The Christmas week was on us and like every year, we had gathered at our homes, trying to chalk out a special plan. There were four of us and we had been spending the last four Christmas together, but this time we wanted to make things different. It’s not the usual night hopping or cutting the cake. After too much of brainstorming, as all agreed to the idea of a trip! So where were we going? Well, we had always been fascinated by the travel offerings of Rajasthan and now when a chance has come, why not! We made the reservations under the Tatkal quota for the 23rd evening. More friends would have been interested in joining us but we really didn’t get the time to spread across the message. So it was the 4 of us – Sagar, Divyaesh, Amit and Me (Niraj). In December, it was already chilly outside and since we had most of the coach to ourselves (the upper births were booked by other passengers) it was a night of no sleep and long gossips and several teas.
Day 1 – 24th December
As the morning drew upon us and we were on our way to the Jaipur station, we got the first glimpse of Rajasthan countryside. It was a heavenly excitement, the one that every traveler experiences when he/she is about to reach the destination. It was still early when we reached Jaipur railway station and were absolutely amazed by the cleanliness of the premises. In India, you will seldom get to see such a neat a clean platform! It’s not only that but everyone, from the chaiwala to railway authorities greeted us with a smile and we had a moment of humbling experience. We asked around for a decent hotel and ended up booking a nice place at Arco Palace Hotel at Sindhi Camp Road, just beside the ST Bus Stand.
It didn’t take us long to get ourselves ready for the day. Though we had hardly any sleep the night before, we also had enough excitement going through. After freshening up, the hotel managed to booked us a cab and show us around the place. The cab was to charge us about INR 1500 per day (8 hours between 10 AM and 6 PM). After talking to the manager at the hotel and our cab driver, we managed to chalk up a list of places we would like to cover during the day.
Our first stop was the Birla Temple, a white marbled architecture and cleaned to every corner. If you have heard the saying ‘Cleanliness is Godliness’, well, we had both of them together here. Since it was still early in the morning, there wasn’t much traffic on the road either. Overall, a good first impression!
The hustle in the street was slowly getting to show itself and we took the opportunity to have one of the most outstanding tea and breakfast ever! Our next stop was the Albert Hall Museum, a showcase for old weapons and armors used during the reign of the Rajasthani Royalty. We completed the museum trip by 12 o’ clock and hastened to Hawamahal, a highlight of our trip. However, it was already too cluttered and we thought it would be better to check it during our return in the evening, when the traffic would have again dropped down. Instead, we headed on to Jantar Mantar, another well known destination in the city, and reached it by 12.30. We hired a guide for INR 250 and it was totally worth it as we would have never known so many amazing things about the place. One of the things that especially amused me was the ancient sun and moon dial that could tell the time of the day and night precisely!
It didn’t take us long to complete our survey of Jantar Mantar but it was definitely a whole new world. After being done, we decided to check out the City Palace too as it was just beside Jantar Mantar. As with any other archeological and architectural site maintained by the ASI, the entry fees here too were different for Indians and foreigners. This experience was amazing too.
It was time for lunch and we treated ourselves to some light Rajasthani food, accompanied by Dal Bati and Butter Milk. Once we finished and had stretched our legs, we resumed our day trip and by 4.30 PM, reached the Jaigarh Fort, just above the Amber Fort. The best thing about the Jaigarh Fort is the view it presents. From the top, you can get a view of the whole city and it’s magnificent. I was also surprised by the sheer size of the cannons that were placed in the fort crevices to attack incoming enemies! Now here’s a firsthand tip – though Amber Fort can be directly accessible from the backside of Jaigarh Fort, it won’t be an advisable option. Not only will is consume a lot of your trip time, but you also might have to walk a bit or hire a local car that charge too much. It’s way easier and cheaper to travel from the main gate of the Jaigarh Forth to the Amber Fort. We quit midway and hurried back to our cab at the front gate of Jaigarh Fort to be able to make it to Hawamahal in time. However, it was already getting hectic and we decided to just check Hawamahal from the outside and come back the next day if time permits.
