Rajasthan – the monsoon saga circa 2011

We started in the early hours on an August morning in 2011.

We – three couples – Ashok & Sunitha, Prabhakar & Seema, Revathi and I, set out on a driving tour of Rajasthan.

This was Revathi’s and my first road trip to this state. On a cloudy dawn in August we set forth in our trusty Toyota Innova.

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The planning for the trip was totally done by Revathi, scheduling of stay – where, how long and with whom.  On our earlier trip  – we had experimented by staying in a homestay at Udaipur and we enjoyed the experience so much that Revathi booked us in home-stays throughout this trip after carefully screening and vetting the hosts and convenience of location of the home-stays.

Speaking on home-stays, we did our booking through indianhomestays.org and we were not disappointed and based on our experience we would recommend this site to book for your home-stay experience. Of course since then AirBnB has entered the Indian Market, but for unique personalized home-stay experience, try out indianhomestays.org. Sanjai Saxena of Indian Homestays is very helpful and is always accessible on the internet and mobile.

Note: I have often been accused (by well meaning friends) that I bring too much of the past into the present, but I believe the past is reflected in our present and if we cannot recognize or accept it we are so much the poorer, the sense of identity that our history gives us is crucial. Often the peoples’ who have denied their own past and try to assume or re-create a new identity for themselves have or are failing as a nation or people. So now, be ready for your brief history lesson.

Day 1:

Entirely on the road, encountered terrible roads in Maharashtra after Mumbai – road work in progress combined with the periodic monsoon that turned into excellent cemented roads immediately on crossing the border into Gujarat.

The drive was uneventful with Prabhakar and Ashok getting accustomed to driving the Innova.

Breakfast was at Kamats type Motel after Virar, Lunch at Ahmadabad, and we halted for dinner and night stay on the Rajasthan Gujarat border on the Gujarat side (pure vegetarian food and non-alcoholic beverages).

Day 2:

We drove into Rajasthan and our preconceived notion of Rajasthan as a sandy, dry and drab area albeit with glamorous forts and palaces was to take a hammering. A hammering it was, the torrential downpour we encountered actually caved in the roof of my Innova, forcing us to seek shelter in a roadside dwelling till the worst was over.

Since then I have always recommended travel to Rajasthan during monsoons, the rains create a carpet of green everywhere except the desert.

We reached Jaisalmer our first destination by late afternoon. A fairy tale destination, the first view of the worlds only living fort was magical, set against the setting evening sun. The homestay we booked could not have been more ethnic with distinct medieval architecture and warm Rajasthani welcome and hospitality.

Prior reaching Jaisalmer, we had a couple of interesting memories, one was an encounter with a very interesting chaiwallah on Day 2 in a small town just after crossing into Rajasthan – in the days before chaiwallah became fashionable and depending on your convictions politically correct or incorrect. The chaiwallah in question was sourced out by none other than our own “Lucknowi Nabob” – Prabhakar Srivastava.

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The other unique experience was the thunderstorm, that for even experienced “Mumbai Monsooner’s” was a chilling reminder of the power of wind and rain in open spaces. This forced us to take a break and also the first set of photos in Rajasthan a la Titanic

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Sunitha and Ashok

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Seema and Prabhakar

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We spent the evening chilling out on the terrace of our homestay, and after an evening walk up to the fort, we put off exploring the fort for the next day.

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Day 3

Jaisalmer

A must see destination, the romance and history of the place seeps into you and you can sense and visualize the ghosts of long dead warriors, beautiful damsels, imperious queens and gallant princes rubbing shoulders with you as you walk through the narrow by-lanes within the Jaisalmer fort.

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The fort city is itself fascinating, and during our walk through the fort-city we came across some families who had not ventured out for generations.

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Jaisalmer Fort is situated in the city of Jaisalmer in the state of Rajasthan. It is believed to be one of the very few (perhaps the only) “living forts” in the world, as nearly one fourth of the old city’s population still resides within the fort. For the better part of its 800-year history, the fort was the city of Jaisalmer. The first settlements outside the fort walls, to accommodate the growing population of Jaisalmer, are said to have come up in the 17th century.

Jaisalmer Fort is the second oldest fort in Rajasthan, built in 1156 AD by the Rawal (ruler) Jaiswal from whom it derives its name, and stood at the crossroads of important trade routes (including the ancient Silk Road).

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The fort’s massive yellow sandstone walls are a tawny lion color during the day, fading to honey-gold as the sun sets, thereby camouflaging the fort in the yellow desert. For this reason it is also known as the Sonar Quila or Golden Fort. The fort stands amidst the sandy expanse of the great Thar Desert on Trikuta Hill. It is today located along the southern edge of the city that bears its name; its dominant hilltop location making the sprawling towers of its fortifications visible for many miles around.

Legend has it that the fort was built by Rawal Jaiswal, a Bhati Rajput, in 1156 CE. It superseded an earlier construction at Lodhruva, with which Jaisal was dissatisfied. Thus, a new capital was established when Jaisal founded the city of Jaisalmer.

Around 1293-94 CE, Rawal Jethsi faced an eight to nine year siege by Sultan Alauddin Khilji of Delhi, who is said to have been provoked by a Bhati raid on his treasure caravan. By the end of the siege, facing certain defeat, the Bhati Rajput women committed ‘Jauhar’, and the male warriors met their fatal end in battle with the Sultan’s forces. For a few years after the successful siege, the fort remained abandoned, before being eventually reoccupied by some surviving Bhatis.

During Rawal Lunakaran’s reign, around 1530 – 1551 CE, the fort was attacked by an Afghan chief Amir Ali. When it seemed to the Rawal that he was fighting a losing battle, he slaughtered his womenfolk as there was insufficient time to arrange a jauhar. Tragically, reinforcements arrived immediately after the deed was done and the army of Jaisalmer became victorious in its defence of the fort. In 1541 CE, Rawal Lunakaran also fought Mughal emperor Humayun when the latter attacked the fort on his way to Ajmer. He also offered his daughter in marriage to Akbar. Mughals controlled the fort till 1762.

The fort remained under the control of Mughals until 1762 when Maharajah Mulraj took control of the fort. Due to its isolated location, the fort escaped the ravages of the Marathas. The treaty between the East India Company and Mulraj on 12 December 1818 allowed the Mulraj to retain control of the fort and provided for protection from invasion. After the death of Mulraj in 1820, his grandson Gaj Singh inherited control of the fort.

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The walk through the fort-town is a walk that is indescribable and can only be experienced.

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With our guide

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Prabhakar waiting to commence the excursion into the fort

The fort is 1,500 ft (460 m) long and 750 ft (230 m) wide and is built on a hill that raises above a height of 250 ft (76 m) above the surrounding countryside. The base of the fort has a 15 ft (4.6 m) tall wall forming the fort’s outermost ring, within its triple ringed defence architecture. The fort’s upper bastions or towers form a defensive inner-wall perimeter that is about 2.5 mi (4.0 km) long. The fort now incorporates 99 bastions, of which 92 were built or substantially rebuilt between the period of 1633-47. The fort also has four fortified entrances or gates from the townside, one of which was once guarded by cannon. Other points of interest within the fort’s walls and grounds include:

  • Four massive gateways through which visitors to the fort must pass, situated along the main approach to the citadel.
  • The Raj Mahal palace, former residence of the Maharawal of Jaisalmer.
  • Jain Temples: Inside Jaisalmer Fort there are 7 Jain temples built by yellow sandstone during 12-16th century. Askaran Chopra of Merta built a huge temple dedicated to Sambhavanatha. The temple has more than 600 idols with many old scriptures. Chopra Panchaji built Ashtapadh temple inside the fort.
  • The Laxminath temple of Jaisalmer, dedicated to the worship of the gods Lakshmi and Vishnu.
  • Numerous Merchant Havelis. These are large houses often built by wealthy merchants in Rajasthani towns , with ornate sandstone carvings. Some Havelis are many hundreds of years old. In Jaisalmer there are many elaborate havelis carved from yellow sandstone. Some of these have many floors and countless rooms, with decorated windows, archways, doors and balconies. Some havelis are today museums but most in Jaisalmer are still lived in by the families that built them. Among these is the Vyas haveli which was built in the 15th century, which is still occupied by the descendants of the original builders. Another example is the Shree Nath Palace which was once inhabited by the prime minister of Jaisalmer. Some of the doors and ceilings are notable examples of old carved wood from many hundreds of years ago.
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The fort has an ingenious drainage system called the ghut nali which allows for the easy drainage of rainwater away from the fort in all four directions of the fort. Over the years, haphazard construction activities and building of new roads has greatly reduced its effectiveness

With the advent of British rule, the emergence of maritime trade and the growth of the port of Bombay led to the gradual economic decline of Jaisalmer. After Independence and the Partition of India, the ancient trade route was totally closed, thus permanently removing the city from its former role of importance in international commerce.

