Tag Archives: Jodhpur

Royal Rajasthan: 7 Wow Places for your 7 Vows

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out seven dream locations in Rajasthan for the ultimate destination wedding 

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Few places can match Rajasthan for the sheer opulence and grandeur it imparts to a destination wedding. With forts and palaces doubling up as venues, there’s no better location for Maharaja style nuptials. Ghodis (horses) are too plebian; here the groom arrives in style on elephant back or in a vintage car.

Monuments brought alive with 3D laser mapping, processions carrying mashaals (torches) and entertainment that ranges from local folk musicians to international pop stars; whatever you want, if you have the budget, you can get it. Here’s a look at seven wow places for your seven vows.

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Suryagarh, Jaisalmer
The splash of celebratory orange safas (turban) over fort turrets and ramparts, lavish floral arrangements, starry skies and a cool desert breeze; Suryagarh on the Jaisalmer-Sam Road has wowed many as an unforgettable wedding venue. By day, mandaps and pavilions bedecked with orange and white parasols add colour while thousands of lamps light up niches around the Bawdi (stepped tank) by night.

With classy rooms in the main building for guests and exclusive haveli and suite Residences in a quiet corner ideal for the bride and groom’s family, the 77 rooms can accommodate the whole band, baja, baraat. Rait Spa offers specially designed beauty and wellness therapies for a pre-nup, using locally sourced Thar sand and Luni river salt, besides a stunning indoor pool and gym.

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The top notch cuisine blends the best of international fare with Indian cuisine, served in a variety of dramatic locations – from a lavish Halwai Breakfast in the central courtyard, Silk Route Dinner and Sangeet at the Enchanted Garden by the Lake to Wedding by the Bawdi at the Baradari pavilion of the Celebration Garden. Small celebrations take place in the Mehendi Terrace and musical evenings at the Tulsi Garden. Sundowners, strains of the algoza (double flute) and performances by Kalbeliyas and Manganiyars on the dunes culminate in fireworks, making it an unforgettable exeprience.

Kahala Phata, Sam Road, Jaisalmer 345001
Ph +91-02992-269269, 78271 51151 www.suryagarh.com
Tariff Rs.14,000-1,00,000

Jet Airways flies to Jodhpur, from where Suryagarh is 285km/5hrs by road.

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Neemrana
Located south-west of Delhi in Alwar district, Neemrana’s advantage is its proximity to the national capital. Set against the Aravali hills, the sprawling 15th century fort palace is one of India’s oldest heritage hotels and a destination in itself. The Rs.7 crore renovation project took 15 years and it shows! Cascading down a hillside over 12 tiers of lush landscaped terraces, Neemrana is a stunning location for weddings. From the first regal wedding in 1992 (a London-Singapore affair) to a Punjabi royal bash, it has played matchmaker in many an alliance.

Various functions can be held in the fort’s seven palace wings overlooking 6 acres of terraced patios, alcoves and magnificent gardens like Uncha Baag, Mukut Baag and Sirmaur Baag. Blending Sultanate, Rajput, Mughal and colonial styles, each room is unique – Paashan Mahal (Rock Palace) is built around a rockface of the Aravalis, Uma Vilas has terrific hill views, Chandra Mahal was the old Hall of Justice while Francisi Mahal is a French suite. Enjoy alfresco dinners, Ayurvedic massages, two swimming pools – Raj Kund and the exclusive Surya Kund and Mahaburj restaurant serves excellent Rajasthani and North Indian cuisine.

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There’s plenty to do for guests with camel rides, audio tours, camel cart rides to an 18th century stepwell, vintage car rides and a 5-track Zipline, the first in India, by Flying Fox. Being a hill fort, be prepared to walk and climb high steps to reach different levels. For a smaller, more intimate experience, try Neemrana’s Hill Fort Kesroli near Alwar.

122nd Milestone, Off Delhi-Jaipur Highway, Neemrana, Alwar District 301705
Ph 01494 246007, 9310630386 www.neemranahotels.com
Tariff Rs.6,500-28,000

Jet Airways has several flights to IGI Airport, Delhi from where Neemrana is just 108km

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Udaipur
Steeped in romance and the beauty of its seven lakes interlinked by canals, Udaipur has hosted many a celebrity wedding. In 2004, actress Raveena Tandon got married to film distributor Anil Thadani at Jagmandir Island Palace at Lake Pichola and the whole place transformed into a giant film set with Bollywood biggies flying in from Mumbai. The venue was immortalized in the Bond flick Octopussy.

New York hotelier and Bollywood dilettante Vikram Chatwal married model-turned-entrepreneur Priya Sachdev in 2006 with lavish pre-wedding parties like the masquerade-themed Fantasia that took place in the Zenana Mahal of the City Palace. The sterling guest list of 600 from 26 countries included Bill Clinton, Naomi Campbell and P Diddy, flew in on chartered planes from Bombay, Udaipur and Delhi during the 10-day bash.

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Jagmandir Palace featured again in the marriage of tycoon Sanjay Hinduja with Anu Mahtani in one of the mega wedding spectacles of the country. The global cuisine from 16 countries was served to 16,000 guests in a week-long celebration. There were traffic jams; caused not by the BMWs flown in from Mumbai for transporting guests but due to 208 private chartered planes! The wedding bill alone was £15 million with top artists like J-Lo and Nicole Scherzinger performing at Manek Chowk, a Mughal garden in the City Palace. The mehendi was held at the Shiv Niwas heritage hotel while the starlets stayed in £3,000-a-night luxury suites at Oberoi Udai Vilas.

