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Rajasthan:

Sumptuousness and reverence

By Sylvie Berthiaume

The fascination for the country of the Maharajas, these Rajputs monarchs, pillars of the Indian Empire under the Mughals, then under the British Empire, and until 1971, quickly overcome the apprehension and the questions that one may have before setting foot on India soil.

After the commotion of New Delhi streets, a stay in Rajasthan’s cities and their surrounding areas provides a little respite: although very animated, they are set with many historical jewels such as sumptuous palaces astounding by their architecture and the richness of their content, and as the Hindu temples that stand out by their modest facilities and the fervour of the joyful incantations.

In Rajasthan, located in the northwest of India, we visited:

Jaipur, the "Pink City" , the capital of Rajasthan, with its City Palace, the Hawa Mahal Winter Palace and the very surprising Yantra Mandir astronomical observatory.

10 km from Jaipur, the stunning Amber Fort reached on an elephant’s back, is where we learn about the Maharaja’s public hearings, his army’s strategies, his harem, including tactics and jealousies between wives and concubines, the role of his eunuchs guards, and on the fate of the children from his wives who constitute the royal descent, while those of his concubines become soldiers.

Jodhpur, the "City of the sun" or "Blue City", with its Fort Mehrangarh, the mesmerizing cenotaph Jaswant Thada, and the magnificent palace Umaid Bhawan.

Pushkar, the "City of the Swan and the Blue Lotus", of which the lake of the same name, is a place of pilgrimage for the Hindus and a meeting point for the hippies of all ages and of any nationality.

Mandawa, the "Open sky Museum", consists of nearly one hundred small palaces decorated with frescoes on their inner and outer walls.

Of course, the Taj Mahal, in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh

Agra, located 3 hours drive from New Delhi, is unavoidable during a first trip to India. Who has not dreamed about it, for its extravagance, the reason for its existence and the history that followed its construction.

This gigantic monument of white marble inlaid with onyx, precious and semi-precious stones, also renowned for its sculpted windows which look like genuine lace, is in fact the mausoleum of Mughal emperor Shâh Jahân’s third wife, who died while giving birth to their 14E child. He loved this woman madly, even more because his first two wives did not give him any children.  After the death of his adored wife, he no longer had any relationship with a woman. As to the mausoleum, it has taken 22 000 workers and 22 years to build. And even before it was completed, the emperor was imprisoned by his own son.

Go there at sunrise… The photos will be even more magic in the morning light, and there will be a lot less visitors and less heat, assuring a more comfortable visit. Even if it may seem intimidating to browse the Indian roads in the middle of the night… it is worth it.

The Red Fort or Fort of Agra, neighbor to the Taj Mahal, was the Royal family’s residence. Its visit is usually included in the guided visit package.

5 highlights

First: The concrete illustration of the opulent life of the Maharajas, their dozen wives and their thousand concubines, by paintings, photos, sabers, thrones, jewelry, clothing, and spectacular carriages, from different eras.

Second: The smiling hospitality of the Indian women in the public sphere, as well as the enthusiast pilgrims who travel to the temples and purification baths.

Third: The animals in very large numbers that one meets at any time since they are an integral part of the daily life, such as sacred cows, elephants, camels, monkeys, wild boars, goats, donkeys and dogs.

Fourth: Hyper-loaded and hyper-busy markets and bazaars.

Fifth: The omnipresent vivid colors.

The rest of the itinerary: Like at the movies

Unfortunately, the time we were allocated for this stay has not allowed us to go visit two other Rajasthan’s cities and regions, which you must absolutely include in your own future trip:

  • Jaisalmer, the "Gold City”, which fortress was a crucial step of the caravan traders who travelled from India to the West. Even today, it is the starting point of fabulous safaris of one or several days in the Thar desert   

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  • Udaipur, the "Venice of India", with a romantic character conferred by its Pichola lake. You will surely want to stay at least one night at the hotel Ravla Khempur , which was fully renovated and which attracts an admiring clientele since the worldwide success of the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, has been filmed there, with megastars such as Judi Dench, Maggy Smith and Richard Gere.

Affordable transportation and guides

In profusion, the tuk-tuks and trains are everywhere and bring you everywhere.

If you want a guided tour through a city or a whole day tour outside the city, what is most often offered is the "private" option: a driver or a driver-guide, speaking English a little or very well, aboard an individual air-conditioned car.

Some excursions can be booked on the web, before departure, which is highly recommended especially for the Taj Mahal, if you want to ensure you do not miss it, because of the lack of availability at the last minute.

For other visits and excursions, it is preferable to set everything on site: they are less expensive, but even then, do not forget to negotiate the price!

Not to worry: the tuk-tuks drivers wait in queue outside of the hotels, even the small ones. And there is always a small travel agency in close proximity to sell you a "full-day package, including driver-guide-car-entry tickets-meals-camel or elephant ride, etc."

Comfortable climate

At the time of our stay - July – the monsoon season was beginning. Thus, the temperature was comfortable (between 25 and 30 degrees), and if the sun was timid, we had only 3 days of rain on 10. This period of the year is therefore rather recommendable for a trip in this region, because during the dry season, the temperature may be stifling.

Jubilation Travel Info is sharing with you this month what we have greatly appreciated: the population, the cuisine delectation, the accommodations, the traditions and the creations of Rajasthan.

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