I had left you in my last travel post in South India, Mumbai. I suggest you hit the road today to the north and especially the city of Udaipur, in Rajasthan state.
On the banks of Pichola Lake, the City of Udaipur
After 15 hours on the train and with numb legs I finally arrived in Udaipur, the “City of Aurora”. The city is built around artificial lakes and is famous for the City Palace and the Taj Lake Palace, where part of the James Bond film “Octopussy” with Roger Moore was shot. At sunset the view of the lake and surrounding hills becomes a real show, where the orange / red shades blend between heaven and earth.
Strolling through the narrow streets was a real pleasure, camera in my hands here are some photos:
Jaisalmer: The Golden city
Last town before the border with Pakistan, Jaisalmer is the gateway to reach the Thar Desert. The main attraction of the city is The Jaisalmer Fort, it is now one of the largest fortification in the world still standing.
It is possible to drink a Chai on one of the terraces overlooking the ramparts. Do this at sunset and you will understand why the city is nicknamed the golden city …
Bivouac in the desert of Thar
This surely will remain one of my best memories in India, having slept under the stars in the middle of this amazing stretch of sand. After several hours on camels, we settled in the dunes to eat and spend the night.
There was no light pollution for many kilometers and after setting up camp, we saw the milky way brighter and more clearly than I have even seen it before.
You will easily find travel agencies to offer you a “Camel Safari Tour” upon your arrival in Jaisalmer.
I volunteered for 2 weeks in the Star View Guest House hostel, it is not located in the fort, but 10 minutes walk away. Fatan the owner is very friendly and offers very cheap rates.
Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is a must see destination when you visit north India. When you set foot on the Jaipur Railway Station, you will be assailed from all sides by street vendors, rickshaws drivers and this experience can be even more intense than elsewhere in India!
But beyond that, the city has places like the Amber Fort and Jal Mahal which to me should be visited on your north India journey.
Agra and the Taj Mahal: One of the New 7 Wonders of the World
The Taj Mahal was one of the main reasons for my coming to India and this remains one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen in my life!
When we understand that this mausoleum was built by a Mughal emperor in honor of one of his deceased wives, we can agree that love makes beautiful things …
A tip: Get up before sunrise to enjoy the first rays of sun on the Taj Mahal and to be among the first on the site (something I have of course failed to do, these shots were taken at sunset …)
While in Agra it is also worth visiting the Red Fort and the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah.
Varanasi: One of the oldest cities of the world
If you want to understand more about the Indian history and culture, you have to visit Varanasi, The Religious capital of India. This city is crossed by the Ganges, a sacred river in the Hindu religion.
In Varanasi you can watch open cast cremations, but of course all photography is prohibited in order to respect the families.
The bodies of deceased people are repatriated all across India by rail, in order to be cremated on the shores of the Ganges and to have their ashes spread in the river. Some scenes may seem shocking and believe me they are. Many Indians will try to explain the history and cremation processes through the Hindu religion (for a few rupees of course). I enjoy this and found it really interesting. It will remain as a very enriching experience for me.
In Varanasi you will also meet many Sadhus, these men of faith have renounced society (even family attachment) to pursue a spiritual life.
Here are some photographs I had the chance to take on my trip to Varanasi.
Tips to discover North India:
- Best time to visit: the best time to discover North India is from December to March, which corresponds to the winter season.
- How long should you visit? Minimum 3 weeks will be needed to get a first glimpse of northern India
- Flying to North India: Rates for Paris or London to Dehi returns start at 350/400 euros.
- Currency: The Indian Rupee: 1 euro = 75 Indian rupees
- Where should you stay ? There are many hostels and hotels in tourist cities. If you travel as a backpacker I advise you to visit Zostel, which is a chain of several hostels located in major tourist cities in northern India (Udaipur, Jaipur, Delhi, Varanasi, Agra ..) Sanitary conditions are above the Indian average and the staff is very friendly.
- How to get around? To travel around India I recommend the train, beyond being a great experience, rates are unbeatable and vary depending the category you choose. To book your tickets online, Cleartrip is the only platform for people without Indian credit card. The second way to travel around India is the bus. The network is well developed in India (the roads are less developed so be careful, especially in sleeper buses). On my trip I used Redbus to book my tickets. For short trips, you will always find a taxi or a rickshaw; always remember to haggle!
- How to withdraw money? there are ATMs everywhere in India, especially in tourist areas. There is no point to withdraw too much money at once, to give you an example I never get more than 50 euros (3500, 4000 rupees) and this was sufficient for several days travelling.