Built over a period of a few hundred years, Rampuria Havelis of Bikaner are not just a visual delight, but also a living example of the exquisite sense of aesthetics that our forefathers had, but we somehow lost. These havelis make you jump with joy with their beauty and splendor, but at the same time they also make you cry with grief because of their degeneration over the past few decades.

Built for the richest merchants of Bikaner, the Rampuria Havelis are the most opulent of them all, and despite the ravages of time, they still stand tall and proud.

rampuria haveli bikaner rajasthan india
A Rampuria Haveli in Bikaner


Havelis of Bikaner

I will certainly write more in detail about the havelis of Bikaner, but here is a quick overview. These mansions were commissioned by the King of Bikaner for the merchants of the city so that they make Bikaner their home and do business from here. It was a tactical move and played a huge role in making the city a major commercial center.

rampuria haveli bikaner rajasthan india
Front facade of a Rampuria Haveli

After independence, Bikaner lost much of it's sheen and merchants started migrating out of the city to the rest of the India, especially Kolkata (then Calcutta) as well as many parts of Maharashtra, like Pune. With time most of the big players were gone and with that started the decline and demise of the haveli culture of the city.

Read more: Historic Havelis of Bikaner

But why are they called Rampuria havelis?

Rampuria havelis belonged to one of the richest and the most powerful families of Bikaner - Rampurias, and so were named after them. Each haveli has it's own name though and I am sure this collective name came into use much later and was not an official name.

Walk through the Rampuria havelis

The best time to wander around the havelis is early in the morning when the city is still waking up. The roads are empty, the sky is blue (and full of pigeons) so you can get picture perfect shots easily. You can either do it on your own on foot, or on a horse-driven tonga if you are staying with Narendra Bhawan. The best part of doing it with Narendra Bhawan is that there will be a guide with you and he can tell you tons of stories and answer all your questions as well. I recommend a tonga visit with the guide, and later a solo visit in the morning.







If you enjoy history and photography, keep about two hours for the havelis. They can be done in flat 15 minutes as well, so it's all up to you.

There are only 4 havelis, and they are all almost all connected. All, except one haveli, are no longer in use and are maintained only by a caretaker. The Rampurias still own these havelis and spend at least some money to provide security. I tried going inside one of these and was angrily shooed away by the guard inside. But the place looked hi-tech from inside - with CCTV cameras everywhere and lots of big monitors on the wall for the guard.

Exploring a Rampuria Haveli from inside

I was clearly not satisfied seeing the havelis from inside and was almost desperate to see them from inside, even if they were dilapidated and no longer looked their best.

My habit of picking up conversations with locals came to my rescue here, and over a casual conversation an old man told me that there was a hotel in one of the havelis. This was enough for me to conceptualize a plan to make a visit and see the place - as long as the hotel was there and accessible to it's guests, I was sure they would welcome me as well.

bhanwar nivas palace rampuria haveli bikaner rajasthan india
That's my chai table on the left :)

As soon as I was done taking pictures, I decided to have my morning tea and eat my breakfast at this (still unknown) hotel. Surprisingly, the entrance to the hotel is not on the main road, but on a back road, so you never really see it unless you know about it. It's called Bhanwar Nivas Palace and is housed in the last haveli on the right. I walked in confidently, told them I was a travel write and blogger and would like to eat breakfast there. Usually the breakfast is only for the guests, but they were happy to have me there. The spread wasn't as appetizing, so I settled for ginger tea which was superb. Without even asking for it, I was also given a tour of the property and I loved it. They did seem a bit more stiff, but I think I also took them a little off-guard with a sudden appearance :)

If you are planning a visit to Bikaner, or even passing by, these should be your number one destination. They are not just a visual delight, but also a lesson in history and a study of our illustrious past.

Curious to know? Check out my video on YouTube from my early morning walk at the haveli :)

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Disclaimer: I was in Bikaner on invitation of Narendra Bhawan. All views expressed are unbiased and my own, and based on my personal experience. 
So when in Germany, do as the Germans do. Well, for me I could only follow this advice partially as I could barely join them in their good looking non-vegetarian meals, but I did try something that most tourists often shy away from - I went to sauna with my (unknown) German brethren.

What is the big deal about German sauna? There are saunas across the world, and I had already been to multiple ones in India. I actually quite like them as they are the prefect place to relax at the end of a long and tiring day, and apparently saunas also have health benefits. Things can't be any different in a German sauna as well, right? Well, I found out a hard way.

german nude naked sauna dresden
The relaxing area at the sauna in my hotel at Dresden

So one day when I was dead tired after walking the entire day in Dresden, I decided to do something relaxing. I would have ideally preferred a massage, but I was sure the price would be prohibitive (without even checking) so instead decided to do something free - German sauna. Looking back now, I really think I should have googled a little bit more about the etiquette of visiting a Sauna in Germany.

