It is the land of the upturned pointy moustaches and the bright laheria turbans, of the dancers that move to ancient tunes and of the wise-looking camels on the dunes. But there are more reasons to drop everything and head to Rajasthan. Here are my top five.
1. Atmospheric forts and palaces
The forts of Rajasthan have stood the test of time and are glorious testimony of the many empires and kings that ruled the region. Hundreds of years ago there were just these forts, and only much later did cities develop around them. As you trudge closer to these grand structures you can't help but be amazed by the skill and architecture.
But that aside, the palaces of Rajasthan are perfect for a taking picture. For those who like to be in front of the camera or behind it. These textured walls, the countless pillared galleries, the jharokas will give you ample inspiration to pose or to click.
Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur is one of my favourites. The big cannons on the fort front and the delightful views of the blue city are the highlights for me.
Another fort-palace with a spectacular facade is Udaipur's City Palace. Overlooking the lake, the palace, to my eyes, is delicate and pristine. Its tinted glass windows, the intricately ornate walls and courtyards with inlay glass work are all individual masterpieces.
2. Folk tales and fables
If you love stories and folklore then Rajasthan should definitely be in your to-visit list. Every step that you take in its enchanting cities gets you closer to history and the spectacular tales of the past.
In Chittorgarh stands the impregnable fort that witnessed a powerful saga of love, lust, war and death. The story goes that the beauty of Rani Padmini was legendary. They say she was so fair and her skin to translucent that when she drank water or would chew paan (betel nut) one could see it passing down her throat. When Alauddin Khilji, the ruler of Delhi, heard of her beauty he decided he had to have her. He then made a request to the King of Chittorgarh, cunningly saying that she was a sister to him. But Padmini knew in her heart that Khilji's intentions were anything but brotherly. So she devised a way where Khilji could see her reflection in mirrors that were angled in such a way that she could be sitting far away at the steps of her janana Mahal, safe from his lustful grasp.
These mirrors are still placed in the fort of Chittorgarh and you can still stand where hundreds of years ago Khilji must have stood to catch a glimpse of the most beautiful woman that lived.
Also reverberating in the corridors of Mewar is the story of the great sacrifice of Panna Dhai, the nanny who let her own son die just to save the only heir of Mewar, Raja Uday Singh - it's a plot that you have probably seen several times in masala Bollywood potboilers. Many such tales are recounted and celebrated in the light and sound shows that happen each evening at the Udaipur City Palace.
3. Shopping delights
From mirrored bangles to beautiful mojaris, from luxurious handmade paper diaries to elephant-print harem pants, from bright embroidered bags to leather chappals... well you get the gist - Rajasthan abounds in exquisite crafts, garments and accessories.
The best place to shop for mojaris, or juttis is Jodhpur. In my experience, these last the longest, are most comfortable and are the best colour and design.
Pushkar is a great shopping destination too. The entire road leading to the Brahma Temple (believed to be the only one in the world) is lined with all kind of shops. So you will find a massage parlour right next to a cart selling heaps of colour. Look out for shops that are sell interesting anklets and earrings at throwaway prices. Plus, you'll find plenty of international fashion, from trendy drop crotch pants to asymmetric zipper jackets.
I'd also recommend going to Chittorgarh even if it is just for the beautiful but not very well known Chandan silk saris. Made of bamboo threads, these saris once washed with alum water (phitkiri) smell of sandal forever. They are lovely colours, often playing with bright contrasts, and very reasonably priced. I challenge you to return with just one.
4. Fantastic food
No mention of Rajasthan is complete without an endorsement of its delicious cuisine. It is an ecstasy trip for the foodie. People are unapologetic about eating here, unembarrassed about waiting for their turn amid the crowds milling around popular eateries.
The first time I had authentic daal-baati with a ladle-full of pure ghee I knew this was a land that I would keep returning to. Look out for the laal maas, gatte ki sabzi, mirchi bada, ker sangri, kesar kheer and of course ghewar.
Jodhpur offers on its menu mawa kachori, the sweet cousin of the crumbly, crispy savoury version. The famous makhaniya lassi will give you a sugar rush for a week - not . for the fainthearted.
5. Hotels that make you feel like royalty
Most old hotels in Rajasthan are heritage and the new ones are built to look that way. And that is the best part about a hotel stay in Rajasthan. You are made to believe that you are royalty. In those few days and nights spent under the high arches and between walls painted with elephants and horses you forget that city dwelling you call home.
This blog was first posted on www.notjusttravel.in
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