Even though the town of Jaisalmer no longer serves as an important trading city, or as a major military post, the town is still able to earn revenues as a major tourist destination. Initially the entire population lived within the fort, and today the old fort still retains a resident population of about 4,000 people who are largely descended from the Brahmin and Rajput communities. With the slow increase in the area’s population, many of the town’s residents gradually relocated to the foot of the Trikuta Hill. From there the town’s population has since largely spread out well beyond the old walls of the fort, and into the adjacent valley below.

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Above the Haveli we stayed in @ Jaisalmer.

The highlight of the stay was Prabhakar educating the cook on the “propah” way to beat eggs to cook fluffy omelette. Unfortunately, the cook was not as interested in the procedure as Ashok was.

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Day 4

Desert Safari

Salted tea, camels, sand dunes, folk dancers and musicians – add to this camel rides across the dunes – this made for an exotic evening.

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Day 5

We bid farewell to Jaisalmer and proceeded to Ajmer.

Ajmer is one of the major and oldest cities in the state of Rajasthan. It is located at the centre of Rajasthan and is an important tourist spot. 

The city was established as “Ajayameru” (Translated as ‘Invincible Hills‘) by a Shakambhari Chahamana (Chauhan) ruler, either Ajayaraja I or Ajayaraja II, and served as the Chahamana capital until the 12th century CE.

Ajmer is surrounded by the Aravalli Mountains. It is the base for visiting Pushkar (11 km), an ancient Hindu pilgrimage city, famous for the temple of Lord Brahma. Ajmer had been a municipality since 1869. The nearby town of Kishangarh is known as  one of the largest markets for marble and marble products.

One of the early meetings between the Mughal King Jahangir and the Ambassador of the Court of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Thomas Roe, took place here in 1616.

Ajmer has been selected as one of the heritage cities for the HRIDAY – Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana and Smart City Mission schemes of Government of India.

Reached Ajmer in the afternoon, in the evening we visited the Saraswati Temple, Brahma Temple and Pushkar lake, culminating with the visit to the Ajmer Dargah.

Surprisingly neither the Brahma Temple nor the Ajmer Dargah, impressed me. On the other hand the visit to the Saraswati temple was memorable, an exhilarating climb, a serene place of worship and a bird’s eye view of the town below.

Day 6

We left Ajmer in the early hours and reached Jodhpur in the afternoon.

We spent two days with our hosts at their beautiful bungalow in Jodhpur.

Jodhpur

According to the Rajasthan District Gazetteers of Jodhpur and the Hindu epic Mahabharata (composed up to the 4th century AD), Ahirs were the inhabitants of Marwar and later on the Rathore clan established the Marwar Kingdom. There may have been small settlements before Rathore rule.

The Jodhpur city was founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, a Rajput chief of the Rathore clan. Jodha succeeded in conquering the surrounding territory and thus founded a state which came to be known as Marwar. As Jodha hailed from the nearby town of Mandore, that town initially served as the capital of this state; however, Jodhpur soon took over that role, even during the lifetime of Jodha. The city was located on the strategic road linking Delhi to Gujarat. This enabled it to profit from a flourishing trade in opium, copper, silk, sandalwood, dates and other tradeable goods. 

After the death of Rao Chandrasen Rathore the state became a fief under the Mughal Empire, owing fealty to them while enjoying internal autonomy. During this period, the state furnished the Mughals with several notable generals such as Maharajah Jaswant Singh. Jodhpur and its people benefited from this exposure to the wider world as new styles of art and architecture made their appearance and opportunities opened up for local tradesmen to make their mark across northern India.

Aurangzeb briefly sequestrated the state (c.1679) after the death of Maharaja Jaswant Singh, but the prior ruler Maharaja Ajit Singh was restored to the throne by Veer Durgadas Rathore after Aurangzeb died in 1707 and a great struggle of 30 years. The Mughal empire declined gradually after 1707, but the Jodhpur court was beset by intrigue; rather than benefiting from circumstances, Marwar descended into strife and invited the intervention of the Marathas, who soon supplanted the Mughals as overlords of the region. This did not make for stability or peace, however- 50 years of wars and treaties dissipated the wealth of the state, which sought the help of the British and entered into a subsidiary alliance with them in 1818.

During the British Raj, the state of Jodhpur had the largest land area of any in the Rajputana. Jodhpur prospered under the peace and stability that was a hallmark of this era. The land area of the state was 90,554 km2 (34,963 sq mi) its population in 1901 was 44,73,759. It enjoyed an estimated revenue of £ 3,529,000. Its merchants, the Marwaris, flourished and came to occupy a position of dominance in trade across India. In 1947, when India became independent, the state merged into the union of India and Jodhpur became the second largest city of Rajasthan.

At the time of division , the ruler of Jodhpur, Hanwant Singh, did not want to join India, but finally due to the effective persuasion of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Home Minister at the time, the state of Jodhpur was included in Indian Republic. Later after the State Reorganisation Act, 1956 it was included within the state of Rajasthan.

We visited the city and chilled out downtown Jodhpur

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Day 7

Mehrangarh Fort 

Mehrangarh  Fort, located in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, is one of the largest forts in India. Built in around 1460 by Rao Jodha, the fort is situated 410 feet (125 m) above the city and is enclosed by imposing thick walls. Inside its boundaries there are several palaces known for their intricate carvings and expansive courtyards. A winding road leads to and from the city below. The imprints of the impact of cannonballs fired by attacking armies of Jaipur can still be seen on the second gate. To the left of the fort is the chhatri of Kirat Singh Soda, a soldier who fell on the spot defending the Mehrangarh fort.

There are seven gates, which include Jayapol (meaning ‘victory’), built by Maharaja Man Singh to commemorate his victories over Jaipur and Bikaner armies. Fattehpol (also meaning ‘victory’ won by the Maharaja Ajit Singhji when he defeated Mughals. The palm imprints upon these still attract much attention.

The museum in the Mehrangarh fort is one of the most well-stocked museums in Rajasthan. In one section of the fort museum there is a selection of old royal palanquins, including the elaborate domed gilt Mahadol palanquin which was won in a battle from the Governor of Gujarat in 1730. The museum exhibits the heritage of the Rathores in arms, costumes, paintings and decorated period.

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Rao Jodha, the chief of the Rathore clan, is credited with the origin of Jodhpur in India. He founded Jodhpur in 1459 (Jodhpur was previously known as Marwar). He was one of Ranmal’s 24 sons and became the fifteenth Rathore ruler. One year after his accession to the throne, Jodha decided to move his capital to the safer location of Jodhpur, as the one thousand years old Mandore fort was no longer considered to provide sufficient security.