I was a guest at the Swissotel Dresden Am Scholss and decided to use the sauna there itself (it was free). I picked my bathrobe, towel and took the lift to the basement where the Sauna was located. I think I can now blame the beautiful receptionist who told me at least twice that I could use the sauna till 10 PM and that it was completely free for guests for this visit.

Unlike the spas of India, the saunas in Germany are more like do-it-yourself spaces. I saw absolutely no one and that made me a little nervous. I saw two rooms - one said Herr and the other said Damien on the door. Herr sounded like a version of the English word ‘her’ and Damien sounded like a versions of another word ‘dame’. Confusing, right? I was completely sure that they both can’t be for the womenfolk, but was there a clue that I was missing?

Taking a leap of faith, I decided to walk into the one named ‘Herr’ and was relieved to see urinals at the end of the room. Thank God I didn’t bump into a woman changing clothes - that would have been a bit awkward. I quickly undressed, tied the towel across my waist, wore the towel gown and went out of the changing room from the other side. The place was really huge from inside, and I could hear the sound of hissing steam from a corner. This room had showers on the right and left and straight ahead were two sauna rooms.

Being a typically prude Indian, I was kind of relieved to see an empty shower area. I quickly stripped down to my birthday suit and enjoyed a few minutes of warm shower. After a long day walking in the cold, this was a perfect way to relax. Once done, I decided to hit the sauna and let all my body pores open, and my skin to rejuvenate. There were again two saunas, and I decided to go into the one that came first on my right.

However, I was in for a rather big surprise. The sauna was near full with young men wearing...errr...nothing. I think I took a moment to actually confirm that what I saw was actually true. I had two options now - flee (more practical) or join in (ridiculous). Being the only guy in the room with a towel on his waist and standing at the door looking unsure, I soon found everyone's gaze fixed at me, which made my next step even more weird. By this time I had decided that I won't flee and within seconds took off my towel, placed it on the wooden benches and for the first time walked naked and confidently in a group of complete strangers. The only embarrassing part was that everyone was looking at me :)

I realized sometime later that no one really looks when people walk in, and maybe I became a star attraction because of my initial inhibitions. The sauna was really really hot and almost completely full. By this time I had realised that there were things that I didn't know about German sauna and decided to observe what others did so that I could follow them later. Of course being an Indian in a German sauna meant that I was unable to sit for long and decided to walk out with the guy sitting next to me. We exchanged small pleasantries and he soon walked under a shower, and took a cold shower! I had heard of people in Scandinavia doing it, but this was a surprise.

german nude naked sauna
A typical German sauna (Source: Wikipedia, photographer: Eugen Nosko)

Despite my best intentions of living the life of a local, I decided to skip the cold shower and took a lukewarm shower and then went to the second sauna room. I am not sure how this was different, but it seemed a bit more dry. A few minutes later it was time for another shower, but this time there was a bunch of older women as well. As it turned out, the sauna was not gender specific, but this time I was prepared and behaved as if this was a norm in my country as well.

As I ready to leave for the locker room, I saw some of my earlier companions, still walking in the buff, walking further deep into the sauna. The area looked much darker, and I could hear faint music playing somewhere far far away. I took my towel and decided to follow them. The short walk opened into a rather large room with relaxing chairs, falling water and cups of herb infused water. This was apparently the place to relax after sauna. I also took a recliner, and actually ended up taking a short nap.

I think it was close to midnight when I came back to my room, completely refreshed and relaxed. Any guesses what I did after that? Well, I took my camera and my tripod and went out for a walk to capture Dresden in the night. Here's an image from that awkwardly memorable night!

A post shared by The Wanderer (@siddharthajoshi) on


Of course, I did a bit of research about German sauna after coming back and my experience was rather typical. In fact I read many accounts of non-Europeans getting a bit of a cultural shock when they walked in to a naked sauna, especially the ones where men and women share the same space. However, that's not a big deal, it's a part of the German tradition and that's all that matters. In fact I would recommend trying it out if you visit Germany because it will certainly be a new experience, and a very relaxing one also after you get over the initial inhibitions. Trust me being naked in the company of many other naked people in close proximity is also a bit liberating, you are just as nature created you and it feels great to be comfortable with that!

