Friday, January 3, 2014

Rajasthan

Probably it is one of the most visited tourist places in India, so my eulogy of the place is one more drop in the huge ocean. In the dust and sands, we had a glorious history of kings and their life long gone and this trip was essentially an experience of reliving the past. The history lessons long forgotten made some comeback here and there. The guides were story tellers in their own right and every ruin, every palace needed their expert skill to make themselves appealing to the visitors.

 I and my wife went on this trip organised by Nirmala travels in the beginning of last year. The whole trip lasted more than two weeks. So we had our fill of sands and forts by the end of it.
The first place that we visited was the royal city of Udaipur. Flanked with hills in all directions, in the mornings it looked as if the misty mountains were not far away.
The most visible symbol of Udaipur is the palace which is built on a hillock. You can see sturdy trees on the top floor of the palace, the reason being the palace has been built around the hillock thus allowing for the soil to reach the top. The soul of the city mainly revolves around the exploits of Maharana Pratap, the memorial at Haldighati, the place of his fierce battle with raja maan singh and the memorial place for his Chetak horse on a small hillock near the big lakes of Udaipur are a proof of this. At the end of two days of sightseeing, I ended up eating hot pakoras and drank masala chai in the shopping hub of the city, with all shops closed for Sunday, I felt happy and my wife bewildered.

Chetak Ghoda memorial

Udaipur Palace
After Udaipur we visited Chittorgarh, the mighty fort situated on the top of the hill. The circumference of the fort is around thirteen kms and it contains in its belly history like no other place. From tales of Meera bhai to Rani Padmini, to the amorous Alaudin khilji and the brutal destruction caused due to Akbar’s attack on the fort, the whole place has a historic halo to it. The place looks sacrosanct and full of those past life that people had lived and sacrificed at its gates. You get an eerie feeling as you visit the jauhar sites where the women in the fort had immolated themselves whenever the fort was about to fall into the hands of the enemies. This had happened three times in the history of the fort.
Inside Chittorgarh Fort


Vijay stamb- Inside Chittorgarh fort


The next stop was Pushkar, the place with the only brahma temple. The climate had deteriorated to almost zero degrees and getting up in the freezing cold was an effort in itself.  Deciding against taking a dip in the holy lake in the freezing cold, we just sat on the banks enjoying the cold breeze. It is said that the lake is the symbol of brahma and the temple per se, doesn’t have much significance.
Pushkar Lake
Jaipur, the city of the Marwari’s has again a rich tradition of rulers, with raja Maan singh being the most famous of them. Having accepted the Mughal overlordship over them, the Jaipuri’s had rarely faced any external dangers. Jaipur has a mix of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture in the buildings. The fort and the palace were impressive but it didn’t look as glamorous as the Udaipur palace. Jantar Mantar which is next to the city palace is a must visit site. Built in the 1700’s by Raja Jai singh, it is a place to be explored at leisure. The various instruments used to determine the accurate time and time of the year etc. makes you a wonder eyed kid looking at some magic happening. The Amer palace and the Jaigarh fort were pretty nice but the eye candy of the day was the giant canon which is on top of the Jaigarh fort. The canon has a range of 35 kms and it was used only once during its test fire. At the end of the city’s visit we had an evening free for shopping, I guess the normal tourists are royally screwed in these places. It is best to start bargain from say 20% of what the seller demands and be an obstinate buyer
Jal Mahal in Jaipur


The Big Canon


Amer fort- Royal Garden


Jantar Mantar
The next location was Bikaner, the place famous for its bujias. Closer to the desert area, Bikaner looked the driest place till now. The fort at the city center was nice, but by now since we had covered a pretty good amount of forts and palaces, there was nothing drastically new here. After the fort visit, we went to the Karni mata mandir. This place is an experience in itself. Thousands of rats scurrying in all directions. I mistakenly stepped on a couple of them, to pull my leg up instantly after feeling the furry touch. According to the local belief, the people who die in the town take birth as rats in the temple.

Bikaner Palace-Walls adorned with Gold

Karni mata mandir- where rats rule
Jaisalmer brought us next to the desert. Dusty and in a way quite sleepy, Jaisalmer seems to transport you back in time. Camels rule the roost in this place. One of the interesting places to visit here is the Patwaon-ki-haveli or the houses of the diamond merchants. Apparently lot of diamond trade happened in the bygone days at this place. The multi storeyed building gives a glimpse of the life of the rich in the times of the kings.
The vast expanse of the desert was finally in front of us. Sitting on the sand and watching the sun set on the sand dunes was quite a rich experience but almost all the tourists in Jaisalmer seemed to be present at the same place, diluting the richness to an extent. The camel ride was also fun, but considering the fact that only an 8 year old boy was guiding the camel, I was twitching in my seat whenever the camel grunted.
Gadisar lake

On the Thar - With the ship of the desert
Jodhpur the blue city has a majestic fort that looms over the city. Apparently some scenes of the movie Dark knight rises was shot in and around this fort including the famous pit scene. The fort is quite huge and the view of the city from the top is breathtaking.
Jodhpur Fort

Jodhpur Fort
The trip was rounded off by our visit to the only hill station of Rajasthan, Mount Abu. The Dilwara jain temples are majestic. The intricate carvings on the rocks requires time for the visitors to observe and see. It is unfortunate that photography is not allowed inside the temple complex.  Mount Abu is also a shopping haven for the ladies. Trinkets like earrings, bangles are pretty cheap if you bargain well.
Overall it was a nice trip. Having covered a significant portion of Rajasthan, there was lot to see, enjoy and experience. The experience with Nirmala travels was ok. Food was excellent as the cooks travelled with us and prepared nice south Indian food throughout the tour. Accomodation varied from very good to pretty poor. At least in a couple of places it was wonderful, average in around four places and pretty worse in a couple of places so much so that I had to get the sheets changed and in another place had to fight for a room change. The travel was done in a Rajahamsa kind of bus, whereas I was expecting an A/c bus, the younger people get to warm the last seats of the bus. So if you are not at least above 50, you are screwed. Lot of places were covered in the two weeks, probably it would have been impossible to cover so much if you travel on your own. In conclusion no more such travels for me in the future till I turn 60. I would rather spend double the money on a week long trip.
I would say we enjoyed Rajasthan a lot, it is mostly a history lesson that plays before your eyes. The sand filled forts and the run down relics look like the fast fading remnants of the glorious past that the place had seen.

3 comments:

Chethan Palakshamurthy said...

Felt several placed are just hyped. for eg., jal mahal and gadisar lake are a joke.

dilwara, jodhpur, udaipur and jaisalmer forts are must
visits.


openid said...

Nice account of Rajasthan. felt you could have split the account to smaller pieces. Have never been to Rajasthan, hopefully in the near future.

Mithun U said...

@Chetan: I agree with you on the jal mahal and gadisar lake. I would rate Chittorgarh, Jodhpur fort, Udaipur palace as probably the best places. I also liked the rat temple :).

@anoop: Yes, very good suggestion, will keep it in mind for the next time. After writing the blog, I got that feeling. I would wait for that blog posts of yours covering Rajasthan, It would look enchanting with your photography.