This Christmas ride gives you the opportunity to visit and stay in some of the finest Forts and Palaces of Rajasthan over the Christmas and New Year holidays. After a fantastic ride on Christmas Day you spend the night in a luxury tented camp with a bonfire under the stars, while the horses rest nearby. This is a truly magical experience.
Seeing rural India on horse back gives a privileged view of this quickly evolving country. You will pass through rural farming villages and meet nomadic herders as you ride through the desert areas. This offers you a unique chance to experience rural India and its cultures/people. The Marwari horses are bold, fit and fast, making them the perfect companions for your journey. Most of the horses are home-bred by the hosts and care is taken to match each horse and rider.
Accommodation and service levels throughout this holiday are second to none, this is a real luxury experience. Many of the hotels are converted palaces and mansions, and even when camping in remote areas you can be sure of a hot shower and a comfortable bed every night.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from EB of Edinburgh on 09/01/2008
Day 1 - Dec. 21
Arrive in New Delhi and spend the night at the Hotel Vassant Continental or a similar hotel (rooms available from 12 midday). Sightseeing of Delhi if time permits.
Day 2 - Dec. 22
Drive to Dundlod from Delhi in the morning (about 6-7 hours), lunch and overnight Dundlod Fort. This is not a regular hotel – but more like a home and the starting point of the rides in Shekhawati. This old building has lots of character and now has some modern comforts. It has a large banquet hall and each bedroom is different, with its own charm. The palace is located on the edge of a small village of the same name.
DUNDLOD : The Dundlod Fort in the heart of the Shekhawati was built in 1750. This majestic fort surrounded by a moat, is a mix of Mogul and Rajputana architecture. The majestic Diwan Khana (the Audience Hall) is furnished with Louis XIV furniture. This old building has been beautifully maintained and now has all modern comforts. The Fort is located on the edge of a small village of the same name.
Overnight Dunlod Fort.
Day 3 - Dec. 23
A.M. Today you will try the horses and ride in and around Dundlod visiting various villages and temples The terrain around this semi-desert area is soft and sandy and is ideal for riding with plenty of opportunities for some good canters.
P.M: Time to relax and visit the Frescoed Havelies of Dundlod.
Overnight Dundlod Fort
Day 4 - Dec. 24
After breakfast, ride to Churi Ajitgarh ( about 20 kms ). The ride to Churi takes you across villages, farmlands and some quaint farmers’ dwellings. The terrain is soft and sandy and ideal for riding.
Arrive Churi and transfer to hotel Vivaana Culture Hotel which at one time used to be a Haveli ( a merchant’s mansion) with beautiful frescoes for which the entire Shekhawati is famous for:
Shekhawati is a region of which Churi Ajitgarh, Mandawa, Mehansar and Alsisar are parts. This region is Rajasthan's open air Art Gallery. No other region in India or perhaps, even in the world, has such a large concentration of high quality frescoes as the region of Shekhawati. In the beginning this semi-arid region had only its blank monochromatic palette to offer. No school of painting thrived till history and circumstances took up this colourless page and made it blossom with art for almost two centuries - from 1750 to 1930. Today this region is commonly called the Open Air Art Gallery of Rajasthan.
Overnight Hotel Vivaana Culture Hotel.
Day 5 - Dec. 25
After breakfast, ride to Mandawa ( about 25 kms ) passing through villages and farmlands speckled with the Khejri trees. The terrain is quite flat except for the sand dunes which keep coming up now and then. Arrive Mandawa and stay at the Castle Mandawa – a very imposing and luxurious hotel. Christmas celebrations.
Overnight Castle Mandawa.
Day 6 - Dec. 26
Ride to Thimoli (about 28 kms) passing through a nice sandy countryside, farm lands and villages. There are good chances of seeing some wildlife in the form of the Nilgai antelope (which is the biggest antelope in India) and the graceful Chinkara gazelle.
Overnight tented camp.
Day 7 - Dec. 27
After breakfast, ride to Mehansar (about 25 kms) passing through a very beautiful landscape comprising of sand dunes, farm lands and villages. Again, there are good chances of seeing some wildlife in the form of the Nilgai and Chinkara gazelle. Arrive Mehansar and ride into the Narayan Niwas Castle.
Please Note that the Narayan Niwas Castle is a private home and facilities are quite basic. Hot water is supplied in buckets. Please do not expect any luxuries here. However, the hosts are lovely people and they make you feel at home.
Overnight Narayan Niwas Castle, Mehansar.
Day 8 - Dec. 28
Ride to Gangiasar (about 25 kms). The ride on this day again is through the desertmcountry – which is still quite devoid of major developments. The pace of the ride is fast like on the previous days and you get some good canters. You get to ride over a very open and interesting area and see small farmer’s dwellings. Most of the time the terrain is soft and sandy and there are good chances of seeing the Chinkara Gazelle and the Nilgai antelope.
