Family trip to Rajasthan
JAIPUR: We alighted the train at Jaipur station on October 20. After getting refreshed in the hotel room, we started for our sightseeing trip on an “Auto Tonga” (a motorized 3- wheeler with enough room for 6 people). The first place we visited was Birla temple, a temple built by Birla family (one of the richest families in India). Then, we went to the Central Museum & zoo. In the Central Museum, there is a collection of various Rajasthani costumes, tribal costumes, swords used by Rajput kings, old miniature paintings, ivory articles etc.
We then entered the pink city. The pink city is a part of Jaipur and it is enclosed by walls on all sides. It was painted pink in the honor of the visit of Prince of Wales in 1876. Inside the pink city, we first visited Isar Lat, the tallest tower in Jaipur. This tower was built in 1749 AD by Sawai Eashwar Singh, the then ruler of Jaipur, to commemorate his victory over his younger brother. (His brother challenged the king to defeat him in a battle or relinquish power. Ultimately, the king emerged the winner.) We could see almost the entire city from this tower. Later, we went to Hawa Mahal, the famous structure in Jaipur. This is a five-story structure built in 1799 AD, to enable the ladies of the royal household to watch the life in the city as well as the royal processions. We then went to Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory of medieval times. There is a sundial and a few structures for measuring the angles of various constellations in the sky. Our next halt was supposed to be Sawai Mansingh Museum. But we skipped it because we were getting late.
We left the pink city and proceeded to Amber fort. The main attraction in this fort is Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace). There are tiny mirrors all over the walls and the ceiling. The king used to sleep there, with oil lamps lit near his bed. The mirrors on the wall enhanced the light, as though hundreds of lamps were lit. The mirrors on the ceilings made it look like the night sky full of stars! On our way back, we saw Jal Mahal, a palace in the middle of a lake. The royal family used to spend their evenings here.
We visited a textile showroom where we were explained in detail how the clothes were hand printed in blocks. No artificial colors were used. All the colors used were made from vegetables, leaves & herbs.
Finally, we returned to our hotel. In the mean time, we found that our camera was not working. I left the hotel again, fortunately I found the appropriate shop for its repair (the manager of our hotel guided me) and returned back with the repaired camera. After finishing the dinner, we left for the railway station to catch the train for Jodhpur.
JODHPUR: After an overnight journey, we alighted the train at Jodhpur station on October 21. After getting refreshed in the hotel room, we started for our sightseeing trip on an “Auto Rickshaw” (a motorized 3-wheeler with enough room for 3 people: similar to Auto Tonga, but smaller). The first place we visited was Umaidh Bhawan Palace. This is the only palace built in twentieth century by the rulers of Jodhpur. The most remarkable thing about this is the reason it was built. There was famine in this area for 3 consecutive years. Many people were dying of starvation. So, Maharajah (Emperor) Umaid Singh, the then ruler of Jodhpur, decided to build a palace so that it could provide work for many people. Thus, its construction was started in 1920 and completed in 1936. Food and clothes were provided for all the workers and their families. The starvation deaths stopped and on the other side, the king got a gigantic new palace for his residence. With nearly 350 rooms, it was one of the largest private residences of the world.
We then went to Mehrangarh fort, built on a nearby hill. It is a strong, invincible and very impressive fort. There is an elevator provided inside the fort for going to the top. (It is the only fort where I saw an elevator.) There is a good museum in the fort. Apart from the costumes and armory, there are other sections like palanquins, furniture of the royal family etc. From the fort, we had a fine view of the surrounding landscape. We observed that almost all the houses in the old city were painted blue. On our way down, we visited Jaswant Thada, a cluster of royal cenotaphs built in white marble.
We had our lunch and went to Mandore garden. There are royal cenotaphs in this garden also, built much earlier than those at Jaswant Thada. After spending a few hours in the garden, we returned to our hotel.
In the evening, we went for shopping at Tripolia Market. We bought Rajasthani dresses for Sneha and Amoolya (our daughters aged 10 & 1 respectively). After finishing the dinner at our hotel, we left for the railway station to catch the train for Jaisalmer.
