Rajasthan is to opulence what fury is to flame and poetry is to thunder. We have all grown up hearing tales of India’s richness during the imperial times, the valor and gallantry of our Kings, the regal age and the cultural heritage…..and Rajasthan just lets us more than peek-a-boo!!
Palace On Wheels
To merely bask in mystical past would have been the only salvation, had it not been for the broad gauge chariot – one that riding on wheels of time transcends us to the princely era. Aptly named, the wall-to-wall carpeting is so authentic that it doesn’t feel like a locomotive deliberately designed to resemble a Palace, it in fact feels like being inside a real one. With each coach named after a former state and aesthetics outlined with decor to impersonate the same, the characterization achieved more than simulates the geography. All coaches are bifurcated into 4 twin-bed saloons each having an attached bathroom, still left with enough space for a common lounge and a mini-pantry to never let the exuberance die out. Never parting with the modern-day comforts, each decorative refines the finesse expected of a stately ambience. The luxurious velvet smells every bit of what one could until now only imagine our ancestry to be like. With top of the line gourmet experiences throughout the journey at the two multi-cuisine restaurant coaches of the train – ‘Maharaja’ and ‘Maharani’, fine dining of royalty briskly rapids through the wilderness of Rajasthan. A royal retreat in every sense of the meaning, the joie de vivre only begins to set as one steps inside this bastion manned by its courteous ‘Khitmatgars’. With premium chivalry at command and upholstery done in finest of silk, it is perhaps only pardonable to forget that Palace On Wheels isn’t one’s own kingdom!! Royalty and moderation never went hand-in-glove. With no indulgence spared or discounted, nor is the price that the extravagance levies. Starting at USD 3150, the tariff only justifies the cost same should require, more so the cost it is worth. The captivating 7 Nights/8 Days journey that one embarks on ferries him/her from Delhi to Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur, Agra and back!! To unfurl lies ahead is a palatial feast tapping the rich lineage of a kingly state and etched in stones the tales depicting their sovereignty and the footprints it left on history. With each symbolic of their dominion character and penchant for fine art, the innumerous forts and ruins tell tales of the crowned emperors of the former times. For detailed itinerary and other information, please visit http://www.palacesonwheels.com/
With its old rustic charm, Jaipur is a city that moves at a fairly moderate pace, and still harbors the vibrant small town appeal with luxury of indiscriminant space and the hustle-bustle of a clock tower market in townhood, both at the same time. Native people of Rajasthan nurture religious allegiance towards flora and fauna and shall go to great extents to protect them. Man made water basins on the fringes of human settlements is a common sight. Predominantly associated with Arts & Crafts, its industrial leg is placed not too loosely either. With colonization of the industrious lot, prosperity is quick to hold hands in Jaipur. Marked by the three gems on hills – the Forts of Amer, Jaigarh and Nahargarh, plains of Jaipur City are swarmed with popular attractions like Hawa Mahal and City Palace. The road that swirls up on the hilly curves leading to Amer Fort slouches against rocky contours on one side offering a gaping view of the city on another. The mammoth Amer Fort in itself is a rudimentary testament of the colossal scale that our Kings based even their architecture on, and the philanthropic extents they would go to achieve the same. Worth no less mention is of course the intricate planning that one realizes must have gone behind honeycomb structures like these. Anything more scientific could have only been attained by a masterpiece like Jantar Mantar – a collection of astronomical architecture. Much ahead of its time when built, it features the world’s largest stone sundial.
Sawai Madhopur and Chittorgarh
Situated in the Sawai Madhopur District is one of the largest National Parks of India – the Ranthambore National Park, famous most of all for its Tigers. With unabated cacophony in its dark underbelly that never ceases and yet such uncanny calm, the realization that stillness is only a deception dawns over one soon enough. Away from the harsh discordance of our daily lives, Ranthambore is the noise of peace and tranquility that rumbling of leaves make. The gut-wrenching adrenaline that one goes through when all his/her senses nearly freeze on sighting a Tiger is the sweetest in the world. A natural habitat to the beats, this homely abode of the four-legged royalty is as serene as it is fearsome.
