Re­gal style, grand ar­chi­tec­ture, a good dose of ro­mance, and plenty of rus­tic beauty… head to Ra­jasthan for it all.

Real or sur­real, in Ra­jasthan the dif­fer­ence be­comes blurred. Mri­nal Shekar is left breathless as she ex­plores the state

Friday - - Contents -

While my nose was plas­tered to a dusty glass cabi­net show­cas­ing one of the world’s most price­less minia­ture paint­ings, squint­ing hard to ap­pre­ci­ate all its de­tailed glory, I had an epiphany of sorts: mag­nif­i­cence lies in the minu­tiae. ‘No­tice that one strand of hair on the back of the horse or the one stick­ing out from the war­rior’s mous­tache? It was painted with a brush made of a sin­gle squir­rel hair,’ ex­plained my guide, Bhanu Pratap Singh. ‘No mag­ni­fy­ing glass was used to make that stroke,’ he adds.

I was in Udaipur’s City Palace, part liv­ing palace, part mu­seum. I had just heaved, trekked and squeezed through the con­strict­ing maze-like pas­sage ways, ex­plor­ing a kalei­do­scope of trea­sures that this cen­turies-old mar­ble and gran­ite struc­ture housed. But as I stood in front of this stun­ning mas­ter­piece, in­stead of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing reti­nal fa­tigue, I was so over­whelmed by its beauty and the ex­quis­ite deft­ness of its artist that all I mut­tered in a trib­ute was, ‘Is that even pos­si­ble?’

My guide was clearly in awe. In spite of the fact that he had spent all his life ex­plor­ing the ex­pan­sive ram­parts of the palace com­plex, he says ev­ery time he sees the in­tri­ca­cies of the her­itage on dis­play, he is left spell­bound by its sheer beauty. I could not help but agree.

City Palace was a work in progress for four cen­turies and claims to be the largest palace com­plex in Ra­jasthan. That says a lot, con­sid­er­ing this desert state can eas­ily claim to be the In­dian epi­cen­tre for an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture that de­fies scale and de­tail. With al­most ev­ery town and vil­lage hav­ing its own his­tor­i­cal in­her­i­tance that is uniquely lav­ish, Ra­jasthan can eas­ily take your breath away with its ar­chi­tec­tural mag­nif­i­cence.

I was breathless. Udaipur does that to you. From the mag­i­cal sight of the set­ting sun melt­ing into Lake Pi­chola to the vi­brant bougainvil­lea draped over the im­pos­ing ed­i­fice of the City Palace breath­ing life into its fray­ing façade, I was over­whelmed by the city’s in-your-face beauty. It’s al­most

like a gor­geous bride, be­jew­elled by its royal his­tory and stun­ning land­scape.

No won­der this op­u­lence makes Udaipur the world’s wed­ding won­der­land, I thought as I sat by the mu­seum try­ing to catch my breath af­ter the onslaught of cul­ture and his­tory. Read­ing my thoughts, Bhanu Pratap adds, ‘This is one place where I feel time has stood still. Look around, don’t you think it’s a page out of a royal fairy­tale story?’ I looked around, and all I saw was the de­bris from a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar wed­ding be­ing cleared up. ‘Clearly some­body had a fairy­tale end­ing to their love story,’ I ob­served.

No envy there. There was no room for it. When you are in the lap of such lux­u­ri­ous legacy and pic­turesque land­scape, an all-pre­vail­ing sense of benev­o­lence is a given. This state of splen­dorous stu­por had be­come our travel com­pan­ion since my hus­band and I landed in Ra­jasthan’s cap­i­tal Jaipur a week be­fore.

Scep­ti­cal ini­tially, I was sure Ra­jasthan was a vic­tim of tourist hy­per­bole. ‘Ex­plore the land of the ma­hara­jahs,’ says the state tourism board’s web­site. How can a hand­ful of di­lap­i­dated palaces, a moun­tain range that is more mid­get than ma­jes­tic, and cac­tus bushes for that dash of re­fresh­ing fauna, be con­sid­ered any­where re­gal, I won­dered?