Tips for Sauna in Germany

However, to help you plan a visit to the sauna better, here are some useful tips:

1. Drink lots of water before you go to the sauna and also after it.
2. It's best to carry your own towel, bath-robes and slippers. These will typically be available in your hotel room. If not, be prepared to shell out a few euros.
3. There is space to hang the bath-robe outside the sauna room, and you can take the towel inside. Keep the towel under you on the wooden bench, else you might suffer from burns in your butts! Some saunas don't allow towels inside at all and you need to wet the seat with water before you sit on it.
4. It's not acceptable to wear anything at all. Be prepared to be naked with a bunch of other naked people. And frankly, what's the big deal!
5. The saunas can get crowded at times, and there is a chance that you will be in close physical contact with another person. It is OK.
6. The saunas are often mixed saunas, like the one I visited. If you are not at all OK with it, some saunas also have women's only day so ask for these details.
7. It's good to spend anything between 10-15 minutes inside a sauna. However, if you are not comfortable, leave early.
8. There is often an instruction sheet, though it might not always be in English. The info-graphics are easy to understand - so if you are confused, just look for this sheet.
9. Do how the Germans do - hot saunas, cold shower. Repeat.
10. It is not good etiquette to look at someone for too long, especially down there. Keep your eyes at eye level and make new friends :)

In the end all I can say is that saunas in Germany are a different experience, but once you get used to their peculiarity, you can really enjoy them. Do give it a try :)
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of Life” Samuel Johnson said it right! So, if you ever visit this beautiful city (and I suggest everyone must, once in a lifetime), here's something little to help you! Fortunately, London happened twice for me. And second time I was a guide and a trip planner for my family. Frankly speaking, it’s so easy to roam around London, that you won’t need a guide; all you need is Google map. That is it!

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Ah London!

Once I was done with my visa, I started searching what to see in London. I took help of itineraries available at all famous tour companies (Suggested reading: London on a budget). I didn’t want to miss those points for sure! Once I was done jotting down places to see in London, I opened Google map and started searching which place on the list is nearby which one. This helped me to roughly decide, what all places I can visit in a day. Next, I didn’t know what mode of transportation is best to switch between the places, so, once again Google map helped me. I also decided what sequence I should follow on each day. Most of the times, I first decide to visit the place that is far from my host’s house and used to end near home.

I am writing this post to put everything in one place, so that it will be easier for you to plan your London trip. So, let’s get started!


City Maps

Alright! Before you get out of the airport, you need to pick up few Maps at the airport; following are the two maps you need to pick up,
1. London underground tube map.
2. The MAP

Also, make sure you check the weather, and put on your jacket before you exit the airport!

Get Connected

The first thing you want to do after leaving the airport Wifi zone is is to get a local SIM card. Lycamobile and Libara have cheaper calling rates to India (in case you want to make calls). I used Lycamobile. I had to spend around 15£ for data and calling, which was more than enough for 8 days.

Places to visit in London

Now let's get down to places to see in London. I have been to most of the ones listed below, apart from a few.

1.  Buckingham palace
2.  Queens Gallery
3.  Hyde park
4.  Marble Arch
5.  Madame Tussaud’s wax Museum
6.  Trafalgar square
7.  Oxford street
8.  Piccadilly circus
9.  Tower of London
10.  Tower Bridge
11.  The Shard*
12.  London eye
13.  London Aquarium
14.  Big ben
15.  St. Paul’s Cathedral*
16.  Science Museum
17.  British Museum
18.  Victoria and albert museum
19.  London zoo
20.  St. Paul’s Cathedral*
21.  Lord’s cricket ground*
22.  Wembley stadium*

Please don’t kill me but still there’s a lot, but I am ending it here

Note:
· Similarly colored places are nearby and can be covered in a day.
· I haven’t been to ‘*’ places, but you should go! ;)

I believe everything is worth watching, but you can always choose what you are most interested in.
For e.g. not everyone is a cricket fan so you may skip Lord’s or if you think museums are boring, you can definitely go somewhere else.

Ways of Transportation in London

I loved public transport in London; here are the ways you can travel in London:
1. Underground Tube
2. Taxi
3. Bus
4. Cycles
5. Hop on hop off buses, and last but not the least
6. Uber

For underground tube and bus, I suggest you take an Oyster card. You can get this one at any tube station or at any general stores. You take a weekly pass which costs around 39 pounds and is totally worth, you can use Oyster cards for underground tubes as well as for Buses. I only travelled by Tube and bus. But your weekly pass will be valid only for zone 1, 2 and 3. (Check the zones in ‘London underground tube map’). That means, to go to ‘Lord’s cricket ground’ and ‘Wembley stadium’ you need to top up your Oyster card, before you enter the station.

