Aapnu Amdavad

Although Ahmedabad is just 2 hours away from Baroda, where I lived all my life till I was 18, I hadn’t really loved or for that matter, even explored Ahmedabad. I did obviously visit  Kankaria Lake, Sabarmati Ashram, the shaking minarets and the Rani ni Jaali on picnics or school excursions but I never really examined or studied the history of these places; I’d visited all these places before 2013 and my knowledge of history and culture was relatively limited then. I didn’t visit Ahmedabad much between 2013-2015. Moreover, since Baroda is quite cosmopolitan and Ahmedabad’s culture is known to be a singularly Gujarati culture, I never had the inclination to visit Ahmedabad and explore it. But my sister got a job in Ahmedabad last November and she took part in a lot of heritage walks there,after which she insisted that I visit Ahmedabad.

I’ve visited Ahmedabad thrice in the past 4 months and I’ve enjoyed each visit. There’s still a lot that I haven’t explored in Ahmedabad but whatever I’ve seen so far has exceeded my expectations. After visiting some of the best restaurants in Bombay, I’d set the bar for cafes and restaurants very high but I have to admit that I was quite impressed by most of the places I visited. Some of the best cafes and restaurants I’ve visited so far are:

  1. The Project Cafe:

I have to say that I give this place full marks for its interiors and exteriors; it is too pretty and extremely spacious. The concept of the place(it houses and displays the works of amateur,budding artists) is also quite unique and all the artwork on display is lovely! I visited it late in the afternoon so it was quite empty and I had one section all to myself. I ordered the stuffed mushrooms, the ginger lemon tea and the mocha mousse flan pastry. The quantity was satisfactory and the quality was also very good. The tea could be slightly better but  on the whole, the quality of food was fairly good. I sat there for a long time and read a book. This place gives out a calm, soothing vibe and is perfect for those who want to enjoy a meal or a cup of coffee in silence. While Baroda has pretty cafes, the food is quite average and so I loved that the Project Cafe struck a perfect chord between ambiance and food quality.IMG_20161223_170851IMG_20161223_161933IMG_20161223_162219IMG_20161223_162332IMG_20161223_154427899IMG_20161223_163801

2. Nautanki

I’d heard a lot about Nautanki and since it’s the only place in Ahmedabad that’s known for its application of molecular gastronomy to its dishes, my sister and I were very excited to visit it. I’d previously visited Masala Library in Bombay which was probably the first place in India to start molecular gastronomy so I had very high expectations. Unfortunately, Nautanki was pretty average in comparison to Masala Library, firstly since quite a few dishes seemed to be inspired from the dishes at Masala Library but weren’t as tasty as the latter. We ordered a chaat trolley which cost approximately 700 bucks and so we thought it’d be quite elaborate. The server brought the trolley to our table and made the chaat in front of us but it was just one chaat and even though the taste was pretty good, it didn’t seem to be worth the money. Their papad platter is good for a group of at least 4-6 people since it’s pretty big but then again, there isn’t any molecular gastronomy involved in the dish. The other dishes were also quite normal. On the whole, this place can be visited once but the food is ‘just good’, not exceptional or extraordinary. I’d personally prefer paying slightly more and having a meal at Masala Library.

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3) Huber and Holly:

Huber and Holly is extremely popular amongst people in Ahmedabad and although I visited it at 10:30 pm on a weekday, it was quite full. It serves everything but is well-known for its desserts. Their ice-creams are quite innovative and absolutely delicious! I’d love to visit it again and have a proper meal.IMG_20170222_230245_755

4) The Kettlery

Bombay has a lot of cafes that open up early in the morning but most of the cafes in Gujarat open post 11 in the morning. My sister and I wanted to go for breakfast and The Kettlery was one of the few options we had. It is a bungalow converted into a cafe. It is very beautiful and spacious. They have outdoor seating in one section of the first floor and on the terrace. Since it was quiet warm, we sat inside. This cafe also had a pretty impressive book collection and had I come alone, I would’ve picked up a book from the collection and read it. Their drinks menu is quite varied and they serve different types of hot and cold teas, coffees and coolers. Their food menu also has a lot of options. My sister ordered the spiced chai latte and I ordered the chamomile mint iced tea, both of which were delicious. We ordered the grilled cheese and veggie bagel; 3 days before this, I’d ordered a bagel sandwich in Baroda and it was disastrous since it wasn’t an actual bagel but a big bun with an aloo patty. I was not expecting too much from this bagel but it was absolutely authentic and very tasty. We also ordered a sachertorte which was delicious! The Kettlery exceeded my expectations and should not be missed!

