Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pushkar: Land of Sarovar and Sands

Those eyes!!
Pushkar is considered to be one of the holiest cities of India for the existence of Brahma temple that is believed to be built in 14th century AD. Also the lake (sarovar) in Pushkar is believed to have been created when Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower on earth which turned into a lake. Pushkar is also famous for the annual Camel Fair that is held here in November. Of late, Pushkar has become quite popular with foreign tourists for handicrafts, fusion music, cheap rents and the intoxicating atmosphere.

Fire seems to be his food

The town of Pushkar is situated 14 kms northwest of Ajmer. The road condition from New Delhi to Ajmer is quite good though there is still a possibility of traffic jams due to construction work going on the highway. However, the road from Ajmer to Pushkar is full of potholes. Thankfully its not a long stretch. Overall, Pushkar is at a distance of about 390 kms from Delhi and the distance can be covered in about 7 hours.

Brilliant performance
We went to Pushkar on a office trip and departed from Gurgaon at midnight in Volvo bus. As our driver demanded a nap midway, so we reached Pushkar quite late at around 10 in the morning. We stayed at Ananta Resort located about 4 kms before Pushkar. The resort is quite nicely maintained and seemed impressive at first impression. The rooms are luxurious and are mostly in the form of villas with a private porch/balcony for each room. However, it was their service that really disappointed us especially in the restaurant. Also, the resort staff failed to provide us with TV connection over our two day stay in any of the 30 rooms that our group had occupied.

In action
In the evening, we went to Pushkar town for sightseeing. Our first visit was to the famous Brahma temple. However, I was a bit disappointed with the temple as I couldn't see any reason for the temple to be famous. It was just like all our regular temples and I personally didn't feel the positive energy that comes to us at some of our famous temples. A short walk from the temple lies the sarovar or Pushkar lake. Years back, the lake was surrounded by almost 500 temples and 50 palaces. However, the mughal king, Aurangzeb demolished most of these. But many of them were rebuilt just like they originally were and today you can see them doting the banks of the lake to give it an enchanting feel. The lake area seemed quite peaceful due to the absence of huge crowd at this time of the year and spending a quite hour sitting besides it felt refreshing.

Qawwali Session
Next day, a paintball competition was organised in the resort lawns. I had never played paintball before and enjoyed it totally. However, the blood clots left from the bullets that hit me kept reminding me the game for a couple of days.

This evening, we left for sand dunes to enjoy a typical Rajasthani evening. From the point where bus dropped us, there was a camel cart to carry us to the event site. Here, we enjoyed rajasthani folk music followed by a Qawwali session. Apart from the music, the acts of fire by some local performers were amazing. After our return to the resort, we left for our return trip to Delhi early next morning.

Breathes of fire
Places of Interest:
In Pushkar:
1. Brahma Temple
2. Pushkar Lake
3. Pushkar Camel Fair (Annual event in November)

Around Pushkar:
1. Ajmer Sharif Dargah (14 kms from Pushkar)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Udaipur: The City of Lakes

A panoramic night view of City Palace
Of all states of India, Rajasthan has a special mystic charm to it. With such a rich sense of history attached to almost every city, you are bound to feel nostalgic each and every time you visit. Udaipur, the erstwhile capital of Mewar, is as rich in history as any other city with the majestic City Palace besides Lake Pichola, the lavish Jalmandir Palace standing beautifully in the middle of the lake and some huge forts closeby. Other than these monuments, the presence of beautiful lakes in this city has a brilliantly calming influence on me. 

Logo of the Suryavanshi Sisodias
Entrance to City Palace
We started for Udaipur in the afternoon around 3 pm from Gurgaon. Even though it was just after the Monsoons, the roads were good and thankfully I didn't encounter any major traffic jam on NH-8. Even though one can continue onto NH-8 all the way to Udaipur, we turned towards Bhilwara from Kishangarh, about 40 kms before Ajmer. This route is proper four lane all the way to Udaipur and the road condition is much better compared to NH-8 which is double laned for a major part. We didn't take many stops enroute except for dinner at Ghar Dhaba after Bhilwara and reached Udaipur at 1:30 in the night. We had informed the hotel staff of our late check-in beforehand and the solitary attendant awake at that hour showed us our rooms which were ready to be checked in. 

Afternoon view of Lake Pichola
Wall Paintings inside the Palace
As always, I had booked hotel after reading reviews on and booked Hotel Rampratap Palace located right next to Fatehsagar Lake. Even though this hotel is located a bit far from the city centre, it still had its own advantages with big rooms and peaceful surroundings. Located right opposite to the hotel is Rajbagh restaurant with a magnificent location right on the banks of Fatehsagar Lake. This restaurant also has a few vintage cars and vehicles parked inside. Even though most people like Ambrahi restaurant because it offers a beautiful view of the City Palace and Lake Palace, Rajbagh restaurant is better for peaceful and serene dining.

