Thursday, March 13, 2014
Get Off the Beaten Path in Rajasthan
I have to say that sometimes I need to turn to outside sources for inspiration in the area of new ideas for travel. There are so many places in this world to visit, and there are some truly fascinating places that most people here in the USA overlook, that I have to search. Lately, when it comes to topics of travel, I have found that the internet is the place to look. There are many internet shows these days that you never get to see on television. It's a great place to go and watch, when the normal channels are showing the same old thing, or they have gone to fixing people's hotels and bars for them instead of showing travel.
So, here in America we watch the Big Bang Theory, and some travel shows about India, and everything else most of us know is about help desks being outsourced there and Bollywood. We have been trained to view India as this place where the British got into it with Gandhi and the north is at war with various pieces of Pakistan in a battle that dates back to before Gandhi. We see it as crowded, dirty, alien, and confusing. That's just not a good image to have of a wonderful country like India. Therefore, I decided to talk about some of the less cumbersome areas in India, and the one that comes to mind is Rajasthan and the amazing Aravalli Mountains. The region is full of palaces and forts, with the amazing Kumbhalgarh Fort high atop the mountains.
Horse safaris are the way to see this area--I'm not kidding. This is a great adventure that almost anyone can do. It's a little different, but you will see the difference that it makes. Rajasthan is the land of kings, literally. The region is full of forts and palaces, temples and amazing sights. The Marwari Horses are the ancient war horses of the Rajput Warriors. It's the way of the land, and if you want to get a true feeling for the area, this is the best way.
There are so few vehicles in the rural areas of Rajasthan that you will be amazed. There are carts and horses out there, camels, elephants, and bicycles. There are not a lot of cars. The people of the tiny villages do just fine without them. This makes it simple. That's why I say that the horse trip is a great idea. The landscape is rugged but the accommodations are not. The tour companies--and there are a few of them--provide wonderful accommodations for their guests. They take care of you well. They have plush tents, and also stop at some five star hotels, which are made out of some of the old forts and palaces. This is a good trip to not try on your own. Take the tour. I don't say that often, but here you will be a bit out of your comfort zone and it can't hurt to have a guide.
Kumbhalgarh Fort is one of the gems on the horse tours in the area. This is one of the biggest forts I've ever seen. It is said that the walls of this fort only fall second in length to the Great Wall of China. Imagine that. It was built by Rana Kumbha and was expanded for four centuries. It was the birthplace of Maharana Pratap, a great Mewar Warrior. This is a place that there is always more to see at. The views of it are as great as the views from it. It sits high on a peak in the Aravalli Range. It is a wonder to behold, especially in the evening when it's lighted for a brief time.
Another beauty that falls on a lot of horse tours outside of Udaipur is the Ranakpur Jain Temple. Ranakpur is a gathering of temples which are all elaborately carved and decorated. It is one of the five main holy places of the Jains. Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world. They practice tolerance and knowledge and believe in Karma and reincarnation. Ranakpur is named after Rana Kumbha whom Dharna Sah, a Jain businessman, approached when he had the vision of his great temple to ask for the land for its construction. It sits in a gorgeous valley in the Aravalli Mountains, and is still used as temples.
There are many palaces in the Rajasthan Region. Most tours of the palace region that you would take on horseback originate in Udaipur. This is a major city in the area that is a little tricky to get to if you're coming from out of the country. From the USA you may have to stop in Mumbai and Dehli to get a connection to Jaipur or Udaipur. This region is not the overcrowded India that you've heard of. Now, Udaipur has traffic, Tuk Tuks, motorbikes, and lots of horn honking, just like you would expect. Udaipur also has one of the most famous Indian palaces--the Lake Palace. Formerly known as Jag Niwas, this palace is now a very high end hotel with a view like none other. You get there by water jetty, and then you are treated like royalty. It is one of the most ornate and lavish hotels anywhere, and the people who work there are tremendously friendly and helpful. After all, you will be out of your zone in Rajasthan. This is not a place that you master on the first visit. You will want a guide or tour.
Udaipur is known as the white city and has many amazing and beautiful buildings to look at and visit. This is a great stopping off point on any tour of Rajasthan. The shopping is amazing, the hotels are great, the atmosphere is bustling and fun.
There are so many palaces and forts to see, that you simply never run out of them. You will run out of time before you run out of places to see.
Nighttime is stunning as well. A view of the city can be a view that will last in your memory for a lifetime. I always take into account the view when I plan a trip. I love a good view.
I also love a festival. If you come to Udaipur and many other cities in India in the fall, you may find yourself at the Diwali Festival. This is one of the biggest Hindu festivals in the country and is the equivalent to Christmas or New Year's here. There are parades, celebrations in the streets, activities, and lots of dancing. The Hindus celebrate Shiva the goddess of knowledge during this festival, so you will see many people with the red mark of Shiva on their foreheads. It's all part of the celebration.
There's music, dancing, lots of food and a ton of fireworks during the festival. It's one of the most amazing times of the year to be in a city like Udaipur.
There is one other thing that you only really get to do on a horse tour. The lands around Kumbhalgarh Fort have been turned into a wildlife sanctuary, and on some of the tours, you get to ride right through the areas. You can see all kinds of wildlife from tigers to elephants and of course, lots of monkeys. It's just another great aspect of making a trip like this.
Palaces, forts, mountains, wildlife, culture, festivals, and general beauty are what await you in Rajasthan. This won't be the last time I talk about this place, because it's so amazing and there are so many things to see and do there. It's a piece of India that almost seems untouched by time. It's a place where people have time to breathe and be a part of your experience. You can see some amazing things, you can learn a wealth of history and culture, and you won't soon forget any of it. Let yourself go, and try something different. The food is not the only unique thing in India. You'll see that if you let yourself take that fabulous trip on horseback through part of Rajasthan.