You can see the tube map here.

You need to tap the card before you enter at a tube station and tap it again at the exit to open the gate for you. In the buses you need to tap the card only while you enter. To check the bus numbers and timings, you can download an App called ‘London Bus’, it shall guide to catch the right buses.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Signs like this one are everywhere! 

How I traveled in London...

We used to leave from home early morning around 8 am. Since I was living away from the city center, it used to take time to reach to the desired place. Most of the attractions in London are located at the city center. Even if you live near city center, I would suggest you to leave your hotel/place early, so that you will have lesser rush at least at the first place you visit and that would help you to capture photographs much better.

I will tell you about the places I have been to in the order I have listed them above; starting off with Buckingham Palace, it is the place where Royal Family lives. People in hundreds of number gather outside Buckingham palace to see ‘the Change of Guard Ceremony’. The ceremony usually starts at 11:00 AM. Many times there is change in the timings of ceremony, so you would want to check the timings here. During this ceremony, you will see and meet people from all around the world (Many of them do not even speak English), but still it is fun to communicate. Make sure you take care of your valuables in the crowd. To get the best pictures and view of the ceremony, I would suggest reaching the place at 10:15 AM; otherwise you will be far behind in the crowd.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Royal Guards
travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Change of Guard ceremony

During particular months, some part of Buckingham is open to public, make sure to check before you go; you might just get lucky to go into the palace. Five minutes away from Buckingham palace, there is Queen’s gallery where you can see queen’s used jewellery and clothing. You can use Google map to find its location.

To reach:
Underground Line: Piccadilly/ Jubilee/ Victoria
Station: Green Park (walk to the palace and queen’s gallery)

Hyde Park is just the next underground station to Green Park; (If you decide to walk instead of taking a tube from Buckingham palace to Hyde Park; you will get to see the Marble Arch too.) Hyde Park is over 350 acres area, at the center of the city. You will see variety of plants, lakes and beautiful landscapes inside. If you are someone who loves nature, this is the place for you. If you visit during March you will see trees blooming with gorgeous pink flowers.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Cherry Blossom at Hyde Park

There are maps available at every corner of the park to keep you directed. You can use cycles to roam in this huge area or you can walk. If you have kids with you make sure you carry a buggy with you all the time because you will need to walk a lot in London. And walking is the best way to enjoy the city. There are many exits from the park, so check the map of the park before you exit.

To reach:
Underground Line: Piccadilly
Station: Hyde Park Corner

After coming out of the Hyde Park, get onto a bus (Number: 30 or 74) and get off at Baker’s Street and 2 minutes away is Madam Tussaud’s wax museum. You can check the Museum timings and prices on their website. If you are visiting this place on a weekend, it’s going to be crowded. More the crowd, more difficulty to take good pictures, just alerting ;)

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Sachin Tendulkar at Madam Tussaud's museum

Statues of sport legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Members of Royal family like Princess Diana and many others from the music industry, Bollywood, Hollywood, Politics, Marvel characters are displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

We saw wax statues of famous people and legends all around the world and took pictures with them like they are our buddies! You can eat some delicious street food around the museum.

To reach:
Bus station: Baker’s Street

If you want to visit city’s one of the most alive and vibrant place, it is Trafalgar Square.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
A living statue at Trafalgar Square 

The energy at this place is amazing. Many artists perform live here and it is a treat for eyes. Dancers, painters, speakers, beat boxers, Living statutes, musicians and lovely people off course! It was a completely different experience and I left the place with lifted spirits :)

To reach:
Underground Line: Piccadilly/ Northern
Station: Leicester Square (walk from the station to Trafalgar)

Oxford Street happens to be the best place to shop for the best brands in the world. There are many shops like H&M, ZARA, Topshop, Urban Outfitters, Nike, River Island, Marks & Spencer’s, Aldo, Adidas, Boots, Forever 21, French Connection and the list is endless! Fashion lovers can spend their entire day here and go crazy! There are many places to eat too! For e.g. McDonald’s!

To reach:
Underground Line: Northern/ Bakerloo
Station: Charing Cross (2 mins walk from the station)

Piccadilly Circus is called the Times Square of London; I visited the place to take good photographs. I saw wonderful pictures of this place on Instagram, so I had to visit this place.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Huge billboard at Piccadilly's Circus

Of course it has to be evening or night time to enjoy the beauty of this place. You can enjoy shopping at Boots and visit ‘Riplye’s believe it or not’.  There are many artist performing live at this place too!