Overnight tented camp.
Day 9 - Dec. 29
Ride to Alsisar ( about 22 kms). The ride on this day again is very interesting. It is full of lovely sand dunes - besides small hamlets and farmlands. Today also there are good chances of seeing the Nilgai and the Chinkara gazelle and if lucky, the endangered Blackbuck Antelope. The distance today is short and you can arrive Alsisar early and have a relaxing time at the lovely hotel – the Alsisar Mahal. Arrive Alsisar - which is quite a large village and ride into the Alsisar Mahal - which has been converted into a hotel very recently and where the rooms have been tastefully renovated in order to provide all the comforts to the guests. The hotel has a lovely swimming pool – a nice hotel to relax after a ride.
Overnight Alsisar Mahal, Alsisar.
Day 10 - Dec. 30
Ride to Ghanghu ( about 25 kms ). This is a very interesting ride as it takes you across small villages, open sandy land dotted with khejri trees(a tree in the desert) and farmer’s dwellings. At times you may have to ride over some sand dunes. There are very good chances of seeing some wildlife in the form of the Chinkara gazelle, the Nilgai antelope and maybe the endangered Blackbuck antelope also.
Overnight tented camp.
Day 11 - Dec. 31
Ride to Churu (about 25 kms). Like on the previous days, the ride today is through a desert like country with opportunities of good canters. You come across sand dunes, open land and some farmers’ dwellings. The hotel in Churu is Malji ka Kamra. It is used to be Haveli (merchant’s mansion) belonging to a wealthy merchant and now has been converted into a very nice and comfortable Heritage hotel and it is here that you will have the New Years Eve celebrations.
Overnight Malji ka Kamra, Churu.
Day 12 - Jan. 1
After an early breakfast, bid goodbye to your horses and staff and drive to Jaipur (approx 4 hrs drive). Arrive Jaipur and transfer to hotel Alsisar Haveli or similar.
P.M. : Sightseeing of Jaipur:
JAIPUR : The rose-pink capital of Rajasthan, is surrounded on all sides by rugged hills, crowned with forts. Enclosed by embattled walls, the city was built early in the eighteenth century. The Maharaja's palace stands in the centre of the city amidst lovely gardens. Houses with latticed windows line the streets, their rose-pink colour lending enchantment to the scene and almost magical at sunset. Jaipur is aptly called the " Pink City of India". It takes its name from the famous Maharana Sawai Jai Singh, who founded the city in 1728. A keen astronomer, he built an observatory, which still exists and is equipped with quaint masonry instruments of remarkable size.
Jaipur is noted for its craftsmen skilled in the art of cutting precious stones and famed for its garnets and rubies. It is equally well known for brass inlay work, lacquer work and the printings of muslin.
CITY SIGHTSEEING : The City Palace which now houses a museum containing rare manuscripts, painting and an armoury; the Jantar Mantar observatory- built in the 17th century by Jai Singh- with a sundial 90ft.high ( now a UNESCO World Heritage Site ); the Museum amidst the Ram Niwas Palace Gardens founded in 1876 with a large collection of antiques; the palace of Winds, a landmark of Jaipur made of pink sandstone and of unique design.
Day 13 - Jan. 2
Sightseeing of Amber Fort including elephant ride to the fort :
AMBER FORT (UNESCO World Heritage Site) : 12 kms. from Jaipur. lies the city of Amber with an ancient imposing fort cum Palace overlooking the lake at the entrance to a rocky mountain grove. Built in the 17th century, the palace is a distinguished specimen of Rajput architecture. The Jai Mandir (hall of victory) is so delicately ornamented with fine inlay work that it glows. The fort of Jaigarh, crowning the summit of a peak is of amazing beauty and grandeur.
P.M.(16:30 hrs) : Fly back to Delhi and transfer to Hotel Vasant Continental.
Day 14 - Jan 3
Transfer to airport for return flights. Rooms will be available until noon today, January 3rd.
Please follow this link for a map of the start point of this itinerary: Christmas Ride
Single Supplement Policy
There is no single supplement if we can find you a sharer.
We're avid readers here at Unicorn Trails and have selected several books connected to this ride. If you're interested in reading more about the area before you travel, or want to get into the cultural background, here are some suggestions that may inspire you. Click on the links for more information.
