I remember the sky that evening!
A poignant shade of blue and pink against the setting sun.
As we zipped through the highway from Ahmedabad to the most written about, most travelled to, rich in heritage state of Rajasthan.
The bougainvillea bushes added colour on the ground… brilliant fuschia, mellow orange to soft pink.
Soon it became dark.
There was no light on the streets
Our white Innova shining on a moonless black night.
Till up ahead lights twinkled.
Warm golden lights.
The breeze was cool.
But the twinkling golden hue rang out a welcome.
All at once … it felt like Diwali.
UDAIPUR We had reached Udaipur
Late into the evening.
As the wind blew across the lakes
Udaipur, transports you to a feeling of being a part of history afloat on the lakes .
Vibrant yet soft
Beautiful yet strong
This city wears a dream like look.
But even as dreamy as it appears this City is mighty.
Udaipur was founded in 1553 by Maharana Udai Singh of the Sisodia clan of Rajput,when he shifted his capital from the city of Chittorgarh to Udaipur. The city was established as the new capital of the Mewar kingdom.. To protect Udaipur from External attacks, Maharana Udai Singh built a six kilometre long city wall, with sevengates, namely Surajpole, Chandpole, Udiapole, Hathipole, Ambapole, Brahmpole and so on. The area within these walls and gates is still known as the old city or the walled city.
Udaipur remained the capital of the state, which became a princely state of British India in 1818
Also Known as the City of Lakes Udaipur originally consisted of five beautiful namely Fateh Sagar Lake, Pichola Lake, Swaroop Sagar Lake, Rangsagar and Doodh Talai Lake
Most popular among them.being the first two.
Famous for the City Palace, which was built over 400 years, with contributions from several rulers of the Mewar dynasty.The series of palaces in the city palace complex, hosts exquisite riches that belonged to its famed sons through the centuries.
The Palace is a delightful trove of history architecture and royal treasures.
Another beautiful place to visit would be Saheliyon-ki-Bari a garden with beautiful fountains and kiosks, a lotus pool and marble elephants. It was built by Rana sangram Singh. Sahelion Ki Bari was laid for a group of forty-eight young women attendants who accompanied a princess to Udaipur as part of her dowry.
But over and above itv all are the lakes
Forever it will carry
Century old secrets
Forever it will be a beautiful mystery
What made Udaipur even more special.was where we stayed.
An absolutely quaint set of luxury tents type cottages on the banks of Lake Pichola.
You could step out of your tent cotrage walk across the patch of green, bend over the embankment and touch the water.
If you seam 15 minutes you would reach City Palace, if you seam 25 you would reach Lake Palace.
The mornings would be mist covered and the evenings would be candlelit
Even more fascinating was the narrow lanes and bylanes that one had to contend with to reach this place.
This journey through the lanes is a journey into a different world altogether. Every house had exquisitely painted walls with elephant , horse, camel or peacock patterns. Every door was ornate. Every inhabitant was a virtual tourist guide. Art, Artefacts And the aroma of local food wafted by , even as one bumped into people from all nationalities at every twist and every turn of these century old gullies.
Almost like the world had come together on these narrow lanes leading to the ethereal lakes to revel in a charm so unique so vibrant and so welcoming
And the ember glow of a zillion lamps
KUMBHALGARH As we left behind the beautiful Udaipur, the sun shone bright and the rolling Aravallis almost beckoned us to explore more.
We arrived at Kumbhalgarh at noon.
Brown and green amidst a forest terrain
Miles and Miles of Fortress Wall.
Built by Rana Kumbha during the course of the 15th century Kumbhalgarh is the second most important Fort in Rajasthan.Built on a hilltop 3,600 ft above sea level on the Aravalli range, the fort of Kumbhalgarh has perimeter walls that extend 36 km.The frontal walls are fifteen feet thick. Kumbhalgarh has seven fortified gateways. There are over 360 temples within the fort, 300 ancient Jain and the rest Hindu. From the palace top, it is possible to see kilometers into the Aravalli Range. it offers a panoramic view of the surroundings
Kumbhalgarh also marks the different territories between Mewar and Marwar and was often used as place to escape to whenever there was an attack.
A notable instance was in the case of Prince Udai, the infant king of Mewar who was smuggled here in 1535, when Chittaur was under siege.
It is said that The royal nursemaid Panna Dai concealed Uday Singh in the basket and covered him with fruits and the future Maharana of the Mewar was smuggled out of the reach of Banvir who was plotting an assassination so that he could ascend the throne Panna placed her own sleeping son Chandan, on the bed of Uday Singh. When Banvir came, he unknowingly slew Chandan, thinking that it was Uday Singh sleeping in his bed.
