Let’s get this right: You didn’t have an itinerary, just so many days in hand?
That’s right. We chose Rajasthan because I realized that though I had visited Jaipur many times, I hadn’t really gone beyond that. So we took out 10 days and booked our first night in a Jaipur hotel. Everything else was done on arrival.
What sort of vehicle did you use? Maps?
We were in a Scorpio and carried the Footprint Guide to Rajasthan, which had maps of all the major highways. New Delhi to Jaipur is a five-hour drive and we stopped at Amer Fort on the way. The high point of the day, though, was the awesome shahi chicken biryani we had near one of the forts—the cook claimed his ancestors were royal chefs.
So, did you spend a single night in Jaipur?
Yes. We thought we should compensate for the biryani with a pilgrimage. Pushkar, 145km away, was just perfect—it was serene and there was nothing to do, really, except feel holy. It’s quite amazing to see a lake that size in the middle of such a dry region.
The next day, we set off for Ranthambore, a 300km drive. The fort here is one of the oldest in Rajasthan. It looks quite fierce and the guide’s stories really added to the atmosphere. At the break of dawn the next day, we went on an exciting open jeep safari—we saw everything but a tiger. I think only politicians and foreign dignitaries see those.
Your next stop?
The Blue City. The highway from Ranthambore to Jodhpur, a distance of 475km, was superb. All along, we spotted picturesque nomadic settlements. In Jodhpur, though, it was tough getting a room—dollars apparently make all the difference here, and we had none.
However, the mesmerizing Mehrangarh Fort made up for the hassles. Everything has a story to it. For instance, we were told that the gunners who worked the huge cannon on top of the fort used to jump into the pool to save themselves from the backfire.
You couldn’t be in Jodhpur and not go to Jaisalmer.
Right. A trip to Rajasthan is not complete if you don’t have sand in your shoes on your return. The 12th century Jaisalmer fort will always be Sonar Kella for us, after the Ray movie.
A 20km drive and we were in the Sam desert. But there seemed to be more people there than sand dunes, and it wasn’t till sunset that we had the desert to ourselves. It was a full-moon night and we had a campfire and Rajasthani food—that was quite memorable.
So the desert got only one night?
After the night at Sam, we went back to Jaisalmer for a bit of regular sightseeing and shopping. We were to drive to Barmer, but someone at lunch suggested Khuri. So, back we went to the Thar. Khuri is less accessible than Sam, so tourists usually give it a miss. We spent the night in a thatched-hut camp where banjarans put up a song-and-dance show. The whole experience makes you appreciate the Athithi Devo Bhava (The guest is God) concept.
Mt Abu was next, right? That must have been quite a drive.
At 572km, it was the longest on the trip. Mt Abu is to Amdavadis what Khandala is to Mumbaiites: A mountainous road leading to a tableland with hotels in every corner. The Jain temples, the Nakki Lake and Gujaratis—you can’t leave Mt Abu without seeing them. All three done, we left for Udaipur. Besides the memories of Octopussy and the relics of Maharana Pratap Singh, we liked the Sajjangarh Fort, tucked away in a wildlife sanctuary. The royals of Udaipur apparently went hunting in the forest and visited the fort to relax. Present-day descendents are said to do the same—bar the hunting, of course.
So you prefer history to the hordes…
Yes, so our next stop was Chittorgarh. The Udaipur-Chittorgarh drive was the most scenic—the silhouette of the gigantic fort suddenly looms on the horizon. Not too many people visit this fort, though it was the site of so much action. This is, after all, where Rani Padmini and her womenfolk committed sati to avoid the invaders. The walls of the tunnel, where they immolated themselves, are still black. The fort is supposed to be haunted, so neither locals nor visitors linger here beyond 6pm. Of all the places we saw, this is where I would like to go back, maybe to poke about a bit more in the dark corners, find a connect to a previous birth.
Was that the last stop?
No, Bijapur was next, on the suggestion of our guide at the fort. Since we arrived late in the evening, there wasn’t much time for sightseeing, but the palace-turned-resort we stayed in made up for it. The owner is a descendent of Maharana Pratap Singh’s brother and he looks it. It was quite an experience to play table tennis and have a drink with him.
Next was Ajmer, for a quick visit to the Dargah Sharif before the journey home. A stopover in Jaipur and we were back in New Delhi on the 11th day after we had set out.
(Arjun Banerjee, 34, CEO of Grasshoppers, a New Delhi-based ad agency, took off last November with his wife Suchira for a freewheeling road trip through Rajasthan. No itinerary and no fixed addresses for all of 10 days made for a memorable holiday.)
(As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at email@example.com)