Our trip to Rajasthan: Jaipur

The Hawa Majal or “The Palace of Winds” is basically a facade; it is not a real building.

There’s so much on the internet about Jaipur already, I don’t have much to add.

My first-ever thali. Sadly nothing else on the trip was quite as good!

We stayed at the Pearl Palace Heritage Hotel (which is separate from the Pearl Palace Hotel) and it was wonderful. Our room was interesting and fun, and the breakfast area was super quirky. There is no restaurant on the premises, so they offer free tuktuks to their sister hotel, the Pearl Palace Hotel, which has a restaurant. The restaurant there is amazing: very good inexpensive food and excellent thalis.

We wanted to spend some time with elephants while we were in Jaipur. We found an elephant sanctuary called Elefantastic, and we had a really great experience. It was a bit canned and the guy seemed preoccupied with our potential TripAdvisor review (which I never gave), but we enjoyed ourselves and M loved it, so we were happy.

Our elephant for the day. The orange chalk line across her forehead kept the oil that was massaged into her scalp from running into her eyes.

We got to paint our elephant with natural mineral-based paints (where these colors exist in nature, I have no clue). It seemed gimmicky initially, but it was much more fun than I thought it’d be.

My handiwork

At the City Palace

We did all the normal stuff in Jaipur: the Hawa Mahal (much smaller than I thought it’d be), the Amber Fort (much larger than I thought it would be), the City Palace, etc.

Inside the Amber Fort

More of the Amber Fort. Picture don’t do it justice.

Between our city guide and driver, we were well taken-care-of, and the guide did a good job of being understanding of the limits of sight-seeing with a 3-year-old. Jaipur is worth the trip!

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Snapshots: Khasab Castle

The Khasab Castle

As far as castles and forts in Oman that teach you about what life was like in the area when the castle was built, Khasab Castle is a clear winner. There are lots of neat exhibits with signs in English, both indoors and outdoors, and kids love running around and exploring. There’s also a nice, clean bathroom.

Cannons at the main entrance

The courtyard inside the castle

A rock house (explained here) and a summer house

A not-at-all-creepy exhibit inside the castle

The bathroom is handicap-accessible!

The central keep and palm trees

The view from the castle walls

Nakhal Fort and Al Thowarah Hot Springs, revisited

View from Nakhal Fort: the Hajar mountains and date palm plantations

One of the first day trips we took out of Muscat last year when we arrived was a visit to Nakhal Fort and the Al Thowarah Hot Springs. I won’t say it was a disaster, but the drive took forever and it was so hot we didn’t want to leave the car.  With the cooler weather over the winter earlier in the year, we decided it was time to revisit Nakhal.

Afternoon sun over Nakhal Fort

The fort is a lot of fun to explore, and, even after visiting Jabrin Castle, Bahla Fort and Nizwa Fort, it’s still my favorite. It’s so scenic with the date palm plantations and the Hajar Mountains, it’s practically impossible to take a bad photo. It’s also fun with little kids because there are fewer ledges, outcroppings and steep stairs than you’ll find at some of the other forts and castles around Oman. M loves running around and exploring, especially in the “children’s rooms” and on the rocky foundation on which the fort was built.

If you’re looking for lunch, there are some sandwich shops across from the fort and a biryani shop near the hot spring. You could also pack a lunch and there are some nice shaded tables and benches at the hot spring. The hot spring is a five-minute drive down a windy paved road through the date palm plantations.

Palm trees at the hot spring

There’s a nice big parking lot, but be careful: everything that is wet or damp, including parts of the parking lot, is very slippery. You can climb down the stairs into the spring, or you can take a dip in the soaking tub. I would strongly advise against wearing only a swimsuit; no one else does and you’d get stared at relentlessly. Instead wear clothes that you can get wet, similar to what you’d wear if you went to a wadi. I usually just roll up my pants and sit on a rock so that I don’t get wet past my legs. Also make sure you wear water shoes. If you tried to walk on those rocks barefoot you’d fall in no time.

Carnivorous fish

There are little fish in the hot spring that will nibble on anything that is submerged. It feels weird, like little razors are skimming your feet, and tickles like mad but you get used to it after a while. If you’re lucky you’ll also see my favorite bird: the Indian Roller. They like the trees and the water, and they are stunningly beautiful in-flight.

Between the warm water and the animals (goats, cats, birds, fish, etc), kids and toddlers love it here. M eventually sits down in the neck-deep water and shrieks at the fish, tosses small rocks and has a great time. It’s a particularly pretty place in the late afternoon sun.

Palm trees in the setting sun

Whenever we have guests that want to do some adventuring on their own during the week while we’re at work, this is my first recommendation. It’s a beautiful little slice of Oman and it’s only as intense as you want it to be. If you’re jetlagged you can leave around noon, the drive is super-easy,  you can get lunch there once you arrive, the fort is open until 4, you’re at the hot spring at the prettiest time of day, and then you’re back at home or wherever you’re staying right around dinner time. Plus the fort only costs 500 baisa (about $1.25) per person and the hot spring is free!

I’m not complaining about the weather!

