Photos by Marion Salaün Fairbanks
Photos by Marion Salaün Fairbanks

My Paradise: A family adventure in India

by Marion Salaün Fairbanks
Stripes Korea

Our family of four (with two children, ages 6 and 7) and our friends went on a wonderful 16-day vacation to India this past Christmas. December/January is the high tourism season to visit Rajasthan, and the weather was perfect overall. India, particularly Rajasthan, had been on top of our list for many years. We decided to use a travel agency to help us arrange and coordinate the trip, and it was the best decision!

We took a direct 7-hour flight from Narita Airport, Japan, and spent our first day in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh. We visited the magnificent Jama Masjid Mosque, the Spice Market in Old Delhi, Raj Ghat, the Mahatma Gandhi memorial; the Indira Gandhi Museum and, finally, the Sikh Temple Sri Bangla Sahib Gurudwara. We toured the temple’s very large kitchen where hundreds of volunteers help prepare more than 10,000 free meals every day to be offered to those who need them.

This first day was full of unforgettable visits, monuments, faces, colors, and tastes. While I had been to Bangladesh before, our first day in India was definitely an intensive cultural and emotional one! The Sikh Temple and the mosque were particularly interesting.

After spending some time in Delhi, we were on our way to explore Rajasthan, a large state in the Northwestern part of India, for two weeks. Rajasthan had always evoked so many things to me, namely colors, dances, music, folklore, beautiful attire, etc. We fell in love with Rajasthan!

We flew from Delhi to Jaisalmer (less than 2 hours), the Yellow City at the gate of the Thar Desert, not far from neighboring Pakistan. We spent our first days visiting the beautiful Jaisalmer Fort, where one quarter of the city’s residents live, a nearby lake, royal cenotaphs, enjoying copious cups of masala tea, and visiting artisans such as camel bone carvers (they carve the bones of camels which have died of old age or natural causes), etc.

After a wonderful stay in our hotel, and spending Christmas Day there, we drove to the desert and visited a Rajasthani village on the way.

We then went on a camel safari in the late afternoon. Most tourists opt for the 20-minute ride, but our friends wanted to ride longer, so we rode for 2 hours to a rather remote area. We had fun in the sand dunes, enjoyed a camp fire made with dry vegetation nearby, and watched a magnificent sunset. We then went to a camp to have dinner, watch a beautiful Rajasthani dance show, and spend the night under large tents. This was the only place where we had to worry about mosquitoes; we fought them for 30 minutes while our sons were fast asleep, and went to sleep with lots of parties happening outside. The camp was at full capacity as Indians were celebrating their end of year holiday. In the distance, we could hear the celebrations happening across the border in Pakistan.

The next day, I got up before the sun and walked in the dunes to watch the sunrise – it was beautiful and peaceful. After breakfast, off we went on our camel for a two-hour ride back to the beginning of the desert. The ride was definitely too long and we understood why most people choose the 20-minute option.

Once back in Jaisalmer, we switched vehicles and headed to Jodhpur, the Blue City.

Visiting Rajasthan requires spending quite some time on the road (usually between 3-6 hours every 2 or 3 days), and we were ready with lots of books, drawing pads and snacks. We arrived in the chaos of Jodhpur and had to switch to a tuktuk to reach our hotel in the heart of the old town. Fitting our many pieces of luggage in our tuktuk was not an easy task.

We spent a couple of days in Jodhpur, the highlight of which was the Mehrangarh Fort. We also enjoyed visiting the Jaswant Thada (cenotaphs), and walking around the blue houses, as well as visiting a few artisans and cooperatives.

After Jodhpur, our two families split and we went on to Udaipur, the White City, for a couple of days. On our way there, we visited the gorgeous Ranakpur Jain Temples, as well as the splendid Kumbhalgarh Fort.

We loved the City Palace, but the most pleasant part of our stay there was taking a boat on Lake Pichola and going to Jagmandir Island. The weather was simply perfect and we enjoyed spending time on the island having a drink and relaxing.

We left Udaipur and went on to Pushkar, a holy city with a lake surrounded by numerous bathing ghats, in one of which Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were scattered. That day happened to be a Brahma day and some 50,000 people had come to bathe in the ghats that morning. We strolled around the market, which sells camel leather items. Pushkar is the site of a very large camel fair in November every year. I did not realize how significant a role camels play in that part of India; we saw some pulling marble blocks, transporting local people, etc.

We spent Dec. 31 in Pushkar and were very lucky to have a celebration at our hotel, as well as a wedding. The evening that ensued was unforgettable, in terms of dances, Hindi and Rajasthani musics, foods, etc.

The next day, we were on our way to Jaipur, Capital of Rajasthan, to meet up with our friends who had gone there early to go to Ranthambore National Park to see wild tigers (they did not see any). While we would have loved to see tigers in the wild, we did not feel comfortable with the low-to-the-ground vehicles used on the safaris and had decided to explore Udaipur and Pushkar instead.

We spent 3 days in Jaipur, where we enjoyed the beautiful City Palace, the impressive Amer Fort, the Hawa Mahal, the Jantar Mantar, the monkey temple, etc. So many historical sites to visit!

We spent a morning at Elefantastic Elephant Sanctuary, the only (of many) place I could find that did not allow elephant riding, or bathing (in winter). We had a wonderful time and went on a long walk with two elephants; we saw a fox and lots of monkeys on our walk. We finished the day with a wonderful cooking class by Chef Lokesh.

The next stop was Agra, in Uttar Pradesh state, a long awaited visit. On our way there, we visited Fatehpur Sikri, a beautifully preserved fort and  Chand Baori, an impressive stairwell. We went to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise and it was as breathtaking as we could have dreamt of. We spent the allotted three hours there and soaked in as much of the beauty of the site as we could. An equally impressive site to visit was the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah on the banks of the Yamuna River.  We loved visiting the Agra Fort as well.

After having driven most of the time through Rajasthan, we took the train from Agra back to Delhi. The train was wonderful and the kids played with fellow passengers. A meal and tea were served to all passengers. After less than two hours, we were back in Delhi. The next day, we spent our last day visiting the final sites we were interested in (World Heritage Site Qutab Minar, Lotus Temple, etc).

We flew back to Narita that evening with our eyes and hearts filled with the most wonderful memories.

One of our favorite things in Rajasthan was the sheer amount of fauna one can see. Everyday we saw lots of buffalos, cows, goats, peacocks, monkeys, pigs, sheep, etc. We also saw antelopes in the country. The kids loved it.

Finally, we were accompanied by the most wonderful guide, Hemender, throughout most of our trip. Needless to say, our adventure would have been nothing like it was, had it not been for his kindness, sense of humor, knowledge, love of children and dedication. We are most grateful.

We know that one day we will return to India.

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