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Chamomile mint iced tea

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I also visited Cafe Baraco and Nini’s Kitchen, both of which were good. Cafe Baraco serves a coffee called Cafe Baraco which is a cappuccino with a dash of cinnamon;it is heavenly and is definitely worth trying. Nini’s Kitchen has really good tandoori bharwan mushrooms, although the taste of mushrooms wasn’t as dominant as I had expected. Both these places were fairly decent.

I’ve always had an eye for unconventional places and although I earlier thought that Ahmedabad lacks such places, I saw a couple of really interesting places during my visits. I have an obsession with synagogues and I think they’re extremely pretty and grossly under-rated in India. When I found out that Ahmedabad has a synagogue and that it’s the only one in Gujarat, I decided that the first place on my priority list would be this. It’s located in the old city area and is pretty inconspicuous. Google hadn’t listed any visiting hours so when I landed there, it was locked and I was told by the nearby vendors that it opens after two hours. As I was about to leave, someone told me that the caretaker lives right behind the synagogue and he may open it. I tried to approach him and so I walked into the extremely dilapidated area behind the synagogue. While a tiny part of me was mad at myself for being so crazy, I thought that asking the caretaker to open the synagogue for me won’t be such a bad thing. Thankfully, he agreed and showed me the synagogue. Although very little efforts have been made to preserve it, it looked quite impressive and prayer meetings are still held there. I would definitely recommend a synagogue visit to anyone in Ahmedabad since it is a representative of a culture that isn’t very well-preserved in India but whatever little bit of the culture is preserved is beautiful, to say the least.

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A panorama shot taken inside the synagogue

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I also visitied the conflictorium, which is a museum of conflict. It has a record of some of the greatest social, cultural and political conflicts that have taken place in India and in its neighbouring countries. It is a participative museum because it requires the visitors to involve themselves in the study and experience of those conflicts. This is also situated in the old city and is housed in a bungalow that belonged to the first female hairdresser in Ahmedabad. One of my favourite exhibits in the museum consists of a large mirror on a table which has a photograph of the above-mentioned lady and a pair of scissors. The visitor is supposed to sit and hear a recording through headphones while looking at the mirror. The audio is recorded by the founder/owner of the museum. That exhibit is absolutely enlightening. My second favourite exhibit is the ‘sorry tree’ which has the suicide letter of Rohith Vemula written on a wall and a jar where you can write down something you’re sorry about. It may seem like a simple task, but once you accept your mistake on paper and apologize for the same, to no one in particular, it seems exceptionally relieving. This made me realize the importance of letting out one’s feelings through words; even if those words aren’t read by anyone, they benefit the writer because often, writing is like letting go, letting go of all that is binding you to something undesirable, scarring you and hurting you. The conflictorium is one place that I cannot aptly describe because it is an experience, an experience every Indian must have in today’s  turbulent times.

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Ahmedabad has surprised me with its diversity, intrigued me with its hidden gems and charmed me with its vibe that resembles a metropolitan city but also reminds one of a small town. I sometimes still feel that Ahmedabad is somehow ‘too Gujarati’ for someone like me.I don’t fit the stereotype of a Gujarati that many people hold; I often question the excessive noise pollution caused by Navratri, I like spicy food,I speak English quite well and my Gujarati is quite poor. Sometimes, when I sit alone in a cafe in Ahmedabad and hear people around me, all I hear is Gujarati words and sentences whereas I’m used to hearing a bunch of languages in Bombay and even Baroda, for that matter. But now, I’m fascinated by Ahmedabad because beneath this upper Gujarati layer, it holds within itself the traces of so many cultures that are waiting to be explored and appreciated. Earlier, I could never relate to the phrase ‘Aapnu Amdavad’. But now I can, because now Ahmedabad seems more open, more welcoming and more accepting. Now it seems like an Ahmedabad that is mine and yours, without any distinction.Now, it is, Aapnu Amdavad.

