Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Travel Essay: Dreaming of Rajasthan

Given my experiences in and around Bangalore, I'm justifiably leery of road trips. Even so, when we were faced with the choice of waiting in an Indian Airlines lounge at the New Delhi airport for six hours for a delayed flight or getting in a taxi and driving to and reaching Jaipur within five hours, we chose the latter. Everyone (including the Indian Airlines customer service desk attendant who was happy to refund us the air fare rather than having us wait for the flight) assured us that the roads were good.

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And they were. The roads were wide, very well paved, well maintained and devoid of traffic. Suffice to say it was one of the best drives I've had in India (the drive from Jaipur to Ajmer to Pushkar and back is equally good).

As we entered Jaipur around 2 pm, we caught our first of many glimpses of Amber Palace sitting majestically on top of a hill to our right.

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Amber Palace


There are three ways to get to the top of the hill - by walk up a winding path, by elephant, or by car. With the April sun beating down on us and with me less than two months away from having a baby, we decided trekking up the hill was not the best option. And apparently, the elephants are mighty popular. They were all taken by 9:30 am - all twenty five of them!

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An elephant gets ready to ferry people back down from the palace


Amber Palace is a wonderful combination of brute strength and delicate beauty. The kings and queens paid incredible attention to art and architecture within the walls. The walls and the exterior of the palace are themselves foreboding and somber. The road leading up to the palace is lined with imposing, ancient houses in which ministers and courtiers lived.

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Once inside the palace, you will find that the structures are a marvellous coming together of form and function. There is an intricate, latticed vent through which air and water flowed to keep things cool - a sort of an ancient cooler,

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lawns laid out in the design of a carpet for the viewing pleasure of palace residents,

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mirrored and bejewelled ceilings and walls that retained warmth or rendered the room cool as the season demanded,

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Yes! That is a ceiling!


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and latticed fronts that served to shield the women folk from the men but at the same time allowed the women to witness all the action outside.

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The eldest queen sat at the window in the center to throw flowers at the king as he entered the living quarters


There is one courtyard, a rather large one, flanked on all sides by what appeared to be separate apartments (each section was walled off from the other) that has a rather fantastic story that our guide took enormous pleasure in recounting. The king that built the courtyard, one of the Mansinghs, had twelve wives. Yup! You'll have to use your toes too for that one. And, he did not want any of his wives to talk to the others (even though some of the women he married were cousins). So he built this elaborate apartment complex around that courtyard, three apartments to each side. There were also watch points "manned" by eunuchs to enforce that rule and to make sure they didn't pass notes to each other. (This photo was taken from one such watch point.)

See what you can accomplish with inexhaustible resources? Why, you can even keep all your wives apart!

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The Mansingh Courtyard


This outdoor hall used for musical performances brought on a sudden, intense longing for scallops. Wonder why.

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As you may have noticed, nature seems to have painted much of Rajasthan with a single palate. Which is why I think the thing we most associate with Rajasthanis is - color. It is everywhere. It is painted onto the buildings,

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The ultra-famous Hawa Mahal (another elaborate latticed front to hide the women folk


and it's most definitely an inextricable part of Rajasthani couture.

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Umbrellas used in Rajasthani weddings. I thought they'd make cool parasols


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The other thing that catches your eye is how ubiquitous camels and elephants are. Camels are like what cows are in south India. The elephants, we were told, are a vital part of Rajasthan's tourism and film industries. In fact, the day we visited the palace, there was a shooting going on with a few elephants thrown in (see the lawn carpet pic).

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Can you imagine this rush hour? Traffic jam!


The Rajasthan tourism department has done some wonderful things to encourage tourism. The roads are worth mentioning again. At the palace, we could hear local guides jabbering away in German, French, Japanese and Spanish to their wards. Our guide went out of his way to arrange an elephant ride for my son.

We ventured out of Jaipur, by road again, to Ajmer to visit the Dargah and to Pushkar to visit the only Brahma temple in the world.

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The Brahma Temple

I must say, the most striking thing about Pushkar was the clothes available for sale there. They were many, many shops dedicated to clothes, almost all of them selling western fashions. It was obvious they were targeting the insane number of foreign tourists Pushkar gets every year and not only during the annual camel fair.

