Rajasthan has some wonderfully colourful and interesting annual fairs. If at all possible, try fitting one of them into your schedule.
NAGAUR CATTLE FAIR - NAGAUR (Jan/Feb)
Camel races,puppet shows, folk-dancing and music during this week-long fair
ELEPHANT FESTIVAL- JAIPUR (March)
Jaipur- Highlights are an Elephant polo tournament, splendidly caparisoned elephant processions and folk-music & dancing
MEWAR FESTIVAL - UDAIPUR (April)
Cultural celebration of Udaipur with music,dancing, firework displays and storytelling.
PUSHKAR FAIR- PUSHKAR-(Oct/Nov)
Thousands of tourists,pilgrims and villagers congregate here to participate in the events which feature cattle, camels and horses. This festival is one of Asia's largest livestock trading fairs, and Pushkar comes alive with a carnival atmosphere.Folk stories, music and dancing are amongst the many popular attractions, with spectators joining in the fun. The foodstalls do a brisk trade.
Over the season (October-March) in Rajasthan, there is a touring British amateur acting group that travels around Rajasthan (mainly the larger cities) This company is called "Out of Cocoon"
They are sponsered by various Rajasthani VIP's and are given free accomodation.
We were fortunate to catch a performance of Twelth Night, which was held in the palace grounds under the stars in Udaipur. It was a wonderful evening-the acting was good,the atmosphere was relaxed and many people turned up to watch. There is no fee- just a collection after. It was one of the most special nights we had in Rajasthan. I recommend that you enquire at any tourist information booth if you are in Udaipur, Jodphur, Jaisalmer or Jaipur. They will have info if this group is performing in their cities.
The performances are usually in Palace grounds, and under the stars.
This season(2008-9) the play "Measure for Measure" is being staged.
Besides visiting the attractions in Udaipur, Jaipur Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, there are some other "must see & do" things in Rajasthan.
The Jain Temple complex at Ranakpur is breathtaking.
Karni Mata (Rat Temple) at Deshnok, near Bikaner. The rats are friendly.
Bundi - for its beautiful art that has been well preserved.
Mount Abu - a hill resort can be visited on a day trip from Udaipur (has Jain Temples)
Chittorgarh Fort - see my page on Chittargarh
Meherangarh Fort at Jodpur
Rohet Garh - Horse-riding in the countryside ( Near Jodphpur)
Hiking in Arrevelli Hills
Shop Shop Shop - Just about everywhere
Yoga & Art lessons - are available (we had lessons in Udaipur)
Like nowhere else in India- they are simply awesome. Sitting on a rooftop having a drink or out in the desert, they seemed to me to be just more colourul than anywhere else in India.The pollution in the cities probably has much to do with this. Rajasthan has far less pollution- especially in rural areas, and the desert, where there is none at all.
Rajasthan is a great place to try the hilarious experience of riding a camel. Let me say outright that BIG things on four legs (horses, elephants & camels) intimidate me- I am only 5 foot tall. I was terrified. - But I was determined to ride a camel in the desert in Rajasthan.
We have had a lot of fun in India, and laughed a lot- but this mad-cap camel adventure was THE funniest, exciting and most unforgettable thing that I can remember.I laughed till tears came. Richard dared me to cuddle my camel- the nearest I came to that was grabbing him around the neck after he decided to make a sudden gallop towards a passing female camel.Our guide said knowingly "oh aunty-they always do that"
We did our ride out of Jaisalmer, but there are also camel rides around Jodhpur, Bikaner and Pushkar. A guide will go along, because these camels get FRISKY!!
A good time to go is late afternoon- catch the sunset. Ladies- wear a sports bra.
Music and Dancing play an important part in Rajasthani culture.It is vibrant, joyful and colourful. Women in swirling skirts twirl and stamp their feet, and their anklet bells jingle.Men balance pots of fire on their heads while they spin in time to the beat of tablas and sitars. Most of these performances that we watched were are nightly events, presented for tourists.We also saw dancing in rural parts of Rajasthan, that was part of a traditional celebration. This was not staged, and obviously not rehearsed- and dancing comes easily to these tribal people.