With the trusted aid of Rao Nara (son of Rao Samra), the Mewar forces were subdued at Mandore. With that, Rao Jodha gave Rao Nara the title of Diwan. With the help of Rao Nara, the foundation of the fort was decided on 12 May 1459 by Jodha on a rocky hill 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) to the south of Mandore. This hill was known as Bhakurcheeria, the mountain of birds. According to legend to build the fort he had to displace the hill’s sole human occupant, a hermit called Cheeria Nathji, the lord of birds. Cheeria Nathji was a man with local population as his followers and hence influential in the region.When requested to move he refused categorically. This happened many times. Rao Jodha then took extreme measures and sought help from another more powerful saint, the female warrior sage of Charan caste Shri Karni Mata of Deshnok. On request of the king she came and asked Cheeria Nathji to quit immediately. Seeing a superior power he left at once but cursed Rao Jodha with words “Jodha! May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water!”. Rao Jodha managed to appease the hermit by building a house and a temple in the fort. Seeing the influence of Karni Mata Rao Jodha then invited her to lay down the foundation stone of the Mehrangarh Fort and the same was carried out by her. Today only the forts of Bikaner and Jodhpur remain in the hands of Rathors, both had their foundation stone laid by Shri Karni Mata. All other Rajput forts of Rajasthan were abandoned for some or the other reasons by the respective clans. Only the Rathors of Jodhpur and Bikaner have their forts with them till date. This fact is considered a miracle by the local population and is attributed to Shri Karni Mata. Rao Jodha also granted villages of Mathania and Chopasni to the two Charan warlords who were sent by him to request Shri Karni Mata to come to Jodhpur.

To ensure that the new site proved propitious; he buried a man of meghwal caste called “Raja Ram Meghwal”, who offered his services voluntarily, alive in the foundations as this was considered auspicious those days. “Raja Ram Meghwal” was promised that in return his family would be looked after by the Rathores. To this day his descendants still live in Raj Bagh, “Raja Ram Meghwal’s” Garden.

Mehrangarh (etymology: ‘Mihir’ (Sanskrit) -sun or Sun-deity; ‘garh’ (Sanskrit)-fort; i.e.’Sun-fort’); according to Rajasthani language pronunciation conventions,’Mihirgarh’ has changed to ‘Mehrangarh’; the Sun-deity has been the chief deity of the Rathore dynasty. Though the fortress was originally started in 1459 by Rao Jodha, founder of Jodhpur, most of the fort which stands today dates from the period of Jaswant Singh of Marwar (1638–78). The fort is located at the centre of the city spreading over 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) on top of a high hill. Its walls, which are up to 36 metres (118 ft) high and 21 metres (69 ft) wide, protect some of the most beautiful and historic palaces in Rajasthan.

Entry to the fort is gained though a series of seven gates. The most famous of the gates are:

  • Jai Pol (“Gate of Victory”), built by Maharaja Man Singh in 1806 to celebrate his victory in a war with Jaipur and Bikaner.
  • Fateh Pol, built to celebrate a victory over the Mughals in 1707;
  • Dedh Kamgra Pol, which still bears the scars of bombardment by cannonballs;
  • Loha Pol, which is the final gate into the main part of the fort complex. Immediately to the left are the handprints (sati marks) of the ranis who in 1843 immolated themselves on the funeral pyre of their husband, Maharaja Man Singh.

Within the fort are several brilliantly crafted and decorated palaces. These include, Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), Phool Mahal (Flower Palace), Sheesha Mahal (Mirror Palace), Sileh Khana and Daulat Khana. The museum houses a collection of palanquins, howdahs, royal cradles, miniatures, musical instruments, costumes and furniture. The ramparts of the fort house preserved old cannon (including the famous Kilkila), and provided a breath-taking view of the city.

Unfortunately very few photos of our stay in Jodhpur esp. of the impressive Mehrangarh Fort have survived the onslaught of various computer viruses and hard disc crashes. If I am able to track down some photos with Prabhakar or Ashok, I will add them later. The picture of the Mehrangarh fort is copied from the Wikipedia.

Umaid Bhawan Palace

History of building the Umaid Bhawan Palace is linked to a curse by a saint who had said that a period of drought will follow the good rule of the Rathore Dynasty. Thus, after the end of about 50-year reign of Pratap Singh, Jodhpur faced a severe drought and famine conditions in the 1920s for a period of three consecutive years. The farmers of the area faced with famine conditions sought the help of the then king Umaid Singh, who was the 37th Rathore ruler of Marwar at Jodhpur, to provide them with some employment so that they could survive the famine conditions. The king, in order to help the farmers, decided to build a lavish palace. He commissioned Henry Vaughan Lanchester as the architect to prepare the plans for the palace; Lanchester was a contemporary of Sir Edwin Lutyens who planned the buildings of the New Delhi government complex. Lanchester patterned the Umaid Palace on the lines of the New Delhi building complex by adopting the theme of domes and columns. The palace was designed as a blend of western technology and Indian architectural features.

The palace was built at a slow pace as its initial objective was to provide employment to the famine-stricken farmers in the area. The foundation stone was laid in 1929. About 2,000 to 3,000 people were employed in its construction. Occupation of the palace by the Maharaja came after its completion in 1943, and close to the period of Indian Independence. There was some criticism for embarking on an expensive project but it had served the main purpose of helping the citizens of Jodhpur to face the famine situation. The estimated cost of building the palace was Rs 11 million. When it opened in 1943 it was considered as one of the largest royal residences in the world.

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The site chosen for the palace was on a hill known as Chittar hill in the outer limits of Jodhpur, after which the palace is also known, where no water supply was available near by and hardly any vegetation grew as hill slopes were rocky. The building material required was not close by as sandstone quarries were at quite a distance. Since the Maharaja had the foresight to bring his project to fruition, he built a railway line to the quarry site to transport the building material. Donkeys were inducted to haul soil to the site. The sandstone transported by rail was dressed at site into large blocks with interlocking joints so that they could be laid without the use of mortar.

The palace was built with “dun-coloured” (golden – yellow) sandstone with two wings. Makrana marble has also been used, and Burmese teak wood has been used for the interior wood work. When completed the palace had 347 rooms, several courtyards, and a large banquet hall which could accommodate 300 people. The architectural style is considered as representing the then in vogue Beaux Arts style, also known as Indo-Deco style. However, for many years the palace did not fully function following tragic events in the royal family. Umaid Singh who stayed in the place for only four years died in 1947. Hanumant Singh who succeeded him also died at a young age; he had just won in the 1952 General Elections and was returning home after this win when his plane crashed and he died. Gaj Singh II who succeeded his father then decided in 1971 to convert a part of the palace in to a hotel.

Day 8

Jodhpur to Udaipur with a detour at Chittor

Chittor Fort

The Chittor Fort or Chittorgarh is one of the largest forts in India. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort was the capital of Mewar and is located in the present-day town of Chittorgarh. It sprawls over a hill 180 m (590.6 ft) in height spread over an area of 280 ha (691.9 acres) above the plains of the valley drained by the Berach River. The fort precinct has several historical palaces, gates, temples and two prominent commemorative towers.

Beginning in the 7th century, the fort was controlled by the Mewar Kingdom. From the 9th to 13th centuries, the fort was ruled by Paramara dynasty. In 1303, the Turkic ruler of Delhi, Alauddin Khilji defeated Rana Ratan Singh’s forces at the fort. In 1535 Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, defeated Bikramjeet Singh and took the fort. In 1567 Akbar defeated Maharana Udai Singh II’s troops. The fort’s defenders sallied forth to charge the attacking enemy but yet were not able to succeed. Following these defeats, the women are said to have committed jauhar or mass self-immolation. The rulers, soldiers, noblewomen and commoners considered death preferable to the mass rape and pillaging that followed the surrender to the Sultanate forces.

Chittorgarh (garh means fort) was originally called Chitrakut. It is said to have been built by the local Maurya ruler Chitrangada Maurya. the Moris (Mauryas) were ruling at Chittor when the Arabs (mlechchhas) invaded north-western India around 725 CE. The Arabs defeated the Moris, and in turn, were defeated by a confederacy that included Bappa Rawal. The Guhila ruler Bappa Rawal is said to have captured the fort in either 728 CE or 734 CE. According to some versions, Bappa Rawal captured the fort either from the mlechchhas or the Moris. 

In 1303, the Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khilji led an army to conquer Chittor, which was ruled by the Guhila king Ratnasimha. Alauddin captured Chittor after an eight-month long siege. According to his courtier Amir Khusrow, he ordered a massacre of 30,000 local Hindus after this conquest.

