March 18, 2016

“The train whistled as I neared the railway station. I stood by the door reminiscing my childhood. It has been long since I last visited this place but this year my destiny has decided to take the route to the Land of Kings - Rajasthan. The trademark fragrance of fried delicacies filled the air setting in the mood.As soon as I stepped out of the train, with my rugged suitcase and a backpack, a rabdiwala approached me. “Khamma Gani Sa”, he greeted me offering hot rabdi, a sweet dish, in small mud pots colloquially termed kullads.

My journey began from Abu Road, which is the one of the few places where most of the trains entering Rajasthan stop by. However, for me it was on my route to - Mount Abu, Rajasthan’s only hill station.No matter what time of the day it is you have to squeeze through people standing upright like pillars on the station. I hopped on to the bus relishing the rabdi as I drove through the entwined paths leading to Hilltone Hotel located on the top of mountain.The window glasses blurred my vision as fog settled on it. I wrapped into my sweater admiring the green foliage and the faintly visible rising sun.After an hour long drive, we reached the hotel constructed like a huge cottage decorated with intricately designed artifacts and paintings. The cozy bedrooms complimented the weather and in contrast, the stillness of the surroundings haunted the building. The staff is dressed in traditional robes and pyjamas, always on toe to assist their customers.

After a delicious refreshing breakfast of parathas with curd and badam milk, I headed to the famous Dilwara Temple located about two and a half kilometres from Mount Abu. The vastness of the temple reflected in its monochromatic entrance – the huge dome and marble pillars carved with images of Jain saints as if blessing you. Further inside is the flooring of black and white tiles assembling themselves to form a huge chessboard leading you to the shrine. The entrance reinforces the simplicity of the ancient architects and the interiors spontaneously activate the ‘kind man’ in you.

After the spiritual indulgence, the bus driver drove me to the romantic ornament of Mount Abu – Nakki Lake. On the way, he narrated the tale behind the strange name. “The lake is believed to be dug by a sage with his nails to satisfy the eligibility criteria set by the parents of his beloved. Today it stands testimony to their eternal love”, he said passionately. A hill station on the desert land, Mount Abu has many other historical sites to indulge with including the Achalgarh Shiva Temple and Gau Mukh Shiva Temple.

The next destination on my map was one of the most sought tourist spot of Rajasthan that vents Rajasthani culture in every gesture – Udaipur. Home to numerous marvels of architecture, Udaipur also nurtures the beautiful lakes of Pichola and Fateh Sagar. Udaipur is an enormous pictorial representation absorbing the entire Rajasthan in a nutshell, transforming even a foreigner into a Rajput, a localite.

Undoubtedly I first landed at the majestic Udaipur City Palace, an assembly of 11 smaller edifices, each built with a different material adding to its youthfulness.I walked through the palace observing the sand colored walls and pillars decorated with multi colored mirrors, traditionally patterned tiles and intricately carved domes with gold plating. Spending sometime at the huge balconies,verandahs, I felt a part of the activities the royalties spent their leisure time on. Amongst all, the edifice you would not want to miss is the Lake Palace which can be viewed from the heavenly Amar Vilas, a garden located at the highest point of the Udaipur City Palace.

The Lake Palace, also called as Jag Niwas, is now a hotel located amidst the serene Lake Pichola. A tourist guide standing beside informed that it was a summer resort for the king built in the 18th century.The Udaipur City Place is a spectacle to plenty of other uniquely constructed structures such as Moti Mahal, The Pearl Palace and Sheesh Mahal, the Palace of Mirrors, the Jagdish Temple, The Royal Museum and Lakshmi Chowk.

Next on my list was the famous ‘Saheliyon ki bari’, a leisure garden gifted to the Queen of Udaipur and her 48 maids. The garden grows vivid flora and houses many species of birds. Gazing at the surroundings, a pool filled with lotus leaves waiting for lotuses to sprout caught my eye. It’s popularly called the Lotus Pool. Fountains and kiosks mark different locations in the garden. The Fateh Sagar Lake, on whose bank the garden is situated, overshadows the beauty of all the other natural creations.These royal structures, once the cream of Udaipur have weakened now lamenting the gradual loss of our faith, beliefs and practices.