JAISALMER: Jaisalmer city lies in the heart of Thar Desert. All the buildings in this city were built of yellow sandstone. At sunset, it looks like a golden city! Due to acute shortage of water, all the structures were built without using water or mortar. The pieces of sandstone were bound together by using iron strips. Wooden boards were used as ceilings. Founded by king Rawal Jaisal in 1156 AD, this city served as a business junction for the traders from Persia, Arabia, Afghanistan, China and various parts of India during the medieval times. (I was disappointed to know that the main item of trade was opium.) Apart from the fascinating fort with semicircular bastions, there are a few “Havelis” (mansions) built by the prominent families of those times. The beautiful architecture in the Havelis made them very impressive. The interesting thing is that the descendents of those families still live in the Havelis only.
As Jaisalmer is completely away from all the main routes (It is only 100 kilometers away from Pakistan border.), the modern civilization has not invaded it much. Most of the old houses, old architecture and the old culture are still retained. While roaming in the streets there, I felt as if I had traveled back in time into the medieval age.
After another overnight journey, we alighted the train at Jaisalmer station on October 22. After getting refreshed in the hotel room, we started for our sightseeing trip on an “Auto Rickshaw”. We went to “Nathmalji Haveli” first. Apart from the exotic architecture at its front part, there was nothing much to see there. We went to “Patwa Haveli” next. A part of this Haveli was converted into a small museum where we saw centuries old furniture and utensils (even secret lockers built in the wall) used by the family. “Salimsingh Haveli” was our next spot. It was built by Salimsingh, the prime minister during the monarchy. The view of the fort was marvelous from the top of the Haveli. In fact, Salimsingh wanted his Haveli to be as tall as the fort, but the king didn’t allow it.
We went to Gadsisar lake next. There are a few shrines in and around the lake giving the lake an exotic look. We saw Royal Palace next and had a glimpse of the lifestyle of the royal family. We skipped the fort because it was closing time for the Jain temples inside the fort.
In the afternoon, we started for Sam sand dunes on a jeep. No trip to Rajasthan is complete without a trip to the picturesque sand dunes of Sam. Sam is 42 kilometers away from Jaisalmer and 60 kilometers away from Pakistan border. On the way, we saw Jain Temples built in sandstone at Amarsagar and a small garden built by a king at Moolsagar. However, the temperature was about 40 deg C and the heat was terrible. Amoolya’s face turned pink and she was semi-conscious. We were scared to hell that she might suffer from sunstroke. Fortunately, she drank a lot of water and recovered slowly. By the time, we reached Sam, it was about 5 PM and the Sun had gone down. Amoolya recovered fully and she slept for some time. We hired two camels and went for a ride on the sand dunes. Soon, the Sun started setting and we watched a glorious sunset over the desert. The children played in the sand for some time. Sneha later told me that the sand dune was the best place for her in our entire tour. After roaming for some time on the camels, we returned back to our jeep and then back to our hotel.
For the first time since we started in Hyderabad, we slept in our hotel room, but not on a train. We started by Auto Rickshaw again. We went to the fort first, but came back because the traffic was not being allowed inside the fort. As we had to walk on a steep road, we postponed our trip to fort again. We proceeded to Wood Fossil Park, 17 kilometers away from Jaisalmer. There are many fossils of trees at this park. A thick forest stood in this area (where the desert lies now) about 180 million years ago (lower Jurassic period). The fossils belonged to that period. We saw fossils for the first time in our lives. The Wood Fossil Park is the loneliest place I have ever seen. When I looked around, I saw desert and only the desert. It looked as if we were the lone human beings in the world. I fell down and injured my knee at this park. I stepped on a stone and it broke under my weight. I lost the balance and fell on my face. A few thorns of a plant pierced my left arm. However, the injuries were minute and didn’t affect our trip further.
From the Fossil Park, we went to the fort. We were unlucky this time also and the Jain Temples were just closed. However, the king’s palace was still open and we saw it. The dancing hall is the most significant one. There, the king used to sit on an elevated place. The music band used to sit opposite to him. The king’s friends and the citizens used to sit on either side of king. The womenfolk of the royal family used to watch the dance from the balconies above. Our sightseeing trip ended then and we returned back to our hotel room.
I went to the railway station in the afternoon for booking our tickets to our next destination. We went for shopping in the evening. Like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer is also a good place for shopping. Many articles made of camel leather and camel bone are available there. We purchased a bedspread with exotic embroidery of Jaisalmer. After the dinner, we left our hotel for our next destination, Mount Abu.
Mount Abu is the only hill station in Rajasthan state. It is located at the southern tip of Aravali mountain range, also a southern tip of Rajasthan. The British rulers of pre-independent India selected this place for escaping from the heat in the plains of Rajasthan.
