Staff review - Cycle through Rajasthan –

Like many people, India was one of the places that I had always wanted to travel to. I had read the books, seen the movies - and now I was sat on an airplane ready to go.  The gentleman I sat next to on the plane (who turned out to be heir to a large rice empire, he assured me!) even gave me some top tips, one of which was to always pay 10% of the price you are quoted in the markets.

 

I arrived a day early, before the rest of the group, and decided to test my plane companions advice, and headed out into Delhi.

Within 30 seconds of leaving the hotel, I was ‘accosted’ by a tuk tuk. I started by saying ‘No’ many, many times - but 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! 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!). I was very poor at this bartering lark!

The next day I joined my fellow travellers in a beautiful hotel just outside of Delhi. Compared to the chaos of the city, it was so calm, and set in lovely grounds. 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.

The next morning, we were up bright and early at 6am. Even though it’s tough at first to get up so early, it's worth it to avoid the midday heat, and I would prefer to set off early, rather than suffer with sunstroke.

Krishna, our guide, ‘introduced’ us to our bikes. I was a little concerned to see that my bike was number 13… not that I’m superstitious or anything!

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 and the utter chaos that are Indian roads, but off we set. 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 soon learned to look out for ‘chai men’, and a day didn’t go by without a cup or two! It was only a short ride on the first day to get us used to the bikes, and an afternoon visiting the Red Fort, peaceful location just a couple of miles from the throng of the bustling city.

Red Fort Red Fort

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. I 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 out 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, thought I had a shock  when in the space of 48 hours, I had gone from being Brad Pitt to John Cleese?! Still he managed to persuade us to become the proud owners of some new artwork, but at least the money went into buying new materials for the artists who worked there.

Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur

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 in this fashion - cycling between each sight made it more interesting. 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 and Jagdish Temple. In the evening we ate at a restaurant overlooking the floodlit City Palace and Lake Palace Hotel. A stunning setting, complimented by superb Indian cuisine. Everywhere we went, the local people we encountered on our bikes waved cheerily at us and were very friendly. It felt like we were visiting parts of Rajasthan that tourists don’t normally visit.

Cyclists passing through country village, Rajasthan Cyclists passing through country village, Rajasthan

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! Onwards to the Pink City of Jaipur 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. I now have another carpet to add to my growing collection (made from Kashmir – this is the wool from the neck of the sheep). Soon, I will be running out of available floor space, but I couldn’t resist.

Maota Lake and Amber Fort in Jaipur Maota Lake and Amber Fort in Jaipur

Next was Sariska, where we were the only guests in the hotel! That night we celebrated Diwali.  The festival of lights lived up to its name, as our guides arrived with armfuls 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 and many more all filling the night sky with bright colours. A fun night had by all!

Next was our wildlife segment. Leaving the bikes behind, we split into four jeeps for our game drive in the national park. 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. 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. My favourite was a huge dusky owl looking old and wise perched on a low beam of one of the trees.

The grand finale had to be sunset at the Taj Mahal. Your first glimpse of this extraordinary building really does take your breath away. I'll never forget the moment just before the sun disappeared when the marble appeared to change colour.

Taj Mahal at sunset Taj Mahal at sunset

This was a fantastic trip that exceeded all my expectations.  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.

We all cycled 450km through varied terrain, and what’s more, we survived the Indian roads unscathed! This was my first trip to India, but certainly not my last!

Cheers,

Brad!

Our very own Brad Pitt (aka Ian Langford) went Cycling through Rajasthan in October 2008. It's proved so popular we haven't changed the itinerary since.

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