I first traveled to India a few years ago. That was a short three-day trip, but long enough to give me a flavor of a compelling, out of the ordinary country. I watched the sunrise from the remarkable Taj Mahal, drove 300km from Agra to Ranthambore National Park on a Royal Enfield Bullet, and tracked wild tigers in their natural habitat. Rajasthan is a place that moved me. I fell in love with the culture, the land, the people, and have been going back ever since.
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, I’m back in Rajasthan with Max – my photographer and husband – in search of the beauty of its forts, lake palaces, colors, 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. 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 its challenges, but a unique appeal as well. Most 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 more significant 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, there is always a manifestation of an unusual new aspect of the unpredictable
Welcome to the Land of Kings. Welcome to Udaipur.
I see marble palaces rising above the beautiful Lake Pichola over sunset. From the Jagmandir Palace – the summer resort of the former royal families – I get a new perspective of this magical place.
There are many gorgeous palaces in Udaipur, each more romantic than the next. Many of them have been converted into five-star hotels, and the maharajas, who lost their power, have become hoteliers. We stay at the Taj Lake Palace Hotel, which in itself is an excellent way to experiencing the Rajasthan Kingdom and gives us the chance to sense an authentic Rajasthan Palace from the eighteenth-century. 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 was a summer escape and pleasure resort of the royal dynasty of Mewar and was converted into a hotel during the 1960s.
From our room, I see the Maharaja’s palace on the shore. Access is 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 magic. The Indian restaurant serves meals you won’t forget, and the romantic Italian with views to the City Palace is something you cannot miss while in Udaipur.
The City Palace is arguably the most spectacular attraction in Udaipur. Located on the east bank of Lake Pichola, it was built over nearly 400 years on a hilltop that provides 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 walk through Udaipur and drive 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.
Riding 320Km from Udaipur to Jodhpur. On a motorbike.
Our bike trip in India starts in the early morning. The weather is perfect for a ride: not too cold, not too warm. After 35 km of highway, we turn right towards Ranakpur and drive through the Ranakpur valley. It’s the Rajasthan countryside as its best.
We stop by the famous Ranakpur Jain temple, in the heart of the remote valley of the Arvallis. Rajasthan is known for its precious art treasures, and the Jain temple is one of the most spectacular architectural monuments – and among the best in the world.
As we drive towards Jodhpur, the mountains and green colors of Ranakpur valley slowly turn into dry vegetation until the landscape entirely changes. It takes us about five hours to reach the Indian Thar Desert. Everything speaks of remoteness: the emptiness of the highway; the local women working in the fields dressed in their beautiful saris; tiny villages in the middle of nowhere; herds of animals crossing the road. Despite the popularity of the prescribed Udaipur – Jodhpur trail, we don’t come across any other traveler on the road.
Jodhpur’s history is deeply rooted in the Rajput dominion, merchant traders, and polo‑playing princes. The ancient desert city is the second largest in Rajasthan, with more than one million people. 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 Maharaj resides in his palace, Umaid Bhawan – reborn as the Umaid Bhawan Palace hotel in 2005, from where we watch an electrifying sunset.
A visit to the vast 17th-century Mehrangarh Fort and Palace is mandatory. It’s 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 breathtaking when seen from afar, and provides expansive views of the surrounding Thar Desert, and the traditional houses all painted Krishna blue. We navigate across the blue city on a tuk-tuk. Dharmendra, the driver who turned out to be our guide, shares with us his secret spots.
There are a handful of shops worth exploring in Jodhpur. Gems & Jewels Palace (+91 2912516666) produces the traditional confections of silver, gold, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. But there is beautiful contemporary work as well. For textiles, there is nothing like Maharani Textiles & Handicrafts (+91 2912653152). It is a large showroom. We get 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 walks 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 gives me a better understanding of Jodhpur: the way locals live, how their houses are, and their relationship with animals. I take pleasure watching the sunset from one of the rooftops with views to the old town. As we head to the Sadar market, a full-on Indian street market, I stop by the Bibaji Churi Wale, which is a glass bracelet store. Here I find all types of glass bracelets. They have from the most straightforward styles to outrageously gilded iterations.
The best hotel in Jodhpur – RAAS – is in the heart of the walled city. From its restaurant, while enjoying delicious Indian food over dinner or breakfast, we have views of the fort looming above. But we also stay at Bhavyam heritage guesthouse, which is a more affordable option.
Heading to the Indian desert
The “Pink City” – which is not roseate – looks much more developed than the other towns I visit in Rajasthan. Our guide (also a tuk-tuk driver) drives us through Jaipur with stops at the Amber fort – impressive construction with influences of Hindu and Muslim architecture; Hawa Mahal house, located on the edge of the City Palace and Rajmahal palace – for an extraordinary lunch in the garden. The Nahargarh Fort is an exciting spot to witness the mix of Indian and European architecture, and the Jaipur Bazaars are incredibly lively.
Everything about Rajasthan is unique, singular. The culture, the landscape, the food, the colors, the people. Some say there is more history in Rajasthan than the rest of India put together, and I can inhale that in every corner I go. There is no other place in the world like Rajasthan. Though the Jaipur-Jodhpur -Udaipur trail can be quite evident for the regular traveler, Rajasthan is the must-see state of this must-see country. And the feeling of riding a Royal Enfield Bullet in this part of the world leverages the adventure to its full dramatic effect.
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.