NORTH INDIA

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Jewels of Rajasthan

Rajasthan

Folklore of heroism and romance resound from the formidable monuments that majestically stand to tell the tale of a bygone era. The magic of vibrant Rajasthan - its rich heritage, colourful culture, exciting desert safaris, shining sand-dunes, amazing variety lush forests and varied wildlife - makes it a destination nonpareil. Rajasthan is often portrayed as one vast open-air museum, with its relics so well preserved that it delights even the most skeptical traveler.

It is an incredible destination for the outdoor-tourist - take a safari on horses, camels, elephants or even in jeeps, with the Aravalis - India's oldest mountain range as the backdrop. Feast your eyes on spectacular sand-dunes, take the tiger trail, or just watch the birds in the wetlands. You can also choose to pamper yourself in the lavish heritage properties. Rajasthan has something for everyone – one just has to choose an activity appropriate to one's temperament.

Rajasthan is culturally rich and has extensive tradition in art and culture, which reflects the Indian way of life. The dance, music and art forms have been consciously cultivated and patronized by the erstwhile royal courts. An equally rich and varied folk culture from villages is both fascinating and mesmerizing. The music is of uncomplicated innocence and songs depict day-to-day relationships and chores, more often about the bringing of water. Rajasthan's cultural tapestry takes in simple folk to highly cultivated classical music and dance, in its own distinct style.

The Architecture of Rajasthan

The mixture and brilliance of Rajasthan's architectural heritage can amaze a visitor. Majestic forts, intricately carved temples and havelis (meaning mansion) and even step wells make Rajasthan a paradise for an architecture buff. The desert State of Rajasthan is a land of irony and extremes. This vibrant and striking region is the home of the Rajput warrior clans who had ruled here for many years. Rajasthan is also home to some of India's most romantic cities. The Rajputs were prolific builders and have dotted the arid Aravali landscape with their legacy of some most imposing and magnificent forts and palaces in the world. Today the structures defy time to tell the story of gallantry, courage and tragedy of the bygone era and its story of survival in the harsh Thar Desert. Some of the prominent structures that represent the architectural heritage of Rajasthan are Jantar Mantar, Dilwara Temples, Chittaurgarh Fort, Lake Palace Hotel, City Palace and Jaisalmer havelis.

Places Alwar

Alwar is known as "The Tiger Gate" of Rajasthan. Surrounded by the lush Green Aravali hills and presents a breath taking natural environment. Deciduous forests and lakes form the backdrop for this beautiful place. The place is dotted with architectural splendour surrounded by the harsh hills. The deep valleys and the thick forest cover is a heaven for many species of birds and animals. It is one of the oldest cities of the State and its prehistoric and historic sites are an archaeologist's delight. Paradoxically, Alwar is both the oldest and the newest of the Rajput Kingdoms of Rajasthan. It traces its tradition back to the kingdoms of Viratnagar that flourished here around 1500 B.C. It is also known as Matasya Desh where the Pandavas, the mighty heroes of the Mahabharata, spent the last year of their 13-year exile.

The grandeur, beauty and delicacy of the design of the innumerable forts and palaces of the region, the tranquil lakes, stately hunting lodges, sites of archeological importance, thick forests with numerous birds and animals intermingled with an equally diverse socio-cultural configuration have made this region a traveler's delight.

Ajmer Pushkar

South west of Jaipur, Ajmer is an oasis wrapped in the green hills. The city was founded by Raja Ajay Pal Chauhan in the 7th Century A.D. and continued to be a major centre of the Chauhan power till 1193 A.D. Then Prithviraj Chauhan lost it to Mohammed Ghori, after which Ajmer became home to many dynasties. Today, Ajmer is a popular pilgrimage centre for the Muslims as well as Hindus. Especially famous is the Dargah Sharif-tomb of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, which is equally revered both by the Hindus and the Muslims. Ajmer is a centre of culture and education. The British chose Ajmer for its prestigious Mayo College, a school exclusively for Indian nobility at one time. However, now it is one of the best public schools in the country. Ajmer is also the base for visiting Pushkar (14 km.) which has the distinction of having the only Brahma temple in the world. The Picturesque Pushkar Lake is a sacred spot for Hindus. During the month of Kartik (Oct/Nov), devotees throng in large numbers to take a dip in the sacred lake.

Ajmer was also a favourite residence for the great Mughals. One of the first contacts between the Mughal King Jahangir and Sir Thomas Roe took place here in 1616. The Scindias took over the city in 1818 and then handed it over to the British. Thus Ajmer was the only region to be directly controlled by the East Indian Company.

