The location: in the middle of the Rajasthan desert, about 3 hrs south of Jaipur.
The look: another rooftop Rajasthan classic but this time built around a small holy lake, where local Indians come to bathe and perform rituals around the dead. (No burning bodies though. Think Rishikesh not Varanasi).
Picture it: old crumbling buildings and relaxed hotels with large rooftops, a lot of temples, shrines and some beautiful old havellis that you might miss for all the shopping distractions that keep your eyes focused ahead, not up. The area is mostly flat and very walking friendly, bar for the two hills with temples you can walk too (one’s good for sunrise, the other for sunset).
The vibe: it’s an oasis in the desert and a popular place with the long-term traveller and buyers who come here every year to get clothes made or restock their shops with leather goods, antique textiles, bed quilts, etc. Basically anything you want made or sent home, this is the place to do it and enjoy the relaxed vibe while you are waiting. As expected of old traveller haunts, this place comes loaded with good restaurants (woodfire pizzas abound), drumming circles, good new and used bookshops, music stores and no shortage of parcelling and packaging services to ship your overspend home.
Fun fact: it’s one of India’s oldest cities, which makes it pretty old.
Odd thing: There’s just no getting an omelette here for breakfast. You will also notice a few “vegan” signs for cakes and bakery goods. This is because you are not allowed to consume eggs, chicken and alcohol within 1km of the holy lake. Top tip: if you are hankering for a beer, the hard rock café sells a “special tea” in a teapot which resembles beer in look and taste, as much as the local Kingfisher beer can.
DIY: fly a kite on the rooftops or fly as high as a kite in some restaurants by tasting the local bhang lassie (often called special lassie and not to be confused with “hello to the queen” which is actually just a chocolate, ice cream and biscuit dessert.
You’ll like it if: you want to chill out, get away from the pollution and noise of Indian cities (motorbikes still abound but cars and tuk tuks skirt the main drag), eat good food, drop into some yoga and meditation classes, enjoy good shopping and yet not be harassed too much if you don’t buy anything. This is definitely one place you can get sucked into, so beware, especially with all the inexpensive courses you can take (from gypsy dancing and drumming to silver jewellery and macramé.)
Avoid: falling for the scam on the ghats (it’s easy if you shrug it off with good humour). Yes, you need to take your shoes off and yes you need to put your camera away by the water but no you do not need to get a blessing and then pay for every person (in dollars) in your family who was blessed. Just walk, sit, be respectful and enjoy the beautiful sun on the steps.
Last word: It’s a Rajasthani classic that’s definitely worth a few days of rooftop leisure and shopping for treasures.