When we talk to people about what they know or have heard about India, aside from cricket, they invariably speak of the Taj Mahal and Rajasthan. This is not suggesting these are the only two things in Indai, but we all live in different circles.
On every Australian Cricket Tour to India, we have visited the Taj Mahal. No matter how often we visit this outstanding monument, on reflection, I doubt anyone would not see it again if given the chance. And though remarkable, we've not included ‘the Taj’ in our 2022 itinerary for four good reasons.
1 – Many that will tour India with us have seen ‘the Taj’ many times and may prefer something different
2 – The new Gatimaan Express between New Delhi and Agra only takes 100mins. You can leave your Delhi hotel at 8am and be back by 8pm. If people want to see ‘the Taj’ again, this is the easiest means, provided you are in New Delhi!
3 – If Australia Vs India 2022 does not include New Delhi, you can fly to Agra from many cities and on to the next Test, on the same day
4 – We stop in Agra on our 12 night Indian Railways Rajasthan Tour so you can visit then… if you want!
Taj Mahal aside, when looking at our time in India, we have two weeks (if not longer) after Australia Vs Afghanistan in Dehradun (TBC) and before the start of Australia’s Test Cricket Tour to India. This is a perfect time frame to enjoy a relaxed railway journey across India’s largest state, Rajasthan, that abounds with mighty forts, palaces, lakes, Havelis, deserts, James Bond, and Maharajas.
If dare we say it, it is definitive India. The culture, food, festivals, crafts, architecture, even places to stay are far removed from everywhere else in India. Being the largest state means the distances between ‘everywhere’ is too overwhelming for just two weeks. Without rushing or squeezing too much in, we will visit Rajasthan’s signature cities and sights on this outstanding epic adventure.
We are not re-creating the ‘Palace on Wheels’ or ‘Maharajas' Express’ that operate luxurious railway itineraries across Rajasthan. Using the flavours and personality that we bring to our cricket tours, we have created a casual, comfortable, and affordable India Railways journey that is inclusive for everyone.
We use 'day trains' on all journeys except Jaisalmer to New Delhi, which is overnight, and travel in 1A or 2A depending on the train.
Rajasthan is perennially hot and seated in open-sided 2C or SL can be overbearing and at times a little soul-destroying. We want you to remain comfy as we roll and rock through the deserts and cities of this astounding, vast landscape so will enjoy the pleasure of AirCon throughout the journey.
After one night in New Delhi, we leave the nation's capital at 8am headed for Jaipur though we stop in Agra first so you can see the majestic Taj Mahal and then reflect over lunch before our train to Jaipur at 1450pm. You can squeeze a visit to Agra Fort before we depart but do not despair if you can’t, we are headed deep into Rajasthan where some of India's grandest forts rise proudly over the nation.
It is 4hrs to the Pink City of Jaipur, coloured in honour of the then Prince of Wales who visited in 1876. Pink is symbolic of hospitality so Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the entire city pink, which creates an incredible hue at sunset. Known for its heritage homes (Havelis) many of which are now luxury and boutique hotels, we will check-in for two nights at the Dera Rawatsar Heritage Hotel with dinner included.
With one and half days in Jaipur, we’ll visit amazing Amber Palace, Albert Hall Museum, Jaigarh Fort, Jal Mahal, famous Hawa Mahal and finish atop Nahargarh Fort for a spectacular sunset over Jaipur.
A post-breakfast stroll on our 2nd morning through the old walled city is a good time to see City Palace before our 2pm train toUdaipur.
September 19 - 21, 2022
Arriving at 9.35pm, a late dinner is included at the wonderful Shiv Niwas Palace Grand Heritage Hotel where we stay for three nights, though the third is early to bed because of our 5am train to Ajmer.
Udaipur is often referred to as ‘Venice of the East’ but heathen cricket tourists of a certain vintage know it as the city where James Bond’s Octopussy was filmed. Once we have taken in Lake Pichola, Jagmandir, Monsoon Palace, Udaipur City Palace, Lake Palace, and boated the Lake, it is into a casual bar for dinner and Octopussy.
