Friday, January 30, 2009

The Sufi Capital Wrapped In The Barren Hills Of The Aravallis

I packed my bags to the Ajmer city, nestled in the base of Aravali mountain ranges. The historic city was established by the great king of the Chauhan dynasty, Ajaipal Chauhan in the 7th century. On arriving Ajmer, I was surprised to see the true secular nature of India that is enlivened in the life and history of this great city. This renowned pilgrim centre showcases a perfect blend of Hindu culture with Sufi traditions.

Ajmer was flanked by majestic mountains on all sides. I booked a room in Hotel Mansingh Palace. The most lively attractions of the city are the religious songs and Quawwalis, which can be heard at every street, especially at the holy Dargahs. I visited the Dargh of Ajmer Sharif at night, the most famous pilgrim center in the city, dedicated to the great Sufi saint Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti. Religious convocations, called 'mehfils' were organized in the mehfil khana, a voluminous hall meant for this purpose. A few local people told me that the dargah hosts Urs Fair annually in the month of November/December. The fair is dedicated to Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti and is organized on the death anniversary of the great Sufi Saint. Qawwalis (musical extravaganza) and Mushairaas (evening of poetic verses) are the main attractions of the fair.

On my second day in Ajmer, I visited the Nasiyan Jain temple located on the Prithvi Raj Marg. Dedicated to the first Jain Tirthankara Rishabdeoji, it is also known as the Red Temple. The small museum inside the temple was simply outstanding in terms of the rarest collection of the items and objects related to Jain beliefs and mythology. As Ajmer's speciality deals with religion, so one can find the market more inclined towards religious artifacts, including metalware in the form of pitchers and urns. Same kind of items were available in 'Sapnon Ka Bazaar' (Market of Dreams). I also made a visit to the Sarveshwar Kala Mandir and bought a few samples of Rajasthani miniature paintings (on silk paper/cotton with a single squirrel hair brush, brass and wood). I spent the whole day in visiting places like Adhai-Din Ka Jhonpra (an old mosque built in 2.5 days only), the picturesque Ana Sagar Lake, etc.
Another best part was a ride in a rickshaw to the famous Halwai-ki-Gali, where I had my favourite Biryani (rice preparation), kachories and samosas with spicy, flavoured 'kadhi' (cooked yoghurt), and sweet-syrupy 'jalebies' and 'malpuas'.
Ajmer is a well known shopper's paradise. I personally bought various Antiques, Ornaments, Gold and silver jewelry in contemporary designs, Bandhini (colorful tie-and-dye Saris), Embroidered Jodhpuri Jutis (footwear), Ittra (a special form of local perfume), Kishangarh miniature paintings, and wood crafted products. I also came to know that Ajaymeru Udyog Crafts Mela and Pushkar Fair are the grans occasions when one can buy typical Rajasthani items of home decor items, silver souvenirs, bangles, hand embroidered cloth bags, leather belts, woodcrafts, etc. The entire city was bestowed with the natural beauty and religious values.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jodhpur- Acknowledged For Its Vibrant Culture


After my lavish and pleasurable journey on the Palace on Wheels, I arrived at Jodhpur. It was my second visit to this enigmatic city of Rajasthan. Chayan, my friend, being very punctual, was waiting for me at the station. I hadn't met him for a couple of years, I guess. Being a bachelor, his flat in Jodhpur was actually disheveled and unkempt. Even so, I liked it, as it reflected the typical bachelor's freedom - to enjoy every bit of life.
Chayan's flat is close to the Polo Ground, which was hosting the three day International Desert Kite Festival. After a cool shower and a heavy breakfast, we moved on to the Polo Ground that was full of the kite flyers from India as well as all over the world. This International Kite Festival is celebrated every year in the month of January (on Makar Sankranti). People were gathered to reveal their kite flying skills with full enthusiasm and vigor. Air Force helicopters were also releasing a number of kites from the sky. The sky was full of kites and balloons of various designs and colors. The festival is truly a blend of enthusiasm, colours, brotherhood, entertainment and mouthwatering Rajasthani sweets like Phirni.
I was dying to pamper my taste buds with the fiery and aromatic Jodhpuri cuisine which is why we first drove to Jalori Gate by bike and ordered two plates of “Pyaz Ki Kachori” and a few red meat and white meat preparations along with the grilled Kebabs and Tikkas. Our meal ended with a glass full of Makhania Lassi made with saffron, yoghurt and sugar, at the Clock Tower. After a tiring day, we came back home and spent the peaceful evening while relaxing and playing cards on the terrace. A cook prepares food for Chayan at his place everyday. He came around 7:30 pm and prepared the traditional Dal Bati Churma, Bajre ki Roti, Besan k Gatte and Kair Sangri for dinner.
I had already visited the Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Umaid Bhawan Palace, Museum, Maha Mandir Temple etc. during my last trip to Jodhpur. Therefore I decided to devote my Sunday to another traditional fair. Chayan also insisted that I visit Nagaur town to see the Nagaur Fair (Cattle Fair) that lasts for eight days. The fair was simply a sea of animals trading over a lakh of lavishly decorated bullocks, camels and horses. We enjoyed watching sports like tug-of-war, camel races, bullock races and cock fights at the Nagaur town. After returning to Jodhpur, Chayan took me to the Girdikot and Sardar Market. The colourful Bazaar is situated near the Clock tower. Its narrow lanes are dotted with tiny shops selling exquisite Rajasthani silver jewelry, marble curios with inlay work, handicrafts, clay figurines of camels and elephants, Rajashani textiles, etc.
The short Safari to the nearby villages was simply amazing. I realized that a number of attractions were left untouched during my last visit. Chayan proved to be a good partner throughout the trip.