A million words cannot conjure up the magic of Rajasthan. Adorned by the majestic Aravalli mountain range, this is the land of the legendary Rajput rulers whose tales of valour, loyalty and love have been woven into ballads and folklore.
This is the land of shifting sand dunes, camels and nomadic cattle herds; of forts and palaces that have been converted into heritage hotels so that rulers of yesteryears, shorn of their privy purses, can live in the vibrant reality of the 21st century.
Despite the apparent poverty of the desert people they are a colourful, happy and proud community. The women wear long, flowing skirts made out of 8 to 10 metres of the most colourful material that stands out in the stark, barren landscape of their terrain. They love chunky silver jewellery and though the veil, which completely covers their face, is worn to hide their beauty from the covetous eyes of men, it also protects them from the harsh sun and sand. The men are tall, dusky and sport with pride their long, twirled moustaches, and often a beard. They wear colourful turbans of red, orange and saffron, often made of the tie-and-dye fabric that is a speciality of the region – and look impressive.
This is the land where water is so scarce that, in village huts, visitors are served milk or buttermilk instead of water. As if to make up for the harshness of their surroundings, the Rajasthani have poured out their creative genius in arts and crafts, in music and dance. Their artistic fingers continue to give stone, clay, leather, wood, ivory, glass, brass, silver, gold and textiles the most brilliant shapes and forms as they breathe life into them. In Baroli, in the Hadoti region, several sculptures have been found proving that an art school existed in the 10th century. The cave paintings, terracotta and other stone sculptures excavated at different sites have confirmed this.
The kings and nobles were patrons of these art forms. So everything was adorned – whether it was the elephants, the donkeys, the palaces, the interiors of forts or the walls of the humble huts. The men rode out to battle on elephants mounted with silver howdas and even their swords and daggers had exquisitely crafted handles. Their mud huts were embellished with intricate patterns on walls and floor. The Rajput rulers were constantly at battle, whether with minor kings or the mighty Mughals. The artisans, however, were encouraged to absorb the refinement and delicacy of the Mughal courts. It was Raja Man Singh of Amer who brought the ‘meenakari’ craft to Jaipur by inviting skilled enamel workers from Lahore. Today, Jaipur’s meenakari work (coloured enamel work) has acquired world fame.
Lacquer bangles cost just a few rupees but make an excellent gift. In bright colours, the lacquer is gently moulded into shape over burning charcoals, then embedded with fine glass pieces or embellished with gold threads. Ivory bangles are said to be auspicious and women wear them with their bridal attire. From ivory, the Rajasthani craftsmen have also fashioned intricate items of great beauty. Though use of ivory has been banned today, in the old days the finest miniature paintings were made on ivory.
Rajasthan is the ultimate destination of most tourists. Its capital, Jaipur, is just four hours run from Delhi by road and there are air connections to most cities of the State.
In keeping with its image as the tourist’s favourite haunt, a whole range of sporting facilities is available in Rajasthan, the Camel Safari being the most exciting. For the desert people of Rajasthan the camel is often their only mode of transport through the Thar desert. Started some years ago, the safari takes you through the villages of Shekhawati where mud huts as well as the old ‘havelis'(large houses of nobility and the richer Marwaris or business-men) are adorned with the most ite paintings. Here you can see and experience rustic Rajasthan. You travel on camel back from Bikaner to Jaisalmer to participate in the Desert Festival or lumber along from Nagaur to Pushkar for the cattle fair. The gait of the camel can be tiring but memorable experience and camel have become extremely popular.
Palace on Wheels
Travel In Royal Splendour The Palace On Wheels Rajasthan – the ultimate tourists destination.
A novel and exciting way to discover this State of erstwhile maharajas and nobility is to go by the Palace on Wheels. Assembled with vintage saloons bearing the coats of arms of the erstwhile royal families, it is one of the ten most luxurious trains in the world. It takes you on a magical journey from Delhi to Jaipur, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Sawai Madhopur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur and Agra and leaves you back in Delhi.
It is seven nights and eight days of pure enchantment as smartly liveried ‘Khidmatgars’ (personal attendants), who seem to have stepped out of history books, minister to your needs – and help you to experience what it would be like to be a maharaja.
