Take a step back in time to visit magical palaces, temples, and deserts, as the locals do, writes NIMA MENON
I have always had a fascination with Rajasthan, and I’m sure that this was created by the numerous Amar Chitra Katha comics I read as a child. The story of the brave Rajputs, who fought for valour and love, particularly captured my attention. This seed of romanticism was sown sometime during that time, and is still with me. The Samyukta Swayamvar, the patriotic arrogance of Prithviraj Chauhan, the grit of Chatrapathi Shivaji, and the chivalry and bravery of Maharana Pratap, and his horse Chetak, have all managed to leave a lasting stamp on my memory.
I wed my man in uniform, and when he got posted to Mathura, I thought that this would finally be my chance to visit the place. But it was not to be. Then, we moved to Delhi, but Rajasthan still remained elusive. Finally in 2012, we planned my much awaited trip, departing from Sydney. Initially, I thought that Palace on Wheels would be a great idea, but after speaking to my husband’s friend’s posted there, I decided against it. I wanted to see the untainted Rajasthan, as the locals see it, rather than the tourist package.
To see the heart of Rajasthan we decided to start with Jodhpur, before travelling to Jaisalmer, Mount Abu and Udaipur. We flew from Delhi, and there was something magical in the air as I landed in Jodhpur. After we landed, I got a felling of déjà vu, although of course, I had never been there before. Maybe I have a connection with this place from another era, but who can ever be sure? And there was the army jonga waiting to pick us up. It was quite a nostalgic experience to stay in an Army Mess after so many years.
Not only called the Sun City, Jodhpur is also called the Blue City. It might have a little something to do with the unique way that the resident’s keep themselves cool. All of the houses are painted with ‘neel’ (indigo). Looking down on the hundreds of blue rooftops from the high ramparts of the Meharangarh Fort, is quite an amazing sight. The imposing fort is atop a 150m hill, and is more than 500 years old. The artefacts are breathtaking, and there are local artisans who work within the fort. In the past, the fort had its own little township, complete with a temple where the kings used to pray before embarking on a battle. The other impressive building here is the more sophisticated Umaid Bhawan palace, the residence of the Maharaja of Jodhpur.
The deserts of Jaisalmer are also magic. We took a jeep ride across the desert, and it was one of the most thrilling experiences I have ever had. Kilometres of open sand and sand dunes greeted us, as well as breathtaking sunsets. This vision will be etched into my memory forever. We then visited one of the villages and met with the people who lived there. In the middle of this desert is a well that never goes dry, and provides the villagers with safe, sweet drinking water all year round. The whole adventure had the feel of a Bollywood flick. It culminated with a camel ride, eating an authentic Rajasthani meal, and watching a traditional Rajasthani folk dance.
After all my shopping was done in Jodhpur, our next destination was MountAbu. Travelling by road, through the small Rajasthani villages, was like something out of a National Geographic road trip. Our driver took us to a Bishnoi village and the shrines there. I got to see peacocks and deer, and even a black buck. Quite the Indian safari indeed. He spoke to us about the shooting of a black buck by Salman Khan in the area, and the outrage that this created among the Bishnoi tribe.
MountAbu was definitely a change of scenery, as we went from the desert, to the chilling hill station. We visited the age old Dilwara Jain temple. This temple is made up of 5 marble temples, and has exquisite architecture that dates back to the 11th century. Guru Shikhar is the highest point in Rajasthan (5676 feet) and has a temple dedicated to saint Dattathreya. The temple has a massive bell with 1411 inscribed on its frame. And you get an amazing bird’s eye view of Mount Abu from the top. As the sun was lowering itself, the sunset point was completely crowded with tourists. Luckily, we managed to get a good spot on the ledge of a hill. In a span of 2 to 3 days, I had the unique opportunity of watching that glowing ball of fire disappear before my every eyes, first into the sand, and then in between the mountain ranges. You can’t but take a moment to marvel on the beauty of this entire universe in moments like these. You are but a spectator.
We left Mount Abu in the early hours of the morning, and headed towards Udaipur. Before reaching the city we stopped at Moti Margi overlooking the Fateh Sagar lake, to visit one of the most famous monuments, something that left me absolutely astounded and speechless. Astride his faithful horse, Chetak, is a huge bronze statue of Maharana Pratap. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, as a feeling of awe and reverence swelled within me. The artist had captured his dignity and grace with perfection.
That was my Rajasthani rendezvous: fabulous, breathtaking, mesmerising, and 100% enchanting. It is true that there is magic in the air there, and it beckons you to return to be enticed time and time again. Those who plan to visit the place must do as the local’s do. It is important to be a part of the sand and the stone, and hear the songs and the laughter, the war cries and the triumphant roars that reverberate from the fort walls, even today. As I headed back to Delhi, it was like moving from one era to another, because although modernity has touched parts of this beautiful state, the charm, the aura and the magical anticipation of things to come, still exits.