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Padharo mhare desh!

I have to admit that I had my fair share of apprehensions before signing up for a tour organized by the nature club of my college. In my defence, only one friend of mine was interested and the idea of travelling and being chaperoned by teachers didn’t sound appealing to a rebel like me. But I decided to go on the trip anyway, because it was a tour of Rajasthan and it covered a lot of cities. I had previously visited Jaipur twice and I absolutely loved it so the sole intention with which I and my friend embarked on this tour was to see and experience the wonders of Rajasthan.

The lows- The group that we travelled with came on the trip just to click selfies and to eat the food they normally eat in all the hotels and to buy expensive things from the highly commercialized gift-shops outside all the places of interest. None of the people wanted to go to Chokhi Dhani, which is known for the delicious Rajasthani food and instead enjoyed the paneer ki sabzi and biryani that was provided daily. We weren’t allowed to explore a lot on our own and were expected to stick with the group.

The highs- My friend and I met two like-minded people on the trip, people who liked exploring and wanted to try different things and that was great. But the two things that mattered the most-the food and the places of interest were worth it. The food was exceptionally tasty and the places of interest were splendid, to say the least. Here’s a look at each city and its highlights:

1) Ranthambore/Sawai Madhopur:

Sawai Madhopur is known for Ranthambore National Park and its tigers; but I feel that the Ranthambore Fort is as good as the former. It’s quite big and although many efforts to maintain it have been taken, it has more or less retained its beauty. I really enjoyed climbing to the top and I was really impressed by the views from various points in the fort, but since this was the first fort we saw in a state that it known for its forts, I didn’t know that many more beautiful forts were awaiting me. On the whole, although the fort is not that great, it’s not so bad either. The national park, on the other hand, was quite a disappointment because we didn’t see any tigers and this also goes to show that the number of tigers is decreasing at an alarming rate and all efforts to prevent that are failing.

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Inside the fort
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The view from the Ranthambore fort
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The entrance to the fort
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This was the area that was allotted to the queen

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The top of the fort is flocked by monkeys
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Ranthambore

2) Jaipur:

I’d been to Jaipur twice before this trip and I was still looking forward to it. The ‘Pink city’ does live up to all the hype surrounding it. The Amer Fort is absolutely stunning and one of the best places I saw in the tour. The carvings on all the walls are so intricate and beautiful that one cannot help but gasp. The Hawa Mahal, the City Palace and Jantar Mantar are all very well-maintained and the museum in the city palace is extremely interesting and a must-visit for history lovers. The old city markets are must-visits for people who are looking for jhumkas, bandhani dupattas, jholas, mojdis and kurtas. Although almost everything is very cheap, I felt that the Hawa Mahal bazaar was cheaper than Bapu bazaar which is more famous. One can find jhumkas being sold near Amer Fort at very cheap prices but these bazaars have more variety. #KhanabadoshTravelTip-Some shopkeepers might charge high prices for bandhani and other dupattas by saying that it’s because of the quality, so please don’t fall for such gimmicks. The print kurtas sold in the bazaars are extremely VFM (There’s a shop at the junction of the first and second lane in Bapu bazaar that sells sleeveless kurtas for 150 and 3/4 sleeve kurtas for 200 and the quality of the kurtas is really good). But the one thing that one cannot miss in Jaipur is Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar or LMB as it is popularly known. My friend and I had to report back to our group and we had 25 minutes to go to LMB, eat and go back and at the risk of being scolded by the professors, we went to LMB and we were glad we did. Their pyaaz kachori and lassi were insanely tasty and worth all the haste! This place should not be missed. The next day, we ventured out by ourselves and went to Kailash ka Dhaba and ordered a Rajasthani thali which had Dal baati, churma, gatte ki sabzi, dal-chawal and roti, along with lassi. Let me clarify that I’m not a lassi lover but this trip made me one. The thali, again was fantastic and I would recommend Kailash da Dhaba in Hawa Mahal bazaar for the quick service, reasonable prices and yummy food.