Besides Fateh Prakash Palace and Shikarbadi Hotel in Udaipur, the HRH Group also lets out Gajner Palace, Karni Bhawan Palace in Bikaner and Gorbandh Palace in Jaisalmer for regal weddings. Udaipur’s advantage is the profusion of excellent lakefront hotels that serve as great nuptial venues. Ferry guests in style at the Taj Lake Palace, opt for a Wedding Package at The Leela Palace or escape to the hilltop fort palace of Devigarh.

HRH Group of Hotels, Udaipur
Ph +91-294 2528016-19, 1800 180 2933, 1800 180 2944
Email events@eternalmewar.in, crs@hrhhotels.com www.hrhhotels.com
Tariff Rs.23,500

Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur 313001
Ph +91 0294 2428700, 2428800 www.tajhotels.com
Tariff Rs.29,000 onwards

The Oberoi Udaivilas, Haridasji Ki Magri, Mulla Talai, Udaipur 313 001
Ph +91 0294 243 3300 www.oberoihotels.com
Tariff Rs.30,000 onwards

Jet Airways flies to Udaipur

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Jodhpur
The big ticket wedding of actress Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar in 2007 didn’t last as long as it took to build the Umaid Bhawan Palace, but that doesn’t dent the eternal charm of Jodhpur. The opulent golden-hued sandstone palace floored well-heeled guests like Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Mick Jagger, Sting, Diana Ross and others. Set amidst 26 acres of lush gardens with 347 rooms, it is the sixth largest private residence in the world, with as many as four indoor and six outdoor venues to accommodate a dream Maharaja style wedding.

The palace has a private museum (with a Champagne Museum Walk), marbled squash courts and a subterranean pool under the palace decorated with zodiac signs on the pathway. Pamper yourself at Jiva Spa. Typically, a two or three-day wedding celebration begins with a cocktail dinner by the Poolside, a Mehndi ceremony at Mehrangarh Fort, Sangeet at the ornate Marwar Hall and Wedding-cum-Reception at the famous Baradari Lawns.

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The Mehrangarh Fort itself is a great location for a destination wedding as the lofty citadel is lit up in laser lights while the revelry on the ramparts continues late into the night. For a price, wedding planners can also organize an elephant polo match for guests. Don’t want to break the bank? Try Ranbanka Palace or Ajit Bhawan.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur 342006
Ph +91 291 2510101, 2510100 www.tajhotels.com
Email umaidbhawan.jodhpur@tajhotels.com
Tariff Rs.77,400

Jet Airways flies to Jodhpur

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Deogarh Mahal
Located between the two nodal hubs of Udaipur and Jodhpur, Deogarh or the Fort of the Gods was once the fourth largest jagir (estate) in Rajasthan. In the aristocracy of the Mewar court, the Rawats of Deogarh were counted among one of the sixteen umrao’s (senior feudal barons) of the Maharana of Udaipur. Built around 1670, their citadel is now a luxury heritage resort run by the Deogarh family.

Its 75 rooms stretch across three locations just 5km/15 min apart – 16 luxury Swiss camps at Khayyam, four exclusive suites at the renovated lakefront hunting lodge Fort Seengh Sagar and the rest at the Mahal (palace). Each room is reflective of a different era with Gokul Ajara, Moti Mahal and Ranjit Prakash rooms dating back to 350 years! With wide courtyards and terraces, there are several locations for various events.

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Gala evenings feature folk music and dance while one has a choice of theme dinners – Royal Desert Dinner at Khayyam with folk artists, Lake-side Dinner at Seengh Sagar or a Chowki dinner with low seating on chowkis, silver ware and typical Rajasthani menu. Fruits, vegetables, milk products and oils are all in-house, lending freshness to the typical Mewari cuisine. The Mahal can take care of all your needs – from elephants, buggies, royal processions, vintage cars, mandap décor, puja accessories, fireworks right down to the purohit!

Deogarh Madaria, District Rajsamand 313331
Ph +91-2904-252777, 253333 www.deogarhmahal.com
Tariff Rs.8,500-25,000

Jet Airways flies to Udaipur and Jodhpur, from where Deogarh is 135 km and 175km respectively.

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Jaipur
With its pink sandstone monuments, opulent palaces and festive spirit, the Pink City seems perennially drenched in celebratory hues. No wonder, businessmen, Bollywood stars, TV actors, royal scions, NRIs and foreign visitors, all make a beeline to Jaipur for their nuptials. Shivraj Singh, the prince of Jodhpur, got married to Gayatri Kumari of Askot here in a glittering ceremony in 2010. Jaipur’s advantage is the wide range of hotels geared up to host a wedding, with all facilities at hand – brass bands, vintage cars, elephants, artists and the best of shopping.

The stunning monuments and palaces like Raj Palace and Jai Mahal Palace also form a great backdrop for pre and post wedding shoots. Taj Group’s Rambagh Palace, voted among the top romantic hotels in the country, offers multiple locations and experiences. The royal meal is served in peacock thalis at the Rambagh Lawns, while private lunches are arranged at the royal hunting lodge.

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You could have an intimate family dinner in the Rajput Room or a royal Indian feast at the former palace ballroom Suvarna Mahal, with 18th century French décor and massive crystal chandeliers. Saving all that money for your honeymoon? Opt for Shiv Vilas Palace or Alsisar Haveli in town or drive out 43km northwest of Jaipur to Samode Palace, snug in the Aravalis. For nearly two and half centuries, the palace and its tented camp Samode Bagh have hosted weddings. Have the mandap or sacred fire in the beautiful courtyard and a royal banquet in the opulent Darbar hall.

