Through the desert on the Silk Road

Early in this trip, we studied Marco Polo, while we visited Venice, his childhood home. Later on our travels, we revisited Marco Polo, as we viewed the colorful silks and Asian temples of China. In India, we found ourselves right in the middle of the Silk Road, surrounded by desert traders, camel herds, and spices of all kinds in the local markets.

Channeling the caravans, we tried our hand at riding both camels and horses. Boy declared that he preferred the horses, as they weren’t so tall; but he isn’t in a hurry to ride either again.

Over the course of a week, we explored the desert towns of Rajasthan, India. These smaller cities, and rural towns made it possible to forget that India was home to billions of people. We drove through areas with few residents, beyond a shepherd with a flock of sheep or goats. Camel carts pulled goods along the highway while cows slept in the shade. Roadside, we saw sandstone quarries, where the building materials for the cities were retrieved.

These building materials were often used, in this area, to create Havelis, or mansions, inhabited by rich merchants, who controlled the trade along the Silk Route. Built to a standard plan, these structures were two or more stories, surrounding a set of three courtyards. One courtyard was used for business dealings, one for the family, and one for the servants and animals. Each Haveli was more elaborately decorated than the next. Some Havelis were carved sandstone, with fanciful repeating patterns. Others were colorfully painted with elaborate frescoes, of people, animals, and mythological stories. The paintings and carvings covered every inch of the building, ceiling to ground. An elephant image usually welcomed visitors through the main entrance. Built from ancient times right through to the 20th century, the later ones included images of motor cars, trains, telephone, and even airplanes.

In the town of Mukundgarh, we were welcomed to a lovely frescoed Haveli where we spent a few nights. The Haveli had six, well apportioned rooms, though we were privileged to be the only guests during our stay. The food, from the in-house chef, was spectacular, and Boy didn’t even mind that it was all vegetarian. Evenings, we enjoyed the cool breeze from the roof and the lighted fountain in the central courtyard. We watched a number of local boys, all about his age flying kites after school from the roof of nearby buildings. They were practicing, we were told, for the January Kite Festival. Intrigued, Boy decided to try it. With the help of the staff, he managed to get one airborne from the roof of our Haveli, and we all enjoyed watching the red paper fly, high above our heads.

Exploring further through the Thar Desert, we visited Jaisalmer fort and the Sam Sand Dunes, our closest stop to the India Pakistan border. Turning back East, we also stopped at Mehrangarh fort in Rohet. Our home in Rohet was a wilderness safari tent. Hardly roughing it, this luxury tent had running water, electricity, and a gourmet chef. It also had a beautiful view of the Milky Way, over the sparsely inhabited desert, inspiring some astronomy studies this week. A Jeep took us and our guide to visit two farming communities, where we met some Iocal families who had just finished bringing in the harvest. Boy was extremely interested to see the millet and lentils as they were still attached to the recently harvested plants and had not yet been separated into grains.

We finished our desert sojourn by heading up into the mountains. Gaining more than 2000 feet in altitude, we drove all day to reach Udaipur, the Lake City. Home to several, large, man made lakes, Udaipur is cooler and greener, than any of the other towns we had seen in Rajasthan. The City Palace complex is still a residence of a local King, though much of it is open for tourists, and is now a museum. At the base of the City Palace, a boat took us across to the summer palace, situated on an island in Lake Pichola. It’s island location allowed for cool breezes during the hot summer season. We were glad to be visiting during the winter, when temperatures were only in the 80s F (low 30s C). From Udaipur, we returned to Dehli, to complete our time in India.

Though not our usual traveling style, we were glad that we arranged the help of a private tour in India, through Indian Moments. We were able to see far more than we would have on our own. Getting around was significantly more challenging than we had expected, and while navigating the traffic chaos, we were very pleased to have a local driver and guide to assist.

Painted Havelis

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Our Haveli where we stayed

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A Camel Ride

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Schoolbooks and our School rooms in India

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One thought on “Through the desert on the Silk Road

  1. Pingback: Some of our favorites | moveable geography

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