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Kingdom of Heaven: Journey to Historical Rajasthan

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  • India

    San Francisco Bay area physical therapist Rekha Dave, her American husband and their son set out to explore one of the most historical states of India: Rajasthan. Join this vibrant mother in her quest to explore India and illuminate some of the richness of its culture.

    Rajasthan, one of India’s biggest tourist destinations, is a land of palaces, gardens, historical museums and colorful people. We started our trip to explore the vast state via a private tour with an English speaking driver and tour guide.

    Day 1

    After arriving in New Delhi, we flew to Jodhpur, Rajasthan. At the airport, we were received by a pre-arranged tour representative, a driver named Bunty, in a large SUV. We stayed nearby at the five-star Taj Hari Palace, a beautiful palace-like white marble hotel that had a sunny courtyard, locally made pottery, traditional furniture and elegant pictures of maharajas. The rooms boasted their own balconies overlooking a deep-blue swimming pool and fragrant jasmine and rose-filled gardens.

    We recommend staying in any of the following hotels in the city besides Taj Hari Palace– Umaid Bhawan, Ajit Bhawan and Karni Bhawan. And there are some wonderful restaurants including On the Rocks and Marwar Restaurant.

    We soon went to see Mandor Garden, which took about two to three hours. With the temperature rising, Mandor Garden was the perfect escape to cool down with its shaded trees and shrubs. Being only ten kilometers from Jodhpur, Mandor once was the capital of Marwar. The landscape is surrounded by high rocks and the ruins of a tenth century temple. A dozen or so colorful statues of Hindu gods and Rajput warriors are carved out of one large rock wall, and the garden itself is packed with langurs (monkeys).

    Day 2

    We next visited Jodhpur’s most famous fort, Mehrangarh Fort. Situated on the top of a hill, it is made of red sandstone and was built by Rao Jodha Singh in 1459. This fort has seven pols (gates). The main entrance is where Raja Man Singh had celebrated his victory against Raja Jagat Singh of Jaipur. At the fort’s Loha Pol (iron gate), one can see 15 handprints of royal satis, queens who jumped into the funeral pyres of their husbands.

    Inside the fort there are many open-air courtyards, which sometimes were used for the coronations of kings. The fort’s Mahal and Moti Mahal, Phool Mahal are its main attractions for their stained glass windows, gold embellished ceilings and mirror work. Parts of the fort were where dancers would perform for the kings and their guests. You will be able to share your images with those back at home as cameras are allowed inside.

    When traveling around the fort, watch out for the old style steep stairs. Inside the fort is a museum of historical collections of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries featuring different kinds of royal seats that carried kings on elephants.

    Day 3

    Our guide insisted we visit the Umaid Bhawan Palace Museum, which is only one hour’s drive away. The museum has many weapons belonging to the maharajas from the 14th century, stuffed leopards and many types of traditional collections donated by Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur. Maharajah Gaj Singh still lives in a part of the palace, while the other part is dedicated to the museum.

    After an hour in the museum, we headed to our next destination by car: Udaipur. Our intention was to see villages along the way, especially Bishnoi village. On our way, we saw three buck on the roadway. This is the area, incidentally, where Bollywood’s film star Salman Khan was arrested for killing black buck.

    Udaipur is about an eight-hour drive from Jodhpur by car. Plan to visit Ranakpur, along the way, which is between Jodhpur and Udaipur. It’s famous for its Jain temples, especially the temples of Ranakpur in the Aravalli valley. The main temple, Chaumukha Temple, was built in 1434 and has 29 halls, 80 doors and 1,444 pillars of marble. Two other temples, Neminath and Parasnath, are worth seeing.

    Udaipur is a romantic city of lakes and palaces, established in 1568 by Maharaja Udai Singh II, and is surrounded by the Aravilli mountains. We stayed at the Fateh Prakash Palace Hotel, a Historical Resort Hotel that lies on the shores of Lake Pichola and is very traditional in its hospitality, making visitors feel like royalty.