Sheesh Mahal 

Recreation Room of the Kings
Magnificent Peacock Courtyard
We woke up late next day and then went for lunch at 1559 AD restaurant close to our hotel. A nice sumptuous meal and we were ready for a guided tour of the City Palace. The City Palace of Udaipur is 2nd biggest palace of India after Mysore Palace. This palace complex was built over a period of 300 years by 76 generations of Sisodia rajputs and currently houses the museum part which is open for tourism, two luxury hotels and the residence of current ruler of the dynasty. This palace was built by Maharana Udai Singh II as he shifted his capital from Chittorgarh after many attacks by Mughal emperor Akbar. When Akbar asked the Rajputs of Mewar to sign a treaty of submission with him, Udai Singh refused and hence was continuously attacked by the Mughal ruler. Many parts of the palace have magnificent work with glass and many rooms also have mesmerizing paintings made directly on the wall. Any visitor to the palace museum should not miss out on Maharan Pratap room and the peacock courtyard, which is the most beautiful courtyard of the palace. 

Front Courtyard during sunset

Beautiful Lawns of Rajbagh Restaurant

This bike reminds me of the movie, ET
After a visit to City Palace, I would recommend everyone to take a boat ride and visit Jagmandir island palace which seems to have been built by the maharanas of Mewar  for leisure. However, in reality this palace was built by Maharana Karan Singh  to provide refuge to the mughal ruler, Shah Jehan after he revolted against his father Jehangir. A dinner at this island palace is also recommended for people on a romantic trip. After this, we walked through the bylanes of Udaipur for sometime enjoying street food. For dinner, we went to Ambrahi restaurant just because of the magnificent view of Lake Pichola, it offers. Though, the food was good but the service and attitude of staff was pathetic. We enjoyed some drinks on our hotel terrace after the dinner. A mild breeze blowing on a full moon starry night with a nice view of the lake was the perfect setting for spending a few hours with friends.

Here we take a dip into the Banas river
Somewhere near Haldighati
Next morning, we left for Kumbhalgarh Fort which is about 90 kms away from Udaipur. Even though the distance isn't much, it still takes around 3 hours to reach the fort from Udaipur because the road condition isn't good enough. However, the trouble is worth taking as this is the 2nd largest fort of India and its boundary wall at 36 kms long is only 2nd in the world after Great Wall of China. Enroute to Kumbhalgarh, one passes close to Haldighati, the battleground of the famous battle between Maharana Pratap and mughal ruler, Akbar. We crossed Banas river on our way and couldn't resist taking a dip in its fast flowing water.
Its tough capturing these flies

Thats some fort, Kumbhalgarh
After crossing the town of Kumbhalgarh and moving further ahead for 4-5 kms, the invincible fort emerges on a hilltop and looks solidly imposing with its 15 feet wide frontal walls. The fort was built by Rana Kumbha as a defensive stronghold in case of Mughal attacks and remains invincible till date. The fort is built on a hilltop at a height of 750 meters above sea level in the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary and its topmost palace, Badal Palace, is at a height of over 900 meters. From the top of this palace, one gets a panoramic view of the entire region. To the frontal part of the fort, lies the kingdom of Mewar while on its back part, lies the kingdom of Marwar. The fort complex had 360 temples belonging to Hindu and Jain religions.

Inside view of Kumbhalgarh Fort. The 36 km long wall starts on the right!!

Marwar Side from Kumbhalgarh Fort. Notice the wall snaking its way through
Around evening, we left the fort for our return to Delhi. The drive back was harder considering our tired legs but we reached safely back early next morning.

Places of Interest:
In Udaipur:
1. City Palace (Near Lake Pichola)
2. Jag Mandir Palace (A boat ride from City Palace takes you here)
3. Jagdish Temple (A nice temple just outside City Palace)
4. Sajjangarh Fort (Located on a hillock 900m above sea level overlooking Pichola Lake)
5. Sahelion ki Bari (A nice garden located on the shores of Fatehsagar Lake)

Around Udaipur
1. Kumbhalgarh Fort (2nd largest fort of India located 75 kms away from Udaipur)
2. Nathdwara (Krishna Temple located 48 kms away from Udaipur on NH8 towards Delhi)
3. Ranakpur (magnificent Jain temple located 110 kms away from Udaipur on the road to Jodhpur)