To reach:
Underground Line: Bakerloo/ Piccadilly
Station: Piccadilly Circus (1 minute walk from the station)

Next on the list is, Tower of London! Tower of London happens to be the best place to know history of London. Have you heard about the jewel of Kohinoor? Well you have to see this precious diamond when you are in London! Unfortunately, I couldn’t take the picture because photography isn’t allowed in this section. You can watch all these jewels at the ‘Crown Jewel’ section at Tower of London.

You will also see some huge ravens in the gardens around; which are said to be the guardians of the tower. At the centre of the Tower of London is ‘White Tower’. The white Tower has Royal Armouries used by all British Emperors and soldiers.

To reach:
Underground Line: Circle\District
Station: Tower Hill station (Tower of London will be right in front of your eyes as you get out of the tube station, cross the road and you’ll be there)

As one enters the ticket area of Tower of London, you will see Thames River and the famous tower bridge; which is often mistaken for ‘London Bridge’. Actually, the next bridge to tower Bridge is the London Bridge. Let me put a picture of Tower Bridge here.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
The famous Tower Bridge of London

Take a walk to Tower Bridge after you exit from Tower of London. Don’t forget to sit and have some snacks at the edge of Thames. You can also eat at the restaurants nearby.  At the beginning of the Tower Bridge you will be attracted by sweet smell of caramel covered peanuts, I would recommend to taste them, because; number one, they are delicious. Number two, they cost only 4 to 5 pence. If you want to see the Tower Bridge opening, do check the dates and timings at Tower Bridge, because it's not always open. There are exhibitions held inside the two towers on the bridge, check for the on-going exhibition on the above given link.

You can visit ‘The Shard’ near Tower Bridge, which is one of the ways to get a magnificent view of the city. Another is, riding the ‘London Eye’! To go to London eye; take a walk for about 10 minutes to ‘London Bridge’ tube station from the end of Tower Bridge (Use your Google map or directions on the street) you can ask for directions to people on the street, because people in London are very sweet and helpful! Sometimes when I used to check my maps for directions, people used to come and help me out, without even asking them for help! More love to People of London! J So, once you get to the ‘London Bridge’ tube station, take Jubilee line and get down at Waterloo station and about after 7 minutes of walk, you will reach ‘The Coca Cola London Eye’.

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
London Eye at night

Do taste the food at the stalls around London eye, enjoy the view of the fabulous city and get some brilliant picture for your Instagram! No doubt, the architecture all around the city is admirable! From the London eye you will see Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, Government offices and other bridges on the river of Thames.

I highly recommend taking a ride in ‘London eye River cruise’; the ticket counter is beside the London eye. River cruise was the best experience. There is a guide in the cruise who will tell you information about everything you see along the edge of river; plus cruise is the best way to capture the city.

Top tip: Try to get the front seat on the upper deck for best viewing experience

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Tower Bridge from river cruise

To reach:
Underground Line: Jubilee
Station: Waterloo

London Museums

Did I tell you about the museums yet? If you are museum lover, you will love this city even more! There are several free and spectacular museums in London. Here are three museums I visited. I am putting some photographs and their locations here.


British Museum


travel guide and tips london united kingdom
Egyptian section at the British Museum
To reach:
Underground Line: Piccadilly
Station: Russell Square (walking distance from station, direction boards shall guide you! )

Science Museum
Movie at imax theatre inside the museum is a must watch, don’t miss it!

travel guide and tips london united kingdom
A vintage plane at the Science Museum
To reach:
Underground Line: Piccadilly/Circle/District
Station: South Kensington

Victoria & Albert Museum
Victoria & Albert Museum happens to be just two minutes away from science museum. Take underground way near the entrance of science museum, walk towards South Kensington station and you will find the entrance of the V&A museum right in the underground way!

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I have been to London twice, still I feel it is still not enough and surely, I am not done with London yet! I may have brought some pieces of London through words and pictures, but I cannot bring the cold, the winds, the smells, those smiles and conversation with strangers and feelings being fellow humans than being just foreigners and so many other feelings I cannot even put into words. That is the reason I recommend to go out there and collect experiences of lifetime!

Comment below if you find this post useful or if you enjoyed the photographs or you have more tips to give! Also make sure to share it with another wanderer, till then much love and power to you!

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This is a guest post by Chitra Takle, a Mumbai based blogger and Assistant Professor in an engineering college. She loves photography, art and collecting experiences around the world and making people smile. She shares her personal experiences, recommend books, lifestyle tips and monthly favorites on my blog, Chitra Takle. She have been to countries like France, Switzerland, Italy, London, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. She also supports One Love!

You can follow her adventures here:


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