India (Lonely Planet Country Guides) - Sarina Singh
City of Djinns - William Dalrymple
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia - Paul Theroux
An Indian Summer - James Cameron
Into India - John Keay
No Full Stops in India - Mark Tully
Rajasthan; India's Enchanted Land- Raghubir Singh
Rajasthan; Land of Kings - S. Matheson & R. Beny
The Royal Palaces of India – G. Michell & A. Martinelli
Arts and Crafts of Rajasthan - A. Nath & F. Wacziarg
Plain Tales from the Raj - Charles Allen
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
The horses are mostly Marwari horses with a few Kathiawari and Sindhi horses, all of which are indigenous to India and range from 14hh to 16hh. They are lean but very fit horses which makes them most suitable for desert safaris. Your hosts breed these horses and they are kept in absolutely immaculate condition. Marwari horses are warm blooded and thin skinned not unlike Arabians. They are alll very well schooled, responsive, forward going and have no vices.
The tack is all made in India from fine leather of Kanpur. The saddles are known as SAWAR (rider) saddles as they are designed for Cavalry - they are not dissimilar to polo or army saddles, see our pictures for more details. They are comfortable for horses and safe for the riders. The saddle covers and martingales are made up of the Dundlod family colours.
The exotic beauty and vigour of the Marwari horse is their lasting heritage. Marwari was bred to lift the heart in battle and please the eye. He is easily recognised by his proud carriage, upright graceful neck and distinctive aquiline head with deep expressive eyes, the crowning glory of which are the unique inward curling or scimitar shaped ears set high on the poll and without exception unique to the noble Indian horse. The intelligence and natural regal bearing of the Marwari is blended with tremendous equipoise, graceful animated gaits and stamina. He displays an alert stillness when in repose and incredible elan vital in action. Hardiness and longevity have enabled the breed to survive wars, famine and droughts. The Marwari agreeably adapts to different life styles and environmental conditions and performs in various sports and formal riding disciplines. Loyal, tireless and competitive, the Marwari has evolved from one of the world ancient breeds to present a new archetype of beauty, brilliance and personality.
Intermediate riders onwards - riders who are competant and confident at all paces in the open.
The weight limit for this ride is 15 st/209 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
The weight limit for this ride is 209 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Many of the Palace hotels are renowned for their unique setting and wonderful grandeur. Rooms have private bathrooms. When a camp is set up, large, walk in twin bedded tents are used with camp beds and bed linen and a table and chairs or stools provided. Camps have a shared shower and washing facilities and meals are prepared for you.
DUNDLOD : The Dundlod Fort in the heart of the Shekhawati was built in 1750. This majestic fort surrounded by a moat, is a mix of Mogul and Rajputana architecture. The majestic Diwan Khana (the Audience Hall) is furnished with Louis XIV furniture. This old building has been beautifully maintained and now has all modern comforts. It has a huge banquet hall and each bedroom is different with its own charm. The Fort is located on the edge of a small village of the same name.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
General information, correct as of 3rd February 2014:
You must obtain a visa before travelling to India. If you arrive without a visa, you will be refused entry. Visas can be obtained online via the Indian government agency, VFS Global - http://in.vfsglobal.co.uk/ On this website you will find a step by step guide outlining the forms you need to fill in. You will also be required to send your passport and 2 approved photographs so factor in enough time for this to be done and for your passport and visas to be returned to you. There are a number of companies who will charge a fee to check your information for you before it is submitted, so you could take advantage of these if you are not confident that you have filled out the forms correctly. There are also Visa collection centres in London and Leicester, however these do not guarantee a same-day visa and can entail hours of queuing.
Always keep a copy of your passport and your Indian visa separate from your passport, in case of loss. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months. For further information on entry requirements, visitors are advised to check with the Indian representation in the UK at India House, Aldwych, London, WC2B 4NA. Telephone: (020) 7836 8484.
The British High Commission in India can be found at Shantipath, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi - 110021. Telephone: +(91-11) 26872161. Email: postmaster.nedel@ fco.gov.uk.
The Foreign and Commonwealth office also provides travel advice on their website at www.fco.gov.uk
End of Dec/early Jan is the coldest period in North India. The temperature ( while camping) could go down to about 2 degrees Celsius or even lower at night. Riders should bring some thermal underwears and a good jacket - which would come in handy during the three nights of camping. The days are pleasant and, normally, you ride in your shirt only. A light jacket may be required when you start the ride in the morning - but after a little while you need to take it off.
Anti-malaria precautions are advised as necessary to some areas at certain times of year. If you have recently visited a place known for yellow fever you will need a vaccination certificate. Your G.P. will advise on necessary vaccinations and precautions.
For up to date information on health matters please contact the Medical Advisors For Travellers Abroad. Their website can be found at www.masta.org or visit the departmwetn of health's web site on www.dh.gov.uk
As with all countries where the bacteria present in water and around food are not those to which we are accustomed you are advised to exercise a degree of care. Bottled water is widely available, but check that bottle seals are intact and water levels reach the top. Fruit and raw vegetables which can be peeled are fine. Avoid ice cubes, diluted fruit juices and any unpasturised/unboiled milk.