Finally, they arrived at Kumbhalgarh, many kilometres west of Chittor, where the local governor agreed to give the child protection.For a couple of years, Panna Dhai and the young king remained at Kumbhalgarh, where he was passed off as Kiledar’s nephew. However, in 1539 he was discovered and the nobles proclaimed Udai as their Maharana and his coronation was held at Kumbhalgarh. In 1540, backed by a large combined Mewar and Marwar force, Udai Singh, then aged 18, marched on Chittor to reclaim his throne.
Udai Singh later founded the beautiful City of Udaipur.
The fort is also the birthplace of Maharana Pratap, one of the most powerful kings of Mewar.
Maharana Pratap was born on May 9th 1540 His father was Maharana Udai Singh II and his mother was Rani Jeevant Kanwar. One of the most famous sons of the Rajputana Maharaja Pratap is remembered for his valour in the Battle of Haldighati against Akbar’s army
.Spectacular in its stature and presence the Fort is marked by . Badal Mahal, Kumbha Palace, Jain Temples, baoris, and water reservoirsSurrounding the Fort is a wildlife sanctuary which used to be the hunting ground of the erstwhile kings.
A fascinating place for trekking and sighting wild animals.
Standing there below
The Formidable Fort
I look up
Miles and Miles
In her Fortitude
Step by step by step
The sound of silence
The sound of my own breath
Long winding corridors
And steep stairways
Peering out now and then
From once where
Soldiers stood guard
Looking over the hills
For approaching enemies
I climb on…
The Hills breathe around me
And I breathe with them.
These Hills have seen it all
The high drama of Life
Has to be lived
Climb on Soldier
Till you reach
The highest pinnacle
Where the cool breeze
Soothes your Soul.
You have come home.
And the hills rolled on
All through the way.
We drove through dense greenery
We drove through dusty roads
And the hills remained
Mysterious We stopped at a wayside eatery.
A huge dining hall With A long verandah that overlooked the hills
It felt like the Half Way House
There it was standing in the middle of the Highway perched amidst the Hills.. A quick lunch and some more distance later we arrived at Ranakpur.
Ranakpur is a quaint beautiful, serene little town renowned for the absolutely marvellous Jain Temple.it is a major pilgrimage sight for the Jains. Ranakpur is named after Rana Kumbha, the ruler of Mewar who offered his land for the construction of a temple. It was built by a Jain businessman Dharna Shah approximately 600 ears earlier
The vast temple complex comprises Chaumukha Temple, Parsavanath Temple, Amba Mata Temple and Surya Temple. Chaumukha Temple is the most prominent amongst all of them. The term ‘Chaumukha’ means four-faced. Lord Adinath (the first Jain ‘Tirthankara’) is the main presiding deity of Chaumukha Temple.This architectural marvel comprises of intricately carved pillars, domes, and columns and jhoomars.The carvings and designs need to be seen to be believed
600 years ago everything was made made and everything was hand carved
And everything was intricate
To the minutes details Personally the Jain Temple at Ranakpur and Dilwara excelled in workmanship
Breathtakingly fascinating it compares to the Wonders of the
MOUNT ABU Travelling along side the Arravalis for a few days now a natural destination had to be Mount Abu, Rajasthan’s sole Hill Station. Mount Abu is set t on a high rocky plateau in the Aravalli Range very close to the ancient Dilwara Temples.
Built between the 11th and 13th centuries Dilwara Temple is an architectural marvel with its intricate stone carvings and also a rebound Jain pilgrimage destination. The five shrines are dedicated to Adinath, Rishabhdev, Nemi Nathji, Mahavir Swami and Parshvanath. As in keeping with many holy places one is not allowed to take pictures inside and hence I can only speak about the absolutely fascinating intricacies that I had the privilege to witness. The workmanship of the people who built the temples of Ranakpur and Dilwara leaves one gaping in sheer bewilderment.
Such precision and such beauty in days of the past.
Unlike Ranakpur when one sees the Dilwara Temple from outside it looks like any other structure in the village. All ornate designs were kept inside.
From the top the marble was simply painted white.
These temples contained within their premises great wealth and the temple top at Dilwara is hence camouflaged to avoid drawing attention to the plunderers and enemies
Another interesting story about Dilwara is how it got it’s name.The four temples were built by the kings and their ministers with marbles chosen carefully. The fifth shrine is built by the masons who were working on the other four shrines. These masons worked during their break hour every day and used the marble that was rejected for the other four shrines.
Hence this temple came from the” Dil” or heart of the masons. Hence the name Dilwara… and that name has stuck through the centuries.
