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
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