There is a nightly dance performance in Udaipur, which is always packed out. Go early and grab a seat.Its held in a beautiful open air amphitheatre under the stars, set in the grounds of Bagore-ki-Haveli.
Just outside of Jaisalmer, in the Thar desert, there are camps where one can go to. Have a camel ride, a campfire meal and watch the fire-dancers. It makes for a great evening of entertaiment. Be warned- you might get dragged up to join in.
A good side trip to make if you are in Bikaner, Rajasthan. About 30kms South of Bikaner, there is a village called Deshnok.....quite unremarkable except for the amazing temple dedicated to Karni Mata. This temple is commonly called the "Rat Temple"
Now I entered this temple with much trepidation.......thousands of rats, running helter skelter everywhere. Across feet, under feet, everywhere. But these are not just rats.....they are considered to be reincarnations of the souls of all dead storytellers.........thanks to the Goddess KarniMata (incarnation of Durga). The rats are fed "prasad" or tiny sugar pebbles, and milk with honey,and pilgrims come in the thousands to worship them (ancestors maybe?) I was awed by the sight of a very old man sitting on his haunches talking gently to them, they seemed to be listening. In amongst the thousands of grey rats, there are a handful of white ones, and it is considered to be auspicious to see a white rat. I was lucky. This place is really worth a visit. BUT WEAR SOCKS!!!!!
The temple itself is quite beautiful-it has a marble facade and solid silver doors.The inner courtyard has mesh overhead to prevent birds from grabbing the rats.
Most of Rajasthan is covered by the Thar Desert, which, if not as big as Sahara, not as hot as the Death Valley, not as empty as the Rub Al Khali, not as cold as the Takla Makan, is a real one, and in places the sand dunes and rock formations (deserts are a blessing for geologists) are spectacular. Several roads cross this desert where nowadays you cannot get lost, and I only walked a few hours there, not really far from a village or settlement; the Thar is more and more settled, due to demographic pressure and many wells provide water in the remote villages, but one century ago, caravans had hard times linking the cities of Rajasthan. I love the trees living in the desert (main picture), walking in the hot sand, combed by the wind, (I mean the sand, but it is also the case for my hair!), go on top of little hills, look at the landscapes and the rocks, polished and varnished by the wind. The rocks on the last picture are stromatolites, exactly the same as the ones you may find “alive” on the west coast of Australia , but these here are 600 million years old.
Near the village of Artya Kalan, my curiosity led me to a very small settlement, a few farms behind walls where I entered through a gate made of branches; a bunch of kids welcomed me, then their mothers, then the fathers. They were as curious about me as me about them. I tried to explain what I did in the area (looking at rocks!), but I am not sure they understood! I asked if I could make some pictures and when I showed the first on the screen of my camera, they wanted to see more. . . . One of the ladies arrived with two glasses of lassi to welcome me. Lassi is a drink based on yoghurt, with milk, water, honey, cardamom, and may be other spices. It was a wonderful drink, well, not only the exotic (to me) taste and the presentation (with some dust, hay, . . . . ), but the heart with which it was presented; the man of the family drank the other glass. I drank in the past camel milk, yak milk or yoghurt, goat or ewe milk, tasted koumiss, a beverage based on mare milk, and here I discovered the yoghurt was made with water buffalo milk; the women presented me proudly their herd, but when I asked how come these animals who love water were living apparently in good health in this desert country, we could not understand each other and only could laugh!
A young boy of the family took the last picture where a part of the people are posing with me.
Very little things like this invitation to drink lassi are among travel souvenirs I like the most.
