I find that I like India a whole lot more when I am not actually in India. When I am in India, I find it noisy, polluted, messy and overwhelming. When I am somewhere else, I think back to all the memorable experiences I had, and the beautiful things that I saw, forgetting the times where I had to really push myself just to get up and go outside.
At some point, months ago, when I was, very tellingly, NOT in India, I decided that it would be a good place to meet up with my sister and her family for two weeks on a fun family trip. The beaches were out because it was monsoon, so I settled on a tour of Rajasthan by train because, a: I hadn’t been there before and b: I came over all romantic after seeing some pictures of Jaisalmer Fort on the Internet.
We figured out that we had 14 days to work with and I started planning with all the fervour of someone who hasn’t been on holiday for a while. I began by booking the trains, because not only are trains the best way to travel in India, they are also where you get the best chai. I need you to know that, despite the days of faffing required, Spud and I are now the proud owners of Indian Railways accounts, an achievement I consider equal to winning an Olympic gold medal or the Nobel prize for physics. We also booked all of our accommodation in advance, as trekking around desert places in 40-degree heat with four small children looking for a place to stay is not an appealing option.
I have stuck our actual itinerary on at the end, as it took me ages to plan and someone might find it useful, but for the sake of brevity here are my absolute highlights of our two-week trip around Rajasthan.
Camel Trekking in Jaisalmer – Far and away the best thing we did, the kids loved it. We did 2 hours trekking in the afternoon, slept under the stars and then did about 1 ½ hours the next day. We even had to contend with a sandstorm and a torrential downpour. The two smallest (4 &6) shared camels with us, but the bigger boys (7 and 9) rode their own.
Street food tour in Delhi –This was not a hit with any of the kids, they had just arrived in India and pretty much refused to try anything bar the ice cream. The adults loved it though, so we ignored them. We tasted a ridiculous amount of food during a three-hour tour, both sweet and savoury. We also got a backstreet tour of Chandni Chowk, the oldest and busiest market in Delhi, which we would never have managed independently. For the smart-arses among you, I am aware that (like Agra) Delhi is not technically Rajasthan but most trips to India start there so I am squeezing it in anyway.
Jaisalmer Fort – My favourite of the forts, lots of little streets, not too much traffic (which helps with the open-mouthed wandering) and a multitude of beautiful old buildings to look at. My sister and I ditched the kids (they would have been bored) and did the audio tour in the Palace Museum, which I would recommend.
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur – I had literally no idea what anything in this place was for, but sometimes it is very worthwhile to remind yourself that you are nowhere near as smart as you think you are. The kids enjoyed running around the site and it is very relaxed inside, away from the dusty madness that is Jaipur. Much more interesting than the more expensive City Palace across the road, and it has the biggest sundial in the world!
Avoiding scam artists, Pushkar – We found Pushkar disappointingly grubby and nowhere near as spiritual as I expected from such a holy place. I did enjoy watching the blessing scam play out as some chancers decided to target my brother-in-law. I think he also enjoyed knowingly playing along with the scam and giving the ‘holy man’ the sharp end of his tongue instead of the 9000 rupees he demanded when the ‘free’ blessing was over.
Monsoon Jodhpur – Drinking tea on a rooftop and looking over the myriad blue hues of Jodhpur is a very pleasant way to spend your time. Most memorably, rain like I have never seen before fell on us while we were there. We went into a restaurant to escape getting soaked and came out into a full-blown flood. There was lots of laughing and shrieking but it was a frightening and unforgettable reminder of the sudden and unpredictable power of nature.
Indian Trains – Touring Rajasthan by train is an absolute blast. A travel company recently told my mum that Indian trains were not suitable for tourists, I couldn’t disagree more. Indian trains are a safe, relaxing and very social way to travel, especially if you are with small children. I would agree that there is nothing fun about traveling long distances in a packed second-class carriage but, as even sleeper class is cheap as chips, there really is no need to do that. You can chat with all sorts of people, try out the full range of mystery snacks and put your feet up and have a snooze if you feel like it. For me though, the real clincher is, you don’t need to stop every time someone needs a pee. Beat that, air-conditioned car with driver!
The Taj Mahal – Again, not technically Rajasthan, but hard to miss if you are returning to Delhi. Simply the most beautiful building you will ever see, even when covered in scaffolding. As an extra bonus, the kids all got in for free.
Our whistle-stop itinerary for touring Rajasthan by train
Day 1 – Arrive in Delhi
Day 2 – Day in Delhi – Night train to Jaisalmer at 5.30pm
Day 3 – Arrive in Jaisalmer at 11 am, spend the afternoon sightseeing
Day 4 – Camel Safari in Thar desert, overnight in desert
Day 5 – Continue camel safari in the morning, spend the afternoon shopping and sightseeing
Day 6 – Spend the morning in Jaisalmer, get the train at 5pm arrive Jodhpur 10.40pm
Day 7 – Spend the day in Jodhpur
Day 8 – Leave Jodhpur on the 7am train to Ajmer, from there catch a cab for the short trip to Pushkar
Day 9 – Day in Pushkar
Day 10 – Return to Ajmer and catch the 3pm train to Jaipur train arriving 5pm
Day 11 – Spend the day in Jaipur
Day 12 – Spend the day in Jaipur before catching any pm train to Agra (or hire a taxi to drive you via Fatehpur Sikri)
Day 13 – Get up early for a sunrise viewing of the Taj Mahal. Sight see, then catch the train back to Delhi at 5.50pm arriving at 7.30pm.
Day 14 – Day in Delhi/depart