Dear Rajasthan…

Yesterday my boss walked into my room to find me staring out of my office window, apparently lost in my own thoughts. He waited a while before clearing his throat and saying, “Thinking about that Rajasthan Trip of yours again?” My sheepish smile confirmed his guess that I had indeed been thinking my recent 11-day trip to Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ranakpur, Kumbhalgarh, Chittorgarh and Udaipur.

It has been 2 weeks since I returned to Mumbai, but you are still in my mind during all my waking and sleeping hours. The bright blue skies, starlit nights, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and peacock calls are something that I sorely miss. It was a trip that challenged and reiterated in equal measure my notions of who and what you are. It was also a trip that delighted, surprised, awed, and sometimes saddened me.

Do you know that my visit generated 1,752 photographs? That 90 percent of the photographs have been deleted is testimony to my photography skills, and not due to any fault of yours. How clearly I remember the first of the many photographs I clicked: the arid yellow landscape, green shrubs, the bright blue skies and a woman clad in bright-coloured clothes.

Rajasthan Trip, Bikaner, Arid Desert

En route to Bikaner from the train

Bikaner Railway Station was the first of the many surprises you sprung up on me. Are you sure that it was not a sprawling haveli once-upon-a-time, which then got converted to a railway station? When I posted a picture of the railway station on my Facebook timeline, many people did not believe that it was a railway station !

Rajasthan Trip, Bikaner

Bikaner Railway Station

Continuing with the theme of architecture, may I say that I loved the way you have taken care to maintain a unique architectural identity for each city. This was particularly true in Jaisalmer, where everything, and I mean everything from centuries-old havelis to police stations, to chowks, to hotels, to hospitals to lamp posts are made from the same golden yellow sandstone and limestone. I also loved Bikaner’s deep red sandstone, Jodhpur’s light pink sandstone, and Udaipur’s painted frescoes on whitewashed walls.

Rajasthan Trip

(Top) Lamp posts in Jaisalmer; and (Bottom) Fresco outside a house in Udaipur

After a lifetime of seeing photographs and films and reading about them in books, magazines and blogs, I finally got to see some of your famous forts — Junagarh, Jaisalmer, Mehrangarh, Kumbhalgarh, and Chittorgarh. Each of these left me breathless and sometimes dizzy with delight. Though I liked all of them for different reasons, there is something about Kumbhalgarh Fort that made it just a wee bit extra special. The sight of an illuminated Kumbhalgarh Fort and a full moon shimmering above it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Kumbhalgarh Fort and the full moon

Kumbhalgarh Fort and the full moon

If the forts, palaces, museums, cenotaphs and memorials brought a large part of my school history book alive through the tales and exploits of Rana Kumbha, Rana Pratap, the Battle of Haldighati, Chetak, Panna, Udai Singh…

Rajasthan Trip, Udaipur, Maharana Pratap

The Maharana Pratap Memorial at Udaipur

… then the Jain Temples of Bhandaesar, Lodhrava and Ranakpur sparked off a dormant interest in everything about Jainism. It is an interest that has almost turned into a quest after my return home.

Clockwise from Left: The spire of Ladrava Temple; details of a carving from the Ranakpur Temple; and a painted ceiling from the Bhadnesar Temple

Clockwise from Left: The spire of Ladrava Temple; details of a carving from the Ranakpur Temple; and a painted ceiling from the Bhadnesar Temple

I was glad to discover two places that were not overrun with tourists. In fact, in both the places I was the only one around — the Wood Fossil Park at Akal near Jaisalmer, and the Rao Jodha Desert Park near Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. They were real finds and I hope it gets overrun only with tourists who will love and understand the treasures that you have and not just any tourist who wants to tick a place off on a list that says “been there, done that”.

And thank you so much for having given me the opportunity to meet fellow bloggers. I finally met Puru & Ekta of Shadows Galore in Jaisalmer. It’s really funny, you know, we being neighbours and all with they based in Pune and me in Mumbai. And yet, we were fated to meet in your land. And then, in Jodhpur, I met Monishikha of Mini’s blog, and spent an evening with her discussing watercolours and going through her entire portfolio. What to say, I came away with two more paintings of hers.:-)

Dear Rajasthan, this trip will be memorable for another reason: the range of hotels you hosted me at — from the heritage Bhairon Vilas at Bikaner, to the not-heritage-but-equally-grand Devi Bhawan at Jodhpur, to the nice and new-but still-finding-their-feet Haveli Resorts at Kumbhalgarh, to the so-so Panorama Guest House at Udaipur, to the friendly, but dirty and smelly Royale in Jaisalmer.