One that witnessed many sieges and exchanged hands of as many custodians, the Chittorgarh Fort embodies a tribute to the courage, medieval chivalry and sacrifice exhibited by its rulers, their kinsmen and women folk. The inhabitants of this fort, their soldiers and the commoners considered death as a better option than dishonor in the face of surrender to foreign invading armies. With walls as strong as the might of its rulers, this fort stands tall staring with pride in the eyes of all.
Its rightful claim, Udaipur is often dubbed as the city of Lakes and Palaces, with Lake Palace and City Palace highlighting the itinerary of our journey. It is no secret that India was a land where ancient astronomy, literature, numerology and medicine grew by leaps and bounds. Most certainly, it was as much a land of Erotica, and our Kings and their Queens took matters between the sheets rather seriously. There weren’t just bedrooms, apart from ‘Vishram Kakshs/Snan Kakshs’ for the majesties, there were designated ‘Courtship Rooms’. These were perched at the highest points of either wings, each offering the most panoramic view though also strategically constructed in a way to itself not be in line of sight from anywhere else in the palace, with every natural resource like breeze and twilight at highness’ service. For indoor indulgence, places to specifically address kegel needs were built with openings left in walls and water pools on upper decks built on either sides to cool the air on contact before it entered their love nests. And if that didn’t cool down nobility during the conjugal visits, chambers were seamlessly integrated in walls for water to flow, and with gravity ensuring water swivels its way down, every drop eventually fell on strings of metal wires making music!! The 51st shade of love was perhaps orchestrated in India long time back.
A magnificent fort in middle of a city is most definitely to stand out. Now imagine the converse i.e. a city enclosed within a fort, this is how one begins admiring the honey-gold sandstone maze that Jaisalmer Fort is. The sheer grandeur of this massive fortress is so awe-inspiring that to mull over as to how something this hulking might have got built at the very first place, cannot not cross one’s mind. The lingering thoughts of intricate stone carvings on the buildings rising up from horizon are as hard to compound as the complex navigation on ground. Construction of a monstrous structure on such cosmic magnitude which less ordinary might find hard to perceive even in today’s modern times, stands as a marvelous architectural feat of our rich lineage and their monumental conquests.
The Sufism of a sun setting behind the sand dunes together with folk songs cast a spell one could possibly never recover from. Nostalgia takes over as the last ray of sunlight gradually dims across the horizon, and cool breeze accompanied with melancholy washes past one’s face. Somewhere drifting amidst the stars gazing down and the fine grains of cooling sand beneath feet, escapes the nomadic thoughts that one had held on to until now. Memories of the long forgotten, of the forbidden, the lost and the missed engulf in no time. Sitting by a bonfire, to gradually let go sand from a closed fist and to see the same fly away is the overwhelming romance that no other fragrance in world could accomplish. The best of hospitality dishing out a lavish spread of sumptuous culinary delights, often closely guarded secrets passed on by the ‘Khansamas’ of the original royalty to their descendents, pretty much seals the deal!! Rajasthanis love their Laal Maans as much as they love their Gatte Ki Sabzi and Dal Bati Churma and it is rich – their dal is cooked with ghee, the masalas in the dal are fried in ghee and more ghee is mixed into the dal before serving. The Rajasthani Thali is elaborate and a gastronomical delight for the foodie.
Another princely state set in the stark landscape of the Thar Desert, Jodhpur mainly boasts of Mehrangarh Fort and the Umaid Bhawan Palace. Wealth that’s not flaunted isn’t worthwhile and so isn’t authority!! Architecture of Jodhpur is a synthesis of embellishments denoting the best of craftsmanship and administration of the bygone times. This political stronghold of Rajasthan symbolizes not merely a towering exhibit of almighty fortune but the rather thoughtful stance and surgical township-like planning that must have got underway, as well. Effectively addressing all needs of a worthy statehood, the city hosts a series of palaces, courts and places of worship, carved in various geometric patterns that draw references from several elements of influence. Characterized by the blue color most of old Jodhpur houses are painted in, it is also known as ‘Blue City’.