Alauddin assigned Chittor to his young son Khizr Khan (or Khidr Khan), and the Chittor fort was renamed “Khizrabad” after the prince. As Khizr Khan was only a child, the actual administration was handed over to a slave named Malik Shahin.

Khizr Khan’s rule at the fort lasted till 1311 AD and due to the pressure of Rajputs he was forced to entrust power to the Sonigra chief Maldeva who held the fort for 7 years. Hammir Singh, usurped control of the fort from Maldeva and Chittor once again regained its past glory. Hammir, before his death in 1364 AD, had converted Mewar into a fairly large and prosperous kingdom. The dynasty (and clan) fathered by him came to be known by the name Sisodia after the village where he was born. His son Ketra Singh succeeded him and ruled with honour and power. Ketra Singh’s son Lakha who ascended the throne in 1382 AD also won several wars. His famous grandson Rana Kumbha came to the throne in 1433 AD and by that time the Muslim rulers of Malwa and Gujarat had acquired considerable clout and were keen to usurp the powerful Mewar state.

There was resurgence during the reign of Rana Kumbha in the 15th century. Rana Kumbha, also known as Maharana Kumbhakarna, son of Rana Mokal, ruled Mewar between 1433 AD and 1468 AD. He is credited with building up the Mewar kingdom assiduously as a force to reckon with. He built 32 forts (84 fortresses formed the defense of Mewar) including one in his own name, called Kumbalgarh. But his death come in 1468 AD at the hands of his own son Rana Udaysimha (Uday Singh I) who assassinated him to gain the throne of Mewar. This patricide was not appreciated by the people of Mewar and consequently his brother Rana Raimal assumed the reins of power in 1473.After his death in May 1509, Sangram Singh (also known as Rana Sanga), his youngest son, became the ruler of Mewar, which brought in a new phase in the history of Mewar. Rana Sanga, with support from Medini Rai (a Rajput chief of Alwar), fought a valiant battle against Mughal emperor Babar at Khanwa in 1527. He ushered in a period of prestige to Chittor by defeating the rulers of Gujarat and also effectively interfered in the matters of Idar. He also won small areas of the Delhi territory. In the ensuing battle with Ibrahim Lodi, Rana won and acquired some districts of Malwa. He also defeated the combined might of Sultan Muzaffar of Gujarat and the Sultan of Malwa. By 1525 AD, Rana Sanga had developed Chittor and Mewar, by virtue of great intellect, valour and his sword, into a formidable military state. But in a decisive battle that was fought against Babar on 16 March 1527, the Rajput army of Rana Sanga suffered a terrible defeat and Sanga escaped to one of his fortresses. But soon thereafter in another attack on the Chanderi fort the valiant Rana Sanga died and with his death the Rajput confederacy collapsed.

Bahadur Shah who came to the throne in 1526 AD as the Sultan of Gujarat besieged the Chittorgarh fort in 1535. The fort was sacked and, once again the medieval dictates of chivalry determined the outcome. Following the escape of the Rana, his brother Udai Singh and the faithful maid Panna Dhai to Bundi, it is said 13,000 Rajput women committed jauhar (self immolation on the funeral pyre) and 3,200 Rajput warriors rushed out of the fort to fight and die.

The final Siege of Chittorgarh came 33 years later, in 1567, when the Mughal Emperor Akbar invaded the fort. Akbar wanted to conquer Mewar, which was being ruled by Rana Uday Singh II. In September 1567, the emperor left for Chittor, and on 20 October 1567, camped in the vast plains outside the fort. In the meantime, Rana Udai Singh, on the advice of his council of advisers, decided to go away from Chittor to the hills of Gogunda with his family. Jaimal and Patta were left behind to defend the fort along with 8,000 Rajput warriors and 1,000 musketeers under their command. Akbar laid siege to the fortress, which lasted for 4 months. On 22 February 1568, Jaimal was killed by a musket shot fired by Akbar himself. Jauhar was committed in the houses of Patta, Aissar Das and Sahib Khan. Next day the gates of the fort were opened and Rajput soldiers rushed out to fight the enemies. In the ensuing battle, 8,000 Rajputs were killed alongside 20,000-25,000 civilians and Chittor was conquered.

In 1616, after a treaty between Jahangir and Amar Singh Chittorgarh was won back to him by Jahangir on the condition that it will be repaired.

At Chittor, we ran across our guide in the town below, a young boy in his early twenties, who had a winning and charming manner and bowled the ladies over. Moreover his knowledge of the site, it’s history and manner of showing the sights and the commentary was impressive, he is probably the best guide I have met in India.

Vijay Stambha

The Vijay Stambha (Tower of Victory) or Jaya Stambha, called the symbol of Chittor and a particularly bold expression of triumph, was erected by Rana Kumbha between 1458 and 1468 to commemorate his victory over Mahmud Shah I Khalji, the Sultan of Malwa, in 1440 AD. Built over a period of ten years, it raises 37.2 metres (122 ft) over a 47 square feet (4.4 m2) base in nine stories accessed through a narrow circular staircase of 157 steps (the interior is also carved) up to the 8th floor, from where there is good view of the plains and the new town of Chittor. The dome, which was a later addition, was damaged by lightning and repaired during the 19th century. The Stambha is now illuminated during the evenings and gives a beautiful view of Chittor from the top.

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Kirti Stambha (Tower of Fame) is a 22-metre-high (72 ft) tower built on a 30-foot (9.1 m) base with 15 feet (4.6 m) at the top; it is adorned with Jain sculptures on the outside and is older (probably 12th century) and smaller than the Victory Tower. Built by a Bagherwal Jain merchant Jijaji Rathod, it is dedicated to Adinath, the first Jain tirthankar (revered Jain teacher). In the lowest floor of the tower, figures of the various tirthankars of the Jain pantheon are seen in special niches formed to house them. These are digambara monuments. A narrow stairway with 54 steps leads through the six storeys to the top. The top pavilion that was added in the 15th century has 12 columns.

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The grounds where the queens and noble Rajput ladies committed Jauhar rather than face the shame of defeat and captivity. Some sources put the place of Jauhar in the underground cellars.

The temple where the famous Meerabai said to have lived and prayed in. History and local folklore have idolized this saintly lady, but I choose to side with the fictional version as narrated by Kiran Nagarkar in his book “The Cuckold”.

As we bid goodbye to this beautiful historic yet tragic fort, it gladdened my naturalized Maharashtrian heart at the love and respect that the Rajasthani’s have for Shivaji Maharaj.

We reached Udaipur late evening after this thrilling encounter with the past in Chittorgarh.

Day 9 & 10

Exploring Udaipur

Udaipur is arguably the most beautiful city in Rajasthan, I have written about this city in my earlier blog, and I shall confine myself to a pictorial display of this beautiful city.

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Apart from the magnificent palaces, the city too has a character of its own.

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We visited an emporium of artificats, the name of the emporium and its owner eludes me, but the contents and the manner of display totally floored me and I went on a photo spree – some are displayed below including the photo of the owner.

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Night 10 culminated with an evening out for Ashok’s favorite “Laal Maas”, a traditional Rajasthani Dish.

Day 11

We commenced our drive back to Mumbai with an overnight halt between Baroda and Ahmadabad.

Sam (Rox) Rao

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He came into our lives on 20.05.2009.

We thought that by adopting him, we were giving him a break, but we did not bargain for what he gave us – unconditional love and trust even as he passed into the great beyond in my arms.

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It was love at first sight, when the entire family Revathi, Aniruddh and Akshay with Aniruddh’s friend , Rahul and Aditya trooped into the Dog Shelter at Worli. We were introduced to the shelter by Ms Daisy (God bless this beautiful lady), a social volunteer, committed to homeless dogs and abandoned pets, who in turn was introduced to us by my colleague Bharati Srinivasan.

