"We live in the world when we love it. "
~ Rabindranath Tagore


Three Magnets of Rajasthan

Sreenivas Rajan is doctoral student in business strategy at the National University of Singapore. He loves to travel and has travelled extensively in Australia, South East Asia, Europe and India. The following article is a collage of impressions from his visit to Rajasthan in November, 1998.

People travel for many reasons. Some to amuse themselves with the seemingly quaint behaviour of a strange people, some to be impressed by the visual impact of the areas they stride, while others trudge along to keep their family happy. Sometimes, very rarely, the land you are travelling in seizes you by the scruff of your neck, and no matter how much you struggle, you become an awe-struck captive. Your petty reasoning is washed away in a flood of sensory inputs. Such a land is special and very rare - Rajasthan, in my opinion, is definitely one such magnetic land. The three J 's - Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, the poles of this magnet, is where I was fortunate enough to spend some time.

More on Rajasthan
An Overview

Mount Abu


Jaipur is the planned, elegant big daddy of the three, full of the paraphernalia of the current rajas of the state - the state government. Karthik pooja and the ongoing elections provided an excellent atmosphere. One could well imagine the victorious local leader paying his respects to the Sawais at the grand City palace, and having a convenient darshan of the Radha Gobind temple from the palace window, before departing down M.I. Road, with his followers idolising him from atop the impressive Hawa Mahal.

The auspicious time for the journey is calculated using some of the most sophisticated astronomical instruments, located at Jantar Mantar. The victorious cavalcade, then rides atop elephants to the charming Amber Fort where the Jana Shakti, one of the largest cannons in the world, fires in salute. The tired big shot then rests in the intricately designed Sheesh Mahal, an alcove for love and romance, nestled right in the fort!

Excellent shopping, the delicious Rajasthani thali and the Raj mandir that epitomises theatrical luxury are wonderful diversions.

Jodhpur, in contrast to Jaipur has only a few monuments to boast of. But the quality of these monuments makes Jodhpur an even contender for the tourist's heart. The Mehrangarh Fort can only be described as the mother of all forts. Arising from the plains, the sheer rock face and the imposing 10-storey walls are a grim reminder of the martial power of the Rajputs. This fort more than others, preserves the royal traditions of the Rajputs with love and efficacy. The musical welcome provided by moustachioed men in fine traditional wear, the professionalism with which the locals have protected their heritage and the poignant hand marks of the sati victims on the walls of the fort are all images of the fort that remain forever.

The Rajput kings had smartly cashed in on their martial prowess. Their wealth attracted all kinds of artisans - painters, musicians, sculptors, gunsmiths, swordsmiths and the more exotic palanquin manufacturers. This vast spectrum of artistic output has been brilliantly captured in the museums that dot Rajasthan's cities. Mehrangarh Fort has an excellent collection of these items with the pride of place occupied by the palanquin collection. Too bad elephants went out of fashion as a mode of transport!

The wealth of the local kings fuelled an architectural dream - an admixture of Taj Mahal and Rashtrapati Bhavan - the Udai Singh Palace. The only way to describe this monumental effort: grand, grand and good god, grand! Built supposedly for the noble cause of providing employment to Jodhpuris during a famine, this temple of luxury is more a tribute to the bourgeois traditions of the Rajput King. The Maharaja's personal effects, the stately entrance hall, the cool pool beneath the hall and the hordes of manservants only reinforce this grandiloquence. Way back in 1945, when most of India didn't know what electricity was, this palace had concealed wiring and centralised air conditioning installed by the American multinational, Carrier. The reader is urged to feast himself, at least once with the sights, sounds and tastes (a superlative restaurant is there on the premises) of Udai Singh Palace.

Money doesn't count here: Jaisalmer, the distant end of the magnet takes your soul. It is a small town on the edge of the desert and as the crow flies, it wouldn't take more than ten minutes to cover the distance from one end of town to the other. It has a fort tucked away at one end of town. Wander around and you will come across three breath taking havelis - richly decorated houses of the moneyed merchants of Jaisalmer. A little further is the neat little Gadisar tank, and you have exhausted the tourist attractions of Jaisalmer. So what gives?

Do you ever dream of Arabian nights, vast deserts, cool oases, stately camels, pretty maidens' stop, don't dream, realise them in Jaisalmer. This town with its little fort is straight out of an Arabian fairy tale with and all it's implied romance. The adventure and the dust seep into your soul before you know it. You idle away hours in reverie, induced by the atmosphere. At the end of your stay, when you leave for home and the pressures of modern life, you feel an inevitable twinge of pain. The wise realise that a part of their soul remains in Jaisalmer.

Rajasthan will seize your senses, Rajasthan will seize your mind and Rajasthan will seize your soul. Go experience it and do yourself a favour.

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