From Jodhpur we caught the Delhi-Jaisalmer Express train to Jaisalmer which was due to depart Jodhpur Junction at 04:50. This was a horrendous time of morning to try and function, let alone attempt to trek across the streets of Jodhpur, so we organised a rickshaw with our hotel. They claimed that it would be more expensive as it was so early in the morning, 150 Rupees, confirming my suspicions that we were overcharged when we arrived in Jodhpur, paying the same price to get to our hotel at 18:00. We booked the rickshaw for 04:30, settled down for a short nights sleep before our early alarm. At 04:30 we were waiting outside the hotel and, with this being India, of course there was no rickshaw. We woke up the owner who apologised profusely, made a phone call and we were eventually on our way at 04:50, the time the train was due to arrive. Luckily the train was due to stop at the station for 30 minutes and it was running a little late, of course, so we made it with plenty of time to spare. The train went by very smoothly, arriving at its final destinations, Jaisalmer around an hour late. The fantastic thing about Jaisalmer in the incredibly impressive Golden Fort, an architectural masterpiece made from sandstone. There is still a whole community who live inside the forts walls, along with a plethora of guesthouses, rooftop restaurants and winding alleys filled with colourful shops. I had found a great deal on booking.com, 200 Rupees (£2.50) a night for a hotel situated inside the fort, with a double room and an attached bathroom. We tried to catch a rickshaw to the forts gate but ended up jumping in the back of a Jeep, owned by a pushy man outside the Train Station. I knew straight away the pushy man was going to try and sell us a camel safari, a room in his guesthouse or anything he could but I was armed with my hotels address and we agreed a price of 50 Rupees before we left. Of course at the end he was blabbing on about Lonely Planet, how all the guesthouses had fallen down, how his hotel was better and that he sold the best camel safari in the land. I gave him my 50 Rupee note and went on my way, ignoring his shouts and door slams and him claiming it was now 50 Rupees per person and 50 Rupees per bag…fool.
Our hotel, Hotel Temple View turned out to be quite nice and by far the cheapest I have stayed in so far, £1.25 per person. It turns out it is that price online because they try very hard to sell you a camel safari once you are there, which is the main reason people go to Jaisalmer. We decided not to do it for a few reasons: 1. We have both ridden camels in deserts before. 2. Holly was still very ill and needed to be near a toilet. 3. The fort is fantastic. There are options of a half day tour, a full day tour and 1, 2 or 3 night tours where you sleep out in the dessert on a rug under the stars. In all fairness it did sound amazing, but we had our trains prebooked and Holly would not have been able to cope. Luckily after her 8th day of illness she started to get better, just considerably weaker and thinner then she had been 8 days previous. We decided to visit the Jaisalmer Fort Palace costing 500 Rupees, plus 100 for a camera but unfortunately this really isn’t worth the money. There’s nothing much to see inside but I suppose the included audio guide is moderately interesting. In all honesty I would skip paying for the palace and explore the walls and fort yourself. We found a route to a thin walkway which separates the main wall from another protecting wall, given you some fantastic views and understanding on the scale of the build. Another thing I would recommend is walking the road outside the fort which loops around, again helping you really understand and get a scale for this magnificent old building. Around a 10 minute walk outside the forts gate there is a fantastic collection of Havelis, intricately decorated carved buildings built in the 19th century to show off a families wealth. These all cost 200 Rupees to enter, but are more impressive from the outside. I was taking a photo of one of the Havelis and all of the sudden I was lifted 3ft in the air by an impatient cow, whose horn caught me directly under my bum and the top of the hamstring. I managed to wiggle off, landing with a thump and a dead leg before scampering away to safely.