Daisy guided us to the Shelter where we saw an assortment of canines, desparately in need of a home. While walking past them, Sam caught my eye, what it was about him that drew my attention to him I do not know, he was emaciated and scared and looked like a “holocaust” survivor. We chose him and walked out with him, on record as a half breed – Labrador one year old (apparently all dogs here are classed as around 1 year old as older dogs are apparently rejected for adoption), but was probably around 5+ years of age.

My colleague and friend, Jai (Capt Jaideep Verma) who saw Sam soon after we had collected him, called it “collective madness” for taking home, a strange, shivering, scared large dog.

Sam did give us some anxious moments, he spent the next week on drips and medication and not many would have expected him to survive. Revathi and Aniruddh, literally dedicated themselves to Sam for the next week, visits to our vet, Dr Aditya Dhopatkar, holding him while administering drips, cleaning after him and giving this poor abandoned dog what he needed most – love. I think this initial closeness between Aniruddh (Dada) and Sam lasted till Sam passed away. In fact, Sam waited for Aniruddh to return from ship before he gave indication that he was ready to move on.

Sam came home at a time, when our elder son Aniruddh, was doing a serious introspection about his life and career, and like all middle class Indian parents, we were uptight about it. Sam came to our lives, took away the focus, and everything settled down and Aniruddh chose the profession he wanted to be in since he was a year old – Marine Engineering.

I was the alpha (self deemed) in the family and Sam was my dog, but like the rest of the men in the family, he knew who the BOSS in the family was. When Revathi, was relaxing in her favorite recliner , Sam would creep across to her and goad her to scratch and pet him. She was also the only one whom he would allow to inspect and clean his ear.

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Sam was a gentle large hearted soul, his instant rapport with anyone who visited or stayed with us was legendary. Like all Labs he was a four legged eating machine, anything organic was meant to be eaten, his favorites were carrots, apples, cheese. He actually preferred vegetarian food, he would love anything with milk.

His devotion was so great that he once jumped into a lake that I was swimming in to “save” me. He loved water and enjoyed being bathed and loved the subsequent grooming.

He was a great traveller and he used to love the journey’s we made to Goa, Bangalore and Pune in our trusty Innova.

While Aniruddh was acknowledged as his social superior, Akshay was his pal, his playmate – and direct competitor for attention.

Like all rescued dogs, Sam came with his own baggage, our flat where he first came to live was his safe haven, anywhere else he was restless and rarely slept, probably the fear of being abandoned was still fresh in his mind. In the flat, he would stay alone here for days, completely at peace with himself, with our housekeeper Manjula who would come to stay the night with him.

Unless he was home he was very restless unless I was within sight, once in Goa he even escaped from the house we were living in to search for me, fortunately he did not even get to the gate of the society.

He was extremely possessive about me. If Revathi was sitting next to me he would force himself on the sofa between us and literally push her out, this became a family game for us to elicit this possessive response from Sam. Another interesting aspect of Sam, when I was at home, he would sleep at the foot of our bed, however when I was travelling sometimes for weeks at a stretch, he would sleep at the door on his custom made bed till I returned home. He had the uncanny ability to know when I entered our building and would be at the door barking furiously long before the lift reached our floor.

Sam fell ill, a few months before he passed away, we learnt he had cancer and had a tumor on his snout. Towards the end breathing became painful and he started bleeding with every breath he took. It must have been very painful, but Sam being Sam, not a single whimper, growl or any indication of the agony that he must have been going through. He was ever ready to go for a our favorite walk up the Parsik. It was when he turned back barely a hundred yards on his favorite walk, I realised that this lion-hearted warrior was ready to move on.

Sam had just spent time with Akshay before he returned to his hostel for the next semester. He hung on untill his “Dada” signed off from his ship and came home on leave.

IMG_5726Two days later, we relieved him of his suffering by putting him to sleep, it is probably one of the most painful moments of my life seeing Sam breathe his last in our collective arms (Revathi’s, Aniruddh’s and mine).

I am sure that when my time is up and I cross over – Sam will be there on the other side, barking and furiously wagging his tail to make me take him on his favorite walk up Parsik hill.

 

 

@ In Forest Resort, Jhambulpada

Just 63 kms from Nerul, Navi Mumbai is a (once) small village Jhambulpada.

We have been crossing this hamlet, Jhambulpada on the way to our farm plot at Village Pendli, on the SH 92 (State Highway 92).

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As soon as you turn into Jhambulpada from the SH 92, there is this “Gharghuti Jhevann” (home cooked food in Marathi) joint.

We have visited this place, off and on over the past 10 years, the local cuisine served here in this “Shakhahari” (vegetarian) hotel is simply “out of this world”.

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The SH 92 links to the Penn – Khopoli road as well as the Khalapur toll exit of the freeway to Pali (28 kms from Khalapur) that is a major Hindu pilgrimage spot, famous for the Ashta-Vinayik temple.

We have been visiting this region since 1993, and have seen the area grow and develop, the roads changing from potholed dirt roads to an expressway and state highway. The “Imagica” a Disney-world type amusement park, built on the SH 92, that draws in thousands everyday. The few dhabas have got converted to multi-cuisine restaurents.

We used to love the “vada-pavs” sold by a mom-pop dhaba just after turning into the Pali road. This place has now become a chain of “Sai” multi-cuisine, veg and non-veg restaurents and lodges. The taste is not the same.

The dhabas that earlier used to cater to the locals and Marathi pilgrims, now cater to a more cosmopolitan “metro” tastes and the authencity is lost.

In all this change, the In Forest Resort @ Jhambulpada, stands a class apart.

From a Family run unit, it has changed to a larger unit yet retains the same charm and innocence. The clientele have increased almost ten-fold, yet the menu still has the same Maharashtrian dishes on the menu and the taste is unchanged.

The vada-pavs are awesome, no one makes them like the Maharastrians especially around the coast, and the closer you are to Mumbai, the better it tastes.

If you ever have a chance to visit the In Forest Resort, I would suggest the “Thalipet” – this a speciality of Maharashtra and Karnataka, but the preparation here is unique. This is a dough made of rice flour mixed with a mixed lentil flour and masala added to it, the dough is then patted on a plate (flat surface) and sauted on a frying pan. It is served piping hot with a chunk of butter on top with a spot of “techha” (green chili paste). I should warn you this is addictive. My friend and batchmate, Syed Abdi, a true foodie and connosieur of fine food as all those who know him will agree, is one of its die-hard fans.

For starters I will suggest, the Kothimbhir vade, kothimbir (coriander) added to dough made of gram flour, spices and chopped chillies and deep fried, makes you wish they served chilled beer with this. An alternate they served chilled Kokum juice, and during the season Mango Panna – a juice preparation unique to the region.

Another dish to tryout, I will recommend another totally maharastrian dish the “Misal Pav”, it is very difficult to describe this dish, but do try this dish, another ideal fast food preparation.

This is also a restaurant that is managed entirely by ladies, once in a while we have seen a middle-aged entleman at the counter, but the front end is entirely operated by ladies, Long live Women-power.

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This Wednesday 29.08.2018, Akshay and I drove down to Pendli and back, we had an extended breakfast here and I am happy to report that the quality, quantity and taste remain the same, and as important the “Gharghuti” ambience remains unchanged.

Rajasthan – the land of Kings and Warriors

Our affair with Rajasthan began in December 2006.

It was also our first experience with homestay in India.

Most of the present day descendants of erstwhile royalty in India trace their links or ancestry to the royal houses of Rajputana. It is therefore important, that I share a bit of the Rajput martial history. Interesting to note that the Rajputs have had their share of defeats but have never been fully conquered.