Samode House, Gangapole, Jaipur 302002
Ph +91-141-2632370, +91-1423-240013-15 www.samode.com

Alsisar Haveli, Sansar Chandra Road, Jaipur 302 001
Ph +91-141-236 8290, 236 4685, 510 7157 www.alsisar.com

Jet Airways flies to Jaipur

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Ranthambhore
When Katy Perry and Russell Brand got married in 2010 at Aman-i-Khas, a luxury resort outside Ranthambhore tiger reserve, it didn’t escape the attention of wedding planners and matchmakers looking for theme weddings! A local priest officiated over their grand Hindu wedding and Katy even put on a nath (nose ornament) and mehendi for the occasion. The nuptials featured a procession of 21 camels, elephants, horses, dancers and musicians. Part of the Aman group of hotels, the venue (and its tariff) is ideal for small, exclusive gatherings.

Each of the ten high-ceilinged tents is inspired by the airy abodes of Mughal emperors while on hunts or expeditions. You can opt for a ‘Machan’ wedding with the ceremony (sans the sacred fire) taking place on a platform 20 ft off the ground and guests watching the proceedings from elephant back. For a more regular affair, choose a swank hotel like Nahargarh to tie the knot.

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Aman-i-Khas, Sherpur-Khiljipur, Ranthambhore Road, Sawai Madhopur
Ph +91-7462 252 052 Email aman-i-khas@amanresorts.com www.amanresorts.com
Tariff Rs.1,06,000

Nahargarh, Village Khilchipur, Ranthambhore Road, Sawai Madhopur 322001
Ph +91-7462-252281-83 Email alsisar@alsisar.com www.nahargarh.com
Tariff Rs.25,000

Jet Airways flies to Jaipur, 160km from Ranthambhore

 

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the Cover Story on Destination Weddings in the October 2016 issue of JetWings magazine. 

Jodhpur: Jewel of Marwar

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY visit the Rathore capitals of Mandore and Jodhpur in Rajasthan to find out what makes Mehrangarh Fort so invincible and other secrets of the walled city

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No matter where you are in Jodhpur, you cannot escape the looming presence of the citadel of Mehrangarh, which dominates the city’s skyline. Perched at 400 ft on a rocky hill, the intricacy of its jharokhas (windows) and architectural grandeur moved Rudyard Kipling to call it ‘the work of angels and giants’. From Indique, the rooftop restaurant at Pal Haveli, a stunning 18th century heritage hotel, the red sandstone fort gleamed like a ruby in the early morning sun. By night, halogen lights transformed it into a bejeweled tiara resting upon Jodhpur’s proud forehead. But under all its glitter, Mehrangarh hides a grim tale of sacrifice.

When Rao Jodha chose to move the Rathore citadel from nearby Mandore in 1459, he selected the hillock of Bhaurcheeria (Mountain of Birds), the dwelling of an ascetic called Mehran Baba or Cheeria Nathji. The moment the king’s men evicted the sage, the constructed walls collapsed. Though a temple was built at his dhuni (place of penance), the sage cursed that the place would be drought-ridden and to make the fort unassailable, a man had to be buried alive in its foundations!

A humble skinner Rajaram Meghwal (or Rajiya Bhambi) volunteered on the condition that his family would be looked after till perpetuity by the king. True to his wish, even today, his descendants live in Raj Bagh and a stone tablet opposite Rao Jodha ji’s Phalsa (the original fort entrance) commemorates the incident. Every year on Jodhpur’s founding day (May 12), the Maharaja worships the skinner’s tools and felicitates Rajiya’s kin.

A guided tour or an audio guide, available in 7 languages, is the best way to explore the marvelous fort, which spills onto many levels. Legend has it that after a foreign dignitary grumbled about the effort required to see the fort, the Maharaja promptly installed an elevator, making Mehrangarh one of the rare forts in India with a lift! Tourists usually buy a 1-way ticket to reach the seventh floor and then amble down its wide cobbled pathways through a series of pols (gateways).

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Cheeky signs like ‘Lungs at Work, Please Don’t Smoke’ caution visitors while the gold filigree ceiling at Phool Mahal, the wall-to-wall paintings at Takhat Vilas and view of the famed Blue City behind the fort are sure to leave one breathless. Contrary to popular belief, the houses were painted blue not to ward off mosquitoes but given a fresh coat of paint every time a family member returned from a pilgrimage. Since most inhabitants of the old city were Vaishnavites, the colour represented their blue-skinned god.

With well-displayed exhibits showcased by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, a library of rare manuscripts, an art conservation centre, museum shop and café, it’s easy to understand why Time Magazine chose Mehrangarh as the Best Fortress in Asia in 2007. No trip would be complete without a royal dinner at Chokelao Bagh, a restored 200-year-old garden at the base of the fort. At night, the white chandni flowers and the sweet-smelling kamini infuse the Mehtab Bagh or Moonlight Garden in the lower terrace with heavenly perfumes while the restaurant on the upper terrace comes alive with folk performances. Nearby, the royal cenotaph at Jaswant Thada, built in memory of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II in 1899, is a beautiful structure in white marble where the kings were laid to rest. The distinct silhouette of Ajit Bhavan can also be seen in the distance.

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But there are other ways to experience the fort – take a zipline with Flying Fox or do a heritage Mehrangarh walk with Virasat Journeys, down Jodhpur’s historic galis (streets) dotted with temples and shops. Within the precincts of the walled city in the shadow of the Clock Tower built by Maharaja Sardar Singh are antique stores and legendary shops selling sweets, itar (perfumes), grains and garments. Mishrilal at Ghanta Ghar have been churning out their signature ‘Makhaniya lassi’, special rabdi and doodh-jalebi for over five generations. Under the Sardar Market arch is Vicky’s famous ‘Amalate (omelette) Shop – Recommended by Lonely Planet’! And when you’ve had your fill of Jodhpur, head to Mandore, the old battle-scarred capital of Marwar, which most visitors tend to overlook.