Bikaner

Lying in the north of the desert State, the city is dotted with scores of sand dunes. Bikaner retains the medieval grandeur that permeates the city's lifestyle. More readily called the camel country, the city is distinguished for the best riding camels in the world and hence boasts of having one of the largest Camel Research and Breeding farms in the world. The ship of the desert is an inseparable part of life here. A camel besides being a mode of transport, also works on wells. These are built on high plinths with slender minarets on each of the four corners and can be noticed even from a distance.

The history of Bikaner dates back to 1486 when a Rathore prince, Rao Bikaji founded his kingdom. Bikaji was one the five sons of Rao Jodhaji the illustrious founder of Jodhpur. But Rao Bikaji was the most adventurous of them. It is said that an insensitive remark from his father about his whispering in the Durbar provoked Bikaji to set up his own kingdom towards the north of Jodhpur. The barren wilderness called Jangladesh became his focul point and he transformed it into an impressive city. He accomplished this task with 100 cavalry horses and 500 soldiers, and established his kingdom on 84 villages abandoned by the 'Shankhlas'. When Bikaji died in 1504 his rule had extended to over 3000 villages.

Jaipur

Jaipur is 260 km from Delhi and 240 km from Agra and forms the golden triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. It a bustling capital city and a business centre with all the trappings of a modern metropolis but yet flavoured strongly with an age-old charm that never fails to surprise a traveller. The old Jaipur painted in Pink can grip any visitor with admiration. Stunning backdrop of ancient forts: Nahargarh, Amer, Jaigarh and Moti Doongari are apt testimonials of the bygone era and a reminder of their lingering romance and chivalry.

Jaipur is named after its founder, the warrior and astronomer sovereign, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh (ruled 1688 to 1744). The decision to move out of his hilltop capital Amer was also compelled by reasons of growing population and paucity of water. Moreover in the early 17th century the power of the great Mughals was dwindling with its aging Monarch Aurangzeb. After several centuries of invasions the north was now quiet and the wealth of the kingdom had considerably increased. Seizing upon this opportune time, Jai Singh planned his new capital in the plains. Jaipur is a corroborative evidence of Sawai Jai Singh's strong grounding in science and astrology and of a Bengali architect Vidyadhar with a strong instinct for planning.

Jodhpur

This bustling desert city is the second largest in Rajasthan after Jaipur. It was founded by Rao Jodha, the leader of the Rathore clan, in 1459 AD. The mammoth, imposing fortress (Meherangarh) has a landscape dominating a rocky ridge with the eight gates leading out of fortress. The new city is outside the structure.

The Rathores enjoyed good relations with the Mughals. Maharaja Jaswant Singh (1678) supported Shah Jahan in the latter's war of succession. The relations with the Mughals soured during the reign of Aurangzeb who launched a crusade against the Hindus, made preparations to bring the state of Marwar under his control, ordered demotion of temples and revival of Jeziya. After Aurangzeb's death, Maharaja Ajit Singh drove out the Mughals from Ajmer and added it to Marwar.

In the reign of Maharaja Umed Singh Jodhpur grew into a modern city. The quintessence of Jodhpur was its valour and equestrian skill. Polo has been the traditional sport of the Jodhpur nobility since medieval times.

Udaipur

Udaipur is often called 'Venice of the East'. It is also the 'city of lakes'. The Lake Palace (Jag Niwas) located in the middle of Pichola Lake is the finest example of architectural and cultural marvel. The grand City Palace on the banks of the lake along with the Monsoon Palace (Sajjan Garh) on the hill above enhances the beauty of this magnificent city. Udaipur is also the centre for performing arts, crafts and its famed miniature paintings. The Shilpgram festival is a great crowd-puller on new year.

Maharana Udai Singh founded Udaipur in 1559 AD. According to a legend Udai Singh was guided by a holy man meditating on the hill near Pichola Lake to establish his capital on that very spot. Surrounded by Aravali Ranges, forests and lakes this place was less vulnerable to external invasion than Chittaurgarh. Maharana Udai Singh died in 1572 and was succeeded by Maharana Pratap who valiantly defended Udaipur from Mughal attacks. Maharana Pratap is the most revered Rajput icon who gallantly fought the Mughals at the battle of Haldighati in 1576. Mewar continuously defied foreign invaders and has a history of bloody battles until the British intervention in the nineteenth century when a treaty was signed to protect Udaipur. Upon independence, Udaipur merged with the union of India.