Rajasthan with Kids
Half way between Udaipur and Johdpur is Ranakpur, the largest Jain temple in Rajasthan. A beautiful marble structure inside and out, but still very much a working temple. Its not much of a detour from the main route, so worth a stop for an hour or so.
Construction of this temple is very much part of its story – its worth taking the audio tour (included in the entrance ticket) to learn about the Jain religion and the temple. It definitely helps you to understand what you are seeing. There was a lot of information (and honestly I’ve forgotten it all already). It is a very spiritual place.
Needless to say the kids were pretty ambivalent about visiting, but I think they liked the calmness, and its hard not to be impressed by the craftsmanship on display even if you are a surly teen.
This site is very much still a working temple. Non Jain visitors are not permitted until after 12.00pm. While we were there religious ceremonies were taking place, but we were kept discretely away.
The Jain monks take people aside and give them a blessing (donations optional).
I found it quite moving, which is saying something, but if its not your thing you can politely decline.
We stopped for a quick lunch after the temple before heading on by car to Mihir Garh.
Mihir Garh in rural Rajasthan with kids
Mihir Garh is a small boutique hotel about 1.5 hours drive from Johdpur. Made mainly from wattle, mud and other materials available from the local area, the hotel rises like a gigantic sandcastle in the Thar dessert. We stayed here for 2 nights.
There isn’t a huge amount to do here, so 2 nights was about perfect. Its a unique hotel – 9 rooms mainly suites – I think all with plunge pools or jacuzzis. All meals and most drinks are included in the rate, as well as 1 excursion. We paid £320 per night for two double rooms.
We arrived early evening. The hotel had just opening again that night after the monsoon season, so there were a few teething problems (limited hot water, intermittent internet, and the pool was being filled as we looked round). But to be honest the hotel is so charming, were were not too bothered. Our rooms were fabulous.
On the first night, we were the only guests there. The owners (who own and live in another hotel in the area) came to welcome us and have a drink with us.
They are passionate about what they do. Much to Abbis horror (as she had been playing safe with butter chicken and steamed rice until now) they asked the chef to provide us with a series of dishes so we could sample some of the regional dishes. It was great, as it forced Abbi to give everything a try – but they would be very happy to accommodate dietary requirements or fussy kids had we asked. She actually enjoyed about 80% of what she tried.
The staff at the hotel are very (VERY) attentive. It was a bit more intrusive than we would usually like, but we became fond of the main waiter Omar, for whom NOTHING was too much trouble!
The kids were fascinated by the napkin folds, so he showed them a different technique each meal.
Village Visit and Safari
The hotels provides a free excursion as part of the deal. The excursion we chose was the village visit and safari (they call it a village safari….but somehow that sounds a bit too much like gawping at the locals.).
I was concerned that we would be paraded around a series of shops or stalls masquerading as locals, and obliged to buy local handicrafts. Luckily it was nothing like that. We left around 7am to avoid the mid day sun, and drove about half an hour away from the village.
Our first stop was a Bishnoi village. The village is 3-4 huts, and comprises Sargent Singh, his wife, and their three sons plus their families. They have 14 grandchildren. We sat and “chatted” with Mr Singh (through the interpreter), and learned about their religion: Bishnoi is a caste of the Hindu religion. The Bishnoi live a simple life, following 29 principles. (Its these principles that they take their name from as Bishnoi is Hindi for 29).
The principles include waking early, being patient, modest. they don’t believe in killing animals, or felling green trees. the principles also cover aspects of good animal husbandry. The family don’t have electricity and make their living working the fields and keeping their 10 cows. The Bishnoi get grants from the government to be able to send their kids to school (and when we were there on a Saturday, the kids were playing and reading books). It was strange not see see kids plugged into gadgets! The village was meticulously clean as well.
I was really concerned that we would feel uncomfortable intruding on their lives – as if we were visiting a zoo, or that the village would have so many visitors that they would be weary of westerners gawping at them.
We didn’t feel like that at all. The Villagers were welcoming, but getting on with their daily chores.
Mr Singhs wife was making ghee while we were there.
After the Bishnoi village, we were taken to a more developed village in the area. A Brahmin village. We met a lovely family – the mother of the house was making chapattis, and they showed us how they churn butter.
We were then invited to take part in an Opium ceremony. (Entirely legal apparently) This felt a bit more put on for the tourists – and made us a little uncomfortable.
Village visits over, we went on safari. Its not the Serengetti – and although it was fun driving over the scrub dessert (think tumble weed and brush rather than sand dunes), there wasn’t a huge amount of flora or fauna to see. It was fine as it was a half hour to hour diversion before heading back to the hotel.
The deer are protected, so there are plenty of them.
Another major attraction at this hotel is the stable of local Marwari horses. The owner is passionate about the breed (His wife is not so passionate she told me). They breed are quite sprightly so only for experienced riders. Mr PSGC is seriously allergic to horses, so in the afternoon, we left him soaking in the plunge pool, and headed down to the stables.
Marwari horses are indigenous to Rajasthan. Easily identified by the ears that point back in on themselves. The horses we saw were extremely well looked after. It would have been lovely to head out for a ride…..but maybe next time, when the kids have a few more riding hours under the saddle.
The next leg of our trip is Johdpur, which is around 1.5 – 2 hours drive from Mihir Garh.