Popularly believed to be the birthplace of Ravana’s wife Mandodari, though no historical evidence supports the theory, Mandore was once the ancient Mandavyapura, an important centre of art and architecture. The old fort that caps the hill was acquired by the Gurjar Pratiharas, captured repeatedly by the sultans of Delhi and eventually received as a gift in marriage by the Rathore ruler Rao Chunda. Fine monuments like the cenotaphs dedicated to the members of the royal family, the Janana Mahal built as a summer palace for the royal ladies during the reign of Maharaja Ajit Singh ji (1707-1724) and the Government Museum are definitely worth a look.

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South of Jodhpur, just off the busy NH-65 lie the Bishnoi villages of Khejarli, Guda Bishnoiya and Rohet where centuries-old tradition still survives. After the customary opium ceremony, the local equivalent of smoking a peace pipe, our host, Jodha Ram Bishnoi elaborated on the Bishnois. In late 15th century Guru Jambhoji laid down 29 (bish-noi) conservation principles as per which all life forms were considered sacred. Bishnois revere the blackbuck and protect it with their life, as a leading Bollywood star found out.

At Tal Chhapar, every Bishnoi family donates a kilo of bajra (pearl millet) each month to a community store. After wandering the plains all day, herds of blackbuck assemble around Bishnoi hamlets, to be lovingly fed at dusk. At Khejarli village a sacred grove of khejri trees is another living reminder of the inextricable link between Bishnois and nature. In 1730, a Bishnoi lady called Amrita Devi clung to a khejri tree, which was being cut to provide fuel for the lime kilns to build the Maharaja’s palace. Following her example, her two daughters, husband and 359 other villagers clung to the trees and gave up their lives.

The very land of Rajasthan was soaked in the blood and toil of its proud, fearless people. After hearing fantastic tales and visiting strange temples (like the Deshnok Temple where locals worship rats as their reincarnated ancestors), we thought we had seen it all, until we discovered a shrine dedicated to the Bullet motorcycle!

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The roadside temple of Motorcycle Baba or Bullet Banna near Rohet is easy to miss. Dedicated to Om Singh Rathore of Chotilla village, who died here in a accident in 1988, the 350 cc Bullet is enshrined alongside Om Banna’s garlanded photo. Local folklore contends that after the cops impounded the bike, it disappeared from the police station and was found parked at the crash site the next morning. Each time the bike was seized, it magically returned to the accident-prone spot.

Recognizing it as divine will, a temple was built at the site where travelers stop to pray for a safe passage. We joined a small group of worshippers lighting incense. There was no prayer on their lips, nor any incredulity in their eyes; just a brief ritual, before they drove off into the dead of the night…

Where to Stay:

Pal Haveli
Gulab Sagar, Near Clock Tower, Jodhpur 342001
Ph 0291-3293328, 2638344, 93504 08034
E-mail info@palhaveli.com http://www.palhaveli.com
Tariff Rs.3,000-8,000

Where to Eat:

Shri Mishrilal Hotel
Clock Tower, Jodhpur
Ph 0291-2540049

Author: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 8 January, 2012 in Deccan Herald (Sunday edition). 

Looney Dunes: Quirky Rajasthan

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Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Rajasthan has the uncanny ability to surprise you. On a 10 day road trip, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY discover ‘Suryavanshi’ lampposts, turbaned men with outrageous moustaches and camels named after celebrities… Here’s a list of Top 10 offbeat experiences.

1. Bullet Banna and his 350 cc Temple

Most people know about Deshnok’s Karni Mata Temple where locals worship rats as their ancestors. But the shrine of Motorcycle Baba? Near Rohet, along NH-65 to Jodhpur, is the roadside temple of Bullet Banna, dedicated to Om Singh Rathore of Chotilla village, who died here in a bike crash in 1988. The cops seized the bike, but the next morning it disappeared from the police station. After a frantic search, it was found parked at the crash site. Strangely, every time the bike was impounded, it returned to the accident-prone spot. Recognizing it as divine will, a temple was built in Om Banna’s memory. The 350 cc Bullet (BNJ 7773) is enshrined alongside his garlanded photo, where travelers stop to pray for a safe passage.

Don’t Miss: Bishnoi villages at Rohet and Guda Bishnoi near Jodhpur, Participate in an opium ceremony, Khejarli Memorial where 363 people sacrificed their lives to protect a grove of the sacred khejri tree

2. More Bhang for your Buck: Jaisalmer’s famous Bhang Shop

Move over Dr. Dang, Dr. Bhang is here! He has a YouTube video, a Facebook page and a killer dialogue to hawk his wares – ‘We start from Baby Lassi, special for Japani-Korean because they have small baby eyes, then we have Medium, Strong, Super Duper Sexy Strong and then Full Power, 24 Hour. No toilet, no shower!’ Doctor Bhang or Chander Prakash Vyas aka Babu, represents the savvy third generation of the Govt. Authorized Bhang Shop, located at the base of Jaisalmer fort since the early 1970s. The Banana Lassi (Strong) is strongly recommended. Bhang chocolates (lasts 2-3 days) Bhang cookies (lasts few weeks) and CDs of Anthony Bourdain’s visit to the shop are good take-aways.

