Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I had the constant grouse about my New Year eve being never any different, spent at the same place year after year, though in the always so refreshing company of friends and families. Thankfully this one was different; as I welcomed 2010 in the majestic, erstwhile princely, place of Jodhpur, which falls in the state of Rajasthan. Rajasthan is a state I have come to love for all its rich history, majestic splendor and palatial opulence. It was a seven day trip starting from beautiful Bikaner, followed by sandy Jaisalmer, and then the royal Jodhpur. Bikaner, the first stop on this tryst with royal Rajasthan, is in middle of the Thar Desert and has now a touch of modernity coexisting with the huge and magnificent forts and palaces along with ancient temples and traditions. The star attraction is the magnificent fort of Bikaner, or Junagarh fort as it is called. It is a huge man made marvel in the heart of the city built in 15th century by ‘Raja Rai’, one of the most able and trusted Generals of Mughal Emperor Akbar. Rajasthan is truly a royal state having been ruled by the Rajputs, who were avid fort builders, and their fetish for architectural opulence still stands in most of the tourist places of Rajasthan. It has, with all the trappings of luxury and grandeur, an architectural similarity to the Amer fort in Jaipur, which I visited last year. The overall beauty of the palace is astonishing but it was this mix of devotion and indulgence, the ‘Jhula’ or swing for the lord Krishna and his beloved Radha, that particularly caught my eye; it is a testimony to the richness and lavishness of the bygone times. The bedroom left me gaping with awe. The elaborate carvings and embellishments, and the whole ambience cannot be measured in monetary terms; it is an invaluable creation. The walls were coated with pure Gold and precious jewels studded the designs and paintings. Another common aspect of the Rajasthan forts is the beautifully geometric gardens. The design style has been influenced by the Mughals, who left a great impact on Indian culture. But Bikaner is much more than the fort and the palaces. It houses National Camel research centre, which has an incredible variety of Indian camels. The innocent eyed ship of desert is a remarkable animal and the information on this board left me with tremendous respect for the unique adaptability of this animal to the desert environment (Click on the photo to enlarge and read the board). The handicrafts and hand woven Durries (rugs) are a specialty of Bikaner. Hand weaving is becoming an endangered Art on account of the economic hardships which these exceptionally skilled but poor artisans have to face. Thanks to tourism the Government has woken up to the plight of these people and several steps are on to showcase their skills at an international platform. Nothing managed to hook my little one... ...as much as this famous temple -‘the Karni Devi Mandir’, and not at all for its religious value, but for completely bizarre, unforeseen and, almost literally, biting reason. The temple, a much revered one, is home to scores…err no, hundreds…no, thousands of Rats…in fact around 20,000, as the guide told me! There are Rats everywhere. They run with gay abandon, unconcerned and unaffected by the thronging devotees. The rats have become the most attractive aspect of the temple…it does sound paradoxical though. The temple was built in the 15th century and it is said that local mystic, and demigoddess, ‘Karni Mata’ had forecasted that none of her family members will ever die and will continue to live on as rats in the premises of this temple. We all have customs, traditions, folklores; sometimes irrational, sometimes strange, and sometimes downright bizarre. But despite their lack of logic, they add richness to our life. They are a great bonding force. Just imagine a life totally ruled by logic – mathematical, insipid and robotic – and the need for some irrationality is immediately felt.