Cows are everywhere in India and normally very docile animals, but they do rule the roads and apparently can’t be bothered to walk around mere humans. I have now become very wary of the almighty cow…of all the animals to be scared of. Most restaurants inside the Fort are not up to much, with their Indian food being as equally bad as their Western food. The one exception is Free Tibet which also offers fantastic views of the Golden City. Don’t get this confused with Little Tibet, which opened up just down the road with a similar name, to take away the successful restaurants custom, with a lot of success. We caught a train to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, via sleeper class. Our train departed at 17:00 and arrived in Jaipur at 04:50, costing 340 Rupees (£4.00). We had booked a hotel ahead as it was such an early arrival time and organised for them to pick us up from the train station. Obviously they didn’t turn up, as its India, in all truthfulness I never really expected them to be there. We caught a rickshaw to the hotel for 50 Rupees and arrived to some padlocked gates. After ringing the doorbell a few times they let us in, apologised and paid the rickshaw driver for us, which was unexpected and we settled down for a much needed rest day!
The following morning we decided to visit the Amer Fort, named after the town it is situated in, Amer, around 13km north of Jaipur. We contemplated catching a bus for a couple of Rupees but it would have been a 2 mile walk to the bus stop and then a fair walk up to the fort. Instead we flagged down a rickshaw and organised a return trip for 600 Rupees, with the driver waiting in the car park at the base of the fort for us. We decided to buy a composite ticket for 1000 Rupees, a crazy price for India, which gave us entry to: The Amber Fort, Jantar Mantar, Albert Hall Museum, Nahargarh Fort, Hawa Mahal, Sisodia Rani Gardens and the Vidhiyadhar Gardens. If you pay individually for all the attractions, without the composite ticket it would cost 2000 Rupees. If you go to the 4 main attractions the entry cost would be 1200 Rupees, so even though its expensive, its worth it and you save money. The ticket is valid for 2 days but not valid for night time viewings. The Amer Fort was very impressive and the 10 minute walk up offers fantastic views of the surrounding area. It is constructed of red sandstone and marble, consisting of four different levels each with its own courtyard. You can tell that a lot of restoration work has taken place, which for me doesn’t make it as exciting as the other forts in Rajasthan, but it is still an impressive spectacle. We spent around an hour exploring and getting lost inside the fort, before heading back down to our rickshaw driver. We paid his 20 Rupee parking fee and enquired about stopping at the Nahargarh Fort but he asked for another 600 Rupees for this, even though it was on the way back. We decided to decline and instead got dropped at the Albert Hall Museum, near the old city. The museum was okay but didn’t offer much on Indian history, it was more about the history of other parts of the world. However it was nice to walk around the old building and some parts were interesting.
The following day we took a walk across to the Pink City (Old City) and explored the different alleys and nooks and cranys. There are endless rows of shops selling everything from fabrics, to saris, to handicrafts, children’s toys, mobile phones and books and it is visited by people from all over India to buy in bulk and stock up on goods. We then took a trip to the Jantar Mantar, which is a collection of 19th century architectural astronomical instruments, built by Rajput Jai Singh. It includes the world’s largest sundial and many other crazy looking monuments, used to tell the time and display the positioning of planets and star formations. From here we headed to the City Palace, which stupidly isn’t included in the composite ticket price. This is an extra 500 Rupees. The Indian government has cranked up the prices for every attraction in India, its almost double the price that is stated in the lonely planet book written in early 2016. It is very annoying but they know that we are going to pay the price, we have no other choice. The City Palace was lovely and I really enjoyed the museum, displaying then different outfits worn by the Maharajas when they played polo, chess and billiards. Obviously you need a specific chess and billiard uniform!
We then continued on to the Hawa Mahal, built in 1799 as a place for the royal ladies to watch the everyday life on the streets through the 953 windows, without being seen. The women did not appear in public but were keen to follow day to day life and the Hawa Mahal gave them a sense of freedom, without them having to appear in public. Some of the walkways can get quite claustrophobic, especially when its busy and hot, but it is good fun to explore and gives you great views of the Nahargarh Fort!
Jaisalmer and Jaipur were both fantastic places, especially if you are a fan of history and especially old Indian forts. Jaipur was a great end to Rajasthan and I am now heading across to Agra, to experience the amazing Taj Mahal.