Staff Review – Cycle Through Rajasthan
I flew to Delhi with Jet Airways, a direct service from Heathrow. I had read a couple of books about India to try and prepare myself as to what I would expect to find on my arrival. The gentleman I sat next to on the plane (who turned out to be heir to a large rice empire!) also gave me some top tips, one of which was too always pay 10% of the price you are quoted in the markets! I never managed to get the sellers down to 10% of the price they wanted, but then again, I’m not the best haggler in the world!
I decided to fly to India the day before the trip started, so it would give me more time to relax and see a bit more of Delhi. Once I was in my room, I actually slept for 5 hours, but afterwards decided to venture out & see what I could find!
Within 30 seconds of leaving the hotel, I was ‘accosted’ by a tuk tuk. After saying ‘No’ many, many times, I gave in when he said I looked like Brad Pitt (flattery really does work). Ajay, the driver, who turned out to be a student earning extra money for his college fees decided to take me to all the places I didn’t want to go – his Uncles Emporium, the Tourist Info Office, the Birla Temple & the list goes on! Note, I say places he wanted to go! All I wanted was a tour of Delhi in the tuk tuk soaking up the sights and sounds. After a 2 hour ride, he took me back to my hotel, complete with a fresh Bindi from the Temple, a book of 20 postcards which cost me £6 (I hear the guy selling these closed his stall for the day after I had left!), and a photocopied map of Delhi from the Tourist Information office which set me back another £3! I was very poor at this bartering lark!
The next day was the start of the tour. I was picked up at 9.30 and taken to the Ashok Country Resort, which is approx 30 minutes outside Delhi in the suburbs. The hotel is set in lovely grounds, and compared to the chaos of the city, there is a calmness that is most welcome. 14 people in the group gradually arrived throughout the day and we all seemed to congregate around the pool, Tiger Beers in hand, where we all got to know each other and talk excitedly about what we could expect over the next couple of weeks.
We had a welcome meeting in the evening with our bike guide, Krishna, who outlined our itinerary. We were ‘introduced’ to our bikes & various adjustments were made in preparation for our departure the next morning. I was a little concerned to see that my bike was number 13… not that I’m superstitious or anything!
The next morning, we were up at 6am. Each morning, you start early, thus avoiding the midday heat. Even though it’s tough at first to get up so early, it does benefit you, and I would prefer to set off early, rather than suffer with sunstroke.
Most people were nervous about venturing onto the main road. We had all witnessed the crazy tuk tuk drivers, the large trucks blaring their horns, the wandering cows & the utter chaos that are Indian roads, but off we set. It was only a short ride on the first day to get us used to the bikes, weather, road conditions etc. We stopped at the “Chai Wala” (tea man) for a cup of chai. He was a little old man sat on the side of the road with a stove and a large saucepan. Some weren’t too sure about trying his chai (milk, tea leaves, cardomon pods & sugar), but I’m glad I did. It is a very sweet drink, but you only have a small cup. We looked out for ‘chai men’ throughout the tour, and a day didn’t go by without a cup or two! After our morning ride, we went back to the hotel, where we changed and headed into Old Delhi where we visited the Red Fort and the site where Ghandi was cremated. A peaceful location just a couple of miles from the throng of the bustling city.
That evening, we boarded the overnight train to Jodhpur – a 12 hour journey lay ahead of us, but we all had bunks, so were able to get some sleep. Each bunk had a curtain, so you did have some privacy! I was awake at 6am, and spent a couple of hours watching the Indian countryside pass by, taking in all the vistas – farmers working their land, camels roaming aimlessly, and the national emblem - Peacocks -strutting their brilliant blue feathers.
We arrived into Jodhpur at 8.30am and were met at the station by our driver Baljeet who had driven up from Delhi with the bikes and our luggage. We went to our hotel, the Ratan Villas where we freshened up and then headed into Jodhpur for a look around the local market. A few of us were approached by a young man who wanted to take us to an art gallery. The old flattery trick came out and my friends became Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie, and I had a shock when in the space of 48 hours, I had gone from being Brad Pitt, and now I was John Cleese? Seeing as I am 5ft10, and 15 stone, I can’t quite see how he made the comparision! 15 minutes later, we were the proud owners of some new artwork, but at least the money went into buying new materials for the artists who worked there.
