Same Destination; Different Experience

walk along

Allan and I had just met four hours ago and he irritated me.

Not because he wasn’t pleasant. He was male.

I first noticed it when we walked back to his hotel. The old section of Udaipur has a main street that bursts with humans, rickshaws, cars and motorbikes constructed of various nuts, bolts or chromosomes. The street heaves, contracting endlessly to fit all these objects.

Offshoots from the main street become snaking one-way streets. It was down one of these streets when Allan was assaulted. With kindness.

A male shop worker slapped him affectionately on the back. Smiling broadly as he recounted how Allan bought them tea at a restaurant the other day.

Another hugged him almost tenderly, telling me that Allan spent an hour in his shop talking like old friends.

A few would idle in front of their stores, yelling a “hello” to him. The type of greeting bursting with camaraderie.

You would think the Maharaja himself was resurrected and here he was in the flesh.

What annoyed me was not Allan’s popularity, but his experiences.

How effortlessly he forged buddy connections in a short amount of time.

Most of my experiences were great, yet could not be rated as warm and fuzzy. Always the curious questions; sometimes a joke or two. When I was in a restaurant, usually one male acted as the spokesperson, while the rest hungrily gawked.

I mused about my latest one. A self-proclaimed neighbor who lived next to my guesthouse offered to drive me back one night. I had just arrived and was absolutely lost on how to get back, though had a vague idea. Vague ideas were not going to return me safely to a guesthouse at 10 p.m.  I asked a few questions, felt somewhat comfortable and hopped on the back. Far away from the driver for good measure. He gushed how lucky he was to have a beautiful girl on the back of his bike, and feel free to sit closer to him. I had not resorted to what all the guides spew out about male-female interactions, but this time I did.

“No, I’m not sitting closer. I have a boyfriend.”

Eventually we pulled up to the guesthouse. I later realized he purposely took a long route to buy more time with the “beautiful” girl.

My walls were up significantly. And he knew it. I swung my leg over the Hero Honda to stand on solid ground. He tried to reassure me of his character. And look, the guesthouse is here.

I finally relaxed, laughed and thanked him. We shook hands, parting ways, agreeing on a gender relation truce.

Solo traveling is harsh enough, but throw that extra word in, solo ‘female’ traveling conjures a whole new meaning.

Puberty doesn’t prepare you on how to move in the world. The rules or mishaps. Or clue you into the experiences you might have, could miss out on.

My jealousy of Allan’s confidence to walk through India’s culture of men faded when I thought back to the precious moments I was privy to.

The women who invited me into their homes, trans-generations of them serving me strong, black tea, hugging me into their metaphorical bosoms.

I remembered the wise, older male figures who spoke to me on trains, a busy street or were guesthouse owners.  They wanted to protect me, ensure I was happy and safe.

And I coaxed those moments with children. Little ones, who giggled with me, bounced around with energy or made me race them in some inventive tagging game.

In India, I might miss out on slamming back beers with the guys or revealing my caustic side. I’m okay with that.

Men and women may share a destination, but cull unique experiences from a place, the people. The beauty of diversity, even in what we were born with.

Is solo female travel scary? Insurmountable? No. Just different.

Photo: Frerieke

Horse Whispering in Rajasthan

A Little Historical Reference

The history of the horse in Rajasthan spans hundreds of years. At one time in the land of kings, horses were used for pleasure trips and thunderous warfare.

Rajasthan society was infused with a social caste system. This included horses. The Marwari breed reached the highest esteem, thus only Rajputs were privileged to ride these stunning creatures in battle.

As I poked around places like Jaipur or Udaipur, Chetak by far is the most famous horse. He belonged to Pratap Singh, Hindu ruler of Mewar. Singh is a revered hero of Rajasthan, prominently featured in the Battle of Haldighati in 1576, the power struggle between the Mughal-Mewar kingdoms.

Several Rajput generals had joined under Mughal Emporer Akbar, but Pratap refused, selfishly protecting his pride and honor. You can imagine the fall-out. During the Battle of Haldighati, as Pratap perched on the regal Chetak, he attacked Man Singh on his elephant, a prince and special envoy to Mughal Emperor Akbar. In the heat of swords clashing and guttural cries of the battle knell, Chetak suffered severe injuries and died valiantly in battle. His master cried like a baby and entered a page of history.

Pratap Singh and Chetak monument – Udaipur

That’s as much as I know. When I noticed posters for horse safaris at my guesthouse, it was tantalizing, too hard to resist.

Did I mention I’ve never ridden a horse before? Ever. I’m the anti-anti Alberta girl. While farming debutantes were thrust into the limelight of cowtown, I buried myself in my room, writing morose poetry.

The Tour

I was picked up at my hotel and driven about half an hour out of the Udaipur city to Pratap Country Inn.

You can stay there for 500 RS and ride free everyday for two hours, as long as you help out a bit on the farm. I chose the two and a half hour ride with a guide for 700 RS. Figured I should go easy my first time.

Stable at Pratap Country Inn

I snuck up close and took pictures. Some of them looked straight at me, wearily.

Oh, another stupid tourist taking my picture.

Isn’t she pretty?

The riding coordinator asked if I had any experience.


He pointed to a clipboard.

“Sign here.” Uh, what did I just sign? If you fall, not our problem, methinks.

Me on Radha

Her name is Radha. With shiny fur, glossy and dark as coal. Horses are big animals, strong and sinewy. She had a charming Mohawk down her neck and she would gaze at me with hesitation. Her almond shaped eyes brimmed with curiosity.