Overall, we did a good day but I was disappointed in the traffic experience. To add to that, our cab driver proved to be of limited knowledge of the place. He was always checking out the meter!
Day 2 - 25th of December (Christmas)
It was a crazy night and we celebrated with cakes and music along with the hotel staff and some other guests. On the 25th morning, we decided to start earlier. Amber Fort was something we couldn’t miss but there was some political rally going on the main road. We had to take a diversion and somehow, through a longer route, reached the place by 1 PM. Amber Fort, if you aren’t already aware, has been the sets of several Bollywood movies and the view is really breathtaking. Since it was a Christmas Day, it was over crowded but we did manage to get ourselves a guide. He gave us a tour of the Shish Mahal and told us a lot of history about this place.
December is the time when there are a lot of tourists in Jaipur, both Indians and foreign nationals. In fact, the important places are crowded throughout the winter months. We would suggest that you find some other time, possibly the monsoons, to be at Jaipur.
Our next stop was to be Jaisalmer but we didn’t get a train reservation. Travelling by bus was our only option and though we managed it on our sleeper births, we didn’t enjoy a bit of it. It was only tiredness of the day that made us fall asleep quickly.
Day 3 – 26th December
We reached Jaisalmer in the morning and from the moment we stepped down the bus, it seemed that every local tour operator from the city was waiting for us! But beware of their commitments! Thankfully, I had contacted a local tour operator before the trip through Facebook. We went straight for his office to have our morning tea and finalize a decent enough itinerary across the Desert. The Jaisalmer Desert was probably the best experience of this Christmas trip. We had booked ourselves a safari package that included half day jeep tour through the desert, Rajasthani Indian Dinner, Camp fires and live music/dance programs in the night. It was thoroughly enjoyable. The package was also complimented by welcome drinks and evening tea/coffee and it just cost us about 2K per person. The campfire and night experience was all set up and started after 4PM as the sun set in the horizon!
We also saw the Jaisalmer Fort and the Jain Temple. However, I wouldn’t recommend the Jain Temple to fellow travelers as you are being charged for nothing special. The tour operator did take care of our transportation between the hotel and the Jaisalmer Fort. The distance was about 40 kilometers but the desert kept on enchanting us with unique scenes. We also visited the infamous Kuldhara Village, demolished some years ago. The village has a gripping story to it and you will find a lot of material on the internet.
When in Jaisalmer jeep safari, you can easily relate it to a Dubai landscape! It’s both royal and intriguing. We made sure not to miss out on the camel rides too! Each camel ride took us INR 150 but it was totally worth it. Needless to say, we clicked most of our memorable photos from our trip in Jaisalmer. After sundown, we checked out a nearby resort that was organizing a musical night. It was an elaborate program and we enjoyed the drinks, dance, music and dinner. It was necessary that we reach our hotel in the night, though we would have loved to stay back. Our itinerary demanded that we start from Jodhpur early morning.
Day 4 – 27th December
The last day of our trip and we were at the beautiful Jaisalmer station waiting for our train to Jodhpur. We reached Jodhpur by 3PM but our train back to Ahmedabad was at 7 PM. We used the time to walk around the Ghanta Ghar market area, just close to the station and buy some souvenirs for friends and family back home. Interestingly and accidentally, I also bumped into my cousin there! We shared some snacks, had some long pent talks and finally came back to the station to board the train to Ahmedabad.
Overall, it was a liberating trip and one of a kind of Christmas experience this year. We will be visiting these places again, especially Jaisalmer, as no amount of this beauty is enough seen! It’s the true colors of Rajasthani culture and no one would miss it, given an opportunity. Our trip also didn’t cost too much, though we made last minute bookings and planning. Now we have something special to speak of to our friends in the New Year’s party!