning to Ajmer, we had a quick stop at the Maharana Pratap Statue. The place located on top of a small hill provides an excellent view of the city of Ajmer and Anna Sagar lake.
We had booked a 5.30 PM train to Jaipur but having finished Pushkar sightseeing early by 3.30 PM we decided to book ticket for an earlier train. After reaching Jaipur, we checked-in to our hostel again booked on AirBnB and went to have dinner at the same Warehouse Cafe where we dined on the second night of our tour. Post dinner we had a long walk in the cold midnight before heading back to our hostel for a good sleep.
Day 8 – Twin Safaris at Jhalana
It was the last day of tour for my friend as he was returning back to Bangalore by the evening flight while I was to continue on for 3 days more and visit Ranthambore Tiger Reserve before returning. The day started early as we woke up by 5 AM and headed out to Jhalana for our morning safari. Spread over an area of 20 sq.km, Jhalana Leopard Conservation reserve is located right in the middle of Jaipur city and is quite popular for its leopard sightings. Apart from leopard, Jhalana has other attractions such as striped hyena, desert fox, golden jackal, Indian palm civets etc.
We had another safari in the afternoon and unfortunately, both safari’s were fairly unsuccessful for us as we couldn’t spot any leopard or the other predatory mammals. We did spot a variety of birds and the herbivore mammals – sambar deer, nilgai and had to be contended with that.
Post the safari, my friend was dropped to the airport for his return flight while I returned back to the hotel for dinner. I had booked a late night train to Sawai Madhopur the rail-hub for visiting Ranthambore and hence spent the available time in charging the electronic equipment.
Day 9 and 10 – Safaris at Ranthambore
I reached Sawai Madhopur by around 3.30 AM and as soon as I exited the railway station, I realized it was extremely cold. Fortunately, having had a bitter experience previously when travelling to Jaisalmer, I had bought a blanket and gloves in Jaisalmer to keep myself warm for the rest of the tour. Since the hotel check-in was only at around 11 AM, I had requested the my contact, who had also helped book the safari seats, to arrange a temporary accommodation for the couple of hours prior to the safari. I did manage to catch up with a couple hours of sleep here and by 6 I was ready for my first safari.
My first safari was in Zone 6 of the reserve and the safari jeep duly arrived at the hotel to pick me up. To my surprise all the other fellow travelers for the safari were foreigners who had come from US. Although it was a bitter cold morning, we had a fantastic safari sighting of two sub-adult tigers. They treated us with a sighting of over an hour. The two tigers also provided us a fantastic experience opportunity of seeing them stalk and try to ambush a herd of spotted deer or chital. Although they were unsuccessful in their hunt, it was a first time for me seeing the beautiful felines stalk a prey in the wild.
The jaws of death
After enjoying the sighting, we explored other parts of the zone to try and sight any other tiger in the territory. We were unsuccessful but not disappointed after the sighting we had earlier. The group of foreigners were quite thrilled to hear my past experiences of spotting tigers in the wild. It was a first time sighting of the tiger in wild for all of them and their happiness and excitement was thus quite high.
After the safari, I was dropped back to the hotel where I picked up my luggage and headed out to Hotel Vinayak where I had booked my stay. The hotel is managed by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation Limited (RTDC). Reaching the hotel, I was quite happy to see the accommodation facilities and the food served was excellent as well. Although a bit pricey, I certainly would recommend anyone to book their accommodation here. You will certainly be happy with the services offered.
The afternoon safari was in Zone 1 which was quite far away from the hotel. After being picked up by the safari jeep, we reached the zone gates by 3.30. This time my fellow passengers included couple of other Indians and couple of foreigners. We were again lucky to spot a tiger here although we didn’t get good photographing opportunity as there were several other safari jeeps ahead of us which meant there was quite a lot of obstruction. Little ahead, I was however happy to sight crocodiles basking on the lake banks and also a good variety of birds.
After the safari and returning back to the hotel, there was campfire arranged for the visitors and they were also entertained by the folk dance performance by the locals. I had an early dinner and after having missed a good sleep the previous night due to travel, I decided to hit the bed early and had a warm, cosy long sleep for the night.
The 2 safaris for the second day were pretty dry as I couldn’t spot any tigers. The morning safari in Zone 5 in a canter which probably was a mistake that I did. The canter being a 16 seater takes time to pick up people from their respective hotels and we finally entered the zone at around 7.30 although the safari start time was 6.30. Having already lost an hour, we missed out on sighting one of the most popular female tiger in the zone and it appeared that others who went in ahead of us might have had a better luck at spotting her. This seemed evident as there were fresh pug marks on the vehicle tire tracks which indicated the tigress had just passed by. I had to stay contended with sighting a hyena and crocodile again.
The last safari in Ranthambore was in the Zone 3 – one of the most popular zones of Ranthambore thanks to the legendary tigress – Machali who ruled over this zone for most of her lifetime. Although the tigress died due to old age at a record age of 20 years, she continues to be in the heart and mind of everyone who has seen her. Machali is the most photographed tigress in wild and several documentaries have been made on her and aired on TV by National Geographic and Discovery Channels. Machali gained incredible popularity after challenging and winning in a battle against a crocodile who had made the mistake of coming into the tigress’s territory. The battle was played out in broad daylight and in the presence of numerous visitors and till date happens to be the only documented fight between a tiger and crocodile.
Machali played a key role in the regeneration of the tiger population in the park in the early 2000’s, and was celebrated with titles such as Queen Mother of Tigers, Tigress Queen of Ranthambore, Lady of the Lakes, and Crocodile Killer. Today almost 50% of the tigers in Ranthambore carry her genes. The government of India has also issued a stamp in her memory – the first tigress to be provided this honor.
After her demise in August 2016, much of the Zone 3 territory is now owned by the current queen of Ranthambore – Arrowhead. We had a very close miss of sighting her near the famous Ranthambore lake. There were very strong alarm calls of the spotted deer near the lake and they seemed to be moving closer and closer indicating the tigress was approaching the water. We were however nearing our safari end time and hence couldn’t wait longer for her appearance. The rest of safari earlier to this exciting finale was rather luckless as the sighting of a big cat continued to elude.
After the safari, I headed back to the hotel where they had arranged an auto to drop me to the railway station. I had requested them to arrange for the same before going to the safari and they duly arranged for it. I boarded the return train to Jaipur and reached the hotel by around 10 PM and after a light dinner was off to sleep.
Day 11 – The final day of the vacation
I woke up quite late on the final day as I had pretty much nothing major in mind having already visited most of the popular places except for the City Palace. After breakfast, I booked an auto to the City Palace and spent about an hour at the place.
I then did some shopping at the local market for some local and traditional items to take back home. After a late lunch and some more relaxed walk around, I headed to the airport to board my return flight to Bangalore and thus bringing to end what had been a fantastic long vacation.