The hard part was actually getting on. Full-grown horses are tall, I am short. I put my left food in the stirrup and tried to heave my other leg over, while someone held Radha.

No go.

Second time around, they told me to hold onto the front of the saddle and use it for leverage. I needed some assistance, needless to say. A helper had to shove my butt onto the saddle.

I pet her frequently and whispered to her. It’s better to be paired with a female horse because they scare less easily than males. I hoped that was true.

My guide

My guide, Shaja, slinked onto his horse with maddening ease, asked if I was ready to go.

A full-stop, definite, no.

I was visibly nervous as Radha started moving underneath me.

A shaky start towards our destination

I cursed at what sparse knowledge I had on holding the reigns and tried not to ponder how high up I was. A good ten feet or so, I’m positive.

I gripped her too tight between my thighs, sat too forward.

Thank bloody goodness, a helper walked alongside in case I couldn’t handle her, which was often.

On the trail towards village

We started off along dirt pathways, which connected to hilly areas.

The landscape unfolded and I gasped in delight. Rolling fields of fading gold spread before us. Rustic dwellings sat upon hills, spilling onto other hills. Some of the land was scrubbed free of bush or grass. I pictured the early Rajputs, taming the earth and wooing horses into loyal companions.

The other phenomenon – stillness. You could feel time closing around you, existing in a period when India was only a handful of families populating a village.

Approaching Titardi

We reached the nearby village of Titardi, kids swarmed us with “hello” or “namaste”. It was time for refreshments. We parked the horses by the town pump to stop for a Sprite and Miranda.

Young girl getting the day’s water – Titardi

Mounting the horse became easier. Dismounting, not so much. My stumped leg refused to swing easily and often smacked Radha on the side. Whoops. Horse edict no-no.

Animals galore in Titardi

With some more mounting assistance, we set off again. Then a miracle happened.

Without knowing, my body began to relax. Ever fiber of my body felt alive, nerves twisting and turning to the visuals and soothing quiet. We were trotting mostly, sometimes Radha would go a little faster or I would prompt her by clicking my heels against her trunk. I felt hyper aware of my surroundings, the motion of Radha, or when she grunted at me. For once, the heat was a tickle instead of insufferable. What felt strange was the unfamiliar swaying of my body from side to side.

I danced with taking her for a run. How freeing that would be.

I’m on a horse!

Just when I was starting to love horseback riding, it reached a transcendent level.

We climbed a steep range, where my psychological footing grew nervous again. Radha navigated with her delicate hooves, startling loose rocks, kicking up dirt. It eased once we reached the top.

Right in the center of the exhausted dirt and yellow grass stood a jade green oasis.

Renewing waters – Jogi Lake

If there was ever a Utopian well, a spring of youth, Jogi Lake is it. I had to ask several times what the name was, and I’m still not positive of it’s exactness. It was that unreal.

Jogi and all its splendor

Everything halted. It was a portal of peace that is a rare find in India. So, I posed and smiled and felt present.

These are the “hell yeah” experiences I missed before.

Ignore the dorky clothes. Concentrate on the smile

Should You Do It?

An unequivocal yes. It’s one of those rare experiences that leap into your journal, the kind of story you pull out at parties.

Next round will be a five to seven day safari. The full deal. I can’t wait. Some are tailored to weave through the Arravali mountain-range or as far as the Pushkar camel fair. A big tip: don’t stand behind a horse when a) they dump  b) they kick. One scars your olfactory senses and vision (a lot comes out!), the other will land you in the hospital.

Cost: I paid 700 RS for two hours. A full safari trip of five, seven or ten days can really depend on number of people. That can range from 5,000 to 10,000 RS. Possibly even higher. These longer trips include lodging and food.

Some reputable horse safari companies:

By |May 10th, 2011 |Categories: Adventure, Udaipur |14 Comments

I’m in Love… With My Guesthouse

I didn’t know what to expect when the rickshaw dropped me off in the old town of Udaipur. Reviews said Mewargarh Palace is decent and boast fair and accommodating owners. See, after so many couches, Murphy Beds, and unwashed sheets I’ve become cynical.

As though nothing could possibly please me now. I stood outside the dull brown latched door, pressed the doorbell, and walked in bracing myself.

I dropped my backpacks and lightening struck. Love. At first sight. Does that even happen anymore? My insides told me –  yes! Amore.

The charming courtyard:

Intricate window design:

My enchanting little room. He only charged me 400 RS for a 500 RS room!

Biggest bathroom I’ve had in India:

Cannot get over the adorable sunflower pillow:

Window and pale blue wooden shutters overlooking the courtyard:

Rooftop restaurant:

View from roof:

Chill out area:

My breakfast. Apple pancakes with fruit and sweet chai masala tea:

How I greet him everyday:

I love that it’s family owned. I love that the owner, Rizwan, told me it was his dream to open his own place after working in hotels for years. He said when you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.

No, it’s not a five star hotel or anything, but it’s mine. Besides, is any relationship actually perfect?

Mewargarh Palace did not sponsor this post, this is my personal review. The owners are helpful, honest and never pushed me to buy a tour. And they just installed a new A/C unit in my room, which means I love them even more. Why? He said I’m the first customer to use it, pay what you like! They are located 10 minutes (walking distance) from the major sites in Udaipur and can arrange decently priced rickshaw tours to the new part of town. Book them through Hostel World or read reviews on Trip Advisor. When arriving by bus, a rickshaw should cost 60 to 70 RS . Only one train a day comes to Udaipur from Jaipur, you’re better off with the bus. Enjoy! I did.

By |April 27th, 2011 |Categories: Travel Tips, Udaipur |36 Comments