Apart from Dilwara Temple another must see at Mount Abu is the Nakki Lake. Folk lore says that the lake was dug out by the Gods by simply using their nails to gain shelter from the Demon Banshkhali.
Whatever may be the origin Nakki Lake is a pretty spot where on side there is activities galore like pedal boating and popcorn.
Drive round to the other side of the lake for beautiful serenity .
Here is where can can sit for hours looking at the sun go down over the hills and the and lakes.
What really endeared us to Mount Abu more than the magnificence of the Dilwara Temple or the beauty of Nakki Lake was the charm of the pretty Connaught House , a beautiful cottage built by the British and currently owned by Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur .
This quaint heritage property has five rooms in the main wing and five more in the annexe .A living room and dining room strewn with pictures from the yesteryearsThe rooms are large and beautifully done up with closets and dressers and ornate mirrors.. The gardens are layered ,lush green and filled with large trees and pretty flowers. My room has the cutest nook overlooking the garden, an ideal place to spend your time with coffee and a book.
Connaught House Is a hotel run by Jodhana Heritage Hotels but it Is more a home in the hills.
JODHPUR The mighty Jodhpur.
The seat of power of the mightly Marwar
The Sun city
The blue city.
This beautiful city.
Built by Rao Jodha in 1459 who transported the capital from Mandore, Jodhpur wears a charismatic character, old world and classic.
It is said that At the time of partition, the ruler of Jodhpur, Hanwant Singh, did not want to join India, but finally did so due to the effective persuasion of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. So rich was Marwar that the king was being pursued by Jinnah and was promised that was promised that Marwar could even retain their own currency in Pakistan.
Both Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhavan are grand structures that bear testimony to the scale and valour of the custodians of this old city.
Though the fortress was originally started in 1459 by Rao Jodha, most of the fort which stands today dates from the period of Jaswant Singh.
Within the fort are several brilliantly crafted and decorated palaces. These include, Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), Sheesha Mahal (Mirror Palace), Sileh Khana and Daulat Khana. The museum houses a collection of palanquins, howdahs, royal cradles, miniatures, musical instruments, costumes and furniture. The ramparts of the fort house preserved old cannon (including the famous Kilkila), and provided a breath-taking view of the city.
Much later in 1929 Maharaja Umaid Sigh built Umaid Bhavan The Palace was built to provide employment to thousands of people during the time of famine
The site chosen for the palace was on a hill known as Chittar hill in the outer limits of Jodhpur, after which the palace is also known.The palace is magnificent in its structure and is divided into three parts the residence of the royal family, a luxury Taj Palace Hotel, and a Museum focusing on the 20th century history of the Jodhpur Royal Family.
The architectural beauty of Umaid Bhavan Palace stands out. Made of sandstone, the central dome reminded me of the grand European monuments, so did the frescos inside made by JS Norblin.
It is said that so lavish is the palae that even the linings on the floor was made of silver.
Amidst this wonderful display of lineage and legacy my thoughts ambled to the present day custodians of the House of Marwar.
The son of the house is married with children.
The daughter who is elder to the son is not.
She is involved with restoration of the forts and museums as is her father and brother.
So what happens next, I thought?
Who inherits the legacy?
The elder child irrespective of gender or the male child by the accident of his gender?
Truly both the male and the female progenies are the custodians of the legacy.
Truly they should both be the legatees.
Even without dividing one single monument into two, there is surely enough to own and take charge of for both the daughter and the son.
Too many of the daughters of these prime family get left out of their legacies.
Something which is as much their birthright as their brothers.
In the name of protecting heritage often the daughters are denied totally.
In a country which recognises them equal by law.
Even after 60 years of independence.
Married or Unmarried the daughters of these houses need to acknowledged.
Food for thought?
A New World
Does she then awaken
To a new freedom?
A new sensibility?
A new meaning?
To what she carries within her
What surrounds her; and
What lies ahead…. The land
Its people her very own
She owns them not
The Then and the Now
Titles given up
Yet still adorned
There lies a a Nee World
She must embrace.
Holding a torch
Light up the way
My Jodhpur story has at its heart the unforgettable experience at Ranbanka Palace.
Ranbanka Palace belongs to the Royal family and we were indeed given every bit the Royal Guest treatment.The palace originally belonged to HH Ajit Singh hi, younger brother of Maharaja Umaid Singh after whom Umaid Bhavan is named.
HH Ajit Singh ji had two sons and each of his two sons had two sons.
In process the palace now is divided into two separate parts and it houses two separate hotels~ Ajit Bhavan and Ranbanka Palace.
