Lesser known places in Rajasthan
It is believed that since the desert did not have colour, the people took it upon themselves to bring colour to the desert. The result of that is the golden city of Jaisalmer, the blue city of Jodhpur and the pink city of Jaipur. Colour in the buildings led us to associate Rajasthan with Forts and Palaces. The colourful lives of the royals led us to associate Rajasthan with great battles and acts of valour.
A lot is hidden within the warp and the weft though. To believe that Rajasthan is the sum of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer would be just skimming the surface. Dig a little deeper, and a kaleidoscope of stories will open out to you. Stray a bit off the beaten path and stories of old murals and of temple leopards will unfold in front of you. Rajasthan is a seductress, and one whose eyes have infinite depth.
Photo by dalbera
Start off in Northern Rajasthan – the tip of the iceberg. Starting at Delhi, travel West towards Alsisar instead of SouthWest towards Jaipur. Standing like citadels in the desert, the towns of Shekhawati will open up their subdued hues to you. There are many stories behind the murals that adorn Shekhawatis Havelis. Some speak of how merchants had become richer than the king. But since they could not have a bigger house than the kings, they had a more ornate one. Others talk about how they ventured far for their trade and when back, splurged on richly painted Havelis.
Over time, most of the Havelis had been left to their fate. It was difficult to maintain old heritage properties. Visit the towns of Alsisar, Jhunjhunu, Churu and Mandawa, and these Havelis will call out to you. There are beautiful places to stay in and a walk through some of the old lanes will charm you.
South of Jodhpur lies the district of Pali a place that is known only amongst connoiseurs or locals. If you have been to Jodhpur, you would have heard of the Ranakpur Jain Temples. They are beautifully carved marble monuments where every pillar has a different carving. What you may not be aware of, is the Jawai dam and the large rocky areas surrounding it. The rocky expanses serve as a great wildlife sighting area and one where leopard sightings are almost guaranteed.
It is truly marvelous seeing leopards early in the morning or later in the evening, delecately finding holds and clambering over rocks looking for small prey. The Jawai Dam is also one of the largest of Western Rajasthan and the reservoir has the marsh crocodile and attracts many migratory birds during the winters. Unlike most natural regions that are forested, this is a region that is rocky and bare – and makes for excellent afternoons out.
One of the greatest monuments in Rajasthan that you will ever visit, Kumbalgarh has acted as just a stopover on the way frpm Jodhpur to Udaipur. The lush mountains of the Aravallis – one of the oldest geographical features on Earth – make for a beautiful setting and the Fort of Kumbalgarh boasts of the longest wall built after the Great Wall of China. Built in the 15th Century, the wall hugs the cliff face and it is rumored that the wall was wide enough to accommodate eight horses.
There are quite exclusive places to stay around Kumbalgarh and it is a treat for those who love nature as well as those who are interested a bit in the cultural history of the region. There is a hike that will take you through the monsoon forests around the Fort and it is natural that the avid birdwatcher would find a few lifers including the Crested Hawk Eagle. If you’re lucky, you might just see a sloth bear as well.
Osian may not be on your list and chances are that you would have heard of it only upon reaching Jodhpur. But the dunes of Osian are quite simply, one of the best in Rajasthan. The camel safaris and sunsets over the dunes are a treat. But leave the dunes. Leave the luxury tents and the cultural evenings. Find an authentic Dhani to stay in and you will get a real taste of the scrub desert of Rajasthan. A Dhani is a traditional set of huts built as a family grows bigger. The huts are made of mud and thatch – that act as natural coolers during the hot summer.
The best time however, would be the autumn, spring and winter months. You can then sample some of the light and delicious village food, and sleep under the stars. This is the quintessential starbed and blankets are provided. You will not feel cold while staring at the constellations in awe or while the stargazer tries to find Orion’s belt. The desert comes alive in Osian.
Dungarpur’s signature is the bluish grey stone called Pareva. The Pareva adorns the beautiful 19th Century Udai Bilas Palace as well as the 13th Century Juna Mahal. Due to this stone, Dungarpur is different from the golden, blue, white, and pink colours of its more famous cousins. The bluish grey stone lends a subdued class and Dungarpur brings to life another hue in Rajasthan. Dungarpur also gives perspective to the saying that “God lies in the details”. This can be seen in the ornate Jharokhas that adorn Udai Bilas. This can also be seen in the work of the local goldsmiths, as the lacquer toys that the town is known for. As with all desert regions, the local waterbody is revered and the Gaib Sagar Lake is surrounded by numerous temples and smaller palaces.
It is said that there is something for everyone in Rajasthan. It is difficult to capture every aspect of the state in a single journey. But every time you visit the region, you’ll find more to see and more to discover and more variety in the smallest aspects of the desert. In the end, it is this variety that has been the essence of life.
Featured Photo by Tomas Belcik