Two years ago, I put my feet in India for the first time. That was just a three-day trip, but long enough to fall in love with the remarkable Taj Mahal, drive 300km from Agra to Ranthambore National Park on a Royal Enfield Bullet, and track wild tigers in their natural habitat. Three days were way too short for a trip to India. Nevertheless, it was during this journey when a huge desire to learn about this compelling country was born.
On the large state of the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent, we kick off one more daring motorcycle adventure.
As it turns out, one year later, we are back in Rajasthan in search of the beauty of its forts, lake palaces, colours, history and vibrant culture. Once again on a Royal Enfield Bullet motorbike. If a road trip in India is a challenge, a road trip in India on a motorcycle goes beyond that. It’s the real test for anyone’s concentration and driving skills. The roads are usually in severe conditions; traffic is chaotic; animals such as elephants, cows, dogs, and camels ride side by side with tons of tuk-tuks, motorbikes, and cars. It’s intense. And we love that. Motorcycling in India has some limitations, but an unique appeal as well. The majority of which belongs to the thrill of riding a Royal Enfield Bullet. There are not many countries in the world where you can experience so much by just riding on the streets, and the motorbike allows for greater interaction with the surroundings – what else would make people stare with curiosity or admiration as you pass? Everywhere in this restless landscape is movement. I couldn’t stop taking photos. Wherever you look at, there is always a manifestation of an unusual new aspect of the unpredictable.
Welcome to the Land of Kings. Welcome to Udaipur.
I saw marble palaces rising above the beautiful Lake Pichola over sunset. From the Jagmandir Palace, the summer resort of the former royal families, we got a new perspective of this magical place.
There are many palaces here, each more romantic than the next. Many have been converted into five-star hotels, and the maharajas, who have no power anymore have become hoteliers.
Staying at the Taj Lake Palace Hotel while in Udaipur is the key to experiencing the Rajasthan Kingdom. Built in 1743, this romantic white marble palace floats on the waters of Lake Pichola, with 360-degree views of surrounding Udaipur. The former palace used to be a summer escape and pleasure resort of the royal dynasty of Mewar and was converted into a hotel during the 1960s. I got reminded of the James Bond movie. The Lake Palace gives you the feeling of staying in an authentic Rajasthan Majestic Palace from the eighteenth-century. From our room, we could see the maharaja’s palace on the shore. Access was by boat from the hotel’s jetty in the City Palace gardens.
Breakfast in the patio where James Bond Octopussy was shot and sunset drinks on the rooftop, followed by dinner at one of its restaurants, are part of the experience. The Indian serves outstanding food and the romantic Italian with views of City Palace is something you cannot miss while in Udaipur.
The City Palace is perhaps the most spectacular attraction in Udaipur. Located on the east bank of Lake Pichola, it was built over a period of nearly 400 years on a hilltop that gives a panoramic view of the city, including several monuments such as the Lake Palace, Jag Mandiron and Monsoon Palace. It’s the largest palace in Rajasthan and has several palaces built within its complex, so it’s much easier to navigate across the area if you have a guide.
We walked through Udaipur and drove along the Fateh Sagar Lake with a quick stop for some textile shopping at Rama Krishna. The area around Jagdish Mandir Temple next to the City Palace gate is ideal for street shopping. It is where we bought one camel bag, books and one Indian painting for unbelievable cheap prices.
Riding 320Km from Udaipur to Jodhpur. On a motorbike.
Our bike trip in India started in the early morning. The weather was perfect for a ride: not too cold, not too warm. After 35 km of highway, we turned right towards Ranakpur and drove through the Ranakpur valley. We spotted Rajasthan countryside as its best.
The famous Ranakpur Jain temple, in the heart of the remote valley of the Arvallis, was on our way. Rajasthan is known for its precious art treasures, and the Jain temple is one of the most spectacular architectural monuments. It is among the best in the world.
As we drove towards Jodhpur, the mountains and green colours of Ranakpur valley slowly turned into a dry vegetation until the landscape entirely changed. Five hours later, we reached the Indian Thar Desert. Everything spoke of remoteness: the emptiness of the highway; the local women working in the fields dressed in their beautiful saris; villages in the middle of nowhere; herds of animals crossing the road. Although the prescribed Udaipur – Jodhpur trail can be quite obvious, we haven’t seen another single tourist on the road.
We watched the sun going down from the Umaid Bhawan Palace.