The latter is owned by Kunwar Vijay Singh and was also home to us during our stay at Jodhpur..
From the Fourposter bed on the 4th floor terrace room overlooking Umaid Bhavan to the beautuful poolside full of fountains and Diyas, to the Sarangi player n the garden fir breakfast and dinner to the Mojri Man with a delectable collection of traditionak Jodhpuri nicknacks, Rankanka Palace is one beautiful memory.
But if I have to single out a the most memorable moment it is undoubtedly the delectable Breakfast Experience.
Having been associated with hotels and literally lived and worked out of them for years I have had quite a few sumptuous breakfasts.
But Ranbanka breakfast is truly the best I have had till now.
Spread out in the garden we were welcomed to a table specially reserved for us and set up with silverware.
Two turbaned servers, most affable and warm stood by eager to coax and cajole and serve you and make sure that your morning fill is not only fulfilling but you have tried out a fair dose of local fare.
Seven types of milkshakes, ten types of danish bread, eight types of fruits including exotic fruits like kiwi and dragon fruits, eggs to order notwithstanding what s really endearing is the large variety of indegenous breakfast items like Piyaz kachori, Mirchi Vada and Sabudana khichdi.
The stowstopper was the live Chilla Counter!
Eggs to order move over
Moong Dal chilla with paneer and piyaz stuffing wins the day
All this in the warmth of the mellow winter sunshine
And to the tune of Sarangi and the soothing gurgle of the water from the fountains
This experience made me sit up and take notice
Even as luxury is getting increasingly standardised under different brand experience wherin the concept of luxury being unique is passe, it is perhaps these boutique experiences which help you reconnect with the service standards and warmth befitting luxury.
JAISALEMR And then Jaisalmer.
And this is where it started.
En route Jaisalmer. The magic where the rolling hills disappeared into the chimera of the dessert.
Light and Shade, Sun and Moon streaking through the soft sand dunes…
The mystery and magic of the dessert.
The heart of Rajasthan.
Rolling golden dunes
And scrubby dessert shrubs…
The sun had turned strong , really strong as we made our way to Jaisalmer. It was a round plate of blazing orange most of the day and when the sun set that day it set the sky ablaze in flames.
Jaisalmer, immortalised by our very own Maestro Satyajit Ray in the movie Sonar Kella ( The Golden Fort).
It is named after , Jaisal Singh, a Bhatti Rajput king who founded the city in 1156 AD. “Jaisalmer” means “the Hill Fort of Jaisal”. It is sometimes called the “Golden City of India” because of the yellow sandstone used throughout the architecture of both the fort and the town below, imparting a golden yellow shade to life in general.
This is a town largely confined within the gates of the old city which is predominantly the Quila or Fort.
Curiously the Quila itself has been taken over by the sucessors of those who once served the king. The king’s successor having been driven out of the Fort now lives outside in Badal Mahal.
Part of the royal residence is also a heritatage hotel.
Sonar Kella is filled with people who stay within its premises and make a living by selling a multitude of interesting items and artefacts incuding the famous “Sonar patharbaati” ( sandstone bowls)
There is a beautiful ancient Jain temple within the fort and residents are happy to lead you to the shooting spots where the famous movie was made.
Proud of the fact this golden hued fort is unique in that it has inhabitants it has earned the tag of being A Living Fort.
One cannot help but wonder how long this heritage site will hold up to the ravages of daily living of its seemingly large numbers
Outside the fort, life is about the romanticism of the Fort. Most hotels are also named forts like where we stayed was called Rajwada Fort.. The other significant thing about Jaisalmer is its proximity to Pakistan border.Jaisalmer District has a large international border and is an important army base.
The air hangs golden here.
Simmering dust particles surround us
So does the haunting music of the dessert.
It is in the hearty sandy desserts that the folk songs ring out loud
OSIAN If in Rajasthan ~ every nook and corner had a story, had magic , then our time at Reggie’s Camel Camp would be its culmination, the showstopper!
This is located at Osian, a small desert town close to Jodhpur.
The car stops at the Gate and you ride on a camel cart across a massive field of sand to reach a second gate , a mini reception, and then you cross over a large couryard with seating all around, to reach the living room with a massive bar in the centre, phorographs of past and present and silver trophies all around that tell tales connecting the past to the present!
There are many poignant moments in Reggie’s Camel Camp.
And one of the important ones perhaps is this feeling of a constant connect through the ages.
Mr Reggie Singh belongs to the Marwar Royal family. His lineage is from the famed Rajput Maharaja Tahkat Singh ji. Maharaja Tahkat Singh ji is about six to seven generations ahead of the current custodians of the House of the famed Marwar Dynasty.
