When we first spoke about it, this was a quite a long shot of a plan. There was always the intent but never the certainty that between busy work schedules and other commitments, we will be able to pull off this adventure. Over several morning coffees the plan to drive to Delhi to the Rann took shape. There was a lot of discussion on stopovers – Chittorgarh or Kumbalgarh, Mount Abu or Ahmedabad and then the hotels. The end result was actually quite awesome – it left time for good conversations, a few bottles of old monk, outstanding food and some really enjoyable driving.
So let’s start with the 11 day itinerary:
Day 1: Gurgaon – Jaipur ~ 5 hours (Stay at Radisson Blu, Jaipur) – We started late because of logistics and the knowledge that this was the easy part of the drive. After a quick lunch at a relatively nondescript place, we drove on straight to Amer Fort, one of the most famous landmarks of Jaipur. The fort actually is a little outside the city, though a crowded market has developed right outside and the parking seemed quite a mess. We were lucky to find a spot quickly and made our way to the main gate which was a bit of a hike that opened out into a courtyard. This is the first view of the beauty of the fort and then you purchase a ticket and walk up the stairs to the main gate. The first thing you see as you enter is the star attraction – the sheesh mahal. It is a small but stunning structure with intricate carvings and mirrors on all walls and even the ceiling. The rest of the fort is quite the usual as you explore staircases and boundary walls all around. There is actually a really fancy restaurant called 1035AD but we were going to give it a miss today and head to the hotel. We also gave a miss to the cute vintage looking cars that were helping people negotiate the climb to the fort, we walked.
The hotel was not the best choice, especially since we had to cross the whole city in evening traffic to get there. The room was excellent but there was a wedding going on and there was a lot of chaos in the lobby. The food was good, but not great. We got a good night’s rest and a good breakfast prepared us for the fun drive ahead…
Day 2: Jaipur – Kumbhalgarh ~6 hours (Stay at Fataeh Safari Lodge) – We left at about 10 am and made two stops on before we made it to the lodge at about 5pm. We did make up some time, but the last 60-80 km of the road was narrow and patchy. The first stop was quick and nice one at a Ramada for coffee. The second one turned out to be a nice looking hotel with clean washrooms, terrible service and even worse food. Just when we reached the fabulous hotel we had to rush off to get the tickets for the light and sound show, which we were lucky to get. There is a full blog on the Kumbhalgarh part of the trip, which ended up being one of the highlights. I will skip the details here but will just mention that the fort, the hotel and most importantly the night sky were all amazing.
Day 3: Kumbhalgarh – Udaipur ~3 hours (Stay at Shiv Nivas Palace) – This was a post lunch start after a morning at the fort. It was supposed to be the easier drive day with less than 100km to destination. It turned out to be anything but that. The road was bumpy almost all the way to Udaipur with a small break of about 5 minutes on a highway. After the fantastic highway we quickly ended up in old town Udaipur. The hotel is actually part of the City Palace in the city and that has a gate in the old city, which wasn’t the one we had to take, but Google maps took us on a lovely wild goose chase through the tiny and crowded lanes. I would have been scared to take a two-wheeler in those lanes with 1 way traffic. We drove right in with 2 big ass SUVs in two way traffic.
The hotel was really nice, the rooms not as much, but still clean and okay. The dinner was included and had some really good laal maas and gulab jamun. We did stroll around a bit, the city palace looked amazing at night without the crowds. I also learn that the royal family still lived in private parts of the palace which were off-limits for the visitors. We chatted late into the night- the next day was the first driving free day of the trip.
Day 4 – Udaipur (Same hotel) – The cars were meant to get a little bit of a rest. We started the day with a fabulous breakfast in the hotel and then a boat ride in the lake Pichola. Then we made the decision to go see the city palace – bad idea! Right after we bought the tickets, we saw the entrance line to the palace – and then never thought of trying to go in again. Someone mentioned that there was a wonderful hotel with a view in Devigarh, about an hour away and suddenly we were on the way. The Raas hotel was fabulous, had a gorgeous view and even better food.
Dinner was booked in a restaurant called Upre, after a lot of attempts to secure a booking at Ambrai failed. The place was actually quite good, just a 15 minute walk from the palace gates, had a wonderful view of the city palace from across the lake and quite good food. Not sure if I really missed Ambrai, which was vegetarian.
Day 5 – Udaipur – Ahmedabad ~6 hours (House of MG) – This was supposed to be one of the smoother drives with mostly highway driving. First we hit a bit of traffic due to a broken truck and then realized while the road was pretty good, there were hardly any good place to eat and take a break. We did find a reasonable food court for the second stop of the day, but the first stop was mostly forgettable. Any small issues were quickly forgotten just on checking into the hotel. The boutique hotel was absolutely wonderful. It was the old haveli of Sheth Mangaldas Girdhardas and decorated by family photographs of his next 4 generations. The room was large with some amazing local decorations including a traditional swing. We walked around the Sabarmati riverfront a bit and then walked back past the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque that has one of the finest traditional grilles that inspired the logo of IIM Ahmedabad.
The hotel also boasted of one of the finest restaurants in Ahmedabad – Agashiye. The authentic Gujarati thali served on a wonderful terrace. I had tried a few thalis before, but this was very different, much and in a way even lighter. I learnt for the first time that jalebi is not eaten as dessert but eaten with the meal, just balancing out the savoury dishes.
We never had much chance to enjoy the wonderful hotel as we had to start for the Rann early in order to get there by 5 pm – the start of the sunset tour. 8:30 am in the car – 7 hours of driving to go…