Jodhpur’s history is based on the Rajput dominion, merchant traders and polo‑playing princes. The ancient desert city is the second largest in Rajasthan, with more than one million population. Full of chaos, buzz, commerce and shops of handmade goods. It’s divided into two parts – the old and the new city. Surrounded by a vast and legendary fortress wall, the blue buildings in Jodhpur contrast beautifully with the neighbouring Thar Desert. It is referred to as the “Blue City” due to the vivid blue-painted houses around the Mehrangarh Fort. While its royal family may no longer reign, the Maharaja still resides in his palace, Umaid Bhawan – reborn as the Umaid Bhawan Palace hotel in 2005.
A visit to the vast 17th-century Mehrangarh Fort and Palace is mandatory. A monument packed with legend, towering 120ft and arresting one’s attention from almost any point in the city. It’s the magnificent fort that towers over the Blue City. An architectural masterpiece. The fort is massive and stupendous when seen from afar and from there we enjoyed expansive views of the surrounding Thar Desert and the traditional houses all painted Krishna blue.
We explored the blue city on a tuk-tuk. Dharmendra, the driver who turned out to be our guide, shared with us his secret spots.
I usually don’t spend my time shopping during my travels. Jodhpur, however, was an exception. There are a handful of shops worth exploring. Gems & Jewels Palace (+91 2912516666) produces the traditional confections of silver, gold, diamonds, rubies and emeralds. But there is beautiful contemporary work as well. I got two beautiful pairs of earrings: one with emeralds and diamonds and the other with Safire and diamonds, both for excellent prices compared to what we get outside India. For textiles, there is nothing like Maharani Textiles & Handicrafts (+91 2912653152). It is a large showroom. We got double-faced cashmere wraps and pashminas, some of them made for top fashion houses in France and Italy, but available here at competitive prices.
Dharmendra walked us through the old part of the town behind the Mehrangarh Fort. The medieval streets of the blue city are full of shops, bazaars, and animals. Walking through this area gave me a better understanding of Jodhpur: the way locals live, how their houses are and their relationship with animals and trash. I took pleasure watching the sunset from one of the rooftops with views to the old town.
As we headed to the Sadar market, a full-on Indian street market, we stopped by the Bibaji Churi Wale, which is a glass bracelet store. In this shop, you find all types of glass bracelet. They have from the simplest styles to outrageously gilded iterations. I got a gorgeous one with smooth cuts in jewel‑clear.
We like to mix luxury hotels and local guesthouses during our travels. While in Jodhpur, Bhavyam heritage guesthouse was our choice.
The best hotel in Jodhpur, however, is RAAS, located in the heart of the walled city. From its restaurant, while having delicious Indian food over dinner or a pleasant breakfast, we enjoyed spectacular views of the fort looming above.
Heading to the Indian desert
Overnight train to Jaipur
At 5 pm we boarded on an overnight train from Jaisalmer to Jaipur, on the Sleeper class, as the other categories were fully booked. Although not comfortable, I am glad we boarded in this section of the train. The trip on the sleeper class added a fascinating new dimension to our experience. It allowed us to interact with the local people and appreciate the diverse Indian countryside.
The “Pink City”, which is not really roseate, looked much more developed and less charming than the other cities.
Our guide (also a tuk-tuk driver) drove us through Jaipur with stops at the Amber fort, impressive construction with influences of Hindu and Muslim acrchiteture; Hawa Mahal house, located on the edge of the City Palace and Rajmahal palace, for a wonderful lunch in the garden.
Everything about Rajasthan is very particular. The culture, the landscape, the food, the colours, the people. It is said there is more history in Rajasthan than the rest of India put together and we could experience that in every corner we visited. It’s unique and diverse. Even though the Jaipur-Jodhpur -Udaipur trail can be quite obvious for the regular traveller, it is indeed the must-see state of this must-see country. And the experience of being on a Royal Enfield Bullet in this part of the world makes the adventure even more authentic.
We traveled across Udaipur-Jodhpur-Jaisalmer-Jaipur from February 10th to February 16th, 2016 (7-day trip). Stayed at Taj Lake Palace Hotel , Bhavyam heritage guesthouse and The Serai hotels. Had delicious Indian food at RAAS, Trio restaurant and Rajmahal palace. Coffee at Cafe Shesh Maha. We went shopping at Rama Krishna, Gems & Jewels Palace (+91 2912516666) and Maharani Textiles & Handicrafts (+91 2912653152). Rented a motorbike Royal Enfield Bullet from Anu Vikram Singh. Our guides: Udaipur – Suresh Nagarkoti (+ 91 9414168781); Jodhpur- Dharmendra (+91 9414678304); Jaisalmer – owner of Krishna Boulangerie roof top restaurant (+ 91 09414763003). We flew with Singapore Airlines from Singapore.
In the bag: Scarves; Light clothes for the day and warm clothes for the evening (desert climate); Girls should avoid clothes above the knees.