Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Colours of Rajasthan

Ultimate experience in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, is witnessing the stark, austere beauty of the Thar Desert, where a camel ride through the desert dunes can be the experience of a lifetime.

In this PASSIONS exclusive we take you to the most far-flung corners, exploring the magic, majesty and minute detail that the world has to offer. From people to places and vistas to soaring scenery, photojournalist Barbara Prinz captures for Passions the most breathtaking elements of landscapes that seem to exist on another planet.

The “Palace on Wheels” is a luxurious train experience, arriving at Jaisalmer’s terminus each Sunday morning

A trip to the northwest of India is an unforgettable excursion due to its kaleidoscope of colours, uniquely diverse cultures, extremes of contrast and, most of all, as with every journey, the privilege of experiencing the lives of its people. Rajasthan touched the soul of Barbara, leaving her with a myriad of memories that she is only too happy to share. Her journey continues…

The Yellows and Gold of Jaisalmer

I started my trip with Jaisalmer probably the most picturesque city in Rajasthan. There are various ways to reach the ‘Golden City’ as it is sometimes called due to its location on a ridge of the yellow sandstone Trikuta Hill in the middle of Thar, the gloriously yellow sand desert.

Jaisalmer is easy to reach by train, though if you combine your trip with the Desert Festival held in the month of January and February, you might be lucky enough to catch a direct flight to this remote place which is close to the border of Pakistan.

I decided to go by car from Jodphur to Jaisalmer to indulge in the fascinating landscape of Rajasthan, but more so to get an idea of the daily life of local people.

On the road to Jaisalmer I understood very quickly the strategic importance of the place I was going to. In its early history, wealth came from the levies on the caravans, as Jaisalmer was situated directly along the trade route used by the camel caravans of Indian and Asian merchants, linking India to Central Asia, Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Africa and the West. When Bombay became the hub for sea-trade and traditional land routes were replaced, the glorious days of Jaisalmer were over, losing further lustre when India and Pakistan were divided in 1947.

However, Jaisalmer regained some prominence as an army supply depot, and today you will likely see convoys of military vehicles.

Jaisalmer Fort, built in 1156 AD by the Bhati Rajput ruler Rao Jaisal from whom it derives its name, is one of the largest forts in the world. With its yellow sandstone walls the massive fort stands mighty, proud and impressive in the golden stretches of the great Thar Desert. One can just imagine the number of battle-weary soldiers it has sheltered or the assaults it has withstood.

Jodhpur is called the “Blue City”, because of the brilliant blue-washed buildings

The Blues of Jodhpur

After three days I felt ready for new colours and drove back to charming Jodphur, the second largest city in Rajasthan, and far larger than Jaisalmer.

To get a spectacular overview of the city, it is best to visit Mehrangarh Fort. The old city is built around this massive, intimidating stronghold. It is well maintained and resides on a 122m high mountain with seven gates giving access. A stroll through the city gives incredibly different views of Mehrangarh Fort which is also reflected in Gulab Sagar lake. The city itself has a charming atmosphere thanks to its tiny lanes.

The Pinks of Jaipur

Upon leaving Jodpur, I had a fantastic view of Umaid Bhawan Palace on the top of the Chittar hills. Also known as Chittar palace as it was built using chittar stone, it is a fine Indo-colonial building constructed in the art-deco style of the thirties by famous Edwardian architect Henry Vaughan Lanchester between 1929-43, by more than 3000 labourers.

The pace in Jaipur accelerates, as it is the capital and the largest city of Rajasthan. It was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber, after whom the city was named.

Jaipur was built according to the principles of Shilpa Shastra, the science of Indian architecture. The city was divided into nine blocks, two of which contain the state buildings and palaces, with the remaining seven allotted to the public. Huge fortification walls were built, along with seven strong gates.

In 1876, during the regime of Sawai Ram Singh, the whole city was painted pink to welcome Edward, Prince of Wales. Today, avenues remain painted in pink, giving Jaipur a distinctive appearance and hence its nickname, “The Pink City”.

It is best to begin a tour from the centre, as many of the famous buildings are located here. You should not miss the stunning Jantar Mantar, the largest and best-preserved ancient observatory and has been placed on the World Heritage List.

The name Jantar Mantar means literally ‘calculation instrument’. The observatory consists of fourteen major geometric devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking the location of the stars’ as the earth orbits around the sun, ascertaining the declination of planets, and determining the celestial altitudes and related ephemerides. An excursion through Jai Singh’s Jantar is a unique experience of walking through geometrical shapes and encountering a collective astronomy system designed to scour the heavens.

The Samrat Yantra, the largest instrument, is 27m high, its shadow carefully plotted to tell the time of day. Its face is angled at 27 degrees, the latitude of Jaipur.

It is just a short walk from Jantar Mantar to reach the City Palace complex. Among many buildings in this complex, the Chandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal palaces are probably the most iconic.

An efficient and very local way to get to all sight-seeing attractions in and around Jaipur, is to buy a ticket at the official Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, RTDC. Various tours are offered and joining other local tourists can be great fun.

One of the main attractions on these tours is Amber Fort, located high on a hill overlooking the Maota Lake. It is one of the principal tourist attractions in the Jaipur area.

The Red Hot Passion of Udaipur

For the complete picture of Rajasthan’s most fascinating cities, Udaipur cannot be skipped. Also known as the “City of Lakes”, Udaipur is located 403 kilometres Southwest of Jaipur and is the historic capital of the kingdom of Mewar. Apart from its history, culture, and scenic locations, it is also known for its Rajput-era palaces many of which have been converted into luxury hotels. The Lake Palace, for instance, covers an entire island in the Pichola Lake. Udaipur is often called the “Venice of the East”, and is also nicknamed the “Lake City”.

A walk through the old city gives you an authentic feeling for a typical old Rajasthani city. Tiny streets lead you up the hill to the City Palace, passing by Jagdish Temple, a large Hindu temple built by in 1651 A.D. Though this area is the main tourist place in the city and you will find lots of souvenirs and local people, its little world charm remains. It didn’t surprise me when I discovered that Udaipur is a favourite shoot location for many Hollywood and Bollywood movies. Indian sections of the James Bond film Octopussy were filmed here.

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