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Rajasthan: Jewels, Palaces, and Tigers

January 23rd, 2010

rajasthan-tours-palaces.jpgRajasthan is the land of jewels, forts, palaces, and stretches of barren land graduating into the Thar Desert with Aravali hills lending green to the eye. Rajasthan means ‘land of kings’, and has a history of Rajput warrior kings, stories of whom don’t cease to fall from the lips of locals. Every nook and corner in Rajasthan probably has a story attached to it, most of which are stories of valiance, honor, and bravery. Most Indian handicrafts, silver and gemstone fitted jewelry, and block printed or dyed textiles find their birthplace in Rajasthan. Some of the best shopping you can do is here. Folk culture is rich with Ghoomar dances and folk ballads.

Western Rajasthan is predominated by the Aravalis, which are one of the oldest hill ranges. You travel on the flat road for kilometers, and suddenly they are there, standing majestically above you. The vegetation ranges from deep thorn forests to bare hills. Some places to see here are:

Jaipur – The capital ‘pink’ city of the state of Rajasthan, Jaipur is famous for its Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort, Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, City Palace, and Albert Hall Museum. Located at the bottom of the hill on top of which is Jaigarh Fort, Amber Fort is unique in combining Hindu and Muslim elements. Jaigarh Fort is known for the world’s largest cannon on wheels in its compound. Hawa Mahal, ‘palace of winds’, so called for its unique construction of 198,345 windows in a palace designed like the crown of the god Krishna. Jal Mahal is the ‘water palace’ in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake. Jaipur is one of the best places to shop for handicrafts, jewelry, textiles, etc. Choki Dhani is a famous village resort in the suburbs, and surely worth a visit even if you choose not to stay there.

Alwar – Offering many palace hotels and monuments (some in ruins now), Alwar is a rich district in heritage. Roads in this area cut through a thousand fields with wheat and mustard. One of the most popular heritage hotels is the Neemrana Fort in the erstwhile Chauhan hill-fort of the 15th century, affording a fantastic view of the expanse of flat lands around. Kesroli Fort has also been converted to a heritage hotel, and is a famous site for viewing Buddhist Vihara remains; Kesroli is one of the oldest forts, with traces of the Mahabharata period.

Another heritage site around is the Siliserh Lake Palace built in the 19th century when the Siliserh lake reservoir was constructed to channel water to Alwar. Beautiful with a vast spread of water around it, you can also view many birds here. Siliserh Lake Palace is also a stopover for those traveling to the Sariska Tiger Reserve, which has quite a history of poaching and reintroduction of tigers from the Ranthambore National Park. I would not say this is the best place to view tigers in India.

Bharatpur – What this place is most famous for is the Bharatpur Wild Life Sanctuary, which is quite a nice place to be in, if you do enjoy nature. There’s marshy area around with many species of birds like the Siberian crane, cormorants, pelicans, ducks, wagtails, warblers, kingfishers, larks, etc. It has now been renamed the Keoladeo National Park, and has been declared a World Heritage site. The Bharatpur Sanctuary also has many kinds of Indian deer like Sambhar and Chital, with Nilgai (an Indian antelope, also called a blue bull) and boars as well. The Bharatpur Palace and the Lohagarh Fort are other places to see in Bharatpur. The Deeg Palace (18th century), around 30 km from Bharatpur, is a famous palace-fort, a must visit.

Ranthambor National Park – One of the largest national parks in India, Ranthambor (alternatively spelt Ranthambore) is most famous for its tigers. Apart from this majestic beast, you also will get to see nilgais (Indian antelopes), leopards, wild boars, many species of Indian deer, bears, and other animals especially around the Padam Talao, the lake. There is also the Ranthambor Fort (10th century) with its three temples to visit.

All monuments here are to be noted for the fine work done in the Rajputana architectural style, often combined with the Mughal style. Some common features to be found are intricate waterways and wind passages, construction of lakes and jharokhas – lace-like (called ‘jali’ work) windows that let wind in and shielded women from prying eyes. The Mughal style is famous for its construction of beautifully designed gardens. All of this was done so that they could keep themselves cool in a land of desert and hot winds.

Traveling by road is advised by hiring a cab for the entire trip. An alternative is to travel by bus from one place to another. The buses are nice and comfortable. And you could take city tours offered by most hotels and the Rajasthan Tourism Department. Usually tourists from Delhi visit Western Rajasthan since it is only a short distance. The closest international airport is at Jaipur apart from Delhi.

This article was sent to us by Nidhi Varma, who specializes in literature relating to travel and tourism in India.

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