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Rajasthan travel: a journey through time

Sunday, 14 September 2008

rajasthan travel Once the Indian state of Rajasthan was consisted of twenty two separate principalities. On arrival here, one gets an impression of being back in the past: in the times, when luxury and splendor attested to rulers' authority. Nowadays maharajas' palaces accomodate luxurious hotels.

The formidable fortress of Jodhpur dominates the landscape, and it looks like a perfect scenary for a historic picture. The steep road runs upward to the gate. High walls and other city fortifications were built in the XV century. This is just one of many fortresses in the Indian state, of the size of Ukraine. Behind the walls a traveller gets overwhelmed with the Eastern magic. Here he witnesses the splendor of Indian rulers of the Middle Ages. Lattices made of filigree processed sandstone, wall paintings and colored glass decorate enormous accomodations inside the fortress. The marble throne with gold finishing, assigned for Jodhpur rulers' coronation ceremonies, is on display. In another room there is a palanquin made of pure gold, so heavy, that it takes a dozen of men to carry it. Armory Chamber is filled up with testimonies about the glorious past of fort Meherangarh, which means "Majestic". Twenty two former principalities of Rajasthan were of different origin, and they were constantly at war with one another for power and influence. Only after India obtained independence from Great Britain in 1947, the principalities were united into one state. However, until 1974 local lords, maharajas, preserved significant privileges. In 1974 they were ripped of their special status and became ordinary citizens.

Some maharajas converted their palaces into luxury hotels. Thus, for instance, the hotel Umaid Bhawan Palace appeared in Jodhpur. It was built about 60 years ago as a symmetrical structure with a 190 feet dome. This is one of the largest private dwellings in the world. Rooms are designed in the style of art-decor which combines luxury and austerity, ethnic motives and modern materials, such as ivory, crocodile skin, rare tree species, silver or aluminum. Staff wear bright colorful clothing. This hotel has got everything - no wishes left unfulfilled. A glass of Sundowner cocktail (vodka, orange, lemon and cranberry juices, and pomegranate syrup), brings refreshment in the dry Indian climate. Deep dark-blue color of indigo is a color of choice in Jodhpur.

Unlike Jodhpur, the capital of Rajasthan Jaipur is popularly known as a "pink city". Buildings here, including the famous "Palace of Winds", are made of pink stucco in imitation of sandstone, or just painted pink by the poor. Tthey continue to do this nowadays. The fortress has the maharaja's palace with a stone observatory on its territory. Tourists do not stay here long: they are in a hurry to see the ancient capital Amber, famous for its palace and fortress. From Jaipur the road goes through the mountains, and in half an hour travellers gaze at 800-year-old Amber in the gray-blue skies. Tourists are taken there by elephants. Formidable walls hide the luster stage of court life of rajputs (members of Indian military cast). Splendid chambers are decorated with mosaics, frescoes, precious stones and pearls.

While tourist centers of Rajasthan have visible signs of modernization, many old capitals of Indian feudal lords reject changes at all, like fort Jaisalmer in the Western part of the state which was on guard against raids of robbers, "wild wolves of desert", coming from the Thar desert. Once the most important shopping center of Bikaner lonely sits in the Thar desert. To reach it, one has to ride a camel, as travelers used to do long ago. The huge fortress of Bikaner was built in the XVI century, and there are over 30 palaces and temples within its walls. Approximately 210 miles of desert lies between Jaisalmer and Bikaner. For those, who want to see India with their own eyes, bus tours are available though it is better to hire a car with a driver. Indian streets are very busy and full of weird means of transportation. One can see sacred cows, wondering around, elephants in no hurry, camels slowly pulling loaded carts, and pedestrians ignoring automobiles. Thus, it is safer to let somebody else drive. Anyway, you will not be able to make even to 40 mph, average speed is about 30 mph. Railroad is considerably faster. The trip shorter than two weeks is not worth planning: you will not see much. Winter is the best time for a visit to Rajasthan as local guides advise. At night temperatures may be lower than 30 F, but in the daytime it is very pleasant. In summer temperatures rise up to 120 F: it is possible to just melt down. In order to see places one has to stay on the move.

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