A visit to Rajasthan, the Land of the Kings
The night sky was clear and the darkened fortress towered above us. Floodlights reflected on the fountains in the lake below and the colours on the clock tower behind us added to the aura. Down at street level, 3 storeys below, a camel-pulled cart made its way among the dozing Brahmin cattle scattered along the road. These are the images I remember of a rooftop restaurant meal that I shared during a recent visit to the Indian city of Jodhpur. Something I will never forget.
What a fascinating part of the world this, the largest of the Indian states, is! Rajasthan - the land of the kings - lived up to its name. Hillsides dotted with fortress/palaces became increasingly larger and more impressive the further we ventured into the semi-desert state. Jaipur, Jaiselmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur - the names roll majestically off the tongue - became familiar cities that now bring back memories to me of ancient bazaars, narrow shop-lined streets and alleys, wealthy merchant houses (called havelis) with their intricate carvings and numerous storeys, hooting motor cycles, smoke-belching 'tuk-tuks' (3-wheeler taxis) and a cacophony of sounds, all dominated by their fortresses perched on the crags high above.
My recent visit to India focussed on the Taj Mahal, something I had always wanted to see. So we had to visit Agra, the impressive Red Fort and the Taj. Beautiful but not the highlight of my recent visit to India. What I had not expected was the diversity of Rajasthan - the intricately carved Jain temples (one with 1440 pillars all different), the city palaces of the Maharajas, the religious importance of lakeside towns such as Pushkar, the visits to rural villages and handicraft workshops, the beautiful art work.
In Jaipur, one of the Maharajas in the 1700s had built an astrological observatory filled with an amazing array of instruments, all in an outdoor setting that would have covered at least a hectare. The world's largest sundial (2 storeys high) could be accurately read to within seconds. Other instruments provided detailed information for astrologers and those who placed importance on horoscopes. What a fascinating place for the casual observer to browse in!
I will always remember the brightly coloured saris of the peasant women working in the fields; the interesting menus in the restaurants; the smells; the indifference to the rules of the road by all drivers; the colours of the cities (blue in Jodhpur, pink in Jaipur, yellowy gold in Jaisalmer, white in Udaipur); the daily observance of religious beliefs (Hindu, Moslem or Sikh) and the haggling in the bazaars for clothing, weaving or handicraft bargains. I thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit to western India and am looking forward to my return one day.