After an overnight journey from Jaisalmer, we reached Jodhpur on October 24 morning. We traveled by another train and reached Abu Road station around noon. From there, a ride on a taxi enabled us to reach Mount Abu in another hour. After bearing the heat at Jaisalmer, we felt the cool weather at Mount Abu to be so pleasant. After lunch, we started for the sightseeing by a taxi. We first went to Nakki Lake (the highest man made lake in India) and enjoyed a boat ride on it. We then went to Honeymoon Point. The view of the surrounding valleys was marvelous from there.
Our next spot was Delwara Jain Temples. Built in 11th and 13th centuries, these marble temples are fine specimens of excellent craftsmanship. The beauty of the sculpture in these temples was really breathtaking. So many shapes were carved out of marble so finely that I am out of words to describe their beauty. Apart from the statues of human beings, elephants etc., so many other features like lotus flowers, wheels, structures resembling modern day chandeliers,…… all carved to such a fine detail that even the thin petals of flowers were carved with delicacy. At some places, the marble was so finely shaved that it became semi-transparent. We were told that a lotus flower which was 1.6 meters tall (carved out of a single marble stone) took six years to be completed. All the doors, walls, pillars, ceiling were all carved so finely. These temples are a proof that any shape can be carved out of marble.
We then went to Om Shanti Bhawan, a spiritual learning center for “Brahma Kumaris” (Brahma Kumaris are like nuns in the Christian religion. The difference is that Brahma Kumaris are taught about the spiritual concepts of the Hindu religion.) Later, we retired to our hotel room.
We started in the morning next day by our taxi and first went to Peace Park, a meditation center for Brahma Kumaris. A beautiful garden is maintained in this park. From there, we went to Guru Shikhar (Guru’s peak), the highest peak in Rajasthan. Its height is 1722 meters (5650 feet ). It was named after a saint Guru Dattatreya, who did his meditation in a cave at this peak a long time ago. We enjoyed the superb view of the surrounding mountains, valleys and Mount Abu town from this peak. We then visited Achalgarh fort and then, Adhar Devi temple which was carved out of a huge rock. We then went to Shankar Math, a temple as well as a spiritual center.
We had lunch and returned to our hotel room. After resting for about two hours, we went to Sunset Point. It was heavily crowded there. However, we were able to watch the Sun set behind the mountains. The next day (October 26), we started for our next destination, Udaipur.
Udaipur is a “modern city” when compared to the other historical places of Rajasthan. It was founded by Maharana Udai Singh in 1559 AD. Udai Singh’s biography is quite interesting. He was born in a royal family at Chittaurgarh (our next destination), 112 kilometers away from Udaipur. He was the legal heir to the royal throne there. But, one of his maternal uncles, Banvir was barbaric and greedy of the power and he killed Udai Singh’s father. After that murder, he decided to kill Udai Singh also, who was only six months old then, to eliminate all the rivals on his way to power. Udai Singh was being looked after by a nurse Panna Dhai in queen’s palace during those days. When Banvir entered the palace with a sword, Panna Dhai got the word through the maidservants, about his cruel intention. She then immediately replaced the prince with her own son and hid the prince. Banvir killed Panna Dhai’s son, assuming him to be Udai Singh. Later, Panna Dhai took Udai Singh away from that fort by hiding him in a basket. She was finally given asylum at Kumbhalgarh fort. Thus, Panna Dhai sacrificed her own son to save the prince and she played a great role in the history by providing a way for a new kingdom to cherish in this area. She is still regarded as a great person by the people in the area.
At Kumbhalgarh, Udai Singh grew into an young man there. When he was planning to establish his own kingdom, he met with a hermit one day. The hermit blessed him and advised him to build a palace at this area because it is a fertile land with lakes and surrounded by hills. Udai Singh followed this advice and founded the city Udaipur. After Udai Singh, his son Maharana Pratap Singh became the king and he protected the kingdom with vigor and resisted the advances of Mughal empire of Delhi. He was one of the most famous kings of Rajasthan.
We started on October 26 at Mount Abu for Udaipur. The only way connecting these two places is by road. Our bus started at 9 AM and soon, it became a tedious journey. The Rajasthan Roadways bus was a slow bus and it was stopping for 15 to 20 minutes at every stop. The Sun went up and it was very difficult to bear the heat. There was a forest area on our way and we saw some tribal people. Finally, at 3.20 PM, we reached Udaipur. The drastic changes in the weather from Jaisalmer-to-Mount Abu-to-Udaipur affected my health and I started to suffer from throat infection.