Upon chance, I found a cobbler and I watched him mend a pair of shoes. The soles of my flip flops were wearing pretty thin, and I could feel the heat of the road on the bottom of my feet, so I asked him if he could mend them. He got out a piece of tyre and carefully drew round each shoe, cut out the shape and then expertly stitched the new soles onto my flip flops. 30 minutes late, I had my own customised shoes and I wore them with pride! Ironically, a couple of days later, the toe strap broke, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away, so they are now sat in the bottom of my wardrobe – happy memories!
That afternoon, we were back on our bikes cycling to the magnificent Mehangarh Fort where we got great views of Jodhpur city, and where we also got to appreciate the first of many impressive sunsets. Back at the hotel, we changed for dinner and enjoyed a refreshing G & T on the lawn… this was the life!
Over the next few days, we took in many more sights of Rajasthan. From Jodhpur, we went to Udaipur (known as ‘The Pearl Of Rajasthan’) which is renowned as the most romantic city in India. We visited the City Palace & Jagdish Temple. In the evening we ate at the Restaurant Ambrai overlooking the floodlit City Palace and Lake Palace Hotel. A stunning setting, complimented by superb Indian cuisine. We were taken back to the hotel by four tuk tuks.
From Udaipur, we headed to Kumbhalgarh, where we stayed the night and visited one of the finest examples of defensive fortifications in Rajasthan, I remember seeing dozens of monkeys playing on the walls putting on a show for their captive audience!
Next was Pushkar, famous for its annual Camel Fare and Holy Lake.
Onwards to Jaipur, the Pink City, where we visited the Amber Palace, City Palace, Palace Of The Winds, and the famous Observatory of Jai Singh. You also get to visit a large handicraft co-operative where you can purchase carpets, pictures, carvings and other handicrafts. I now have another carpet to add to my growing collection (made from Kashmir – this is the wool from the neck of the sheep. I did listen and learn!). Soon, I will be running out of available floor space, but I couldn’t resist.
Next was Sariska, where we were the only guests in the hotel! That night we celebrated Diwali, which is called the ‘Festival Of Lights’. Our guides bought lots of fireworks to celebrate and we had an impromptu display after our meal. Catherine wheels (not nailed to a fence post), but spinning erratically on the patio, fire crackers, rockets & many more all filling the night sky with bright colours. A fun night had by all!
In the morning, we split into four jeeps for our first Game Drive, followed by another one later that afternoon. You see lots of wildlife, including white spotted deer, wild boar, antelope, leopards, and some people were lucky to see a tiger crossing the road in front of them. This was an extremely rare sighting as there are only two tigers in the reserve!
From Sariska, we head to Bharatpur, which is famous for its bird sanctuary – Keoladeo Ghana National Park. There are over 360 species of bird located in the park, and I have never seen anything like it in my life – hundreds of nesting painted storks, cormorants, pelicans and spoonbills. Also saw a huge dusky owl looking old & wise perched on a low beam of one of the trees.
We were now coming to the end of our trip, and what better way to finish than with a visit to the stunning Taj Mahal in Agra. We queued for an hour to get in and when you catch the first glimpse of this extraordinary building, it really takes your breath away. It was built by Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his Wife, Mumtaz who died in child birth in 1631. The best time to visit is just before sunset as the marble appears to change colour.
This was a fantastic trip that exceeded all my expectations. The local people we encountered on our bikes along the way waved cheerily at us and were very friendly. We visited parts of Rajasthan that tourists don’t normally visit. You see sights that humble you, and it makes you appreciate the things that you have and take for granted. I remember buying a custard apple from a lady on the side of the road. I gave her the equivalent of 20p and she said I could have the whole bowl – there must have been about 50 apples in there. Very generous of her, but no room on the bike! So little goes such a long way.
The team who lead the trip were very professional and knowledgeable people, and I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say how much we enjoyed the experience and that we left with some terrific memories. Krishna, Sanjay, Kishor, Bajeet and Dada – keep up the good work! I know many more people will come away with the same sense of achievement and gratitude that we all had.
We all cycled 450km through varied terrain, and what’s more, we survived the Indian roads! There was no sign of ‘Delhi belly’, and my Imodium packet came home with me unopened. This was my first trip to India, but certainly not my last!
Our very own Brad Pitt (aka Cycling expert Ian Langford) travelled on Exodus’ Cycling through Rajasthan trip in October 2008.
- Average daily distance: 70km (43 miles)
- Number of days cycling: 11
- Vehicle support: 100%
- Terrain and route: All Surfaced roads. Mostly quiet backroads but there are occasional roads with traffic.
- Weather: This part of India can be very hot. Although this trip is moderately demanding there is plenty of time to explore.