Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tour to twin cities – Kota and Bundi

A comfortable 150 kilometers journey from Ajmer brought me to Bundi – the desert's undiscovered gem. It seemed as if time had come to a halt as Bundi till date retains its traditional flavour. I saw a young man by the street side, unmindful of the world around him. I stopped to stare. His sporting long moustaches and bright turban made me think that he was a local. I moved on to explore the least explored town of Rajasthan – Bundi.

It was early morning time when I drove into the town. Bundi had not even woken up properly. Most of the shops were unopened, some gradually coming awake with owners raising their shutters, making a creaking sound that disturbed the tranquility flowing within the aura of the town. Signs of life could only be observed around the Bundi Palace.

The view of the Bundi Palace that I caught from the window of the taxi seemed massive. I stepped out the taxi and entered the palace. The interiors of the palace transported me to another age and presented before my eyes another life altogether. Unfortunately, the whole of the palace is not open to the public.

I kick started watching the fascinating murals that adorned the walls, pillars and ceiling of the fort. I was lucky enough to see a room in the palace which usually remains locked. The colours of its walls had faded over the years. Flash photography was prohibited here. Chitra Shala, a portion of the palace, bowled me over with its beauty beyond compare. Traditional murals depicting scenes from Krishna raas-leela, hunting scenes and court life adorned the walls and ceiling of this palace of paintings.

I would have loved spending hours there capturing the beautiful memories in my camera. But I had to reach Kota before nightfall. I had to leave from Bundi without seeing the far famed Taragarh Fort and other places worth seeing. It was approximately a 40 minutes drive from Bundi to its twin city Kota. My overnight stay immersed in sinful luxury at the Umed Bhawan Palace in Kota was memorable.

Kota, the industrial heartland of the rustic desert, is packed with a series of delightful discoveries. Shopping was what I chose to indulge in. I could discover a unique spontaneity attached with the distinctive paintings are calligraphic of Kota. Remarkable shading and a blend of the Rajput with the Mughal style of painting made them a must buy. Thereafter, I laid hands on a unique product of this area, Kota Doria (sari).

Later in the evening, my taxi drove towards the famous Jag Mandir. Amidst Kishore Sagar lake stood Jag Mandir. The beauty of this structure in red sandstone was enhanced by the azure waters of the lake. A boat ride in the lake was the perfect way to end the Kota tour. While walking towards the taxi, I kept on stopping to admire the colourful small houses adorning the streets of Kota. I turned back for one last glimpse and promised myself to come back to this place.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Discover The Wilderness Of Nature!

After experiencing the royalty of the princely city Jaipur, I was scheduled to experience the wilderness of the world famous Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary and Ranthambore National Park. Thoughts of wildlife started racing through my mind when I started my journey to Sariska National Park. Known for a wide variety of wildlife, Sariska is one of the must-see destination of Rajasthan for wildlife enthusiasts. Tucked away in the beautiful Aravalli hills, Sariska was once the hunting ground of the Alwar Royals. It is not only famous for its wildlife but also for its ancient temples reflecting the rich architectural heritage of Rajasthan.

Sweet aroma of wild flora, beautiful hills with thick towering bamboo trees, a feeling of venturing into the unknown and ample opportunities of sightseeing—this is what Sariska greets you with. I opted for Jeep safari and embarked on the adventurous journey into the fascinating world of jungle with the guide named Shankar. He acquainted me with some information on Sariska. Sariska was established as a Tiger Reserve in 1978. Spreading over an area of 429 sq km, Sariska is a home to a rich variety of wildlife such as Tiger, Leopard, Hyena, Jackal, Wild Boar, Nilgai, Barasingha(antelope), Langur, Jungle Cat. Besides these animals, the Park boasts of a colourful avian world— Crested Serpent Eagle, Great Indian Horned Owl, Peafowl, Grey Partridge, Golden Back Woodpecker and lot more.