After refreshing at our hotel, we started for sightseeing by an “Auto Rickshaw”. We first went to Saheliyon Ki Badi (Garden of maids of Honour). The ladies of the royal family used to stroll here. It is a beautiful garden with many fountains, marble statues and pools. We then went to Sukhadia Circle, a big traffic island with a giant fountain at its center. There is a small pond around the fountain and we enjoyed ride on a small paddleboat on it. Later, after visiting a handicrafts showroom, we retired to our hotel room.
We started in the morning on the next day and our first place was Manik Lal Verma Park. Named after a former chairman of the city administration, it is a park built on the slopes of a small hill. We then went to Pichchola lake, the one inspired Udai Singh. There is a big palace at the center of the lake, but we could not visit it because it was converted into a luxury hotel. There is Pratap Memorial nearby where a bronze statue of Maharana Pratap Singh was installed over a small hill. We skipped due to lack of time and proceeded to Fateh Sagar Lake. It is a nice lake surrounded by many hills on three sides. (On the peak of one of the hills lies the Monsoon Palace, a palace used by royal family occasionally.) In the middle of the lake, there is Nehru Island Park. We went to this park by a motorboat on the lake. The view from the park was marvelous: the water, the hills, the Monsoon Palace on the hill, a small astronomical observatory etc. made scenery very beautiful. We then visited Aravali Vatika, a park similar to Manik Lal Verma park.
Our next halt was at City Palace. It is the main palace of the city and is converted into a museum. Inside the palace, we saw Manak Mahal, a hall with mirrors & colored glasses on the ceiling and on the floor. The history of Udai Singh & Udaipur is diplayed in another hall. The armory of the kings is displayed in another. The battle armor of Maharana Pratap Singh’s horse was interesting because it had a fake elephant trunk. The purpose of this fake trunk was to fool the enemy horses and elephants. The enemy horses would think it to be an elephant and would not dare to attack it. The enemy elephants would also think similarly and would not attack this “baby elephant”. After the City Palace, we went to Jagdish Temple, a temple built in 17th century and it is the largest temple in Udaipur.
Our last place to visit at Udaipur was Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal (Indian folk arts museum). There are many folk dresses, ornaments, masks, folk musical instruments etc. in it. The main attraction is the puppet show. The children enjoyed the dancing puppets in the show. Amoolya even approached the stage during the show and the puppet artist entertained her by making the puppet to jump on her hand occasionally.
We then retired to our hotel room. After lunch, we started for our final destination in Rajasthan, Chittaurgarh.
The fort at Chittaurgarh is the largest one in India. A large hill was converted into a gigantic fort by Chitrangada Maurya and it was later named Chittaurgarh after him. The history of Udaipur and the history of Chittaurgarh are interlaced because Udai Singh was born & saved by Panna Dhai at this fort only. This fort witnessed many battles. Out of them, the attack by Allauddin Khilji was the most famous one. It happened in 17th century. Once the king of Chittaurgarh, Rana Ratan Singh invited the Delhi emperor Allauddin Khilji to his fort for a friendly visit. Ratan Singh showed the various places in his fort. He also showed him his queen Rani Padmini in a mirror. The customs during those days prevented the ladies of the royal household to come out directly in front of outsiders. According to history, Rani Padmini was the most beautiful lady of not only Chittaurgarh, but the entire India. Khilji saw only her mirror image and he was breathless at her stunning beauty. He then developed an evil plan on his mind, to take Padmini to his own palace and forcibly marry her.
After returning to his fort at Delhi, Khilji assembled a huge army, went to Chittaurgarh and attacked it. There was a fierce battle and Ratan Singh’s army was easily outnumbered by Khilji’s huge army. When it was clear that their army was losing the battle, Rani Padmini committed “Johar”. Johar was the name given to suicide by jumping into a burning pile of wood. The ladies of the royal household of Rajput empires used to commit suicide by jumping into a burning pile of wood when it was evident that their fort was going to be captured by their enemies. They used to do this to avoid insult in the hands of the enemies. So, Rani Padmini and hundreds of her maidservants committed Johar. In the battle, Ratan Singh was killed and Khilji occupied the fort. Khilji ultimately won the war, but he could not achieve his goal behind it. He planned to get Rani Padmini as one of his queens, but he could not even see her in person. Rani Padmini sacrificed her life and saved a big insult to her & to her kingdom. The fort of Chittaurgarh still stand high as a symbol of the pride of Rajput women.