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Amer Fort
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Thali at Kailash Da Dhaba
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Lassi and pyaaz kachori at LMB
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kulfi in hawa mahal bazaar
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Hawa Mahal
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City Palace
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Some of the souvenirs sold at Amer Fort
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Inside Amer Fort

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Inside Amer Fort

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3) Jaisalmer:

Before we reached Jaisalmer, we went through a terrifying train journey from Jaipur to Jaisalmer. I’d travelled in second class sleeper almost 10-12 times before but the crowd of people was never as bad as during this journey. As a result, we hardly slept during the night and when we tried to sleep, the cold kept us awake. So woke up quite cranky but all of that went away when we saw our campsite in Jaisalmer, 50 kilometers away from the city. It was very close to the sand dunes and we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and for once I was glad I didn’t have any mobile network. After recovering from the hangover that the train journey gave us, we went for a camel ride in the sand dunes. The whole experience took me back to my childhood. The camel ride made me squeal in delight like a young kid and once we reached the sand dunes, I played with the sand, something every kid loves to do but stops doing once he/she grows up. When I was a kid, my dad and I would make secret pathways in the sand and I made the same with a young girl in Jaisalmer. There, making that sand tunnel and watching the gorgeous sunset, that was one of the best parts of the trip. At night, we had a cultural evening under the stars, wherein dancers performed traditional Rajasthani dances and we were served a Rajasthani meal. It was quite enjoyable and later at night, we walked around the campsite and at one point, we took off our chappals and enjoyed the cold sand. I cannot express how simple yet satisfying that was.

The next morning, we left the campsite and went to the old city. The Jaisalmer fort is very unique because almost the entire city resides inside the fort. Grocery stores and restaurants are located inside the fort and yet, it hasn’t been contaminated by human habitation, it is still a delightful visual. The fort is golden-yellow in colour and quite beautiful. Next we went to Patwon ki Haveli. This is just one haveli, there are other havelis also but some of them have been infested by bees or termites and hence are not open to the public. The Patwon ki Haveli was quite beautiful. Every storey was more marvellous than the previous one and the roof has a beautiful view of the city. The havelis are located in the small by-lanes of the city and walking in these lanes gives one the true feel of Rajasthan. A lot of street shops sell different types of kachori near this area but I cannot vouch for the taste, although I’m pretty certain that it must be authentic.

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The sunset at the sand dunes in Jaisalmer

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Patwon ki haveli

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I randomly saw this door and loved it

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4) Jodhpur:

Jodhpur was the underdog of the tour. I wasn’t expecting much from Jodhpur since it’s not as popular as the other cities and relatively less written about. But it managed to surprise me and hold me in awe. The first place that we visited in Jodhpur was Jaswant Thada; it was beautiful. It is very well maintained and has some great views! We then went to Mehrangarh fort, which is one of the biggest forts in the state. It has a very good museum, which has an informative yet engaging display. A lot of films have been shot at this picturesque location. We also visited the Mandore garden, which was spread over a large area and is captivating.The Jodhpur Palace, however is a must-visit. Half of it is taken over by a hotel but the remaining part is converted into a museum and there’s also a vintage car museum which is a paradise for car-lovers. The view from the palace is so good and no picture can do justice to it.

As far as food is concerned, the area near the clock tower in Jodhpur is the place to be. Ajanta Sweet Home is well-known but it must be visited early or else the good stuff gets finished. We found a small shop behind the clock tower where we had mogar kachori, mava kachori, lassi and rabdi and all of them were great. The mava kachori is really sweet so people who do not have a sweet tooth should stay away from it. Pyaaz kachori can be found at Ajanta sweet home or Shahi samosa.

