Welcome to Rajasthan
The image of the patient, unhurried walk of the ship of the desert, the camel, across the sands of Rajasthan can be deceptive. If they could speak, they might just sit down for the longest cup of tea and narrate tales of valour and intrigue that they and their generations have witnessed over the centuries. The Raikas, Rajasthan’s tribes originally the breeders and caretakers of the Maharaja’s camels would vouch for this. That a large stretch of dry arid desert should hide so much of life, colour and epics is intriguing. Home to undiluted machismo, bardic legends, grand palaces, pink, blue and lake cities, lofty salutations, incredible craft and colour is Rajasthan, India’s largest state by area. Today the ruins of the Indus valley civilisation at Kalibanga, the famed Dilwara temples, the world heritage sanctuary in Bharatpur, two formidable tiger reserves in Ranthambore and Sariska, a pretty hill station perch in the ancient Aravallis called Mount Abu and some of the finest living palaces set in stone, hoisted on forts or floating on limpid lakes that come to life with ballads reminiscing the brave of heart and deeds suffice to breathe life into history. The grace of the Kalbeliya and Ghoomar dances often vie for your attention with the delightful block prints, tie and dye Bandhni craft and the Blue pottery of Jaipur. All of this comes together in a grand summary during the Desert festival, along with the infectious smiles of the locals and help from the noble ships of the desert. A visit to Rajasthan is not complete without exploring the arid region of the mighty Thar desert on this industrious animal that is parsimonious with its need for water and generous with its stamina. Rightfully so, possibly Rajasthan’s most famous love epic is the story of “Dhola-Maru Ra Duha” where the lovers Dhola and Maru used camels to ferry their messages. And ultimately flying off on one to escape to a life of happily ever after. If you have the appetite for luxury board the Palace on wheels, a sealed gleaming 14 salooned, spa carrying, carriage on tracks, at Safdarjung Railway Station, New Delhi for a week-long jaunt through Rajasthan every Wednesday night with a dollop of the Taj Mahal, Agra thrown in for good measure. With liveried attendants and impeccable attention to details, the train chugs along at night and stops each morning at a beautiful new address.
With a history stretching back to the Vedic and Indus valley civilisations evidenced by the Kalibanga finds, Rajasthan went through the dynasties of the Gurjars till the 10th century, empires which thwarted the advance of the Arabs from the 08th till 11th centuries. The region was known as Gurjaratra and extended to almost the entire of North India. The coinage “Rajasthan” comes from the land of Kings and princes and its predecessor Rajputana. One of the key erstwhile provinces Rajputana, an agglomeration of 19 Princely states and more was named so in 1829, when John Briggs translating Ferishta’s (a Persian historian whose history largely revolved around Bijapur) account of early Islamic India used the term Rajpoot princes instead of Indian princes. The Rajput era claimed prominence in the 06th century AD thwarting Islamic invasions for more than 500 years and tripping the Mughals with their unbridled valour. It gradually gave way to the Marathas in the 18th century and then the rapid advancement of the British Empire. What remained however were ballads and legends of the brave warriors and adventures that continue. Many illustrious business empires in India like the Birlas, Bajajs and Mittals trace their roots to the Marwar region of Rajasthan.To cut it royally short, if you haven’t been handed down the keys to your own fabled palace, given a family tome on valiant epics, preserved princely recipes and a living heritage that whispers through long royal corridors, there’s always a recourse. Live it vicariously in Rajasthan. This is what draws in today’s modern moghuls – from Hollywood to silicon-valley and from heads of state to the surest shutterbugs and instagrammy fans-from all over the world to soak in a living ballad. Going back with a king sized serving of hospitality and vowing to return again.