    Day 4

    This day set us off to Chittaurgarh, which was once the cradle of Rajput chivalry and heroism. It preceded Udaipur by about 1,000 years as the capital of the Sisodia Rajputs of Mewar and withstood all onslaughts. Every student in India has read about Chittaurgarh of Rajasthan and its brave soldiers’ fight against the Mughals.

    It took two hours to get to Chittaurgarh. The area’s occupants were attacked many times throughout history, and every time they lost, each Rajput solider preferred death to surrendering themselves to the enemy. Though Chittaurgarh Fort is a deserted ruin, it reminds visitors of its great historical past.

    Day 5

    Next was sightseeing at the City Palace overlooking Lake Pichola. The palace was built in 1725 and it is currently divided into part museum, part royal residence and part luxurious hotel. There is so much to see but photography is not permitted in certain areas, especially in Krishna Villas.

    In the large courtyards, rajas used to play Holi. Don’t miss the Zenana Mahal, where you can see a significant number of paintings and sculptures. In the evening we went to the Bapu Bazar, known for its gold jewelry, Rajasthani style nang (precious stone) jewelry, bright colored textile materials and craft work.

    Day 6

    Day six brought us to the Sahalion Ki Badi garden with marble elephants around the colorful fountains and a large pool with lotus. The restaurant, Rajasthani Thali, proved to be a wonderful spot for lunch.

    On the other side of the garden is the royal palace. Maharaja Arvind Singh Mewar is still active in projects to help promote tourism.

    That evening, we took a boat ride on the lake to explore the island palace of Jag Mandir. On the way back, we traveled via Lake Palace Hotel, which is in the middle of the lake and run by the Taj Group. This romantic hotel is famous for the filming of James Bond’s movie, “Octopussy.”

    Day 7

    On this day, we visit Kumbhalgarh, which is so peaceful yet somehow often overlooked by foreign tourists. It has a natural beauty, and is significant for being the birthplace of Maharana Pratap Singh. Kumbhalgarh is the second most important city after Chittaurgarh in the Mewar region. We stayed in the royal retreat resort, The Hotel Aodhi.

    Don’t miss a stop-over to see Fort Kumbhalgarh, which has 36-kilometers thick walls that protect the fort from enemies.

    Day 8

    The next destination was Mt. Abu. Its history is as diverse as the city itself. The Rajput kings used to come here in the summer to escape the dusty dry heat.

    Mt. Abu is at the border of Gujarat and Rajasthan, so you will see many tourists coming from these states so avoid the overcrowding that Diwali time brings. It was the home of many sages and saints, and has many temples of gods/goddesses. We stayed the evening at the Hotel Hillock, where we enjoyed a stunning sunset though it was quite crowded.

    Day 9

    On our final day, we traveled to other area attractions like the lovely Nakki Lake and the Dilwara Jain temples. The highest point is Guru Shikhar, which is famous for where Atri Rishi, father of Lord Dattatreya (Brhama Vishnu and Mahesh), had done his meditation for many years. It is a holy place and there are shrines of many other saints, including a sage of Gujarat, Pandurang Avadhut.

    Our trip sadly came to a close on this day, but Rajasthan will never be far from our hearts and minds.

    Places to See:

    In Jodhpur — Mehrangarh Fort, Mandor Garden and Jaswant Thada.

    Ranakpur — Jain temples due to their art and carvings.

    Udaipur — City Palace, City Palace Museum, Sahelian Ki Badi.

    Kumbhalgarh — Kumghalgarh Fort, small villages, jeep safari and hiking.

    Mt. Abu — Sunset Point, Nakki Lake, Guru Shikhar and Dilwara Jain temples.

    Also, try and see Jaisalmer and Bikaner.

    HRH Group of Hotels are:

    Shiv Niwas Palace – Udaipur

    Fateh Prakash Palace – Udaipur

    Gajner Palace – Gajner, Bikaner

    Shikarbadi Hotel – Udaipur

    The Aodhi Hotel – Kumbhalgarh

    Fateh Bagh – Ranakpur

    Gorbandh Palace – Bikaner

    Garden Hotel – Udaipur.

    - Courtesy India Life and Style

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