Rajput martial history

Rajput families rose to prominence in the 6th century CE. The Rajputs put up resistance to the Islamic invasions with their warfare and chivalry for centuries. During the 12th century, the Turks and Afghans were able to get a firm grip on Punjab, Delhi and Bengal. The Rana’s of Mewar led other kingdoms in its resistance to outside rule. Rana Hammir Singh, defeated the Tughlaq Dynasty and recovered a large portion of Rajasthan. The indomitable Rana Khumbha defeated the Sultans of Malwa and Gujarat and made Mewar the most powerful Rajput Kingdom in India. The ambitious Rana Sangha united the various Rajput clans and fought against the foreign powers in India. Rana Sangha defeated the Afghan Lodi Empire of Delhi and crushed the Turkic Sultanates of Malwa and Gujarat. Rana Sanga then tried to create an Indian empire but was defeated by the first Mughal Emperor Babur at Khanua. The defeat was due to betrayal by the Tomar king Silhadi of Raisen. After Rana Sanga’s death there was no one who could check the rapid expansion of the Mughal Empire.

During Akbar’s reign most of the Rajput kings accepted Mughal Suzerainty, but the rulers of Mewar (Rana Uday Singh II) and Marwar (Rao Chandrasen Rathore) refused to have any form of alliance with the Mughals. To teach the Rajputs a lesson Akbar attacked Udai Singh and killed Rajput commander Jaimal of Chitor and the citizens of Mewar in large numbers. Akbar killed 20 – 25,000 unarmed citizens in Chittor on the grounds that they had actively helped in the resistance.

Maharana Pratap took an oath to avenge the citizens of Chittor, he fought the Mughal empire till his death and liberated most of Mewar apart from Chittor itself. Maharana Pratap soon became the most celebrated warrior of Rajasthan and became famous all over India for his sporadic warfare and noble actions. According to Satish Chandra (an Indian Historian – whose speciality was medieval Indian History), “Rana Pratap’s defiance of the mighty Mughal empire, almost alone and unaided by the other Rajput states, constitutes a glorious saga of Rajput valour and the spirit of self sacrifice for cherished principles. Rana Pratap’s methods of sporadic warfare was later elaborated further by Malik Ambar, the Deccani general, and by another great leader and general Shivaji”.

Rana Amar Singh I continued his ancestors war against the Mughal’s under Jehangir, he repelled the Mughal armies at Dewar. Later an expedition was again sent under leadership of Prince Kurram (later Shah Jehan), which caused much damage to life and property of Mewar. Many temples were destroyed, several villages were put on fire and ladies and children were captured and tortured to make Amar Singh accept surrender.

During Aurangzeb’s rule Rana Raj Singh I and Veer Durgadas Rathore were chief among those who defied the intolerant emperor of Delhi. They took advantage of the Aravalli hills and caused heavy damage on the Mughal armies that were trying to occupy Rajasthan.

After Aurangzeb’s death Bahadur Shah I tried to subjugate Rajasthan like his ancestors but his plan backfired when the three Rajput Raja’s of Amber, Udaipur and Jodhpur made a joint resistance to the Mughals. The Rajputs first expelled the commandants of Jodhpur and Bayana and recovered Amer by a night attack. They next killed Sayyid Hussain Khan Barha, the commandant of Mewar and many other Mughal officers. Bahadur Shah I, then in the Deccan was forced to patch up a truce with the Rajput Rajas.

Over the years, the Mughals began to have internal disputes which greatly distracted them at times. The Mughal Empire continued to weaken, and with the decline of the Mughal Empire in the late 18th century, Rajputana came under the influence of the Marathas. The Maratha Empire, which had replaced the Mughal Empire as the overlord of the subcontinent, was finally replaced by the British Empire in 1818.

In the 19th century the Rajput kingdoms were exhausted, they had been drained financially and in manpower after continuous wars and due to heavy tributes exacted by the Maratha Empire. In order to save their kingdoms from instability, rebellions and banditry the Rajput kings concluded treaties with the British in the early 19th century, accepting British suzerainty and control over their external affairs in return for internal autonomy.

Rajasthan today:

Modern Rajasthan includes most of Rajputana, that comprises of the erstwhile nineteen princely states, two chiefships and the British district of Ajmera-Merwara.

Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is also one of the most popular tourist spots in the country.

Rajasthan, is a tourists delight, from desert safari’s to fairy tale palaces, stories of valiant swashbuckling warriors and beautiful proud damsels, national parks home to the majestic tiger, and a bird-watchers paradise, with both local as well as migratory species.

Our introduction to Rajasthan, was through Udaipur, we had just returned after overseas stay at Hong Kong, and were open to experimental holidays.

We took a chance and booked our stay through Christmas, at Mountain Ridge on the outskirts of Udaipur, run by an Englishman, Piers Helsen.

Though the Mountain Ridge was still under construction, we felt right at home with Piers as a host. The view was panoramic, the location was quiet and peaceful, with a handful of guests who were all overseas visitors. It was perfect for a chilled out holiday, away from the hectic Mumbai.

What hits you as soon as you see the Mountain Ridge, is it’s unusual style, a “khichdi” of contemporary English Country, Indian-rustic and non-contemporary architecture. Though it was still a “work in progress”, Piers was making every effort to ensure that everything blended in to create a pleasant environment.

Our stay at Udaipur was most pleasant, though we did visit the sights – this trip to Udaipur stands out because of Piers, our continued interaction with him, till a few weeks before his tragic passing in Nepal, where he was building another resort.

Piers was a reverse colonial, he was so interested in the people and community that he was living in and did contribute a lot to them, he had even adopted a few local children and was providing them a home and education. During our visit, Akshay prefered playing with them rather than being taken from palace to fort, sight-seeing trips.

During our stay here, we met with a young english couple, Ben and Gemma, on trip to see the world before settling down. This delightful couple, did settle down, got married and have a lovely young son, Caiden.

Ben and Gemma, stayed with us for a few days in Mumbai before moving on to Goa.

We met them more than a decade later in London, where we had dinner together and Ben introduced me to English Cuisine and my first ever “Fish n Chips”.

Udaipur:

Udaipur is also known as the city of the lakes, is the historic capital of the kingdom of Mewar. It was founded in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II, of the Sisodia Clan. The capital of Rajputana was shifted from Chittorgarh to Udaipur when Chittorgarh was besieged by Akbar.

Udaipur is located in the southernmost part of Rajasthan state, just near the Gujarat border. It is surrounded by Aravali range, which separates it from Thar desert. It is around 655 km from Delhi and approximately 800 km from Mumbai placed almost in the middle of two major Indian metro cities.

History of Udaipur:

The Ahar river bank was inhabited by men in about 2000 B.C. There are footprints of two different civilizations, which provides claims about earliest inhabitants of the Ahar culture: the first ones are the Bhil/Bheels, the indigenous tribes originated at this place, and are still residing in the area in large numbers. The second footprints were unknown foreigners, who once entered the enclosed valley, and then continued to live in this place for centuries.

The Bhils are primarily an ethnic group of people (also called as adivasis) in western India. Bhils are listed as indigenous people of the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan – all in the western Deccan regions and central India – as well as in Tripura in far-eastern India. They originally spoke the Bhil language, but over the years they now have adopted the language of the region they reside in, such as Marathi, Gujarati or Hindi dialect. According to Census, 2011, Bhils were the largest tribal group in India.

Udaipur was founded in 1559, by Maharana Udai Singh II. The city was established in the fertile Girwa valley, as the new capital of the Mewar Kingdom. This area already had a thriving trading town, Ayad, which had served as capital of Mewar in the 10th through 12th centuries. The Girwa region was thus already well-known to Chittaud (Chittor) rulers who moved to it whenever the vulnerable tableland Chittaurgarh was threatened with enemy attacks. Maharana Udai Singh II, in the wake of 16th century emergence of artillery warfare, decided during his exile at Kumbalgarh, to move his capital to a more secure location. Ayad was flood-prone, hence he chose the ridge east of Pichola Lake to start his new capital city, where he came upon a hermit while hunting in the foothills of the Aravalli range. The hermit blessed the king and guided him to build a palace on the spot, assuring him it would be well protected. Udai Singh II consequently established a residence on the site. In November 1567, the Mughal emperor Akbar laid siege to the venerated fort of Chittor. To protect Udaipur from External attacks, Maharana Udai Singh built a six kilometre long city wall, with seven gates, namely Surajpole, Chandpole, Udiapole, Hathipole, Ambapole, Brahmpole and so on. The area within these walls and gates is still known as the old city or the walled city.