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inside Mandor park
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The entrance to Mehrangarh Fort
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Jaswant Thada
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Inside Jaswant Thada
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The view at the entrance of Jaswant Thada

 

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One of my favourite doors, inside Jaswant Thada
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Inside Mehrangarh Fort
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The coolest dude in Rajasthan
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The view from Mehrangarh Fort
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The palace at Jodhpur of which the right half is converted into a hotel and is not open to tourists
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mogar kachori(on the left), mava kachori (on the right), rabdi and lassi
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a panoramic view of the city, taken outside Jodhpur palace

 

5) Udaipur:

Udaipur was my favourite, out of all the cities we covered; and as clichéd as it may sound, I knew it was my favourite the moment I saw Fatehsagar lake.My boat ride in the lake was filled with feelings of amusement, awe and fascination. The places that followed were just as good, if not better. Saheliyon ki bari and its fountains amused me and I enjoyed it despite the crazy crowd. But the City palace took my breath away. I got major YJHD feels when I visited the palace and the views from the palace were breathtakingly beautiful. The palace also had some very pretty doors and I instantly fell in love with it. But the best part of our day in Udaipur was when we left the palace and were walking down towards the entrance and saw the beautiful sunset by the lake. The sky looked like a stunning canvas that was painted to perfection. #KhanabadoshTip- There’s a restaurant right outside the city palace and it has a great view of the lake. Since I was in a group and had to get back to the hotel, I couldn’t go there but I bet it’s worth visiting, just for the ambiance.

That night, for dinner, we decided to rebel against the authorities that were making us eat paneer and dal-chawal and went out for dinner. 1559 AD is one restaurant that I’d heard a lot about, from very reliable sources so we finalized it. It has a really soothing ambiance with Rajasthani music being played. There is indoor as well as outdoor seating and we chose the latter. The variety in the menu is impeccable. We ordered stir fried vegetables with rice and stuffed mushrooms. The quantity is worth mentioning and the portions are quite filling. I wouldn’t say that the food was wonderful but it wasn’t bad at all. All in all, 1559 AD is a place that should be visited once.

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Pichola lake
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The Udaipur palace
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The view of the city from the palace
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Inside the palace
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Fatehsagar Lake
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The view from Maharana Pratap Memorial
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Saheliyon ki Bari
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Saheliyon ki Bari
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It was the prince’s birthday when we visited it, this is a picture of the celebration
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banana caramel pudding
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Stir fried rice at 1559 AD

6) Mount Abu:

Mount Abu was one of the most fun places of our trip. It stood out because it had many hill station-like attractions- the countless ice-cream sellers, small shops selling souvenirs, cute cafes and street food stalls serving almost everything from dal baati to manchurian to pani-puri. I’d been told to visit Cafe Shikibo and try the orange hot chocolate. When we looked it up on TripAdvisor, it said that the place was right in the middle of the main market whereas they had shifted the cafe some time back (They’ve updated the address now). It’s still in the middle of the city only, but in the bylines. It is pretty spacious and I loved the ambiance which clearly shows how much thought has gone behind designing the whole place. The owner is very friendly and will even suggest you dishes. We ordered the orange hot chocolate, cheesy fries, a gingerbread cappuccino and a veg grilled sandwich. The cappuccino was good but I have a feeling that only those with experimental taste buds will like it. The sandwich and the fries were tasty but the orange hot chocolate was the showstopper. It was HEAVENLY! I would definitely recommend that to everybody. All in all, Cafe Shikibo is a place to be visited.

The next morning we went to the main market and had a breakfast that consisted of coffee, egg ghotala with bread and masala maggi, which was insanely satisfying. We then went for sightseeing, of which our first stop was the Dilwara temples. The temples are Jain temples,are made of marbles and are known for the intricate carvings. Now I have to say that for someone who’s just been to forts and palaces in the rest of Rajasthan, intricate carvings may sound very normal, but these carvings just blew me away and made the other places I’d seen seem like they’d been made by amateurs, in terms of the carvings. The temples are not allowed to be photographed and are very crowded but definitely worth a visit. After the Dilwara temples, we visited the Achalgarh temples which were badly maintained and were not as magnificent as the former; Achalgarh, can therefore, be skipped.