The Omani flag flying high at Jabrin Castle

Things here have been busy. We had our first visitors over Thanksgiving, took our first local vacation, got scuba certified, and I’m training for my first real race since 2014. We’re also putting up Christmas decorations, going to parties, and I’m baking a lot of cookies. There is so much to blog about and just not enough time.

First things first, the weather here is currently perfect. Around mid-November it was like a switch flipped and the weather got awesome. It’s in the 60s in the morning, and by mid day it’s actually comfortable to be outside in the sun. We drive to work with the windows rolled down and I leave the kitchen door open when I’m cooking. During my morning runs, even the ones that last for over an hour, I don’t get hot. It’s a fricking miracle. When we first got here everyone told us that the weather in the winter would make the terrible heat worth it, and they were totally 100% right. This is currently my climate paradise and it’s amazing.

In my last blog post I was whining about how our stuff wasn’t here yet. The following week it arrived, and never in my life have I been so excited to see our stuff. I actually clapped when they unpacked my sari stamp block mirror that we had made in Dhaka. I unpacked and put away almost everything within about three weeks, and we got rid of a lot of stuff. There are clothing donation bins all over our neighborhood, and we probably donated a few hundred pounds of clothes and shoes. We don’t have tons of storage space, so I turned off the water to two of our four showers and they are now perfect for storing large plastic boxes. With our books on the shelves, stuff put away, and pictures and art on the walls, and our house finally feels like home.

Sunrise in Muscat

I’m training for a half marathon and so far it’s going well. My weekly milage is building, slowly but surely, and I have stayed injury-free (knock on wood). While waking up at the crack of dawn kind of sucks, I love running here now that the weather is perfect. Running along the ocean, watching the sun rise over the mountains and hearing only the sound of the waves and my own breathing is amazing every time. I will never take this for granted and if I ever do, someone please punch me.

Bimmah sinkhole

Some friends from Dhaka came to visit over Thanksgiving and it was so much fun. They only stayed for three days, but we packed as many Oman highlights as we could into the long weekend and everyone had a great time. We spent most of the first day at our favorite beach and then we went to Thanksgiving dinner. The next day we woke up bright and early and drove to Bimmah Sinkhole, followed by Wadi Shab, and on their last day here we drove to Nizwa and then checked out Jabrin Castle.  Oman is such an incredible and beautiful country (and there’s still so much we haven’t even seen yet!), and showing visitors and friends our favorite parts is so much fun. Seeing the wonder and amazement reflected on someone’s face and knowing that they are just as fascinated as you are is pretty cool.

The sun setting over the Wadi Shab entrance (and freeway)

There’s still so much more to say, but I have to get back to baking Christmas cookies!

To, in, and around Nakhal Fort

Inside the Nakhal Fort main wall

During the Eid holiday we drove to Nakhal to visit the fort and check out a near-by hot spring. We weren’t sure if the fort would be open because of the holiday, but we figured in the worst case scenario, we’d admire the fort from the outside and at least we’d know where it was for next time.

The drive took nearly three times longer than it should have. I looked at the route the night before on Google Maps and it looked really straightforward: take the expressway north and exit on highway 13, which basically takes you straight there, all in about an hour.

However, Google Maps doesn’t work for turn-by-turn navigation here. Everyone uses Waze. As we were backing out of our driveway, I typed Nakhal Fort into Waze and it had us taking this strange route that would take nearly an hour and 45 minutes. I decided we would ignore that route and take the route Google Maps had given me. We were happily driving on the expressway and our exit was coming up; long story short, we missed the exit and the next exit was in eight miles. After the exit you had to drive another 1.5 miles to a roundabout to finally turn around. So after driving 20 miles out of the way, Waze was still insisting we take the wonky route. I said, “F that, we’re taking highway 13,” and we did. Until the road was closed and we took a detour onto a road that appeared to not go all the way to Nakhal. So we pulled a U-turn, got back onto the expressway, and drove another 10 miles to the route that the Waze app wanted us to take. Instead of arriving at 10:30, we arrived around noon.

On the drive back, Waze had us take 13 straight to the expressway. There was a road closure but we took a parallel road the whole way, and imagine our shock as we drove by the exact spot where we pulled the U-turn to take the stupid Waze route. That was annoying.

Anyhow, the fort was in fact open and only cost 500 baisa (about $1.25) each. It was hotter than hell so we didn’t do that much exploring. We found a nice room with pillows and air conditioning where we ate lunch, and then we ventured out to look around a little more. We didn’t last long in the heat and M was turning beet red.

Nakhal Fort is particularly interesting because it is built on pre-Islamic ruins on a rocky mound (which was done to avoid having to construct a sound foundation) and the shape of the fort is irregular because it follows the shape of the rocks. There were lots of hallways and rooms to explore, and I think M will have more fun running around during our next visit.

Hajar Mountains and date palm plantations around Nakhal Fort

Nakhal is full of date palm plantations and we drove through them to see the hot spring, which was rumored to have a picnic area and playground equipment. Turns out the hot spring is basically a nice stream and, with the Eid holiday, the entire river bed was one big picnic area. There was zero parking and we didn’t even get out of the car.  I was a little bummed because M would have loved it, but it was ridiculously crowded. We’ll check it out more thoroughly next time.