If you are overcome with a feeling of “been there, done that” when planning for a vacation, how about moving away from the ordinary and experiencing the exotic beauty of the desert state of Rajasthan in India.
Derived from the Sanskrit words “Raja” (King) and “Sthana” (Home), Rajasthan means the abode of the King. This magical land completely lives up to its name by letting you experience the grandeur of royalty, along with the charm of rustic India. Located in the northwestern part of India, Rajasthan is the largest state and has a population of 56,473,122.
Majestic Land of Palaces
Before India achieved independence in 1947, Rajasthan was divided into separate kingdoms, each ruled by a royal family. After independence, it was difficult for the royals to maintain their lavish palaces. Therefore, they converted them into heritage hotels. Although Rajasthan is dotted with centuries-old palaces turned hotels, each with its own tale of glory, honor, passion and betrayal, there are three topping the luxury charts — Taj Lake Palace at Udaipur, the nearby Devigarh Palace and the sumptuous Umaid Bhavan Palace at Jodhpur. (Umaid Bhavan Palace was where Elizabeth Hurley was married recently.) To be a guest at these hotels is to experience the pomp, the splendor and the dignified history behind the creation of these heritage structures.
Colorful clothes of Rajasthan
One thing that catches the eye while entering Rajasthan is the splash of colors across people’s clothes. Nestled between the majestic Aravalli Hills (a range of mountains running 300 miles), Rajasthan is largely a desert state with wave after wave of sand dunes. It’s almost as if the people want to make up for the lack of color in their environment by wearing cheerful, vibrant colors. The women wrap themselves in bright, fluorescent skirts complemented with short tops, called “cholis,” while the men prefer the restrained subtlety of white for their shirts and pajamas, but they top it off with vivid turbans in as many colors as there are shades in the rainbow.
Carnival of festivals and fairs
The people of the state are known for their unabashed pride in the carnival of festivals and fairs through the year, celebrating life, birth, change of seasons or even the ripening of harvest. For the locals, these occasions are a chance to wear new clothes, visit with relatives and friends, enjoy delicious food and generally celebrate life. For the tourists, this is an opportunity to twirl with the local dancers, have intricate designs hand-painted on the palms (called henna), enjoy traditional Rajasthani cuisine and join in the celebrations with the residents.
Pushkar, the god and the hippies
To experience a different type of thrill, drop in at Pushkar, known as the town of god and the hippies. A colorful town in the heart of Rajasthan — Pushkar has an interesting tale of origin. According to Hindu mythology, Brahma was the supreme lord of the universe, but he still could not escape his wife’s fury. Upset at being overlooked in favor of another woman, she put a curse on him that in spite of being the supreme lord, he will only be worshipped in one temple. The legend holds because even though India is a land of temples, Pushkar is the only place with a temple devoted to Brahma.
The moment you enter Pushkar, the cosmopolitan air and vibrant atmosphere of the place strikes you. The religious significance and the casual, laid-back atmosphere make it the favorite haunt of both devoted Hindus and backpacking tourists. The hippie culture, winding by lanes, economical food, and low rentals entice adventurous tourists to make it a temporary home for an extended vacation.
Always an active town, Pushkar comes alive during the annual cattle fair. Here, you can see rows and rows of camels, cows, and horses for sale – beautifully dressed up, standing on an unending ground as far as the eyes can see. Storytellers and monkey trainers compete with priests, devotees and tourists to give this small town an unbelievable cosmopolitan flavor with an ancient, Indian appeal.
Experience a different side of life by embarking on a desert safari riding atop a camel. Called the ship of the desert, the camel takes you deep into the heart of the Thar Desert, as part of a serpentine caravan. Of course, you get to have a complete picnic in the desert, complete with local musicians, traditional dancers and ethnic cuisine. This stirring experience ends with sleeping on the cool sand under the peaceful desert sky, twinkling as far as the eyes can see.
Don’t forget the tigers
If you are looking for some hard-core adventure, Indian style, then the tiger safari at Ranthambore National Park is a good bet. In the grand old days of the royalty, the kings would come out with their entourage for an exhilarating hunting expedition. The park also has a sordid past, as it was used as a prison fortress in the 19th century. The area is now converted into a national park, counted among the best places to spot a tiger in India. You would be in some grand company, as the Queen of England and her husband, Prince Phillip, have been amongst the celebrity guests to visit this park.
If you love spicy food, then Rajasthan is the place for you. The food here is distinguished for the liberal use of chilies. As Rajasthan is a desert state, green vegetables were hard to come by, while the soil was ideal for growing chilies. People use chilies to bring color and flavor to their food, whether it is a meat specialty or a vegetable dish. Of course, if you prefer the more tried and tested stuff, then the numerous hotels will let you have your pick of the kind of food you want to have.
Palace on wheels
These are a must for any visitor to Rajasthan. These luxury trains take you through the different historical towns of Rajasthan, including the capital city of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer while you relive the splendor of an era gone by. These world-class trains are known for their amazing luxury and sense of style. The three most famous trains are the Palace on Wheels, http://www.heritageonwheels.net/” target=”_blank”>Heritage on Wheels and the Fairy Queen.
This colorful land of the desert has inherited elegance and majesty from its royalty, while the vibrant local population lends it the rustic charm, the color and the music. So, if you want to experience the magic of India, think about exploring the state of Rajasthan.