Rajasthan: Into the Desert with a Bhang

Mark Stewart Destinations 2 Comments

We knew all about Diwali, the Hindu equivalent of Christmas, the festival of lights… but for whatever reason, we decided to make this the day we travel to the next location, or at least begin the journey. Overall, it really wasn’t bad at all, it just wasn’t as smooth as it normally would have been.

Any other day of the year, a bus runs direct from McLeod Ganj, straight to Pathankot (where our train to Rajasthan leaves from). Being the holiday, the bus isn’t running, so we share a jeep from McLeod to Dharamsala, from Dharamsala a beat up bus to a smaller town about an hour away, and from there we wait in a crowd of people on the side of the highway and somehow manage to squeeze into one of the few buses heading to Pathankot.

It’s not as bad as it could have been.

People crammed in the cab of a bus
Bus Full? Cram in with the driver!

Once in Pathankot, finding a dusty little guesthouse on the railway station road and having a bite to eat (of half cooked chicken…) we grab a bottle of rum and some coke, and head onto the roof of our place.

Diwali is Madness

It’s Baghdad 2003. Or that scene from Apocalypse Now where Willard asks the soldier “Do you know who’s in command here?” and the soldier replies “Ain’t you?”.

In every direction, cheap fireworks, expensive fireworks, explosions, firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles. The horizon is lit up with flashes of orange everywhere you turn. The kids on the rooftop beside us, couldn’t have been more than 10, firing bottle rockets horizontally, some flying in our direction.

It’s dangerous, chaotic… it’s awesome madness. It’s Diwali! We could take a few lessons about altering our Christmas light displays back home from India! After a couple hours, we retreat indoors and try to sleep. The explosions continue constantly throughout the night, the odd bang in the distance the next morning even as we hop on the train. …And to think our original plan was to spend the holiday in Delhi.

Into the Rajasthani Desert

Rajasthan, the desert region of India, also one of, if not, the largest states. Arriving in Bikaner sometime just after midnight, a 14 hour train ride behind us, our guesthouse pick-up was waiting for us as promised. We find a beautiful clean room with a huge bed, and crash instantly for the night. Bikaner has little to offer other than an alternative base for the desert treks most people take from Jaisalmer.

We head out the second morning by jeep for about half an hour out of town, and with a few other foreigners, we each hop on a camel, and head out into the desert. Not the dune seas of the Sahara, but still very much a desert. Riding a camel is not the most comfortable thing in the world, and they are incredibly tall, but very simple.

Camel laying in the sand
Sleepy Camel

Stopping for lunch under a tree, we get a chance to talk a bit with the other backpackers, before eating an amazing meal cooked right there by the camel drivers. It’s very surreal, just a few days prior we were wearing wool socks and watching snow fall in the Himalayas, and now we’re riding camels through a sweltering desert.

Ending the trek at a camp between two dunes, set up prior to our arrival, we eat another delicious meal, drink some semi-cool beers and swap travel stories with the others. One of the ‘tourist’ things to do in Rajasthan, but a very unique and amazing experience. The next morning a camel driven cart takes us home.

The Fort Cities of Rajasthan

Next is Jaisalmer, followed by Jodhpur, the two large fort cities. Crumbling city walls surround ancient sandstone buildings and more of what we’ve found to be the incredibly friendly people of Rajasthan. In the centre of each city, both on the top of large hills, are massive sandstone fortresses from hundreds of years ago.

In Jaisalmer, the fort is falling apart slowly, mostly due to the fact that it is still inhabited, and contains many restaurants and guesthouses, as well as a ton of little shops. If I’m correct, it’s actually the oldest, still inhabited, fort in the world.

Ancient city viewed from a brick tower
Jaisalmer Viewed from the Fort

In Jodhpur, the fort is not inhabited, and is now a museum. A very well maintained and fascinating castle surrounded by massive walls, dotted with ancient cannonball wounds. As well, the old city of Jodhpur, as viewed from the fort itself, is blue!

Many of the buildings are painted a light blue and makes for an amazing view contrasting with the brown of the desert. Jaisalmer is the known spot for camel treks in the desert, but since we’d already done it, didn’t stay long. Although before leaving we had to give the Bhang Shop a visit. Around for over 30 years, it’s the only shop with a government license to sell the Bhang lassi. English translation? Cannabis milkshake. It made for a fun afternoon of wandering around the ancient city. Before heading to the bus bound for Jodhpur, we swing by again to pick up some cookies for the rest of the trip.

Dog and cow on the street
Two Stray Friends in Jaisalmer
Brown stone fortress with a garden in front
The Jodhpur Fort

The Lakeside City of Udaipur

From Jodhpur, we head on another long bus ride out of the flat desert into the hills and head into the city of Udaipur. Though we haven’t been around very much of the town for the first couple of days, this is definitely a favorite spot of the trip. It’s a very beautiful town surrounding a large lake with palaces and rooftop restaurants, and of course the typical friendly Rajasthani hospitality.

The guesthouse we are staying at here only has a few simple but clean rooms, and is run by a very friendly man. The only other guest is a French woman, and the four of us have spent the last couple of evenings just relaxing and enjoying some great conversation.

The owner (I can’t think of his name off hand), spent some time working in Japan a few years ago, and when we asked what he thought of Tokyo, he simply said “Japan is boring.” Kylee and I were hysterical, only a person from India would think the non-stop sensory overload of Tokyo is boring!

I’ll end this post here, but have more to say. Because while in Udaipur, we took part in a unique experience which I will put in a separate post.

White buildings on a lake
Beautiful Udaipur

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2 years ago

When I was younger we travelled to India a lot (even lived in McLeod Ganj & Dharamsala for awhile). Once, we were in India over Diwali, and travelling from Delhi to Rishikesh. My mother, angry at the people in the bus depot trying to over charge her for a nice, air conditioned bus, refused to get one even after they quoted us the correct price. As a result, we wound up on a “local” bus without any air conditioning. We ended up soaking wet from sweat, sat crammed next too several animals, while our bus crawled along in traffic on… Read more »