Don’t miss: Jaisalmer Fort, India’s only ‘living’ fort with a maze of houses, hotels, eateries, exquisite Jain temples & Mr. Parekh’s gemstone shop ‘Light of the East’, Photograph Dhanna Ram’s 4.5 ft long moustache outside Patwon ki Haveli 

3. The Ghost town of Kuldhara 

The skeletal remains of Kuldhara represent a Golden Age gone to dust. Located 18 km west of Jaisalmer off the highway to Sam, this was one of the 84 villages of Paliwal Brahmins which were abandoned overnight! The large houses, wide streets, excellent drainage and water harvesting to grow wheat in a desolate land speak of an advanced society. Paliwal Brahmins were wealthy agriculturists who traded along the Silk Route to the north, contributing hefty taxes to the kings and often giving them loans! However, when trade routes changed and the river Kak ran dry, the community bore the brunt of unjust taxes imposed by Salim Singh, the ruthless dewan. Continuous harassment and threat to their women resulted in a mass exodus of the Paliwals. They left in the dead of the night, never to be heard of again. Fearing their curse, nobody has ever settled in their villages till date.

Don’t Miss: The 80-year-old caretaker Sumer Ram narrates the legend of Kuldhara and also plays the algoja (Rajasthani double flute) very well… sometimes, with his nose! Similar ruins at Khaba (10 km away)

4. Ranthambhore Ganesh ji: Postcards to God

Atop Ranthambhore’s historic 1000-year-old fort is a unique temple of trinetra (three-eyed) Ganesha. Every day, the Lord receives 10 kg of mail from across the globe. This isn’t fan mail or supplications; as per tradition the first wedding invitation card for any marriage is sent here. Temple priest Ramavtar explained that the first wedding invite sent here was ‘Krishna weds Rukmini’, roughly dating the temple to 6500 years. So um… what happens to all the wedding cards? The envelopes are recycled for giving prasad and the cards are cleared annually! Wednesdays (Lord Ganesha’s Day) tend to be crowded and the annual Ganesh Chaturthi fair attracts thousands.

Don’t Miss: Tiger safaris, hand-feeding wild Rufous Tree-pies with biscuit crumbs, Shopping for traditional textiles and crafts at Dastkar

5. What makes Mehrangarh a formidable fort 

Easily the most spectacular fort in Rajasthan, Mehrangarh hides a grim tale under its magnificent facade. When Rao Jodha decided to move the Rathore citadel from Mandore in 1459, he selected the hillock of Bhaurcheeria (Mountain of Birds), home to an ascetic Cheeria Nathji. Though a temple was built to mark his dhuni (place of penance), the evicted sage cursed the place to be drought-ridden but conceded that the fort would be unassailable if a man was buried alive in its foundations. A skinner Rajaram Meghwal (or Rajiya Bhambi) volunteered, in return for the welfare of his family till perpetuity. To this day his descendants live in Raj Bagh. On Jodhpur’s founding day (May 12), the Maharaja worships the humble skinner’s tools and felicitates Rajiya’s kin. A stone tablet opposite Rao Jodhaji’s Phalsa (the original fort entrance) commemorates his supreme sacrifice.

Don’t Miss: The elevator inside the fort, Royal dinner at Chokelao Bagh, Stay inside the walled city at Pal Haveli, Visit Jaswant Thada (royal cenotaphs) and the old capital of Mandore 

6. Mishrilal’s Makhaniya Lassi, LMB & other culinary delights

If Dal-bati-churma and gatte ki sabzi seem passé, try Nutella pancakes, Marmite toast, Mexican enchiladas or Israeli cuisine in Rajasthan. At Pushkar, it’s not just the menu that’s offbeat. Eat at Pink Floyd Café, Out of the Blue, Funky Monkey, Meter Palace or Rainbow Café. Most rooftop cafes offer ‘panoramic lake views’, making Pushkar a novel experience. For conventional fare, try the Rajasthani Thali at Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar – Traditional Halwaies since 1727 (0141-2565844) at Johari Bazaar in Jaipur, or feast on Kachoris at Rawat’s. At Jodhpur, Mishrilal (0291-2540049) at Ghanta Ghar has been churning out their signature ‘Makhaniya lassi’ and Special Rabdi over five generations. Nearby, under the Sardar Market arch you’ll find an ‘Amalate (omelette) Shop – Recommended by Lonely Planet’!

Don’t Miss: Bikaneri Bhujiya, assorted gajak from Ajmer and tandoori parathas, dal and ker-sangri at the highway dhabas around Pokharan 

7. Why Michael Jackson will never Die

At the dunes of Sam, you don’t just listen to Michael Jackson, you ride him! And learn how to grab your crotch along the way. After all, a camel ride is often a ‘hump-and-grind’ routine. But there’s a reason why most of Sam’s camels are named after MJ. Our camel guy Bariyam Bhai had flawless logic, ‘If he was called Ramesh, would you have cared? Michael Jackson’s universal appeal makes the name quirky enough to amuse foreign tourists. Besides, climbing and alighting from a camel is like break-dance.’ You might also chance upon other superstars like Sean Connery, Hrithik Roshan, Shah Rukh, Salman and Raja Hindustani but the sudden demise of The King of Pop has resurrected his name. Out in these dunes, MJ still moonwalks on the sands of time.

