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How to Get Off the Beaten Path in Rajasthan
This post originally appeared on SoulTravelBlog.com
By Ellie Cleary of Soul Travel Blog
Traveling to India's most visited state at the height of "tourist season" might not sound like the smartest of ideas.
Time however, seemed to be on my side - this time around. Rising from the ashes of recent demonetisation (a decision by Prime Minister Modi to withdraw all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, resulting in a cashless country for about a month), India seemed to be quieter than usual.
There's perhaps another reason that crowds were absent too. In my weeks travelling around Rajasthan, although I visited many of the states better known towns, I found plenty of things to do in Rajasthan that were off the beaten track. My mission was to seek out responsible tourism options: homestays, eco friendly hotels and community tourism projects. My journey took me to parts of the better known cities that were a little bit different, and into some villages, where I was the only foreigner about.
Here I'll share a few of my experiences and tips for easily getting off the beaten track in Rajasthan.
Tips for Getting Off the Beaten Path in Rajasthan.
1. It's possible to escape crowds even in the main destinations.
Many of the main cities and attractions in Rajasthan (Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur) have distinct tourist centres. Which means that walking even a few minutes away from these areas leads to relative calm. In Jaipur it's the Pink City around the Hawa Mahal that gets overcrowded, in Jodhpur the area around the clock tower, and in Udaipur the streets leading up to the Royal Palace.
In Jaipur I stayed with the family-run Arya Niwas hotel group, at the Tara Niwas hotel in Bani Park, a quiet residential corner of Jaipur away from the endless honking and haggling of the Pink City itself.
In Udaipur I stayed on the Hanuman Ghat side of the lake - which has only a handful of guesthouses (and far better views of the palace) at the eco-friendly Millets of Mewar.
And in Jodhpur, I stayed in the Blue City itself at a family haveli-turned guesthouse with views to obsess over.
2. Research for lesser-known towns.
Much as it's possible to get away from crowds in the main towns, half the fun of going off the beaten track is to visit places that others skip. It gives far better stories to tell when we're back home! Often these places might take a little longer to get to, or are smaller - so doing some research before leaving home is key.
Some of the lesser well known spots that I loved in Rajasthan were Pushkar (although still pretty well known, this hindu pilgrimage site is like nowhere else in Rajasthan), and Bikaner. My favorite of all was the small city of Pipar, about two hours outside Jodhpur, where I was the only tourist. Instead of trying to flog me with things in the market, the vendors offered me sweets and food to try! That's real Indian hospitality for you.
3. Get away from the towns & stay at homestays.
The towns in Rajasthan may be home to the forts, bazaars and camel fairs, but a large part of life is lived outside of them. And that life is completely different than the one lived in major cities in the state. I found a completely different Rajasthan in its quiet villages in countryside than I did in its forts.
One of my favorite stops was at HACRA desert homestay. Just outside Osiyan and about two hours from Jodhpur, HACRA is a village tourism project that allowed me to see a completely different side to the great Thar desert than most see in Jaisalmer. You can read my post about my time at HACRA here.
In Rajasthan (and the rest of India), there are many homestays, which can be found on sites like Booking.com, hosted Airbnbs (do check reviews) and I-like Local. Some of my best memories from India have been from staying with families and being spoiled with the most amazing home cooked food.
4. Take public transportation.
Public transport is one of the best ways to really experience India and Indian life. Particularly the trains. In Rajasthan, distances are long (Jaipur to Jaisalmer is 12 hours).
Although the number of domestic airlines and flights within India are rapidly increasing, flying allows for the worst view of India (assuming one cannot see much at 30,000 feet), not to mention the carbon footprint is quite large. Train journeys, on the other hand - although sometimes long - have provided me with countless memories of chatting with families and their kids, and happily sitting by the doorway watching the world go by. Read about how to plan train travel in India here!
5. Independent Travel vs. Tours.
Personally I'm a fan of independent travel, because it allows me to move around at my own pace, on my own terms. It allows a lot more flexibility to get away from major tourist hubs and into lesser visited spots. On tours, with a pre-determined schedule, not only is it difficult to do this, but tours are normally focused around exactly those tourist hotspots.
That said, tours can be a convenient, friendly and safe way to travel, and can be a great way to get a first taste of a country like India. If you are considering taking a tour, I recommend companies such as Intrepid Travel and GAdventures, who use local guides, local transportation and support responsible tourism.
If you want to maintain your independence, but also want some help with planning, you can find a local travel agency to book trains/transport and other elements of your trip.