As the Mughal empire weakened, the Sisodiarulers, reasserted their independence and recaptured most of Mewar except for Chittor. Udaipur remained the capital of the state, which became a princely state of British India in 1818. Being a mountainous region and unsuitable for heavily armoured Mughal horses, Udaipur remained safe from Mughal influence despite much pressure.

In my opinion, Udaipur is the most beautiful city in Rajasthan and also the friendliest, a necessity as it is dependant on the Tourist trade for its economy. At an altitude of 1960 feet, it’s temperate climate (except in summer when it can touch a scorching 44 degree celsius) makes Udaipur a popular tourist destination alongwith its history, culture, scenic locations and the Rajput-era palaces. It is popularly known as the “City of Lakes” because of its sophisticated lake system the five major lakes being Fateh Sagar, Lake Pichola, Swaroop Sagar, Rangsagar and Doodh Talai. Besides the lakes, Udaipur is also popular for its massive historic forts and palaces, museums, galleries, natural locations and gardens, architectural temples, as well as traditional fairs, festivals and structures.

Unfortunately, due to the various, viral attacks on hard discs and consequent re-formatting we have lost the digital photographs of the that trip, however, this trip fascinated us so much that we have made four more trips together to Rajasthan, where we explored the other parts of Rajasthan – Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Jodhphur, Ajmer, Kumbalgarh and the “most haunted” Bhangarh fort.

I will return to Rajasthan, in a later blog, about the subsequent trips, with photographic evidence.

This trip is unforgettable for us, as

  • we made friends with Piers (RIP)
  • Ben & Gemma, with whom we are still in touch, and hopefully when Caiden is a bit older, they will visit us again,
  • and for igniting our thirst for exploring India and re-discovering our cultural heritage,
  • and last but not the least, homestays.

 

 

 

 

The return and reflections…….

In my earlier blog, I had wondered about the myth of the coloured sands of Kanyakumari, a fellow blogger has provided me the story – https://brownwanderer.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/myth-about-kanyakumari/

Thanks Sugan, highly appreciated.

The damage to Kodagu in Karnataka due to incessant rains, seems to have slipped from public view, thanks to the high decibel media battle on the devastation by floods in Kerala.

The floods in Kerala have devastated the areas affected cutting them off from the rest of the nation. Despite the unseemly bickering and demands, one thing stands out, the nation has responded magnificently. Almost all the Indian states irrespective of ruling party have committed funds to the Kerala government. More important than these, Indians from India and overseas have donated material and cash to the beleaguered state. Hundreds of Truckloads of materials are waiting for roads to be cleared and for supplies to reach the affected areas. The local fishermen were the local first line of defence to commence rescue operations of the flooded areas.

As usual, our men/women in the armed forces have been magnificent, risking their lives to rescue strangers who are quite likely to be ungrateful once the immediate danger is past.

Indians have once again proved that we are capable of overcoming and handling calamities. If we can stop politicising tragedy and start accepting responsibility for our own actions or absence of action, we may even begin to redeeem ourselves as a nation.

The return to Mumbai was not direct, we halted overnight at my brother Ajit’s place in Bengaluru. He has a delightful bungalow at Lakeshore homes, once at the outskirts of Bengaluru, now very much a part of the city. I always find it very restful to stay over at his place, insulated from the traffic and surrounded by greenery.

We drove the next day to Sonde, in Karnataka, close to Dharwar to visit the Shree Vadiraja Mutt located in Sonda. A visit to Sonde is always an extremely private and spiritual journey for me.

The highlight of the drive to Sonda, was a stopover at Davangere to have “Benne Dose” – butter dosa, a unique speciality of Davangere. We normally stop at “Apoorva Resorts” just off the highway to have the Benne Dose. However, as we realised, thanks to evolving changes in Menu, this was off the menu after 1200 hrs, we therefore consulted google aunty, who led us into town, to a small cafeteria type restaurent that seemed to specialize in Benne Dosa. It was worth the time and effort, to make the detour off the highway and have the dosas here. It was the best “Davangere Benne Dose” we had in Davangere or otherwise.

After an overnight stay in Sonde, we proceeded to Goa.

Goa, the all time holiday favorite in India, is the most chilled out state in India. The state however had not escaped the monsoon fury, the intensity of the rains could be gauged by the normally good roads in Goa, battered and pockmarked with potholes.

I fear that Goa would be the next state after Kerala, to witness the devastation caused by indisciminate construction, deforestation and pathetic water management.

On the hill, @ Sancoale where I stay, all the big builders have moved in, the area has been deforested, huge apartment complexes are under construction, the developers/contractors include such respected names such as Tata’s and L&T amongst others, with no trees to retain water and no rain water – harvesting or management, I fear for the villages/communities based at the foothills. I recollect during our drive through the hills of Munnar, I saw mansions built at the edge of a cliff/precipe with no apparent shoring or piled foundations (an assumption), cheapest and fastest way to build at the cost of safety and evirnmental safety, in some areas, at some locations it appeared that the the hillsides were excavated and houses built, with no evidence of shoring of the hillside, leading to a possibility of exposure to landslides. As an engineer and a sailor, I prefer the “safe” to the aesthetic.

I can now appreciate, the precautions taken by NHAI during the monsoons, on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, and their continuous efforts at shoring the cliffside before Lonavala.

After three nights of recuperation, at our small delightful villa on a hill top at Sancoale, we left for Mumbai, back home after being on the road for four weeks.

Back home, an almost uneventful journey, except for a hair-raising moment with a KSRTC bus, driven by a gentleman engrossed on his mobile, gently drifting across the highway, on 16.08.2018 at 1328 hrs.

Tamil Nadu (TN) has been a relevation for me, a near unexplored (outside of TN) cultural heritage, an old and rich literary tradition in prose, poetry and music.

Another feature of TN, the local people work, I noticed that in Bengaluru and Kerala, substantial part of the labor work-force are from outside the state, more so in Kerala, where I believe the entire labor are either from UP, Bihar, Orissa or North Eastern states.

TN, except for the bhojanalayas’ in Kanyakumari, seemed to have all local work force and this is probably the reason why the Tamilians have such a pride in their state, at every social and economical level.

Kerala, the trip was a bit of a disappointment as the rains prevented us from any of the activities that we had planned apart from driving back to Tamil Nadu on the return leg. I hope that the Coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra heed the 2011 “Gadgil Report” and start protecting the environment and not play “vote-bank” politics that is costing the nation and its people dearly.

Just thinking – can passages/tunnels be created/drilled in the Western ghats so that some part of the rain water be diverted to the parched regions of the Deccan plateau and the plains of Tamil Nadu. WHAT AN IDEA SIRJEE!!! Knowing Indians, I am sure that this idea may have occurred decades ago and also very efficiently shot down by self serving politicians and bureaucrats who profit more from human suffering than their well-being.

Karnataka, the state that has everything except, snow clad mountains. Not in the limelight like Punjab, TN, West Bengal – but in its own way far more important to the nation than it takes credit for. The IT revolution started here, (the rest are followers not creators) and so did the transformation of the image of the Indian from a dirty starving beggar (snake charmer) to a Tech Savvy Innovator. As an overseas traveller since 1979, I can personally vouch for the change in attitude at customs and immigration the world over, it is far better to be an Indian traveller in the 21st Century than in the 20th Century. Thank you gentle, soft spoken and cultured Kannidagas, the nation owes you.

Do not be taken in by a few loud mouthed local Chauvinists, the Kannadigas are the most hospitable and accommodating people on the sub-continent, you can guage it by the reaction you get from a Lucknowi/Patnaite when you ask them if they plan on going back to their hometown to settle down, the reaction is louder and more voluble if it is a lady who has been asked this question. I think the least these “migrants” could do is learn to speak the local language, in return for the hospitality they enjoy.