We boarded the bus at Udaipur bus stand at 4 PM on October 27. On our way to Chittaurgarh, Sneha showed me a minute cloud in the sky. I was delighted to see it because it was the first piece of cloud we saw in our entire trip. Rajasthan was such a dry area that the sky was 100% clear throughout the day at all places. We reached Chittaurgarh at about 7 PM.
By next morning, my throat improved a lot and I could feel it almost normal. We started to see the fort by an “Auto Tonga”. We had to pass through seven gates to reach the interior area of the fort. At the entrance to the interior area, there is a view point and from there, we could see almost entire Chittaurgarh. Like Jodhpur, the houses in the old city are painted blue here also.
The first place we saw was the palace where Panna Dhai saved Udai Singh by sacrificing her own son. Adjacent to this palace, there is the tunnel where Rani Padmini committed Johar. Our next stop was Meera Bai’s temple. Meera Bai was a staunch devotee of God Krishna. Although she was married to an army chief (who became the king later), she insisted that she was married to God Krishna only and noone else could win her heart. Her husband could not tolerate her behavior and tried to kill her many times. But, she somehow survived all those attempts and left one day along with a statue of Krishna. According to the legend, Meera Bai didn’t die, she gained eternity. Due to this reason, there are no idols of Meera Bai in the temple. Only a painted picture is there. Meera Bai’s songs praising Krishna are famous all over India and even now, her songs are sung at most of the temples of Krishna.
After Meera Bai’s temple, we went to Vijay Stambh (The Victory Tower). This is a beautiful nine-story tower built in 17th century when Chittaurgarh won a big battle against Delhi. This tower is so famous that any book on Indian history contains its picture without fail. We climbed the tower over its narrow steps and reached the top. We could see the entire fort and parts of Chittaurgarh from there. The steps in the tower were not only narrow, but slippery at some places. I slipped once while coming down, but luckily not injured. However, my heart was filled with joy. Climbing the Victory Tower was one of my ambitions for many years and it had been fulfilled.
Near the Victory Tower, there is Gaumukhi, a natural stream of water. The water comes out of a rock through a statue of a cow (Gaumukhi means “cow’s face”) throughout the year continuously. The water looked free of particles and the local people drink it regularly. Next to Gaumukhi, there is another temple. The specialty of this temple is that there is a single statue with three different faces: Brahma, Vishnu & Maheshwara, the three main Gods of Hindu mythology. Between this temple and the Victory Tower, lies the place where Rani Padmini’s maidservants committed Johar.
Our next stop was the historic Padmini Palace. But, we could only see it and not enter it! The reason was that the palace was built in the middle of a pond. Rani Padmini was not only beautiful, but also very “delicate”. She could not bear the heat in the summer. So, Rana Ratan Singh built her palace in the middle of the pond. On one bank of the pond, he built a garden to enable her to stroll in it in the evenings. Facing the steps of the palace, there is a room on the bank. This was the room where Allauddin Khilji saw Rani Padmini’s image in the mirror. To enable the visitors to recreate that incident on their minds, mirrors are hung on the wall facing Padmini’s palace. The front portion and the steps of the palace could be seen in the mirrors.
After the palace, we went to Suraj Pole, a gate at the back of the fort. Khilji attacked the fort at this gate. He didn’t do it at the front gates because he knew that the army of the fort would concentrate mainly on the front gates and that the front gates were too strong. Thus, Khilji’s army entered the fort through Suraj Pole. By the time Rana Ratan Singh and his army realized this, it was too late for them.
Our final stop in the fort was at Kirti Stambh (The Fame Tower), a tower similar (but smaller) to the Victory Tower. It was built by a Jain community about 50 years before the Victory Tower was built. We could not climb it because it was closed by the authorities. We skipped the small museum (We were told that nothing interesting was there.) and returned to the town. After lunch, we retired to our hotel room. That was the end of our Rajasthan tour.
In the evening, we went to the railway station for the final journey in our trip. Our train arrived at 8.15 PM. We were traveling the entire next day, i.e. October 29. Finally, on October 30, we reached Hyderabad at 6 AM. We reached our home and back to our regular life at 6.30 AM. That was the end of our pleasant rip to Rajasthan.