We all have seen these incredible pictures of trains (Ah, I watched few days ago the movie Darjeeling Limited, a moving and very funny movie from Wes Anderson, featuring a few places I visited here; I found it nice to see again places I visited!) and or buses of India, overloaded, with people travelling in unbelievable conditions; this also “applies” to more local transport, motor rickshaws, bikes, tractors. . . . I am full of admiration for these people who keep in good mood travelling in these conditions, thinking of lots of people who complain for sitting a little bit squeezed one or two hours in aircrafts or air conditioned vehicles. . . . They have tough rides in dust, really squeezed, rocked on bumpy roads, and this probably every day. . . . I do not know if the people travelling on the roof of the buses pay full fare (picture 3). . . . or if air conditioning is included in the price (picture 4) . And a sarcastic thought about this car (picture 5) overtaking mine, at high speed, probably caring of over population problems. . . . .
If you can, take a side street, leave your vehicle, and walk up some narrow valleys (look if there are no clouds in the sky, flash floods are merciless!), enjoy the shade and even fresh air blown by the wind in the narrow creeks. You will discover some strange plants and their flowers, walk in quietude, silence, see some lizards escaping between your feet, and enjoy arriving at the top of a hill and be surprised to find some traces of human activity like dry stone walls, fencing some improbable field. . . on the fourth picture, is a wall lost in the middle of nowhere, and what you see is not a paved road, despite the linear ordering of the stones, like done by human, or a supra natural being, no, it is just natural fracturation pattern of the rocks. . . .
And, when you walk silently in the desert, you may have a chance to have a glimpse at escaping antelopes, shy animals; haha, you may see the powerline on the picture, in Rajasthan the civilisation is never far today. . . . .
The Thar Desert occupies a big part of Rajasthan, and water is a crucial issue in desert countries. Every village has wells or other facilities to gather water, but there is no running water; you may often see people gathering at wells, water ponds and see women or children walking (may be kilometres) on the road sides or small trails, carrying water containers on their head; the water containers have usually the same shape everywhere, and the women carrying them on their heads are really elegant. Amazing how hard work, common gestures of life can show some special beauty and elegance.
Here are a few pictures of elegance, women carrying water and a picture of a well in the desert.
Water is very precious and it could be expensive, but tradition and generosity are stronger than the power of money and in most of villages the passer by or the traveller can find in front of restaurants (Picture 5), or common houses these pots filled with water where he can quench his thirst for free; drip the little goblet in the pot where the water is kept cool, and have a drink! No, there is no risk of Montezuma or whatever. . . the water in the Thar comes usually from deep wells, and is generally not contaminated.
The Thar Desert is not that desertic, there are lots of villages far from the main roads, and it is really worth to stop in some of them, walk between the small houses, give a smile to the villagers, look at the yards, tools houses; there is an incredible peace in some villages, illustrated by this man sleeping outside, in the sun. . . (picture 4), this woman going out to fetch water (picture2), just the houses in the desert. . . (picture3). During the hot hours of the day there is a deep peace atmosphere, nothing moves in the villages, you have the feeling to be alone here, it looks like if the tools have just been left, and will be used when the sun will be a bit lower in the sky. . . (picture5)
In the desert, somewhere between Bikaner and Jodhpur, near the village of Bap (Google Earth 27° 22’ 07”N; 72° 21’ 00” E)
, walking across little hills and narrow creeks I came across a small group of children herding a few goats; they were as surprised as me when we met in an almost no man’s land! I love that sort of encounters! No need to speak the same language to communicate, just glimpses, smiles, few gests, and we become friends for a few minutes. The kids were very proud to show me their herd and the baby goats they were in charge of. Amazing how the goats can find food in that dry rugged place! And how strange the desert is sometimes: you stop somewhere and thinking you are alone, suddenly kids arrive, then other, then, other, etc. . . . . the desert is not that desert in some places and I am always surprised to meet people there. On the two last pictures: kids not far from a village wanted to be photographed (and see themselves with big laughs and (probably) funny comments), so they are on VT! TTD tip: share with the kids and people, they like it and you will like it!
Walking up along the main access, you must look up, to see the intricate buildings, constructions, pass by gates and doors where special guards are watching (it’s a joke!picture 2) before looking at the red carved building above the beige sandstone where the oblique light plays. Here are huge wall and bow windows carved in the red sandstone, some pieces of sandstone several square meters wide, only carving giving the light to the rooms inside.. . . And lots of details you can look at for hours. . . .
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