Speaking of learning the local language, I have the highest respect for the Sikhs and Marwadis/Gujarathis, I have run across these incredible people in the remotest corners of Karnataka and even Tamil Nadu, they speak Kannada fluently even better than I do and Tamil flawlessly. I know Sikhs who speak Marathi and Bengali fluently, this is probably the reason for the global success of these hard working communities.

I will return to Karnataka and it’s history in a later blog, this incredible state and its contribution to the nation is oft forgotten, and we need to remember and acknowledge.

But how can I leave Bengaluru, without a mention about its chaotic traffic, made more torturous by the eternal “Metro – work in progress”. Most of the major signals here last upto 180 seconds, this creates a huge backlog, it would make better sense to have signals changing every 45 – 60 seconds, this will keep the traffic moving and reduce the logjam and road rage. Also the two-wheelers are consistent in disregard to their own safety as well as the rules of the road, the four wheelers in retaliation appear to have forgotten that they have a turning indicator that they can use to signal the changing of lanes.

After four weeks of weathering a combination of suicidal and homicidal motorists, it was calming to get back into the relatively safe driving haven that is Maharashtra.

Maharashtra – translates literally as “the great state”, my karma bhoomi, is the state that best represents – India – not in terms of the parliament seats, or the most commonly spoken language but by her ability to take in people from all over the country and give them a livelihood and a means to live with dignity. The Deccan plateau, comprises a large part of Maharashtra, and the history of the Deccan – the Chalukyas, Vijayanagar Empire and the Marathas – Shivaji and the Peshwas, and in the near past Tilak, Gokhale is closely linked to the Indian cultural identity and resurgence against foreign domination.

I thank all my friends – viewers and followers, who have given me encouragement to keep writing, I intend now to cover my older trips, Rajasthan, Leh, Dharamshala, Bhutan – if I am a bit fudgy about my dates please forgive me, but the photos are timeless.

God’s Own Country

Kerala – one of the most beautiful states in India. This has always been one of my favorite states in India.

Even before the advent of Swacch Bharat, the Keralite had and still has the highest level of personal hygiene in this country and this state had the cleanest public facilities, my litmus test of a civilization, in general TN and (South) Karnataka too have some decent facilities but Kerala is tops.

Women in Kerala have had a 100% literacy when the advanced civilizations in the north were still debating over allowing women out of the purdah/burqah. Though the burqah is definitely back in fashion in Kerala.

Kerala is beautiful, all of it, whether it is the beaches the back waters or the hills.

Keralites are a different breed, fiercely united, bound together by the love of language and the state. Kerala has always been a gracious host to all, it has been home to one of the oldest sect of Christianity – Syrian Christians while the Roman Empire was still throwing the Christians to the lions – home to the Jews, representative of the only nation (India) in the world that has not discriminated against or persecuted the Jews. While they are very conscious of their right to personal freedom, they have the privilege of having been the first Indian state to bring the Communist party to power. In a continuing paradox, they have either voted for the retrograde communists or the dynastic congress.

Adding other dimensions to the kaleidiscope that Kerala is, Kerala is the birthplace of  Shri Shankracharya and the origin of the resurgence of Hinduism, the “Vatican” of the Indian Marxists, it is also allegedly the ground of maximum recruitment for the ISIS, and while it produces maximum priests and nuns for the Catholic Church in India, it has also given the nation an army of nurses and teachers.

Though Ayurvedic Medicine and treatment, are known and practised all over India, it is Kerala that has taken this ancient science to a different level and converted it into a contemporary medical discipline and taken this beyond the borders of the state and nation.

Fiercely argumentative, the Keralite is the nation’s “Devils Advocate”, don’t be too surprised if you find a Keralite arguing on either side of a topic on different days. That is what makes a Keralite adorable, he is not arguing to prove you wrong, he is just trying to prove himself right.

We slunk into Munnar, in the middle of the night to escape what we thought were the after-effects of the demise of Shri Karunanidhi. We were still unaware of the havoc that the rain Gods were wreaking all over the state and having landed at Club Mahindra a day ahead with no reservation, we would have been up **** creek without a paddle if we could not find accommodation for the night.

The staff Club Mahindra were magnificient as usual, even at that time, Santosh at the reception was friendly courteous and somehow managed to squeeze us in.

We had driven through the night, in TN good roads but tense atmosphere, later in Kerala relatively tension-free but bad roads and off the highway terribly bad roads.

We woke up late after a good night’s sleep, and woke to a fabulous sight. a scenic view of the valley, with tea gardens (Tata Tea) starting at the edge of the CM property and the lake at the bottom of the valley.

The roads to Munnar town were blocked during the day for repairs due to the incessant rain and landslides. We had an inkling of things to come, as CM advised us not take any trips or tours due to the condition of the roads.

We took this opportunity, to take a break enjoy the scenery, enjoy the facilities at the resort including practising putting (golf).

Surprising that we found most of the staff to be non-Keralites, they were mainly from Bihar and Orissa, the explanation “No Keralite works in Kerala, we work outside Kerala”.

We bid goodbye to Munnar on 11th August, driving through torrential rains and miserable roads untill we crossed into TN, where we only had to contend with the rains till we came down the hills.

Our biggest regret, we missed visiting the valley where the Kurunji Flowers (purple colored flowers) bloom once every 12 years in the month of August, this was the year, now we have to return in 2030 to witness the miracle of seeing a “purple valley”.

The drive down from Club Mahindra, was the most scenic drive of the trip, we did run across clusters of purple colored flowers, and as for the purple colored valley, we let our imagination run riot. Munnar is definitely a must visit again spot.

Departure Madurai – night crossing into Kerala

It was evening of the 7th August and we received word that Shri Karunanidhi, the patriarch of DMK, had passed away at the age of 94.

Tension gripped the city, shops started downing their shutters, office goers started rushing back home. There was apprehension that the grief stricken supporters could start rioting under provocation.

We were advised that moving out on 08.08 to Munnar may not be possible as a bandh could be declared and any provocation by the present state or central government could result in getting marooned in Madurai (a DMK stronghold) for more than a couple of days.

For those not familiar with TN politics, this state has no national party in power, either one of two dominant local parties the DMK or the AIDMK, have been ruling the state for the past five odd decades. These regional parties are so strong that they are influential players in National politics despite not having any presence outside the state. The grass root workers are also highly emotional and have been known to immolate themselves in grief over their leader’s demise.

Under such conditions, we took an informed decision to leave Madurai immediately for Munnar, Kerala.

After packing and grabbing a bite at the nearest fast food joint “Prashant”, a Madurai version of Mumbai’s Udipi hotel or Bengaluru’s Darshini, we departed after saying goodbye to our hostess.

We could sense the difference in atmosphere, groups were converging at the nukkads (street corner) – women were conspicuous by their absence, pandals were being erected, loud speakers were blaring out mournful songs and the “Kalaiganar’s” speeches. The police were out in force at every major crossing.

For us, it was reminiscent of a scene from a hollywood movie (I cannot recollect the name) a colored couple are stuck in a town in the deep south (USA) at night and are accosted by a white policeman. It was very tense and also unwarranted as the events proved during the night and the day after. But this we were unaware, and the next two and a half hours we kept looking at the car’s GPS and cross checking with google aunty.

Since all the road signs were in Tamil, Revathi and I wondered if we would know when we had crossed into Kerala, our safe haven that night. Akshay remarked that we would know that we were in Kerala as soon as the highway turns terrible, sure enough the minute we crossed the TN forest Check-post into Kerala, we ran into the first series of potholes that would be our faithful companions till we crossed back into TN four days later.

If the roads in TN were heavenly, the roads in Kerala were diabolical not really what one expects in “Gods own Country”. We were lucky that we had a respite from the rains, during our drive through the ghats, the rains resumed as soon as we reached Club Mahindra at Munnar. At that time, we were blissfully unaware of the havoc that the rain gods were planning on unleashing in “Gods own Country”.

We reached Club Mahindra just past midnight and true to their reputation, with the efficiency that I have come to expect and take for granted, the staff arranged for accommodation for us at short notice.

God bless the staff at Club Mahindra – they seem to be getting better everytime we visit them.