Don’t Miss: Camel safari in the Desert National Park, Stay at desert camps with Kalbeliya dancers and Rajasthani folk artists performing under a starlit sky

8. Deogarh Mahal: Royal attitude
The story of Deogarh is a tale of pride and honour. Chunda Sisodia, heir apparent to the throne of Mewar, was the most eligible bachelor of his time. When a proposal for Hansabai, the Rathore princess was brought to Chittor, Chundaji was away. His father Rana Lakha joked that the bride could surely not be for an old man like him. When the prince returned, he refused to accept a woman ‘spurned’ by his father. So the princess married the old king. The proud Chundaji renounced his claim to the throne and carved a new bastion for himself in the lawless lands north of Chittor. Deogarh Mahal, a legacy of this Chundawat clan, still bristles with the same centuries-old attitude. Its quirky signboards (London Raining, New York Snowing, Deogarh Fine Weather, Only 3 km), vintage cars like Thapero, Bhachero and Car-o-Bar (a renovated bar on wheels), clever ‘Duck or Grouse’ tags on low doors and the opulent rooms, make Deogarh Mahal a delightful indulgence!

Don’t Miss: Anjaneshwar Mahadev cave temple, Stay at ‘Khayyam’ luxurious tents in the wilderness or Seengh Sagar, the erstwhile royal recreation lodge overlooking a lake

9. Chacha, Lathi, Bap & other quirks on and off the highway

An uncle, a stick, a father, a child’s cry for milk – no, these aren’t clues to a treasure hunt in the desert, these are places you encounter on a road trip across Rajasthan. Chacha, Lathi, Bap, Dudu – milestones whizz by flashing strange names, making you wonder who or what could have inspired them. It’s really… Luni?! The monotony of the arid landscape is broken by distractions like large trailers carrying weird equipment from Kandla Port, pilgrims traveling to Ramdevra on foot and Hotel Shimla in Pokharan. Severe-looking men sport fluorescent turbans, veiled village belles dodge the camera with practiced ease while herds of camel hold up traffic as they nibble on trees by the wayside.

Don’t Miss: Milestones, signboards and photographic opportunities galore

10. The dhurrie that never catches fire

Horrified by the sight of a man trying to set fire to a beautiful rug, we protested wildly. Hansmukh, true to his name, smiled benignly as if nothing was amiss. He explained, ‘Pure wool fibre gathered from camel and goat hair is naturally fire resistant and closely-woven knots make the carpet fireproof’. As if on cue, the extra-long Karborised matchstick died out, bringing the show to a dramatic end. We were at Ranakpur Tribal Dhurrie Udyog (02934-285191), a humble venue with an array of hand-woven dhurries and carpets crafted since generations. Their popularity was apparent in the stack of cartons waiting to be shipped. In the low light, we squinted at the addresses – ‘Nagpur, Ahmedabad, New Delhi? Not bad!’ we mumbled. Hansmukh smiled. ‘No, it’s Norway, Australia, New Zealand.’

Don’t miss: Ranakpur’s 15th century Jain temple of Adinath with 29 halls and 1,444 intricately carved marble pillars; the elaborate Jain lunch served as prasad

Fact File

The route: Jaipur-Ajmer-Pushkar-Deogarh-Ranakpur-Jodhpur-Sam-Jaisalmer-Sawai Madhopur

Getting there: Jet Airways operates direct flights to Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur from Delhi and Mumbai.

When to visit: Winter months are ideal, but the festive season brings out the best in Rajasthan, with something special every month: Desert Festival in Jaisalmer (16-18 Feb), Elephant Festival at Jaipur (19 Mar), Mewar Festival at Udaipur (6-8 Apr) & Summer Festival at Mount Abu (15-17 May)

Where to Stay

Deogarh Mahal, Deogarh
02904-252777, 253333, 9314420016
info@deogarhmahal.com

Nachna Haveli, Jaisalmer
02992-251910, 255565
nachna_haveli@yahoo.com

Pal Haveli, Jodhpur
0291-3093328, 2638344, 9350408034
info@palhaveli.com

Ranthambhore Bagh, Sawai Madhopur
07462-221728, 224251
aditya@ranthambhore.com

Giri Sadan Homestay, Jaipur
0141-2371385, 2364191
girisadan@dataone.in

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the March, 2011 issue of JetWings International magazine.

Golden Miles: Rajasthan by Road

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It’s a long sunny drive to Jaisalmer. ANURAG MALLICK test-drives a brand new Toyota Innova to bring back tales from the desert

When it comes to Rajasthan, Jaipur has always been like foreplay, that preliminary bit of fooling around until you get down to business—Rajasthan itself. With a road trip to Jaisalmer  staring back at me from the odometer, it was my fastest ride to Jaipur ever. Besides, it was late at night, the four-lane highway was excellent and I had the unfair advantage of a brand new Toyota Innova I was asked to test drive. The mid-point Behror and Kotputli whizzed past and we wheeled into Jaipur at the break of dawn. The doodh mandi was stirring to life. Elephants were being readied for their daily ritual of 15-minute rides to the top of Amer fort.

After zipping along the near empty streets of Jaipur, we finally drove into Raj Palace, our first halt. Built in 1727 and owned by the royal family of Chomu, it is believed to be the oldest mansion in Jaipur, even older than the city palace. It is a local joke that every visitor gets lost in the maze of corridors at least once. Thankfully we had stopped by only for a wash and breakfast; our tight schedule didn’t even allow us to explore the twin holy cities of Ajmer and Pushkar. Besides there’s a belief about Ajmer that ‘Ajmer-e-sharif wahi jatey hain, jinhe khud khwaja bulatey hain’. It’s a divine calling and perhaps no one had heard it as loud and clear as Salim Shah.