Rajasthan Trip, Devi Bhawan, Jodhpur

Early Morning at the Devi Bhawan, Jodhpur

And food, that finger-licking food that you dished out meal after meal: safed aloo, daal baati, gatte ka saag, ker sangri, pyaaz ki kachori, mirchi wada, mawa ki kachori, rasmalai, rabri, kaju sonpapdi, kaju gulkand barfi, ghotua, gujiya, ghewar … Suffice it to say that I have never eaten sweets like this before and I don’t think I ever will again. I have amended my usual “I don’t like sweets and I don’t eat them” to “I don’t like sweets, but will eat them if they are from Jagdish Mishthan Bhandar (JMB) near Suraj Pol in Udaipur.” Yes, I am that specific and choosy now. You have spoiled me, you know ;-)

I was constantly being told that Mumbaikars are pretty “flexible and adapting”. But did you have to display different weather conditions to test this hypotheses? I felt cold in Bikaner, was wet & cold in Jaisalmer, delighted with the spring like weather in Jodhpur, almost froze in Kumbhalgarh, and got roasted in Chittorgarh and Udaipur. Thank you for the weather show, Rajasthan, but really it wasn’t necessary.

Dear Rajasthan, many things about you wowed me. But I regret  to say that there were also certain aspects about you that disturbed me, saddened me and raised many questions in my mind.

  • The remnants of Sati made me very uncomfortable. Be it the hand imprints of women who had committed Sati outside the forts/palaces or the plaques dedicated to dead Rajput kings and their wives who committed Sati at the cenotaphs, I had a hard time reminding myself of the context and trying to be objective. What made me most uncomfortable was seeing people still worshiping at the Sati Mata Temples. But what scared and disgusted me was the tour guides glorifying Sati.
Rajasthan Trip

The man on the horse represents a “brave” Rajput king and the 3 female figures with folded hands represents his dutiful wives who committed sati when he died.

  • You claim a rich folk music heritage. And rightly so. But if you ignore the very  musicians who maintain and nurture that heritage, and let them fend for themselves, you will soon have no heritage to talk about. I cannot forget this musician couple and their children begging singing in the hot sun in Chittorgarh. I saw them when I arrived and I saw them, still standing, when I left 5 hours later.
The musicians at Chittorgarh

The musicians at Chittorgarh

  • Jaisalmer has made it to the top of my list of the dirtiest cities in India, knocking off Varanasi. I was appalled to see the open and overflowing sewers, the piled up garbage, and camel and cow dung and what not all over the place. For a city that receives so much tourist footfall, your infrastructure is sadly lacking
  • It is evident that all the places that I visited, with the possible exception of Jodhpur, are almost entirely dependent on tourists. What happens in the long, hot and dry summers when it is not the tourist season? How do the people support themselves? What do they do?
  • Do I look that different that you thought I was a foreigner? Constant questions of “Which country you are from?” was not funny at all.

I could go on and on, but just realised what a long letter this has turned out to be. I love writing letters and this was a perfect opportunity to share with you the highs and lows of my trip. Not all the highs and lows, mind you, just some of them. For if I write everything in this letter, there will be nothing left for me to write in the series of blogposts that I have planned on my Rajasthan trip. :-)

But let me leave you with a precious memory of my last day in Rajasthan, before boarding my train from Udaipur. That afternoon, after lunch, I went to the Sajjan Niwas Garden and had the most refreshing nap ever on its lawns. The cool fragrant grass and bird call was soporific and I couldn’t have asked for a better send off.

Looking up at the beautiful sky from my "bed" on the lawns of Sajjan Niwas Garden

Looking up at the beautiful sky from my “bed” on the lawns of Sajjan Niwas Garden

Thank you, dear Rajasthan, for a trip so memorable. I think I now understand the meaning of the word, “exotic”.

Lots of love,

Sudha

PS: If someone is coming to Mumbai from Udaipur, I wouldn’t mind a kilo or two of Kaju Sonpapdi from JMB. I have severe withdrawal symptoms, and you wouldn’t want me to suffer, would you?

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52 thoughts on “Dear Rajasthan…

  1. Seems like it was a true feast for the senses!!! I love the love letter, Sudha. It makes me want to sprout wings and land there right away specifically atop Jagdish Mishthan Bhandar (JMB) near Suraj Pol in Udaipur. :)

    • Every place in India is a feast for the senses, Meera, but after my visit to Rajasthan, I feel that perhaps Rajasthan is endowed with something a little extra, perhaps? Maybe the Kaju sonpapdi has tilted this opinion in Rajasthan’s favour? ;-)

  2. lovely post Sudha! and a perfect one to start off with, and keep us wanting more :D and reading it makes me want to take off to rajasthan immediately… and also makes me feel I missed the best, though I have been there twice already! esp Jaisalmer… I SOOOO want to go to that fossil park.. didnt even know it existed, and even the beautiful temples I have been seeing your photos of!

    on a different note, the idea that you were a foreigner might have come from the fact that u were roaming around alone, accompanied only by your camera, and reading information posted, talking to people…. i dont get these questions or looks when I am with samhith and shankar, but when i ventured out alone.. for example, at udaipur when i went hunting for the post office by myself, this was a question i was asked to… and with the way i look, i thought i couldnt possibly be mistaken for anything but an Indian!!!! but apparently, we indian women arent expected to do stuff like that.. :D

    i can understand that you might have been uncomfortable with sati, but so much worse, is the story of the multiple suicides at chittorgarh… the johars… over and over again…. no wonder the place has such a melancholy air… or maybe the melancholy was a result of me hearing all those stories there…. and sadly, that is what remains with me long after i return.. the stories… no matter how horrific…

    and since this is getting to be a mini post, i had better stop… we can continue this conversation face to face sometime this week.. what say?

