Reveling in Rajasthan
Celebrating the New Year in Northern India
The Epoch Times








FANCY WRAPPING: The City Palace was being wrapped in fuchsia and adorned with flowers in preparation for the New Year's Eve festivities in Udaipur. (Courtesy of Beverly Mann)

A crackling burst of colors illuminated the sky and the 16th-century City Palace towering above the moonlit lake. I watched the fireworks in awe from my hotel’s rooftop café in Udaipur, India’s most romantic city—considered by many to be the Venice of the East.

Hours before the clock struck twelve I rejoiced and danced with a group of Aussies and locals to a combination of American 80s and Bollywood music. New Year’s Eve in Udaipur was an unprecedented, magical experience.

An India Celebration

I decided to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays in Northern India’s most colorful, ancient surroundings on an adventure tour with Intrepid Travel’s group of 12 young, spirited individuals.

 

I was in the company of two Americans, a Canadian, and the rest Australians. In 16 days we explored such rural and exotic cities as Jaipur, Bundi (a 13th-century village), Bijaipur, Udaipur, and Pushkar, beginning and ending our journey in New Delhi.

My New Year’s Eve morning began with a stroll through the marketplace. It almost blinded me with the riot of colors emanating from the exotic sequined clothes adorning the myriad of stands, and the women in saris and turbaned men adorned in brilliant crayola-colored fabrics of lemon yellow, ruby red, hot pink, and orange.

I had to zigzag my way, skirting pigs, goats, and cows, and the zooming motor scooters skimming pedestrians. I miraculously survived a scooter, which brushed my leg. Fortunately, I had a food stand with ice nearby, suddenly a make-shift hospital. Traffic and safety rules appeared to be non-existent. It’s everyone for themselves when crossing a street.

The market led into the Elephant Gate of the majestic marble City Palace, which was draped in fuchsia fabric and lined with lights in preparation for the evening’s big New Year’s bash (at US$260 per person). From the extensive sound system being constructed, I could hear loud sounds ricocheting clear across the courtyard.

I entered the dock, after a circuitous walk through the palace’s winding steps and pathways for a relaxing boat ride on the Lake Pichola. There stood the ghats, the steps where women and children were washing their clothes in the waters below.

The small covered boat circled around the luxurious 18th-century Lake Palace that was once used as a summer resort for royalty, but was turned into a luxury hotel in the late 1950s.

 

My final stop was to Jag Mantir Palace, also set regally like an island on the water. This palace was where Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan took refuge when banished from his kingdom and also became his inspiration for the creation of the Taj Mahal.

Surrounded by stark white pillars and lush gardens, I enjoyed a café with an ace view overlooking the ancient City Palace in the distance.

Upon my return boat ride, I walked through the narrow dirt paths along the waterside to Jagat Niwas Palace, the rooftop restaurant. Perched on large cushions with my legs crossed, I viewed a breathtaking, golden sunset through high, scalloped arched windows.

city palace

ACROSS THE LAKE: An idyllic view of the City Palace. (Courtesy of Beverly Mann)

  As an orange ball of light reflected on the still waters, the sun cast a streak of brilliance above the lily-white Lake Palace below. The tranquil image was a stark contrast to the frenetic temper of city life just hours earlier.
 

women in bundhi

FRIENDLY FACES: Two brightly garbed women in Bundi pose for the author. (Courtesy of Beverly Mann)

The New Year

On New Year’s Day, we took an early morning train to Ajmer and were met by a car for a 30-minute drive into the mountainous ancient village of Pushkar. Pushkar is known for its famous camel fair and 400 temples, including India’s famous Brahma Temple.

It was on the train that I met a lovely woman named Anita and her beautiful eight-year-old daughter, Vriti, who I could tell studied dance given her graceful posture. She actually demonstrated her classical dance movements on the train for me before taking a sit next to me.

Before the end of the ride, her mom gave me a package of bindis (jewels that are placed in the center of your forehead for decoration) as a welcoming gift to India.

 

After what appeared as an endless, winding, desolate road, we arrived “back” hundreds of years to a simple, beige-tinted village dotted with brilliant colors, where the main dirt paths of the marketplace were traffic-free, a relief and blessing.

Holiday shopping here was incredible, with great prices and selections of jewelry, clothes, and scarves, and hand-carved trinkets.

How Wonderfully Different!

At home, I normally spend New Year’s Day watching a good movie or taking a leisurely walk, but this day I rode a camel through traffic in Pushkar. We made our way through the desert dunes, passing clusters of nomads setting up tents and fires, and I later had chai and biscuits with my traveling companions on the vast desert plain.

I arose early the next morning in Pushkar for a challenging hike with five others to the hilltop Savitri Temple. The journey included several hundreds of rocky steps, and we were guided only by the moonlight drawing a streak of light along the dirt trail through this storybook village.

We passed men warming themselves in blankets encircled around a fire, while an occasional cow or pig crossed our path. Basically, the village was tranquil, except for the morning choir of crowing roosters, several barking dogs, a few gongs from the nearby temples, and the lure of distant chanting. The remote village of Pushkar was now awakening.

The sun had just risen above the heavy film of smog, as we reached the top. The town below looked surreal through the yellowish haze. There was a tiny café serving chai, which was being boiled for a while in a large aluminum pot.

  As we warmed our chilled bodies with our chai tea, we enjoyed the view of the vast mountain range and the dollhouse village below, chatting with some tourists from Ireland who had also braved the early morning trek.

On our way back, the town was already bustling with vendors selling their wares, and young children scurrying after us for money.

We treated ourselves to a healthful breakfast at a memorable restaurant, Honey and Spice, where I ate one of my most hearty, enjoyable meals. I savored the freshly sliced papaya, tofu scramble, and a coconut/banana lassi (a yogurt shake, which became almost an addiction for me during my trip). I was surprised to find such health-conscious fare, California-style, in the midst of ancient dwellings.

Man-in-market-Udaipur

GREETINGS: An elderly gentleman in Udaipur. (Courtesy of Beverly Mann)

 

To Write on Stone

The next day we took an overnight train to our final destination of Delhi, where I met this spiritual teacher sitting opposite me. There was an immediate connection. She started to explain the elements of Raja Yoga and the importance of connecting with one’s soul. Unexpectedly, she gave me a book entitled New Beginnings, quite apropos for the start of the New Year.

I began to read a few passages from the book. Before being lulled to sleep by the movement of the train, I thought of all the amazing people I had met. I couldn’t help but remember the words told to me on the earlier train ride to Udaipur by an Indian gentleman: “Write your sad times on water, and your good times on stone.”

I guess I have much to write on stone from my memorable holiday adventure through the rural villages of Rajasthan.

For more information, contact Intrepid Travel, 1-800-970-7299, www.intrepidtravel.com.

Beverly Mann has been a feature, arts, and travel writer in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past 28 years. She has received numerous accolades in the fields of travel writing, education, and international public relations, including a Bay Area Travel Writers Award of Excellence in Newspaper Travel Writing.

 

^top of page

Website design by
Freeman-Designs

Copyrighted 2008 - All Rights Reserved by Beverly Mann