He was our first major road discovery. On a highway with whizzing traffic here was a man for whom the world moved at 10 km/hr. For over three decades, since the age of eight, Salim had been running his own messenger service. Every year he cycled to holy Muslim shrines preaching the word of Allah, from Rajasthan to Assam and Gulbarga to Kashmir. He slept, ate, prayed and lived his life in his green contraption. As we talked over some good dhaba tea, a thousand questions erupted in my head. Why? How? What next? And almost every query was disarmingly countered with a simple shrug of the shoulders and a motion towards the heavens above. I left my Sufi Forrest Gump with his rag tag band of followers and moved ahead.

We crossed Bhim by nightfall and soon took a 20km diversion from the main highway to Udaipur towards our halt for the night, Deogarh, the citadel of the gods. Bhajans from the nearby temples—Jain mandir, Sri Ram mandir, and the Karni Mata mandir—intermingled clamorously. We stayed at Deogarh Palace, built in 1617 when the Maharaja of Udaipur appointed Sanghaji as the jagirdar of 260 villages. Over the years, the cannon store has given way to a swimming pool and the horse stable to a string of shops. The rest of the town though remains pretty much the same—narrow galis, shops jostling with each other and the great spill of humanity.

From Gomti we turned right towards Charbhuja, and the terrain slowly mutated from flat shrub land to hilly tree-lined roads as we made our way towards Kumbalgarh. Before long we were alongside the second longest wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China. Kumbalgarh is also a wildlife sanctuary and a longer stay would have probably rewarded us with a leopard sighting. However, content with a visit to its magnificent fort we headed for Jodhpur with a brief stopover at the richly carved Jain temple of Ranakpur.

Having crossed Pali, Rohit and Loni we entered Jodhpur, Rajasthan’s second largest city. Winding past the first city gate and the clock tower, we stumbled upon the Pal Haveli—our halt for the night. The inclined driveway and the gate looked almost  perpendicular to each other and it was the toughest access to any hotel I have ever known. Once inside, we could barely hear the chugging engine of the city.

The better part of the next morning was spent joining dots on the map of Rajasthan. This part of the state was once an important link in the Silk Route, and legend has it that local kings used to loot caravan parties carrying gold and other riches. From Lodarwa, Amar Sagar, Osian, Chautan, Tannoth, Kishangarh to Ranjitpura (the middle of the desert and hence a den for opium smugglers), this was one desert highway I didn’t want to venture on, at least not in a car. An armoured tank might have been better.

I got a lesson in history the next morning, as the car wound its way up a hillock. In the 15th century, Rao Jodha was on the lookout for a secure bastion. He came to this hillock and found a holy seer meditating. The king’s men had just about evicted Mehran Baba when the constructed walls collapsed. Mehran Baba refused to stay anymore, but blessed their project and asked that his dhuni (place of penance) be left undisturbed. While leaving he also told the king’s men that the place was cursed and that any structure built there would remain incomplete, unless a human sacrifice was offered. Rajiya Bhambi, a skinner by caste, offered his life and was bricked alive into the fort walls to guard over it as a spirit. There’s a small memorial slab at Rao Jodha’s Phalsa, which marks the exact place. Every year on May 12, the founding day of Jodhpur, the Maharaja worships the humble skinner’s tools and felicitates the kin of Rajiya Bhambi.

After a brief visit to Jaswant Thada and Ajit Bhavan we were off to the Bishnoi villages of Kejarli and Guda Bishnoiya. We stopped at Jodha Ram’s house, and while his son took out the paraphernalia for the opium ceremony, Jodha Ram elaborated on the Bishnoi cult. It was founded in the late 15th century by Guru Jambhoji, who laid down 29 (Bish-noi) conservation principles. According to local folklore, in 1730, a Bishnoi woman named Amrita Devi courted death by clinging to a tree being cut to provide fuel for the cement lime kilns to build the Maharaja’s palace. Following her example, her two daughters, husband and 363 people in total clung to the trees and gave up their lives. This sacrifice was commemorated at Khejarli village, where there is a grove of khejri.

The opium was good. In fact the drug is so potent and caustic in its pure form that it has to be stored in lumps of milk and sugar. “When two warring parties consume opium together, it means they’ve made peace with each other,” Jodha Ram elaborated. “And it is very good for a cough.” That was my cue to cough ostentatiously till some more was hastily procured and packed for the rest of the journey.

The drive from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer was a four-hour daze. I wanted to see the nuclear test site of Pokhran but was told that visiting the actual site involved a 20km detour. I thought I was hallucinating but there were actually milestones with place names like Baap, Chacha and Lathi. I was still laughing as we reached Jaisalmer. It was late evening, so we decided to stop overnight at the Himmatgarh Fort, and visit the sand dunes of Sam early next morning. Sunsets on the dunes are supposed to be spectacular, and I was hoping sunrise would be the same. It was.

Even before the car could come to a stop, camel riders came rushing towards us. After a couple of teas and a lot of persuasion we were ready for a camel ride across the dunes. “Michael. Michael!” a man shouted and shortly Bablu, Raja Hindustani and Michael Jackson trooped in. The oont-wala laughed when we quizzed him on the names, saying that the names were pretty much left to the imagination of whoever bought the camel. We were informed that only male camels are used for rides, since even as sedate an animal as the camel can find the presence of a female distracting. Keeping a camel is no easy task either.

What it saves on water, it makes up with everything else. It needs a diet of jowar ki phali, ghee and gur, involving an expense of about Rs 200-250 every morning and evening. Since we had a little time we decided to explore a section of the Desert National Park and managed to see some chinkaras. To add to the adventure the oont-walas made the camels gallop at breakneck speed. Half an hour of riding and we were ready to get back to the car.