The centrally air-conditioned Palace moves at night and stops throughout the day when you can see the cities and savour the traditional Rajput hospitality at leisure. There are fourteen deluxe saloons each with a combination of four twin-bedded chambers and the journey is smooth and pleasant.
State-of-the-art amenities enhance the pleasure of travelling in this fascinating train. Each chamber has attached toilets, hot and cold water facilities, channel music and the furnishings are modern but in traditional designs. Continental, Indian and Rajasthani cuisine is available in the two dining cars. Added attractions are the excellent bar and a small, but well stocked, library.
It is only the gentle, rhythmic movement of the train and the vendors that come selling their attractive wares at the stations, that give away that you are on a train and not in a palace. This wonderful experience does not come to an end when you are back in Delhi – for it lingers in your memory long, long after your holiday is over.
The Palace on Wheels, which leaves Delhi every Wednesday during September 1999 to April 2000, is brought to you jointly by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) and the Indian Railways. RTDC also runs a huge network of 34 hotels and 12 motels all across the State. Camping arrangements by the RTDC at the sites of the renowned Jaisalmer Desert Festival and the Pushkar and Nagaur Fairs include a range of accommodation such as Swiss tents, Huts, Cottages, etc.
RTDC-arranged Package Tours around the fabled State cover various circuits such as the Golden Triangle (3 days), Desert Circuit (7 days) and Rajasthan Package (15 days). Information regarding the State, and the large number of Heritage Hotels that are dotted around it, can also be obtained from the offices of the Corporation.
Rajasthan Fairs and Festivals
Festivals hold an unusual lure for the Rajasthani, and they find any number of reasons to celebrate. While some of these are traditional festivals, there are also a large number that have been recently introduced by the tourism department to showcase the heritage of a region. Chances are, when traveling in the state, you will come across any number of local fairs and festivities in which you can participate. However, some of the larger and more important celebrations are listed below.
BANESHWAR FAIR – Held at Baneshwar at the time of Shivratri (January-February), this is a tribal fair on the banks of the Mahi and Som rivers in the forested area around the border of Rajasthan that it shares with Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Bhil tribals from all three states gather here to worship Shiva, and set camp in colourful groups.
BRIJ FESTIVAL – Staged a few days before Holi (March) in the Brij area around Bharatpur, it celebrates the festival of spring with spontaneous expressions of music and dance.
CAMEL FAIR – Held in Bikaner in January, this celebration is a recent introduction in the desert city with the only camel breeding farm in the country. Not unexpectedly, most of the events are staged around this beast, with camel races and camel dances. There are also several folk performances, and this may also be your chance to experience the rare fire dance staged late at night.
CHAKSU FAIR – A gathering of people from Jaipur’s rural pockets collects here in almost all forms of transport-laden into tractor trolleys and jeeps- at what must be one of the most colourful events on the Rajasthani fair calendar.
DESERT FAIR – Jaisalmer exercises immense char, but with the staging of the annual Desert Festival (January-February), it has also become one of the more important events on the annual calendar. Essentially, it is a chowcase of the performing arts of the region on the stretching sands around this desert citadel. A number of amusing events at the stadium include turban tying competitions and camel races.
ELEPHANT FESTIVAL – On the occasion of Holi in Jaipur, this festival of pachyderms includes several interesting attractions including elephant polo. The caparisoned elephants, their bodies painted with floral decorations by the mahouts, are asight to behold.
GANGAUR FAIR – Idols of Issar and Gangaur, manifestations of Shiva and Parvati, are worshipped by women, and particularly those unmarried who pray for a consort of the like of Shiva. Celebrated all over Rajasthan, it has women taking out processions through the streets of towns, carrying images of the divine couple. The festival is especially colourful in Jaipur, Udaipur and at Mandawa in the Shekhawati region.
KOLAYAT FAIR – The sacred site where Kapil Muni is supposed to have meditated, a fair is held here on the banks of its lakes, and the air bristles with excitement. Kolayat can be visited from Bikaner.