I was wrong. As we drove from the airport to the ho­tel, I re­alised Jaipur is en­dear­ing. Along with an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture and easy­go­ing peo­ple, this is one place where the tourism boom had still not man­aged to take away its rus­tic beauty. No steel and chrome struc­tures ru­in­ing its or­ganic sky­line and no sani­tised shop­ping malls at ev­ery cor­ner for

Jaipur is truly EN­DEAR­ING. Along with an­cient AR­CHI­TEC­TURE and easy-go­ing PEO­PLE, this is one place where the TOURISM boom has still not MAN­AGED to take away its RUS­TIC beauty

those who come in search of a bar­gain. Jaipur is still a de­light­ful lit­tle town in no hurry to grow into a swanky city. In­ad­ver­tently, it’s still true to its ori­gins.

The thought stayed with me even when we checked into ITC Ra­jputana. A five-star prop­erty that oozes re­gal style, its de­sign is in­spired by the havelis, the an­cient man­sions that the area is renowned for. But as we en­tered our room, we were pleas­antly sur­prised to find that the ho­tel’s old-world charm stopped at the doorstep. In­side, the room was an epit­ome of con­tem­po­rary com­fort. Fancy flatscreen TV, Wi-Fi and spa­cious, plush bath­rooms... sud­denly all I wanted was a lie in, but my rest­less hus­band had made sight­see­ing plans. So off we went. Jaipur has a lot to of­fer. Like the thou­sands of tourists in town, we vis­ited all the hotspots. Yes, we went to Jan­tar Mantar, a stun­ning astro­nom­i­cal ob­ser­va­tory that has sev­eral struc­tures that tell you time and the move­ment of stars and plan­ets with im­pres­sive ac­cu­racy. And, yes, we passed by Hawa Ma­hal, the palace of winds, that is so in­tri­cately de­signed that it al­most looks frag­ile. And, yes, we saw ev­ery­thing else in be­tween. And, yes, all of it left us quite over­awed. But what left me even more spell­bound was the fact that, in spite of the teem­ing crowd at each of these places, there was a cer­tain in­nate sense of peace that per­me­ates your heart and mind.

‘The se­cret is the lassi,’ says Bhanu Pratap re­fer­ring to the cool­ing, sweet yogurt drink that is fa­mous across north In­dia but in Ra­jasthan is laced with saf­fron and an ex­tra help­ing of su­gar, mak­ing it unique to the re­gion. ‘It’s our favourite pick-me-up,’ he says.

But it is not just lassi that Ra­jasthan is fa­mous for. Just like ev­ery other re­gion in In­dia, Ra­jasthan has a cui­sine of its own and we were ea­ger to try. ‘Vi­rasat is where I like to go,’ said Bhanu Pratap and that was good enough a rec­om­men­da­tion from a res­i­dent. Af­ter all, when in Rome… So af­ter a day’s worth of sight­see­ing tram­pling through the cityscape on an ele­phant, SUV and our own two pins, we de­cided to find a spot on the car­peted floor of Vi­rasat to tuck into a vege­tar­ian Ra­jasthani meal.

Now, what Bhanu Pratap did not tell us – rather, warn us – about was the fact that Ra­jasthani food is not for those who have a low thresh­old for spice. Just like


The thor­oughly ro­man­tic Lake Palace Ho­tel in Udaipur makes the per­fect set­ting for a lav­ish wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion

Ra­jasthan ex­cites all the senses at once, from noisy pup­pet shows and ex­quis­ite build­ings such as Hawa Ma­hal and Jal Ma­hal, to fiery Ker san­gri din­ners and sweets sold street­side

Clock­wise: Jan­tar Mantar; Moti Ma­hal (Pearl Palace) in­side Mehran­garh Fort; vi­brant clothes and pot­tery keep­sakes, and ITC Ra­jputana ho­tel

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