I have lived in the US for the past several years now. I visit India roughly once a year, but vacations are always short, and I don’t venture outside Chennai. Mostly, I fall sick by the end of the first week, and recover just in time to catch my return flight 🙂 Hey, got to keep your immune system strong!
Anyway, so this time I decided to do a longer 3 week vacation, and I have badly been wanting to visit many places in India. Primarily hikes in the Northern part of the country, but there’s so much to see in India. And these days, it is not hard to find other like minded people doing similar activities. Long distance bicycling, hiking and even Ironmans have become fairly mainstream – which is great!
After some looking around, I decided November is as good a month to visit Rajasthan as any. Originally, I also wanted to fit in Delhi and Agra into the plan, but after some pondering, I decided to skip Agra for another time. While I was researching Rajasthan, Agra, and Delhi, I got into the history of the Mughals, the Rajputs …etc. Fascinating. I’m sure some of this was learnt in school – but I don’t remember it ever be as engaging as when you can look things up online, replete with visuals, neutral accounts, web forums with amazing discussions …etc. Anyway, it was good to revisit some of the history – this is also important to understand the significance of the many historic places, and help in narrowing down on the places of significance to visit.
Tour guides make for fantastic places to start, but after speaking to a friend of mine, who had visited Rajasthan recently, I decided to start broadly, on the logistics, and then narrow down on what to see around places. Within city transport, either with Taxis, local buses, or cabs could all be decided later. (I like to make detailed plans to a fault 🙂 )
Anyway, when it comes to broad planning, Google Maps is a great resource. I decided I would book my transport, and accommodations first. Google Maps also does a decent job of showing you things to do in a place. Even better, the Google Trips App on Android! (downloads local data)
I have mostly had good experiences on Indian Railways – so I decided I would take trains wherever possible – and also if possible, take late night trains – that way, would get to spend the day time in cities, and get to sleep in trains. That’s one of the great things about trains – you can go from point A to B while sleeping 🙂
Also, I have never traveled by anything other than Sleeper Class in the past whenever I have booked tickets for myself. AC tickets prior to 2011 for me, did not seem like a wise way to spend money. In spite of my parents recommending traveling by AC many times, I had doggedly refused to do so – always taking Sleeper trains even in the middle of summer. My grandfather used to work for Indian railways, and back when I was a little kid, we have traveled by AC trains of course – but I have a very faint recollection of it.
While we are on firsts, here’s another – I have never taken a single local/domestic flight in India. 🙂
I was able to pay on Yatra with my Paypal account, where I chose to pay with Paypal credit, to avoid any foreign transaction fees. I operate a couple of accounts in India, and have debit cards of them. However, this is how ancient my accounts are – one of my debit cards does not have a CVV code on it. And, the other insists on sending an OTP. Now, my mom’s number is the number registered – and it would all work fine, if she wasn’t visiting the US herself. 🙂 She was still getting messages, but the bloody websites timed out faster than she could send me the OTP code. Dang! Thankfully, even IRCTC allows you to use an International Credit Card to make transactions – which was wonderful. At this point, at the risk of sounding like I have become accustomed to the USD, and INR seems cheap to me, train tickets in India even in 2AC is ridiculously cheap! And I don’t mean that in the sense of, oh it was only $15 – I mean it in the sense of – wow, it was only Rs. 1000 or 1500. Having visited Chennai the last several times, and feeling like a poor person when I saw others pay Rs. 300 for movie tickets, I felt like the Railways is really operating things for cheap here! A night’s lodging and travel for Rs. 1000 !! What ?!!
Anyway, after some very preliminary, planning, here’s what I came up with
Day 1-> Fly from Chennai to Jaipur (unfortunately, the earliest cheapest option only landed in Jaipur after noon.)
Day 2-> Jaipur. Take a night train to Jaisalmer. (As of this writing, both my 2A and 1A tickets are waitlisted, although the 1A ticket is WL1 – so I am feeling reasonably confident, I’ll get a seat on the train.)
Day 3,4 -> Jaisalmer. Take a night train from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur.
Day 5,6 -> Jodhpur. Take a night bus (unfortunately, there was no train) to Udaipur
Day 7,8 -> Udaipur. Take a night train to Ajmer.
Day 9 -> Ajmer/Pushkar. (I know a day is probably not enough). Take a train from Ajmer to New Delhi.
Day 10 -> New Delhi. Take a night flight to Chennai.
It looked to me like, I would need a place to take a shower in Ajmer. Instead of booking a hotel, I just booked a retiring room in the railway station. Now, after the fact, I learnt that 1AC has showers! and the delta I would have paid would have been the same as booking a retiring room. Well, you learn something every day. 🙂
At New Delhi, I booked lounge for I believe < Rs. 200. Apparently, it is another 150-200 Rs for a shower, but I think that’s ok. I could also go without showers if need be – I mean, when I go multi-day backpacking, I just carry wet wipes with me, and towel myself down.
Now, onto some micro-planning on things to do/see.