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Rajasthan: Forts and Temples Amid the Desert

January 25th, 2010

jaisalmer-rajasthan.jpgThis article by Nidhi Varma is largely a continuation of the previous India travel guide on jewels, palaces, and tigers in Rajasthan. Although the original file was labeled as “Eastern Rajasthan”, according to the district map at MapsOfIndia.com, most of the regions referred to in the article are actually located in the western part of the state.

Eastern Rajasthan is more about the desert than anything else. The Thar Desert is the seventh largest in the world, lying mainly in the state of Rajasthan. When you travel in this region, you mostly come across nothing but vast stretches of barren land, maybe a few thorn scrub forests with a slight green on the horizon, which is the Indira Gandhi Canal beginning in Punjab and ending near Jaisalmer, running mainly through Rajasthan to provide water to the state for irrigation. Both sides of the canal are green because of the water.

Some of the best places to see the craftsmanship and skill of stone workers, architects, and engineers lie in Eastern Rajasthan. Some places to visit would be Chittor(garh), Udaipur, Jodhpur, the Dilwara temples, Ranakpur, Mount Abu, Bikaner and Jaisalmer, where you stand amidst the almost ruins of forts and palaces and wonder how they could have known so much so far back in time.

Chittorgarh – Chittor as it is more popularly known, the place lies next to the Berach River, and can be called the birthplace of the ritual of ‘jauhar’, a collective suicide for the fear of defeat in war. The ritual began with Rani (Queen) Padmini (also known as Padmavati) and the entire womenfolk of Chittor who immolated themselves so as not to be dishonored at the hands of Allaudin Khilji’s soldiers. In the fort of Chittorgarh, atop a hill, I would advise you to definitely take an official tourist guide; make sure he or she has an identity card from the Tourism Department of Rajasthan. The guide would tell you the stories, and show you the engineering wonders of the place. It is fascinating to be there and to listen to those stories.

Udaipur – A beautiful city of five lakes, Udaipur is a hilly town with much green owing to the Berach River. Replete with palaces, gardens, and forts, the town affords much to see and many places to visit. Many day city tours will take you to all these places. The City Palace is the most famous, but I’d say all the places you’re taken to are a feast to the eyes, with intricate waterways and cooling systems.

Do not miss a trip to the Ranakpur Jain Temples, made of marble and dedicated to Adinatha. The skill of the workers is commendable to say the least. These Temples were listed among the 77 wonders of the world in the Seven Wonders of the World contest. There is also a famous Sun Temple, which is much older.

Mount Abu – Situated at the top of the highest peak in the Aravalis, Mount Abu is like an oasis in the Thar Desert. Nakki Lake is the central attraction, with many palaces and the Achalgarh Fort in the area. The most interesting visits are, however, to the various temples around the area. The Dilwara Temple Complex is the most famous and is carved out of white marble. The craftsmanship is absolutely amazing. The Adhar Devi Temple has been carved out of solid rock and is a wonder in itself.

Jodhpur – Known as the ‘blue city’ and ‘sun city’ for the blue of the whitewashed houses and the wonderful weather it enjoys throughout the year, Jodhpur is a popular tourist destination. Umaid Bhawan Palace, made as an employment strategy in a period of drought, is constructed of the finest marble. A part of the Palace has been converted to a heritage hotel. The Mehrangarh Fort is stately, and has one of the finest museums. On the outskirts of Jodhpur lies the Osiyan Temple, another one of the famous Jain temples in the region.

Bikaner – Bikaner is a relatively greener area with farming because of the Canal. It is most famous for the 27 Jain temples all across the city. Bikaner also houses the famous Junagarh Fort, Laxmi Niwas Palace, and the Lalgarh Fort. One of the best things is the drive from Bikaner to Jaisalmer, with a vast expanse of barren land most of the way.

Jaisalmer – When one approaches Jaisalmer, the first thing they notice are the huge rocks of yellow sandstone, on top of which the Jaisalmer Fort is situated. Inside the Fort wall lies a different world altogether, with Jain temples and walks along which you find people making the best of Rajasthani street food. Jaisalmer is also known for its ‘havelis’ or bungalows, showcasing the finest architectural skills. The Gadsisar Lake is also worth a visit.

Make sure you have a tourist guide who will show you places and tell you stories, maybe of how on the plains of Haldighati, visible from Moti Magri in Udaipur, Maharana Pratap, astride his brave horse Chetak, fought against the Mughal army. Rajasthan abounds in legends of warrior kings and scheming prime ministers, of attractive maidens and beautiful wives. If you haven’t heard these, I’d say your trip is incomplete.

The best time to travel to Rajasthan is the winter months since it is pretty hot because of the desert in the summers. The only international airport is at Jaipur, with domestic ones at Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Kota, Jodhpur, and Udaipur.

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