The finest cuisine in India was derived from the Mughals and, along with European cooking, influenced the royal kitchens of India. But in Rajasthan the common man’s kitchen remained untouched. Cooking here has its own unique flavour and the simplest ingredients go into preparing most dishes. Scarcity of water and fresh green vegetables have had their impact on the cooking in the desert areas of Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Barmer. Instead of water the women prefer to use milk, buttermilk and clarified butter. Dried lentils and beans from indigenous plants are used liberally. Gram flour is a major ingredient and is used to make delicacies like ‘khata’, ‘ghatta ki sabzi’ and ‘pakodi’. Bajra and corn, the staple grains, are used to make rotis, ‘rabdi’ and ‘kheechdi’; and various chutneys are made from locally available spices like turmeric, coriander, mint and garlic.
LOCAL RAJASTHANI FOOD – ‘Dal-baati'(dumplings with a filling, roasted among hot coals) and ‘choorma'(dry, flaky, sweet crumb pudding) are the universal favourites. The non-vegetarian dishes include ‘soola’ or barbecued meats, marinated with a local vegetable. But it is the sweets that the Rajasthanis freak out on. Each part of the State has its own speciality – so Jodhpur and Jaisalmer are famous for their ‘laddoos’, Pushkar for its ‘malpuas’, Bikaner for its ‘rasgullas’, Udaipur for its ‘dil jani’, Jaipur for its ‘mishri mawa’ and ‘ghevar’, Ajmer for its ‘sohan halwa’; and mouth watering ‘jalebis’ can be found in all cities. It is difficult to explain the merits of each of these sweets, so whichever city you are in just ask for the local speciality and enjoy it. Most hotels have excellent restaurants that serve a selection of Rajasthani dishes as well as international favourites.
The war-like life style of the people of Rajasthan, necessitated food stuffs that could last several days. This resulted in a large variety of savoury snacks being developed – ‘bhujia’, ‘mathri’, ‘khatta-meetha sev’, ‘daal-moth’, etc. These popular ready-to-eat munchies are now available in attractive, well-sealed packaging, all over North India – ideal for on-the-move snacking.
PICNIC FOOD – Jaipur may be known the world over for its impressive Hawa Mahal and the fortified old city of Amber, but connoisseurs recognize it for another speciality daal-bati-choorma. This cuisine owes its origin to the Jaipuri penchant for picnicking in the rainy season when the surrounding hills turn lush. On such occasions, the picnic meal almost invariably consisted of dall-bati-choorma, usually cooked on site rather than carried in a hamper. The dall consists of a lentil curry; bati is a round ball of bread baked in a charcoal fire with clarified butter concealed within; choorma is a sweet dish made with bread bruised with jaggery or sugar and ghee. A variety of dalls may be cooked for the purpose, the bati could be made with wheat flour or millet or even a mix of maize and wheat flour (misi), and choorma came in an astonishing variety, several of which could be served together- the bread with which it was made again consisting of wheat or maize or millet, and combined with desiccated coconut, khoya, or even raisins and dry fruits. The taste, overall, is mild, with sweet and salty alternates, no chillies, but its fat content making it extremely calorific.
REGIONAL SPECIALITIES – If Jaipur has its specialty, none of the other princely states have lagged behind. Bikaner has its savouries, especially bhujiya, which has accounted for its fame, and the quality of its papads and badi remains unrivalled. The lean mutton of the desert goats of this region too is considered the most favourable. Jodhpur has its kachoris, puffed breads with stuffing- those with mawa being extraordinarily sweet, while others have biting hot green chillies laced with a masala that is also intended to singe the palate. In Bharatpur, milk sweets, rarely commercially available, occupy a niche by themselves. One such sweet has milk boiled over hours to a consistency when it can be folded into little pancakes that, quite literally, melt in the mouth. A Rajasthani delicacy, linked with the monsoon festival of Teej, is called ghevar, consisting of round cakes of white flour over which sweetened syrup is poured. Today, variations include lacings with cream and khoya, making it a delightful concoction. Muslim food has also occupied a place in the overall cuisine of the state, not just in pockets such as Tonk and Loharu, but also in Jaipur where the Muslim craftsmen have been known to celebrate Eid with great quantities of kebabs and pasandas, and with sevaiyan so fine, it cannot be rolled elsewhere.