Making our way into the deeper side of the jungle we spotted Peafowl,Wild Boar, Crested Serpent Eagle and Nilgai. The Park has an applaudable population of langurs. Flocking from tree to tree they were showing us their jumping skills. What a fitness freak they are! My jaded eyes were still longing for something special—tiger. I kept asking my guide,” when will we sight a tiger” and he kept encouraging me by saying “soon”. I kept my fingers crossed and kept praying for my desire to be fulfilled. After moving a little ahead our fortune favoured us and we saw not only one but two tigers busy relishing their prey from close quarters. What a sight! I captured that moment in my camera and moved ahead. Then we saw the historic Kanwari Fort and the ruins of ancient temples of Garh-Rajor. This was another treat for our eyes.

Next morning we embarked on another wildlife journey. This time our destination was Ranthambhore National Park—the abode of Royal Bengal Tigers. It is a Project Tiger Reserve bounded by Banas River, the Chambal River, hills of Aravalli range and a plateau on its four sides. Enveloped with some greed, my heart again longed for a sight of tiger. Ranthambhore is a storehouse of wild flora and fauna. During the first hour of our safari we saw wild pig, sambar, nilgai, chital. I think it was quite an achievement. Not satisfied with our achievement we kept moving ahead in search of leopard and tiger. During our search for wildlife we saw Ranthambhore Fort which is the oldest fort in Rajasthan. When our morning safari was about to come to an end, the guide showed us the pugmarks of tiger. We stopped or Jeep there and started looking for tiger and fortunately got a glimpse of it. I thought to myself “something is better than nothing” and traced our steps back to our hotel near the Park.

Mystified by what I had seen and experienced during my visit to Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary and Ranthambhore National Park, I with my treasured memories of wildlife made a move towards my next destination—Jaisalmer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Uniquely Rajasthan

Bags packed and I was all set for my Rajasthan tour. The flight from Delhi was pretty comfortable. On reaching the outskirts of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, I hired a taxi in order to reach the city centre. It was dusk by the time I reached the Jaisalmer City. I was fortunate to gaze at the sun go down, casting an ember glow over the desert horizon. As I stepped over the vast stretch of the gilded sands of Jaisalmer, my senses lay settled amidst the stillness of the place. It was as if I had entered a state of timelessness. The wind blowing away the flakes of golden sands unfolded the royalty and chivalry of the erstwhile Rajputs and brought alive the rich history of Rajasthan.

During the night, I set out for shopping in the streets of Jaisalmer. Amazing artifacts in gold are something no tourist can miss to take along. Another shopping bag in my hand held some Rajasthani fabrics picked from Rajmahal. These were embellished with mirror work and some embroidery as well.

I boarded a luxury bus so as to move on towards the city of lakes – Udaipur. I could feel a bizarre aroma of enchantment intermixed impeccably in the air. The magnificent forts usually constructed on hill tops invite you whole heartedly to appreciate their craftsmanship. A boat cruise on the clear blue waters of Lake Pichola was my pick. The glance of the Lake Palace amidst the lake left me speechless. The beautiful paintings and traditional furniture that bedecked the interiors of the palace transported me to an entirely different world of Rajasthani grandeur. My stay at this fort turned into a heritage hotel was undoubtedly princely.

Along with a new day, I set out for a new destination. Ajmer, an important pilgrimage town of Rajasthan was the destination to be explored. The moment I stepped in Ajmer, I entered a slender lane to have the famous kachoris and biryanis. Biryani was immensely mouth-watering. In order to satiate my sweet tooth, I landed up at the much hyped Halwai Ki Gali. It would not exaggerate when I say that the taste of its malpuas and jalebis is unforgettable.

With my stomach full uptill the brim, I rushed to hire a taxi so as to reach Pushkar. An hour later, I was a part of the world's largest camel fair – Pushkar Fair. I was actually drowned in the excitement the stunningly colourful fair offered. Buying and selling of decorated camels, parading them, Pushkar has all this and much more too. It was truly an unmatched experience to spend a fortnight at this magical fair.. The next morning, I paid homage to Lord Brahma at the only Brahma Temple in the world. Truly, culture and religion are perfectly interwoven in Ajmer City, Rajasthan.