So far, my journey has been unfolding a new perspective in every step I take towards a new destination. I left Udaipur in the afternoon, resting on the seat of the bus, smiling at the moments that have passed away and waiting for the ones yet to come. On the way, I stopped by Ranakpur Temple, according to me an ideal example of exceptional architecture.Undisturbed and calm, the temple stood erect welcoming every visitor.It’s a four-entrance temple supported by varied size of pillars such that none of them obstruct your view of the main shrine. Every pillar is uniquely carved, none resembling each other. A walk through the temple is so blissful that you lose yourself in its quietness.

My anxiety heightened as I neared my favorite city of Jodhpur. The pride of Rajasthan, Jodhpur has escalated towards modernity retaining its cultural treasure. Famous for its delicious food, especially kachoris and mirchi vadas, the streets of Jodhpur also feature exquisite collection of handmade goods like bags and mojris, Rajasthani shoes, intruding your sight at every second street. Complying with my agenda, I stayed in one of the traditional hotels of Jodhpur, Nirali Dhani. Unable to control my hunger pangs I rushed to the dinner hall. It is a huge mud house accommodating about 200 guests at a time. The seating arrangement was colourful golden bordered pillows with a comfortable mattress, huge enough to even lie down. The imperial food was served in huge brass plates and bowls on wooden stands called chauki. I pounced on the sweet dishes especially churma followed by kinds of batis made of wheat, bajra, corn and jowar respectively baked in traditional over called tandoors. A substitute for batis is rotis roasted on stoves known as chulhas fuelled by cowdung cakes or coal. The list of delectable curries includes gatta ki sabz, which is the speciality of the state, methi, fenugreek seeds and fried potatoes invariably topped witha spoon or two of Rajasthani food’s essential ingredient – ghee.What impresses me is that that they feed you until they are satisfied, so before you refuse to eat something offered by a Rajasthani do think again.

After the over-loaded dinner I returned to my small mud house with thatch and bamboo beds. Most of the older houses in Rajasthan are built using mud which comprises a large portion of the construction material. The specialty of these houses is that they keep the ambience warm in winter and cool in summer. The tired night passed away and soft sun rays made their way through the small windows of my room to wish me good morning. The chilled water poked my face and the birds chirped as if waking up the whole town. I spent my day visiting forts including the Mehrangarh fort, housing the royal arsenal - swords, shields, arrows and huge cannons. Outside the forts you can spot folk singers creating a festival-like ambience playing flutes and dholaks, that you cannot hold back your feet.

My final destination of the trip was the place that introduces you to the tribes of the Thar Desert. At the entrance were men dressed in dhotis bearing red turbans and drawing a tilak on the guest’s foreheads to welcome them. Dancing to the beats of the dholaks, I entered the camp accompanied by women dressed in maroon ghagra cholis, their local attire, studded with mirrors. Teaching me a few move of the traditional dance - Ghoomarthey danced relentlessly. My legs gave away but their enthusiasm refused to fade away. Finally, it was time for the legendary camel ride around the Thar Desert. The camels stood in a peculiar lazy posture but were exceptional with their feet on the desert sand which deformed at every step. Riding through the desert about which I had only read in my school textbooks until now, I heard the wind echoing in my ears and changing its flow towards the neighboring country of Pakistan. Soon, I sipped tea in the warmth of the bonfire, adoring the sun hiding behind the sands.The dying flames of the bonfire indicated that it was time to return. This tour waived away my notion that Rajasthan is all about deserts and camels!!!

Every journey is a mystery, a part of it is decided by you and the rest unveils as you go by uncovering the hidden secrets. To me this was the beginning of my quest for travel and what about you?

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