CHOK DHANI To get a feel of rural Rajasthan, you must, absolutely must, visit Chokhi Dhani, 20 km from Jaipur. Every evening the complex comes alive with a myriad lanterns, street acrobats, young women tirelessly pirouetting to the steps of the ‘ghoomar’ dance, puppeteers pulling strings, monkeys and bears dancing and performing acrobatics.
There is an endless variety of typical rustic entertainment and, to top it all, a meal fit for a king. The food is served by Rajasthani men wearing their traditional dress, and a mind boggling variety of dishes keeps appearing from the kitchen. Visitors sit on low stools and eat a genuine Rajasthani meal out of ‘pattals’ (leaf plates). The service is excellent and the hospitality traditional, as you are persuaded to have another helping of every dish. Do not miss a visit to Chokhi Dhani.
Rajasthan Sanctuaries & National Parks
For all one’s inclination to believe that Rajasthan is a desert. It is difficult to ignore the fact that the region, in fact, has a varied topography, and includes from semi-arid, desert-like conditions to among the oldest mountains in the world, and lush, water-filled valleys. No wonder too that its wildlife is so rich in variety, including from the tiger and leopard to endless varieties of deer, rhesus monkeys, reptiles including the python, and a profusion of bird-life that includes water-birds.
The Thar Desert, also referred to as the Great Indian Desert, fall for part within the state, though parts of it do stretch into other states such as Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana, and this is what gives Rajasthan its unique topographical character. Unlike the typical desert it does not have oasis, palms or cacti, and is densely populated. Sand dunes characterize it, just as much as saline depressions and lakes.
Another distinguishing natural feature is Rajasthan is the Aravalli mountain chain, often referred to as hills because the height is rarely beyond a thousand metres. The folds of the Aravallis were used successfully by the Rajput princes to establish their citadels, but the mountains are among the oldest in the world. Since the Aravallis tended to be heavily forested, they became a natural refuge for birds and animals. Even though human degradation of the environment has led to deforestation, in areas where the forests are still thick, the reserves continue to offer sanctuary to their original, resident and migrant species.
MAJOR NATIONAL PARKS & SANCTUARIES OF RAJASTHAN –
Other Sanctuaries – Rajasthan has a large number of sanctuaries that are smaller, more inaccessible or less well known than its more popular counterparts. Some of these are listed below.
BHENSRODGARH – Close to Kota (53 km), it consists of scrub and dry deciduous forest and is home to leopard, sloth bear and chinkara.
DARRAH – Once the hunting preserve for the royal family of Kota, this sanctuary, 50km from Kota, is home to sloth bears, chinkaras, the leopard and the wolf.
JAISAMAND: Located on the fringes of a vast man-made lake of the same name, the small sanctuary is picturesque and houses leopard, wild boar and a variety of deer, while its waters are home to population of crocodiles, 50km from Udaipur.
KUMBALGARH – A large sanctuary in the Aravallis, 120 km from Udaipur, it has a formidable collection of wildlife that includes leopards and sloth bear, a variety of deer including the chousinga of four-horned antelope, and the ratel as well as the flying squirrel.
MOUNT ABU SANCTUARY – Located on fringes of the town of the same name, this small sanctuary is thickly forested. Wildlife includes leopard, chinkara, sloth bear, sambhar and wild boar. The slopes of the hills provide some of the state’s most interesting topography, especially since the height of this hill station keeps it cool even in the summer months.
CHAMBAL – Just beyond Kota, along the banks of the river Chambal all the way to its confluence with the Jamuna, this is where the waters are rich with gharial, crocodiles for which it is breeding centre. Other wildlife includes caracal, wolf, blackbuck and chinkara.
SITAMATA – In forests of bamboo and dry deciduous vegetation, 108 km from Udaipur, this forested sanctuary provides rich foraging pastures for a variety of deer that include the chousinga, and for caracal, wild boar, pangolin and leopard.
TALCHAPPAR – A very small sanctuary, 210 km from Jaipur and in the Shekhawati region, this is home to a large population of graceful blackbuck. Desert fox and desert cat can also be spotted along with typical avifauna such as partridge and sand grouse.