Voltage is the same as in the UK and most appliances such as battery chargers for videos, hair dryers etc. can be plugged in with appropriate adapters. These are available for purchase at most airports and travel shops
Riding clothes, half chaps are recommended, riding gloves, riding boots, walking shoes, fleece, warm jacket, sweatshirt, long sleeved shirts, windcheater/raincoat, plenty of socks, light flip flops/sandals, sunblock, sunglasses with string, insect repellent, torch, camera on a shoulder strap with a pouch which can be secured to your belt, plenty of film and batteries, binoculars, water bottle. It will be very cold at night/in the morning so bring some good thermal wear and good jackets, a woollen hat and gloves.
It is recommended that a riding hat is worn, if not you will be grateful for a light scarf to keep dust and grime out of your hair. This will also be useful if visiting any Sikh shrines when the head must be covered. Out of respect to local custom women should avoid bare shoulders, legs and low neck lines. Many hotels have no heating so make sure that you have warm socks, trousers etc.
This is a 14 days / 13 nights programme with 9 riding days available on a set date each year.
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Lonely Planet Guide/ NEOS Guide to Rajasthan/Delhi & Agra. ‘The City of Djinns’-William Dalrymple, ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’-Paul Theroux, ‘An Indian Summer’-James Cameron, ‘Into India’-John Keay, ‘No Full Stops In India’ –Mark Tully, ‘Rajasthan;India’s Enchanted Land’-Raghubir Singh, ‘Rajasthan, Land of Kings’-Matheson S.& Beny R., ‘The Royal Palaces of India’ –Michell G. & Martinelli A., ‘Arts and Crafts in Rajasthan’-Nath A. & Wacziarg F.,‘Plain Tales From The Raj’-Charles Allen, The Bagahvaad Gita and of course many others have been written about this huge, diverse land and its 847 million inhabitants. For the equestrian traveller who would like to see what is possible on horseback visit www.thelongridersguild.com also a fantastic place to acquire your equestrian travel books is www.horsetravelbooks.com
Sightseeing in Jaipur: The City Palace which now houses a museum containing rare manuscripts, painting and an armoury; the Jantar Mantar observatory- built in the 17th century by Jai Singh- with a sundial 90ft.high; the Museum amidst the Ram Niwas Palace Gardens founded in 1876 with a large collection of antiques; the palace of Winds, a landmark of Jaipur made of pink sandstone and of unique design.
AMBER FORT : 12 Kms. from Jaipur. lies the city of Amber with an ancient imposing fort cum Palace overlooking the lake at the entrance to a rocky mountain grove. Built in the 17th century, the palace is a distinguished specimen of of Rajput architecture. The Jai Mandir (hall of victory) is so delicately ornamented with fine inlay work that it glows. The fort of Jaigarh, crowning the summit of a peak is of amazing beauty and grandeur.
At some of the hotels during the ride there will be some entertainment in the form of folk dances/music etc.
Riders are likely to come across the Nilgai Antelope (the biggest antelope of India), hare and maybe jackal. As far as birds are concerned - they should get to see several....Parakeets, Bee eaters, Babblers, Green Pigeons, Indian Roller, Black Drongo, Egrets, some raptors, Warblers, Maynas, Chats, Indian Robin, Blue Rock Pigeon and Red Wattled Lapwing.
BEGGARS - You will not visit India without coming into contact with many distressing facets of this unfortunate community. Without appearing harsh it is strongly advised by the Indian Authorities and charity workers in the country not to give to these people. Should you wish to do something extra to help these communities a donation to an established charity will go much further and give you a relatively hassle free visit.
TAXIS/RICKSHAWS – In major cities these should be metered and have a tariff rate. If in doubt agree a fare before departing and check that the meter is used. Do not be persuaded to go where the drivers get commission.
India forms a natural sub-continent with the Himalayas to the north. The Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, which are sections of the Indian Ocean, lie to the west and east respectively.
The official language of India is Hindi written in the Devanagari script and spoken by some 30% of the population as a first language. Since 1965 English has been recognised as an 'associated language'. In addition there are 18 main and regional languages recognised for adoption as official state languages. There are another 24 languages, 720 dialects and 23 tribal languages.
India will sideswipe you with its size, clamour and diversity - especially if you enjoy delving into convoluted cosmologies and thrive on sensual overload. Nothing in the country is ever quite predictable; the only thing to expect is the unexpected, which comes in many forms and will always want to sit next to you.
The time difference for India is GMT/UTC +5.5hrs and the dialling code is +91. India has adopted metric weights and measures.