But even as I appreciated this "know your market" attitude, I was totally unprepared for this:

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18 comments:

Asheesh said...

One small detail that you did not mention was from where did you drive down to Jaipur?

And the last picture has stunned me...

Anonymous said...

baby # 3 now? i am totally confused!

your mention of elephants pleases me. next time americans talk about elephants on indian roads, i will direct them to rajasthan and they can ride to their hearts' content.

- s.b.

Sujatha said...

Asheesh, we drove from New Delhi to Jaipur. Will fix it, thanks for pointing it out.

S.b., Rajasthan was in April before we had baby #2. And yeah, good idea.

Nandhu said...

wow!. that's whole flavour of rajasthan on ur blog. nice work.

remainconnected said...

Great pics Sujatha..Nifty pic description.I had been to Jaipur two years back in December and I liked the city. Don't forget to have the local food items there,especially near the hawelis,(the sweet items).

If you have time visit Chokhi Dhani,I think its 20-22 km from Jaipur to get a feel of rural Rajasthan.If are still there ask someone there and plan for it.

Keep blogging.

Au revoir !!!

chappan said...

Suj
Beautiful photo blog. Did u travel with lil N as well ? How did lil N take it?
Sourin

Prithi Shetty said...

This is a Supper photo essay. Absolutely Grrreat ride for me too!

Nithya said...

Sujatha, great pictures and good narrative. Enjoyed it.

steamroller B&W said...

i haven't travelled for an year now and it is so totally killing me.I loved the pictures you have uploaded here.Thanks to posts like these....i feel better.

anjali said...

Neat! Really enjoyed the photos.

Janefield said...

Beautiful photos. Very nice accompanying narrative as well. What camera do you use?

Sujatha said...

Hi Jane, thanks. We used a Nikon digital camera.

Stanislav said...

If like to travel you can leave some info about you at my site.

Asheesh said...

I have driven on these roads on two occasions before, once in 2001 when we went all the way from delhi to mount abu, and at that time the highways were being constructed, but till jaipur, the roads were still great, and recently, i had gone to jodhpur, and driving down on the new highway was definately a treat. and the best part of driving in rajasthan, apart from a few stupid state transport bus drivers, i mean the roads do not have much traffic and you can actually reach speeds more than 150 KMPH. To sum up, if you are ever are planning a trip towards Rajasthan, an y of the sities, you can bank upon the roads, really marvelous.

Asheesh said...

I have driven on these roads on two occasions before, once in 2001 when we went all the way from delhi to mount abu, and at that time the highways were being constructed, but till jaipur, the roads were still great, and recently, i had gone to jodhpur, and driving down on the new highway was definately a treat, and the best part of driving in rajasthan, apart from a few stupid state transport bus drivers, i mean the roads do not have much traffic and you can actually reach speeds more than 150 KMPH. To sum up, if you are ever are planning a trip towards Rajasthan, any of the cities, you can bank upon the roads, really marvelous.

steve said...

The photos too are as interesting as the article itself.

Rajasthan is truly a delight for travellers. There's so much to see and explore.

For those who are planning a holiday in Rajasthan, there's an informative article -> Holidays in Rajasthan

Sheela said...

Oh my goodness, Sujatha! This brought back memories! Lovely photos. It was my husband's 3rd trip to India ever in his life so I wanted to show him *everything* - we ended up squeezing Jaipur, Agra, New Delhi, Goa in a 6 days - and hiring a car to cover jaipur/agra/delhi was the best experience - the A1 stations and some of the new roads were awesome... honking at the camels wandering by...
The tour guide we hired was a nice young man who was so proud to show us all the historic sites... mised the Brahma Temple - didn't know of it until I read your post!

DesiDirectory said...

Dear,Friend
Mount Abu is situated in southwest end of Rajasthan. Mount Abu is the only hill station in Rajasthan, Mount

Abu is more than just a summer retreat. Its stunning array of exquisite Dilwara Jain Temples, dating back

11th- 13th centuries, make it a popular pilgrimage centre.
The history of Mount Abu is as diverse as the city itself. It was once a part of the Chauhan kingdom of

Rajasthan and served as a summer resort for the Rajput kings of the region.
Please Visit For More Detail
http://desidirectory.com/india-travel-guide/

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