PHOTOS BY GUNTHER DEICHMANN
Rajasthan’s capital Jaipur is the chaotic gateway to this flamboyant desert state and a stepping stone to the nearby cities like Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. The 18th century city is a mix of old and new where swarms of auto rickshaws buzz around dawdling camels.
Known as the ‘Pink City’ for its distinctly-coloured buildings originally painted to imitate the sandstone architecture of Mughal cities, it has several attractions like the City Palace (which still houses the royal family) and the real observatory of Jantar Mantar, the honeycombed haw Mahal, the fairytale forts that lie just outside the city.
Built of pale yellow and pink sandstone, he magnificent Amber Fort is divided into four sections- each with its own courtyard. A popular way up to the fort is by elephant, which drops you off at Suraj Po (Sun Gate) that leads to the Jaled Chowk (main courtyard) and the Diwan-i-iAm (Hall of Public Audience) where the Maharaja once held audiences.
The fabulous Ganesh Pol, decorated with mosaics and sculptures, leads to the Jai Mandir (Hall of Victory) which features a multi-mirrored ceiling. Opposite is the Sukh Niwas (Hall of Pleasure) and the zenana (women’s quarters), the rooms of which were designed so that the Maharaja could embark on his nocturnal visits in separate chambers of his wives and concubines without the others knowing.
Just beyond Jaipur is the Shergarh area which consists of a number of desert villages located in the heart of sand dune country. Home to Manvar Desert Resort and Camp, the surrounding countryside rises like a fertile oasis thanks to a rich water source deep underground.
From Jodhpur, it’s easy to arrange a trip to Bishnoi village where life is caught in a time warp- a perfect place to experience the traditions and customs of tribal like where villagers still live in mud huts. An eco-friendly community, the Bishnois are fiercely protective of their land and as such, wildlife- such as deer and antelope (ie. blue bulls, black bucks, chinkaras and chowsinghas)- thrive in the area.
Village tours are usually run by locals, where visitors can witness the daily lives of the villagers- some of who, are potters, weavers, and shepherds. At some villages there are also options for overnighting in a traditional mud hut.
known as ‘Sun City’ for its bright, sunny weather, Jodhour is also referred to as the ‘Blue City’ for its vivid jumble of Brahmin-blue houses that line the old city’s winding medieval streets. The mighty Mehrangarh Fort towers over the old city which circles the fort and is bounded by a 16th century wall with several magnificent gates.
The old city is chock-full of guesthouses; this crowded and hectic zone- scented by incense and bustling with shops selling everything from saris to trumpets- is also Jodhppur’s main tourist area.
Mehrangarh Fort rises 120 above Jodhour’s skyline like an impregnable citadel, featuring several gates that were built to deter invaders. These include Fatenpol (‘Victory Gate’) which was erected by Maharaja Ajit Singh to commemortae his defeat of the Mughals, and Loha Pol, the fort’s original entrance with iron spikes to deter enemy elephants.
It is still run by the Jodhour royal family and today you can visit the museum with its beautiful Rajput architecture featuring a stone-latticed courtyard and halls that look more like sandalwood than sandstone.
Rising from the sandy plains like a mirage, most visitors come to this remote city as a jumping off point for camel safaris in the surrounding Thar Desert. Located at the westernmost frontier of India, the city is dominated by the honey-coloured Jaisalmer Fort with its 99 bastions that encircle the fort’s jumble of lanes; the old ity is carved from the same golden-coloured sandstone as the fort, hence Jaisakmer’s designation as the ‘Golden City’.
Unlike Jaipur or Jodhour, Jaissalmer is a small city and mort accommodation, as well as Bhatia Market, are within walking distance of the fort. As a living fort, shops and magnificent age-old havelis of rich merchants as well as the many lookouts within the fort that afford great views across the city and desert beyond.
Within the fort are several attraction including the 7 beautifully Jain Temples (built between the 12th to 15 centuries) that are connected by walkways and corridors, Patwon-ki-Haveli is a magnificent collection of 5 houses, each one for the son of a wealthy trader.
The city is currently undergoing extensive renovations and many small streets are now filled with exquisitely-carved sandstone-houses.
KARNI MATA TEMPLE
Located in Deshnoke, the Karni Mata Temple is nicknamed the ‘rat temple’ thats to the presence of 20,000-odd rats that call this temple home. Completed in the late Mughal style by Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner, these free-roaming rats are considered auspicious and the devotees make 2 kinds of offerings; the the ‘dwar bhent’ which is given to the priest and workers and the ‘kalash bhent’ which is utilised for temple maintenance and development.
Photos by Gunther Deichmann