    • The fossil park was a revelation and can you believe it, that I was actually dissuaded from going there? :-(

      Sati affected me deeply as I saw its remnants in every city I visited. At the entrance to every Fort, except K7umbhalgarh, and every Royal Palace were wall panels with hand imprints of women who had committed Sati. And then the Sati temples with active worship going on ! Jauhar was shocking too, especially when I saw the platform where Jauhar was done in Chittorgarh Fort. But this was at the end of my trip and my mind had become quite numb by that time. Interesting, the guides felt that Jauhar was wrong, while Sati was ok.

      Yes, yes, lets meet this week. :-)

  3. Thanks for sharing your letter to Rajasthan and making me nostalgic….The beauty of the various hues of pink, red, yellow and green amongst the arid deserts, the beauty of Kumbalgarh fort captured at night (it was a memorable sight for me too!) and the absolutely yummy food..I get goose bumps when I think of the Pyaz Kachori which I had at Jodhpur

    Looking forward to your subsequent posts on Rajasthan

    • A warm welcome to my blog, Mansee. So nice to see you here and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

      Just thinking about pyaaz ki kachori makes my mouth water and they are the best in Jodhpur. :-)

  4. Hi! Love the way you write. In Rajasthan I have only been to Pushkar Ajmer udaipur and jaisalmer but can relate to every single thing you talk abput. You bring back loads of beautiful memories and make me want to visit the others places you talk about. This post so makes me yearn to leave the city behind and take off in search of new places, history and culture. Maybe, just maybe, I will!

    • Hi Reshmy, lovely to see you here. Thank you so much for your kindd words and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. There is so much to see and experience in Rajasthan and each place is so different. I haven’t been to Pushkar or Ajmer look forward to visiting these places on my next visit to Rajasthan. Don’t know when that will be, though. There are so many places to see and just one lifetime. Life is so unfair sometimes !!

  5. Wow. That felt amazing Sudhagee.
    Now let me rest back and recollect my days in Rajasthan a couple of years back :)

    Looking forward to read more – Rajasthan is such a vibrant place – I want to go again NOW ! And I hold you and your fantastic pictures responsible for doing this to me on a Monday. :)

    • Thank you, thank you. :-) Hope you enjoy the 10 odd posts on Rajasthan that I have planned based on this trip. Which places did you visit in Rajasthan? I have yet to visit the Shekhawati and Hadoti regions of Rajasthan.

  6. Too many comments jostling for space – I refuse to believe that it is a railway station; am with you as far as the weather – the hot parts at least – and the glorifying sati; with you again in how we neglect our classical tradition as well as the folk arts; with you in the nostalgic wonder that the forts evoke – in short, you put me through the welter of emotions that you went through on your trip.

    Btw, how about asking for another kilo of that Kaju sonpapdi? May even consider making a trip to Mumbai for the exclusive purpose of picking that up :)

  7. Beautiful beautiful post Sudha! I loved the idea to writing a letter to Rajasthan. Yes, I refuse to believe too that it’s a railway station. Looking at the pictures, it’s amazing to see how the cities are seeped in traditional Indian architecture. Sati saddens me too :( Especially the fact about the tour guides glorifying it. And you just had to rub it in with listing all those food articles, didn’t you? I am not a sweet lover too but I can see myself switching over to the other side just this time :) Make that three kilos :D It pains me to see that tourism is a viable option by which our country can better itself in terms of incoming money and improved architecture, but no! :( Glad you had a beautiful trip and I look forward to the series!

    • Thank you Deepa. This post could not have been written in any other way, except as a letter if you know what I mean. There was so much I had to say and share. Also There were so many conflicting things to write :-)

      Tell me when you are coming to Mumbai, and I’ll see that some sweets from Udaipur are there for you and me to eat and enjoy together.

  8. I have been to Jaipur only but so want to visit the other places as well. Let see when do I get a chance to visit this place. Good that you enjoyed the trip so much. We have got to say this….Rajasthan IS bewitching, isn’t it? :)

    • I visited Jaipur as an 11-year old and only thing I remember today is being chased by honey bees ! I had a glimpse into the Mewar and Marwar regions in this trip. Maybe next trip it will be the Shekhawati region or the Hadoti region or maybe both. Who knows? But I do look forward to visiting Rajasthan again :-)

  9. Sharing your trip over the last few days and reading your post brings back vivid memories of my trip to Rajasthan so many years ago. Unfortunately, I do not have any photographs now. Looking at your photographs and reading about the state’s history, architecture, art, religions etc., I just want to make another trip there with my camera and explore the countryside.
    Beautifully written letter to Rajasthan. I hope her government takes heed.

  10. You have painted a beautiful picture of Rajasthan. We first visited the state about 7 years ago, and fell in love with it right away! At the time, we managed to visit Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Mount Abu. We need to return again – Bikaner, Jodhpur, Kumbhalgarh….. that’s a very long list! :)

    • Tou’re welcome Team G Square. Rajasthan IS special and I hope that all the posts that are planned will do justice to this beautiful and vibrant state. :-)

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