This cringy James Bond ‘classic’ has aired nightly across Udaipur for what will be 39 years by the time we hear the Betamax rewinding! You wouldn’t pay to watch it, but you’d pay for 5 Kingfisher Lagers to help soothe the optical corruption. If you missed the start, the damn thing is played on a loop so, with 3-nights in James Bond Ville, that’s entertainment!
Now it’s off to bed for our early morning return to real India with a 6-hour train to Ajmer.
September 22 - 24, 2022
Though not staying in Ajmer, we alight and hit the holy road to Pushkar, 15km away. Famous for its festivals and pilgrimages, Lake Pushkar was formed by a lotus flower dropped by the creator of the universe, Lord Brahma who then named the city after the flower.
It is here the only temple in the world dedicated to Lord Brahma is found, atop one of the three hills surrounding Pushkar from which there are pleasant views of the town. Hindus consider a pilgrimage to Pushkar the ultimate for salvation.
For us, it is lunch whilst we wait for our connecting train to Jodhpur at 2.30 pm. This is a good way to tick the box on India’s holiest Lake whilst avoiding the hippies and hash that plague the ghats night after night.
**The 2022 Pushkar Camel Fair is Nov 1 – 8 and is something to be seen if you want to miss the 4th Test in Mumbai!**
The Indore Express does not originate in Ajmer, so we hope it will be on time so we arrive on time in the Blue City ofJodhpur at 7.40pm. Dinner will be waiting on the rooftop of another lush heritage hotel, Haveli Inn Pal, where we have 3 cool nights.
Rajasthan's 2nd largest city is based around the 8 gates of monstrous Mehrangarh Fort. The rare breed of horse, Marwari or Malani is only found in Jodhpur, and which, if you didn’t know, is where the riding pants ‘jodhpurs’ get their name! #SleepWell
The focal point of Jodhpur and one of the most famous forts in India, Mehrangarh towers 125m almost perpendicular above the city. A rich history of legend and folklore lives deep within the ornately decorated and intricately latticed walls, windows, and panels of three famous halls therein: Phool (flower), Shish (glass), and Moti (pearl).
From the fort, we’ll visit amazing Umaid Bhawan Palace, pearly white Jaswant Thada, Ghanta Ghar; the clocktower of Rajasthan, and time permitting Mahamandir Temple. All in all, there will be time to see this stunning city by foot to work up the fatigue for a good night’s sleep before the early train.
September 25 - 27, 2022
Leaving at 630am, a few sweet dreams later we’ll be in the golden city of Jaisalmer, its beige sandstone buildings and colossal fort, called Sonar Qila (golden fort) do indeed glow gold in the evening sunset.
If not from deep in the dunes that made Jaisalmer into Rajasthan’s tourist hotspot, the view of the fort from the rooftop bar of our Royal Heritage Hotel, Lal Garh Fort & Palace, is equal to anywhere.
We have near 3 days (leaving the 3rd night on an overnight train to New Delhi) ‘to do’ Jaisalmer. Walking this sandy city and fort, which is a living entity with homes, hotels, shops, and schools caretaking a quarter of the old city’s population, you will see some of Rajasthan’s most astonishing Havelis; Patwon Ki, Nathmal Ji Ki, Salim Singh Ki.
Behind the fort is Gadisar Lake around which small temples and shrines were built, but if temples float your goat then the Jain Temples inside the fort should not be missed.
Centuries-old architecture is one thing but camel riding through the Thar Desert made Jaisalmer famous. An afternoon plodding the dunes to enjoy sundowners watching the fort turn gold is what we’ll do before leaving.
Our comfy berths of 1A will see us asleep for one last night in Royal Rajasthan before rolling into New Delhi at 5pm on Sept 28 to end an outstanding trip. It is not our last train journey for the day unless you are leaving us in New Delhi.
September 28, 2022
Presuming the 3-day tour game is to be played in Mohali, the Shatabdi Express leaves New Delhi at 7.15pm and delivers us to the soothing Punjabi Capital of Chandigarh where iced cold Kingfisher awaits, and James Bond doesn’t.