To say that guest is treated like a king in Reggie’s Camel Camp, would not be exceptional. What does stand out however is the feeling that you are very much here and now and yet you are part of a deep culture and heritage of what used to be and still is and may we always retain this ethos.
I have often found myself wondering how does one make heritage and legacy come alive? Afterall to keep it going it needs to be alive. Not just in Museums and Arcives and Grand old Houses which become difficult to retain.
But in people and in a way of life.
This camp gave me a slice of living legacy.
We arrived to banners of “Magic under the Sky”
The massive Mahindra Conference has just got over. A visibly tired and happy Mr Reggie Singh greeted us as we entered his camp and we got chatting immediately on this and that and on Calcutta where he has spent many years.
Hungry after our long drive,we were led to another beautifu internal courtyard. A massive table was laid out under a shaded section and we were treated to a wonderful lunch, made more appetising by the warmth and graciousness of service. Mr and Mrs Reggie Singh dropped by for some more warm and chatty conversation before they went back home to Jodhpur
Each and every staff member here is cultured to be warm and helpful and yet completely non intrusive and that takes a fine balance.
There are eight permanent tents here and a hundred more can be set up at notice, as is done for large conferences.
The tents are elegantly done up with a beautiful bed and dresser and the washroom has all modern conveniences. Comfortable luxury in the middle of the desert.
We set out on a jeep for a ride over the rolling dunes to watch the sunset. A bumpy joyride later the car parked on top of a dune even as the sky turned orange.
Except the quiet shuffle as the jeep driver and one more person who had accompanied him lay out the gin and tonic and the accompaniments in silver bowls on a picnic table on the sand.
As you sip your gin and stare at the beauty unfolding
As you see a large beetle crawling near your glass of gin that you have perched for a moment on the sand as you gather this sheer moment of mystic wonderment
Because these moments need nothing more…
Even at a time that the sun was going down and the moonrise filled the other sky.
We came back to the camp to an enthralling performance of Rajasthani folk music and dance.
Set out in the large courtyard with a central sigree , a huge bonfire in the middle as we sat and got encaptivated by the songs and dance and the sounds of local instrument like morchaan.
For an hour and half Babu Khan and his group had us spell bound . A Hindu Muslim group of musicians who Babu Khan introduced as his family. And indeed the bonds of music, language and their livlihood is far stronger than their modes of connecting to the Allmighty.
They worship through their Music.
We were gently led to a fine candlelit dinner under the stars. A ten course affair with continental and Tandoor items.
And then finally tuck into our cosy tents.
Not before playing with Ruby , Khan and Sultan the fierce but friendly dogs of the Camp.
Indeed an evening to cherish.
Reggies Camel Camp of its huge courtyards, wonderful portraits and photographs, its comfortable and elegant luxury and its complete veneration and regard for nature and culture stands out in its warmth of hospitality and sustainable and living legacy and heritage.
The morning broke over the sand dunes.
After a spectacular evening .
The sound of Morchaan still ringing in my ears as I went for a sand dune walk.
Soft sand and mellow sunlight before the sunrays went ablaze.
Sultan ( that delighful guarddog) decided to let down his guard and mannaged his way right inside my tent.
It was a little too soon to say goodbye.
Yet we needed to start off for our long drive to Jaipur.
After a long journey aside the rolling Aravallis and the raw beauty of the desert, going through several besutiful destinations , each unique and each with remarkable character, here we were, reflecting on journeys, people, cultures, places, colours, hues, nuances, spending a lazy afternoon at Jai Mahal Palace, Jaipur at the verandah of The Marble Arch,
Jaipur being the capital city , was not new to us. This city painted in pink to welcome the Prince of Wales was founded in 1727 by Jai Singh II, the Raja of Amer shifted his capital from Amer, 11 kilometres from Jaipur to accommodate the growing population and increasing scarcity of water. It is a major tourist destination
Tourist attractions like Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, City Palace, Amer Fort, Jantar Mantar, Nahargarh Fort, Jaigarh Fort were visited earlier.
And hence the preference for sitting on a beautiful marble verandah with the expance of the hotel looming over us and expansive greens all around even as the Sun coloured the sky
The parakeets flew by.
And the hotel’s pheaton made its rounds at a distance
The sun slanted away.
And the beautiful afternoon evening held sway.
The Parakeet flocks chattered incessantly.
Rajasthan was vibrant melange of sound , sight, music and colour
To remember Rajasthan , you cannot look behind, you got to look inside your heart.
For surely Rajasthan is nothing short of an incredible unforgettable romance