Rajasthan is not a new destination for travel for me, having done a short trip to Jodhpur and Jaislamer with friends 3 years ago. We also made a family trip around the state, by car more than 25 years ago, taking in Jaipur, Ajmer, Udaipur, Chittor and Kota. There have also been some trips to Jaipur and a few to Jodhpur, over the years for various professional assignments. But I was happy to plan and join yet another trip, when my sister-in-law expressed a desire to see the State on her planned trip to India from the Netherlands.
This time we planned to do Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer , a schedule made out of the compulsion of time constraints, as we had only a week and wanted to make the most of the time. It was the first time to Rajasthan for our 2 friends from the Netherlands. Since there are no flights between Jaipur and Udaipur (400 Km), Udaipur and Jodhpur (260 Km) and of course none to Jaisalmer (Jodhpur to Jaisalmer 290 Km) we flew to Udaipur, did Udaipur-Jodhpur, via Ranakpur, Jodhpur-Jaisalmer and Jaisalmer-Jodhpur by road and flew back from Jodhpur. We made the bookings only in mid-January, and were aware that February was peak tourist season.
Well, Rajasthan did not disappoint, as I suppose it never does. All the color was there.
The beautiful palaces, City Palace at Udaipur, Umair Bhavan and Mehrangarh at Jodhpur, the Temple Palace at Jaisalmer, did not fail to impress even the second time around. Some are better kept than others, and parts of many of them are now hotels, which is inevitable if the rest of it is to be maintained at some standard.
Udaipur is no longer the sleepy, small town of the early 1990s that I remembered. It is busy and bustling and sprawling with new settlements. Jodhpur, which I have visited more recently is also another busy city of a million or so, with the large army/air force presence. Jaisalmer, of course, is much smaller but also growing. But none of them show any evidence of being cleaner or better organized to encourage tourism which is the State’s major source of revenue. In fact, many traders I interacted with in the markets, were of the opinion that the tourist inflows are showing a gradual downward trend. One young man selling us silver jewellery was of the opinion that this year had been particularly bad, and attributed some of it to the cancellation of flights, following the heavy snow storms in US. We were also struck by the few foreign visitors, who were mostly in the organized tour groups.
The roads between these towns have improved, but there is little evidence of any other infra-structure being put in place. There is little evidence of Swachh Bharat, and towns are no cleaner than before.
For me the best parts of the trip was Ranakpur and the Sas-Bahu temple near Udaipur. I had been to the Jain temples at Ranakpur on the earlier trip, and found them to be as wonderful as I remembered them. Being maintained by a Jain Trust, it is clean and without the usual baggage of the shanty towns and shops and hangers on and touts that are part of most of our tourist spots. In the midst of tree covered hills, its location and ambiance places it among the top destinations in the country in my experience.
The Sas-Bahu temple was a total surprise. Built by a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law it is a 10th century Vishnu temple. Although very close to Eklingji, it is not on the tourist circuit. It is located next to a pristine lake, and in February it is hosting migratory birds. Not a functioning temple, it was quiet, the temple itself beautiful in structure and decorative workmanship.
Of course, this will not be last trip to Rajasthan. There is so much new to see – Bundi, Alwar, Shekawati and much more. So I shall be back.