Our next destination was Guru-Shikhar, which is the highest point of the Aravalli range. My dad had told me that Guru Shikhar is something I should not miss and so I was incredibly excited for it. When we reached there, however, most of the people decided to give it a miss since it required some amount of climbing which they were not ready to do. Since I said that I will go there no matter what, a few people accompanied me. We climbed to Guru Shikhar in just 5 minutes! There is a Jain temple at the entrance which is quite well-maintained and after walking through it, we came out and were greeted by the spectacular view. It probably won’t compare to the views one might get in the Himalayas, it is probably one of the best in the state. I kind of felt bad for all the lazy bums who missed out on it because they didn’t want to climb such a short distance.

After leaving Guru-Shikhar with very high spirits, we went to the Brahma Kumaris Peace Park, where again, most of the people backed out because the idea of walking in a beautiful and clean garden made by one of the most famous spiritual organizations in India didn’t appeal to them! I went in with the same group of people that had accompanied me to Guru Shikhar, but I walked ahead of them since the Peace Park was so beautiful that I didn’t want to spoil my experience by engaging in conversation; it was that kind of moment that is best experienced in silence. One of the highlights of my walk was when I saw the playground within the park where adults were playing on swings and see-saws. They seemed so happy and seeing them made me realize that if we try, we can obtain happiness from things like swings, which we deem to be immature as soon as we grow up. The visual of that playground is something I will always remember and something that taught me that it is okay to relive my childhood. The entire park is beautiful and there is also a meditation room which I would definitely recommend because it elevated my mood. This place should not be missed and I’d suggested walking through the park in silence in order to appreciate its serenity. Silence is often under-rated, celebrate it.

P.S. Taking photographs is not allowed inside the Peace Park

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Softy ice-cream in the market
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Egg ghotala with bread
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cheesy and masala maggi in the market
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cheesy fries
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sandwich at Cafe Shikibo
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Cafe Shikibo
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Brahma Kumaris Peace Park

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A panoramic view from the top of Guru Shikhar
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Guru Shikhar as seen from the bottom
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Gingerbread coffee, orange hot chocolate and something else that one of my roommates ordered

Mount Abu was the last destination of our trip; we took a train back to Bombay from Abu Road Station. I came back with a lot of lessons 1) Going on a trip in a group, especially a college group, can be tricky when everyone has different interests 2) Not everyone is as excited about exploring as you are 3) Sometimes, you need to find a middle path and do your bit of exploring while adhering to the schedule at the same time. My friend, Delice and I made 2 new friends, who are our juniors in college, who we’d never met before; they also liked exploring like we did and we had a lot of fun venturing out on our own, away from the group! This was the first trip Delice and I took together and in the beginning it was difficult to be around each other the whole time, and while we did argue at times since she is incredibly talkative and I like being quiet at times, we managed to have a great trip because we didn’t let any of our arguments get out of control and more importantly, because we both love exploring and we rebelled against the whole group together. We’re definitely not going for a college trip again but we look forward to travelling together in the future.

Rajasthan is rich in culture, is incredibly diverse, each city has its own story to tell. But what I realized after this trip is that while most of the monuments in Rajasthan are worth visiting, some of the less celebrated monuments are the real gems: I would definitely put the Peace Park and Guru Shikhar above the Delwara Temples; Jaswant Thada and Mandore Park will linger in my mind longer than Mehrangarh Fort will and I think that Ranthambore and Ranthambore fort are slightly overrated and can be skipped. While Jaipur is richer in terms of history, Udaipur will be my favourite! I realized that travelling is about breaking free from the set schedule, exploring the unexplored, never underestimating the beauty of a place and being open to new experiences and lessons. I should mention at this point that Rajasthan has some of the prettiest, some of the most majestic and some of the simplest yet charming doors which will always stay with me.

The large number of foreigners who visited the place also made me wonder why we tend to underestimate the beauty of our nation. My father loves travelling but he doesn’t have a passport; he always told me that India is so vast and so beautiful that he wants to travel the whole country before venturing abroad. We plan trips abroad round the year and talk about the modernity that some of the global destinations boast of but do we fully appreciate the beauty that our country has? To find out why so many foreigners visit Rajasthan every year,go there once, dance to the folk songs, take in the grandeur of the forts and the beauty of the palaces, taste the food that is as delicious as it is varied, go on a camel safari and walk barefoot in the sand at night with the moon and stars to keep you company. Ek baar hi sahi, padharo mhare desh!