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Trip Report Three Weeks in Rajasthan

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With thanks to those who offered suggestions as I was planning a three-week swing through Rajasthan, from which we returned in late January, I offer the following quick recap of our journey. 

To set the stage, this was my fifth trip to India but the first for my wife and college-student son. With limited time, we wanted to cover enough territory for Wife and Son to get a general feel for things, but didn't want to dart so quickly from place to place that the blur factor set in. As for level of travel, we were looking for relative comfort (at least for my wife & myself) but not five-star insulation.  Here's where we went:

- Flew into Mumbai (from Amsterdam) and arrived well after midnight.  Plan was to stay near the airport for the first night (Marriott Courtyard, in Andheri) and use the pre-paid taxi service to get there.  As I recalled from prior experience, the trick here is to be sure your actual driver (not just the guy at the dispatch desk bobbing his head up and down whatever you say) knows where he is going.  In our case it took considerable consultation among various drivers and hangers-on in the parking lot before we felt comfortable leaving. Probably a pre-arranged car, or maybe one of the premium cabs, would have been smoother.  But certainly not cheaper.  

- in a sort of splurge, we (i.e., my wife and myself) stayed the next three nights at the Intercontinental on Marine Drive, where we opted for a sea view room. Could almost see Malabar Hill through the pollution. To provide Son a different experience, perhaps more appropriate for his age and stage, got him his own place at the Sea Green Hotel, a block or two away from the Intercontinental in terms of distance, light years away in terms of everything else.  The Intercontinental was exactly what you'd expect of a fully priced hotel at that level. The Sea Green was OK, I suppose, if you need a budget choice.   But Mumbai is a place where one might hope not to need a budget choice. Suffice it to say that Son was not unhappy when invited to use the shower in his parents' room.  

-  Spent our time mostly in South Mumbai, hitting the predictable sights.  Especially enjoyed Hanging Gardens at sunset.  Took two local "tours" with Reality Tours -- their public transport tour and the short Dharavi tour. Would highly recommend this outfit and their very reasonable offerings. Check out their website.  

- From Mumbai, flew Air India to Udaipur (booked easily in advance through Cleartrip).  Mom & Dad stayed three nights at Shiv Niwas Palace, Son at the more modest but delightful Little Garden Guesthouse. Perhaps the biggest plus for Shiv Niwas was its prized location inside the palace complex which permitted entry at night when the place is empty of tourists.  As for the Little Garden, the rooms are sparkling clean and Akshay and his family couldn't have provided a warmer welcome to our son. We enjoyed drinks on the rooftop at Jagat Niwas and a couple of good dinners at the Jaiwana Niwas next door.  Also would recommend the all-you-can-eat veg thali lunch at Natraj, written up in all the guidebooks and an easy tuk tuk ride from the center.   

- Son took a day trip on his own to Chittor.  Good little adventure.  He took the train there and back, rented a bicycle from a guest house and easily explored the fort. He didn't see another Westerner, quite the contrast from Udaipur.  

- Next stop, Jodhpur.  We drove from Udaipur, with a stop at the Jain temple at Ranakpur, with a car arranged in advance through Jaipur-bsed TGS Travel.  We got onto TGS originally from recommendations from this forum (thanks especially to julies) and settled on them after good email communication with the owner (Nikhil Pandit). Very pleased. The car was comfortable (we went for the bigger Toyota), the driver, Vinay, was courteous, professional and accommodating, and Nikhil was readily available by phone.  Would unhesitatingly use these guys again.  

- In Jodhpur, as before, we split up to give Son his own space and a different experience.  He stayed at Yogi's Guest House, Mom & Dad at the somewhat more upscale Haveli Pal Inn.  Each hotel is a good choice if you want to be near the center of things, which we did. In addition to touring the Merangheh fort, watching the world go by in the old city, and enjoying the roof-decks at both hotels, we did the Flying Fox zip line behind the Fort.  Glad we did. 

- From Jodphur it was on to Jaisalmer for three nights.  Son, for the adventure of it, and to avoid the long car ride, took the early morning train (sleeper class, booked the day before from a travel agent).  Mom & Dad made the journey with the same TGS car and driver we used earlier.  In Jaisalmer we wanted to stay in a decent place inside the fort.  We picked the Garh Jaisal based on recommendations from this forum.  Great location and views, wonderful atmospherics, and attentive service from Tarun and his band of helpers.  To give you an idea what "attentive service" means, listen to this:  Mom & Dad went for dinner with friends staying at the Gorbandh Palace Hotel, a few kilometers out of town.  We decided at the last-minute not to go back to our room at Garh Jaisal but instead to take a room for the night at Gorbandh Palace. Turns out Tarun waited for us til 2:30 am.  When we didn't show up by then, he sent one of his guys out a motorcycle to scour Jaisalmer in case we were stranded somewhere!  Couldn't help but feel vaguely guilty when we returned the next morning.  (The Gorbandh Palace, by the way, is a nice enough full-service 4-(or 5-?) star faux-heritage hotel, but maybe better suited to tour groups than independent travelers).  

-  From Jaisalmer, we made the long road trip route to Jaipur, stopping just one night in Bikaner, the next in Mandawa.  Very pleased with this northern routing, which included a stopover in In Fatephur, versus the alternative we had considered through Pushkar.  The idea was that this would permit us to have a quick look at the Shekhawati region, which it did.  But too quick. Too much time in the car, not enough time on the ground. Reinforced the notion that one night in a place in India is just not enough. 

-  In Bikaner, we stayed at the Bhawan Niwas, in Mandawa at the Pawaana Haveli.  Both excellent choices.  Obviously we didn't have enough time to do much more than wander around a bit.  But that was enough to convince me that this is an area well worth coming back to, especially Mandawa and environs.  Although hardly undiscovered, it felt just one-step removed from the first-tier tourist circuit.  

-  As for Jaipur, where we stayed a couple of nights at the perfectly civilized Umaid Bhawan, visited the Pink City sights, went to the absolutely impressive Amber Fort, and ate pretty well at LMB and Niros, I'll just say that I wish we had spent the time in Mandawa or someplace like that. At the end of the day, for us, the "charms" of Jaipur, unlike those of other places, were just not enough to make dealing with the urban ugliness, the traffic and the suffocating pollution worth it.  I know this is the trade-off in most Indian cities, but in Jaipur the negatives, sadly, would seem to outweigh the positives.  

- From Jaipur, we hopped a train (2AC) to Delhi for a night, then the flight home.  

Happy to respond to any questions.   


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