The pages of Indian history textbooks spring to life in Rajasthan. My winter trip to Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Jaipur transported me to the pre-Brit India of royalty, grandeur and power.
Despite the cold north, days are exasperatingly hot in Rajasthan, with frigid nights. Our road trips were filled with mirages, which tend to appear magical, despite tenth grade Physics. The sky was always a majestic blue, unlike I’ve seen elsewhere in India. Even sunset in the state was different, more spectacular, with definite colors in sharp phases and a lingering after-sunset. The night sky was a sight I’ll never forget, especially in Jaisalmer; I have never seen so many stars twinkling in the pitch-black sky.
Flooded with blue-painted houses, Jodhpur is known as the Blue City. It is home to one of the biggest forts in India, Umaid Bhawan, which took 15 years to build and is a proud glimpse into the luxury that our country could once boast. As a tourism-fed economy however, one half of Umaid Bhawan was bought by Tata and converted into the Taj Hotel.
Jaisalmer, the Golden City, is a small town with grand havelis, which are now houses, hotels, shops, even petrol stations. Crossings, dividers and light poles are also golden marble structures, giving the city a very ancient, royal feel. The ride into the Thar Desert is marked by shrubs and cacti growing sparsely on dull, dry ground, where no trees or crops could ever hope to survive under the penetrating sun.
The Thar Desert is a huge expanse of sand, not exactly post-card view, but spectacular nonetheless. My camel, Disco, aged 8, was my first touch-point with a real desert; until then, all my notions of Rajasthan sprung from the movie Dor. Unfortunately, poverty has grabbed and eroded even such a breath-taking creation of nature. My camel tender, Akeesh, was a 15-year old boy from a nearby village, who, always in the desert land, will probably never imagine where the rest of the world has reached. By the time Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan reaches these villages, we’ll be old or dead. It’s a sad, painful realization. It makes me wonder though, if the world were a happier place when everyone was still poor, when nature was home, when money didn’t exist. I digress.
Jaipur, the Pink City, looks more peach than pink now. Apparently, it was painted pink in honor of a king’s English friend, and has never been whitewashed since! Like the rest of Rajasthan, it is filled with pigeons and touched by royalty. It is however, a lot more posh and metropolitan. The Birla temple is a marvelous structure in white marble.
We detoured to Ajmer on our way back to Delhi. Honestly, I couldn’t decipher the Ajmer Dargah. If you can close your eyes and imagine the maximum number of people that could fill a given space, you can almost picture yourself at the Ajmer Dargah. It is evidence that faith can move millions.
In Rajasthan, the elephant symbolizes love, the camel, luck, the horse, power, and the cow, spirituality. It is a state where history is still alive, a state which is truly home to the color, vibrancy and culture that is the core of India. It makes me want to go back in time and become a part of our grand history.