It was going to be a long 1,000km ride back to Delhi but oddly, I wasn’t perturbed. The Innova was proving to be the perfect ship of the desert—smooth in handling, excellent road grip and roomy interiors. As we approached Bikaner, I could see nothing but a bewildering succession of Ramdevs—Ramdev dhaba, Ramdev ji Bhojnalaya, Hotel Ramdev—lining the highway. It was a truck driver who enlightened me about the Ramdev cult. The Tomar king Biram Dev, he told us, had given up hope of producing an heir to the throne, and had decided to kill himself at Dwarka. As he was drowning, Lord Krishna appeared before the king. Not only did he save the king, but also promised Bikram Dev that he (Lord Krishna) would take birth as his son.

Ramdev grew up to be a man of great spiritual powers. He produced bowls for five Muslim fakirs from Mecca out of thin air, and with his lance he created a well in the middle of the desert, which still supplies water from Ramdevra to Pokhran. Till some years back, I was told, people used to jump into the well to heal themselves and an iron grille had to be installed to prevent accidents. Thousands still apparently flock to Ramdevra during the annual mela in August.

We stopped for tea and some Bikaneri bhujiya in Bikaner. By now four days of crazy driving were catching up with us, and as the car rolled down the highway, the surrounding countryside passed in a blur of hazy images. We were soon knocking on the doors of Delhi—the colours of the city coming as a shock after the austere browns of the desert—and shaking the dust from our clothes.

The Route

Delhi – Jaipur (258km) – Deogarh (240km) – Kumbalgarh (200km) –  Jodhpur (90km) – Pokhran (180km) – Jaisalmer (120km) -Sam (45km) – Jaisalmer (45km) – Bikaner (350km) – Jaipur (350km) – Kotputli (118km) – Delhi (140km).

THE DRIVE

Delhi-Jaipur-Deogarh: The four-lane NH-8 to Jaipur is probably the best highway in the country. If you are averse to dhabas, Behror is a good midway stop with restaurant facilities. Thirty kilometres from Jaipur on the route to Ajmer is Mahela, a traditional village known for its blue pottery artisans. Take the Ajmer/Pushkar bypass and continue via Bhim onwards to Deogarh. The roads are excellent but off the main highway, many stretches are single-lane, which can increase driving time considerably.

Deogarh-Kumbalgarh-Jodhpur: From Deogarh, drive 35km to Gomti chauraha, turn right towards Daisuri (20km) and Sadadi, from where it’s a 15-minute drive to Kumbalgarh. To get to Jodhpur you can either return to Sadadi and head via Sayra and Ranakpur or you can backtrack the way you came via Kelwada, Charbhuja, Desuri, Narlai. Both routes will take you via Pali, from where Jodhpur is a little over an hour’s ride.

Jodhpur-Jaisalmer: The road from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer is a ramrod-straight road via Agolai, Baleshwar, Dechu, Pokhran, Lathi, Chaandan and Hayat Hamira. Despite the distance of 300km, the road is perfect and the journey takes just about four hours. Manwar Resort & Camp is a good midway stop. To visit the sand dunes from Jaisalmer, you need to drive 45km to Sam. There’s another set of dunes at Khuri, 45km in the opposite direction from Jaisalmer town crossing.

Jaisalmer-Bikaner-Delhi: You will need to backtrack to Pokhran and then take the left towards Bikaner. Though on the same route Ramdevra, Khichan and Deshnok are all diversions from the highway. On your way back you needn’t go to Jaipur city. Thirty-three kilometres before Jaipur, you turn left from Chomu towards Samode and join the Delhi-Jaipur highway near Chandwaji. It saves you about 70km. Just ask for the Chomu-Chandwaji bypass.

WHERE TO STAY

Jaipur: The Raj Palace (Rs 2,999-10,000; 0141-2634078, www.rajpalace.com) is a good heritage hotel located on the Ajmer road. Some of the cheaper and convenient options in Jaipur are the Alsisar Haveli (Rs 1,850-2,650; 2364685, www.alsisarhotels.com) and Jaipur Inn (Rs 500-700; 2201121).

Deogarh: Deogarh Mahal (Rs 4,200-11,750; 02904-252777, 253333, www.deogarhmahal.com) is an imposing 17th- century palace that offers beautiful views of the surrounding Aravalli ranges.

Kumbalgarh: The Kumbalgarh Fort Hotel (Rs 1,695-5,000; 02954-242057, hilltop@bppl.net.in) can also organise visits to the Kumbalgarh Sanctuary.

Jodhpur: Pal Haveli (Rs 1,300-1,800; 0291-2638344, www.palhaveli.com) is a beautiful haveli, which is still occupied by the family of Thakur Bhawani Singh.

Jaisalmer: The Himmatgarh Fort (Rs 2,900-3,500; 02992-252002) is located just outside the Jaisalmer fort.

WHAT ELSE TO SEE & DO

Kumbalgarh Sanctuary safari: Apart from lingering to explore the magnificent fort, you can stay longer for a visit to the wildlife sanctuary for leopards and sloth bear sightings.

Bishnoi village safari: Kejarli, Guda Bishnoiya, Rohet, Loni are all bastions of the Bishnoi tribe though Kejarli is the closest to Jodhpur. A good person to contact is Jodha Ram Ji Budhiya (0291-2838666) of Guda Bishnoiya village.

Camel safari in Sam: The oont-walas usually quote a low rate of Rs 30-50 up till Sunset Point. However, a more extensive tour of the dunes can take up to an hour and set you back by Rs 300. On busy evenings you may end up paying a lot more.

If you’d rather have some of these activities organized for you in advance contact Exclusive India (9314620141, 0294-2529015). They organize everything from camel safaris to trips to Bishnoi villages.

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the January 2006 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.