India: Rajasthan Rudy’s Notes

It isn’t easy to capture the epic scope of Rajasthan in a half-hour television show, even with the help of a High Definition camera.

And we don’t pretend to have succeeded. But visiting the cities of Jaipur, Jodphur and Pushkar, you begin to grasp the vast, rich tapestry of people who live in this northern part of India. From modern cities to desert encampments lacking running water or electricity, Rajasthan is a riot of color, scents, and sounds. And you can feel the pull of history almost everywhere. The week we spent shooting in Rajasthan was long and hot—and we shot our show in December, when the temperature was a relatively mild 80 degrees or so. But the sun baked, and keeping the crew hydrated with bottles of water was almost a full-time task.

Rudy’s Travel Tips

  • Take comfortable clothes that wear well in the heat when you visit India. There’s no need for men to take a tie or for women to bring heels. (If you need a more formal article of clothing—such as a dress shirt or cocktail dress—a local tailor can usually whip one up in a day for a quarter of the cost of a similar item off the shelf back home.)
  • Americans unaccustomed to encountering beggars can be put off on a first visit to India, and if you believe the locals, the best tactic is to gently but firmly decline handing over cash. I will tell you that the crew and I encountered fewer incidents of beggars than I had on previous visits, perhaps a hopeful sign of an expanding economy. In small towns and rural areas that see few tourists, begging is rare.
  • Jaipur is part of the so-called “Golden Triangle” (along with Delhi and Agra) that are often the three destinations of first-time visitors to northern India. But I’d add Jodhpur to that itinerary, though it’s best to fly there to and from Delhi. Jodhpur is worth the detour if only to visit the impressive fort, Meherangarh, that looms above the city.
  • Jodhpur is the place where you should check into one of the Taj’s famous “palace hotels,” the Umaid Bhawan, a sprawling palace that began as a project to employ locals during a downturn in the economy in the 1920s and ‘30s. You’ll think you’ve stepped into the U.S. Capitol when you enter the rotunda of Italian marble that is the hotel’s greeting hall. The Maharaja still lives in a section of the building, but it’s so big, you’ll probably never run into him.
  • Try to catch a polo match while in Jodhpur—ask at your hotel desk if there’s one scheduled during your visit. There’s no admission charge, and the running commentary by the play-by-play commentator is priceless. No need to wear your jodhpurs while in Jodhpur.
  • Jaipur has a palace hotel to call its own, as well: The Rambaugh Palace, still inhabited by royalty but also open to guests. You can spend an hour strolling the lush grounds—mind the peacocks!—and the outdoor pool is a gem.
  • No matter what city you’re in, make a point of stopping in a couple local temples. They are generally open to anyone, and you’ll never feel uncomfortable as a visitor. Hindi temples are a colorful whirl of incense, bell-ringing, and praying. Most everyone will be making offerings of flowers or fruits or pastries to their favorite Hindu god.
  • Be wary of buying street food—eating in established restaurants or hotels is always a good idea. Stories of visitors taking ill in India are exaggerated, though our intrepid photographer, Peter Rummel, did get an upset stomach toward the end of our two weeks in India. Carry an anti-diarrheal medicine such as Immodium AD and if you experience severe stomach cramps, seek a doctor. I remind my friends who express concern about “Delhi Belly” that I’ve gotten food poisoning more than once in the U.S., too. Having said that, I’d point out that sanitary standards as they apply to food preparation are not as high as in some other parts of the world. Use good judgment. Yes, I eat salads and fruit in hotels all the time.
  • Don’t miss the marriage sections of most English-language newspapers. There, single men and women (and very often their families) post personal ads seeking spouses. The ads are arranged under headings of castes, though some ads stipulate “caste not important.” The ads make for fascinating reading and offer a glimpse into the world of arranged weddings that are still very much in evidence in India.