Monday, November 21, 2011

Rajasthan rolling - 8 (Mandawa)

In the heart of the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan lies the beautiful small town Mandawa, known throughout the state for its forts and Havelis.
It took us 3 hours to reach Mandawa from Bikaner, a distance of 190kms. The roads were good as usual.
Once we reached Mandawa, we maneuvered through narrow lanes to the ‘Hotel Heritage Mandawa’ we 

had booked in. It was fascinatingly wonderful. The frescoes on the walls and arches all over were impressive. Our room was ethnically decorated too. Had a delicious lunch and set out to explore the ‘Open art gallery’ of Mandawa.

Founded in the 18th century, the medieval fort of Mandawa dominates the town with a painted arched 

gateway adorned with Lord Krishna and his cows. The Chokhani and Ladia havelis and the street with Saraf

havelis are some of the splendid examples of this region's havelis.

The Binsidhar Newatia Haveli has some curious paintings on its outer eastern wall-a boy using a telephone, and a European woman in a car driven by a chauffeur. The Gulab Rai Ladia Haveli has some defaced erotic images.

The historic town of Mandawa served as a trading outpost for the caravans coming from Middle East and China. It was in 1755 that the Rajput ruler, Thakur Nawal Singh got the Mandawa Fort and ramparts around the city constructed for the safety of the trading outpost.

Displaying the skillful craftsmanship of Rajput artisans is the Goenka Double Havelis. The haveli is adorned by life-size portraits of the royal men, traditional Rajasthani women, and religious motifs. The Hanuman 

Prasad Goenka Haveli has religiously inspired frescoes, like Lord Shiva on Nandi and Lord Indra on his elephant. The Jhunjhunwala Haveli is famous for its intricately carved and painted ceiling and golden leaf 

painted walls. Carved archways, latticed windows and intricate designs are found in Murmuria Haveli as well. Besides traditional frescoes and murals, the Murmuria Haveli has modern paintings also, like the one depicting Jawaharlal Nehru with the National Flag on a horseback. Mohanlal Saraf Haveli, Chowkhani Haveli, Bhagchandika Haveli, Gulab Rai Ladia Haveli, Lakshmi Narayan Ladia Haveli, and the Newtia Haveli are some other majestic havelis of Mandawa.

Had read a lot about Monica restaurant in Mandawa where we decided to dine. Weaving through dimly lit narrow lanes we managed to reach the restaurant and were ushered into an absolutely empty restaurant! Here too like most of the restaurants in Rajasthan the food catered to the Continental tastes. Despite asking for spicy food we got a taste of some sweetish Chicken tikka masala. Though this restaurant has a lot of good reviews on Trip Advisor, it is not suitable for the Indian palate.
Headed back to our haveli for a good night’s rest as we were headed to Jaipur next morning.

Rajasthan rolling - 7
Rajasthan rolling - 6

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rajasthan rolling - 7 (Bikaner)

We covered the Jaisalmer to Bikaner distance of 333kms in just over four hours. The roads were excellent and it was a breeze driving through! Having reached Bikaner just in time for lunch had it in our room at the  Hotel Bharat Nivas where we had a booking.
Soon after lunch we set out to explore the most important sights of Bikaner – The Junagarh Fort and the KarniMata temple also famously known as the rat temple.
The Junagarh Fort was originally called Chintamani and was renamed Junagarh or "Old Fort" in the early 20th century when the ruling family moved to Lalgarh Palace outside the fort limits. It is one of the few major

Photograph : Nakul Amembal
 forts in Rajasthan which is not built on a hilltop. The modern city of Bikaner has developed around the fort.
The erstwhile Princely state of Bikaner and its capital city Bikaner was founded by Rao Bika (1465-1504 AD.) by the blessings of Goddess Karni Mata in the year 1488 AD. In those days this vast tract of desert country was called “Jangaldesh”. Prince Bika of the Rathore clan of Rajputs was the valiant son of Rao Jodha- the founder of Jodhpur.

Photograph : Nakul Amembal
It is said that the success of Rao Bika was prophesized by Goddess Karni Mata, whose temple is at Deshnok, which is about 30 Km from here.There is another interesting anecdote about Karni Mata and Bikaner. In 1937, on the occasion of Maharaja Ganga Singh's Golden Jubilee, he cancelled all functions and festivities. He said "my Bikaner has a famine and this is no time for celebration". Weeks passed and the scorching heat only increased. In desperation Maharaja Ganga Singh went to the temple of Karniji at Desnoke to pray for rain. When all hope was lost, and the heads of villages had gathered, there mysteriously appeared a cloud, which soon covered the sky, and the heavens opened. Only when the parched land was drenched did he give orders for celebration.

Photograph : Nakul Amembal
The Junagarh palaces in the fort have a large number of rooms, as every king built his own separate set of rooms, not wanting to live in his predecessors’ rooms.
The museum within the fort called the Junagarh Fort Museum was established in 1961 by Maharaja Dr.Karni Singhji under the control of "Maharaja Rai Singhji Trust". The Museum exhibits Sanskrit and Persian manuscripts, miniature paintings, jewels, royal costumes, farmans (royal orders), portrait galleries, costumes, headgear and dresses of gods’ idols, enamelware, silver, palanquins, howdahs and war drums. The museum also displays armoury that consists of one of the assorted collection of post medieval arms.
Refreshed ourselves in the cafe on the lawns of the fort and moved on to the Karni Mata temple which was around 30kms away. Reached there in an hour.
Karni Mata (2 October 1387 – 23 March 1538) was a female Hindu sage born in the Charan caste and worshiped as the incarnation of the goddess Durga by her followers. She is the official deity of the royal 

Photograph : Nakul Amembal
family of Jodhpur and Bikaner. During her lifetime, she laid the foundation stone of two of the important forts in Rajputana. She lived an ascetic life, and most of the temples dedicated to her were dedicated during her lifetime. A temple dedicated to her during her lifetime differs from others in that it does not contain an image or idol of her but rather contains a foot-print to symbolize her visit to that place. The most famous of her temples is the temple of Deshnoke, which was created following her mysterious disappearance from her home. This temple is famous for its rats, which are treated as sacred and given protection in the temple. 

Photograph : Nakul Amembal
According to a local legend, Karni Mata, the 14th century mystic and an incarnation of Hindu goddess Durga, implored Yama, the god of death, to restore the life of the son of one of her storyteller. Yama refused, and Karni Mata reincarnated the dead son and all of the storytellers as rats, under her protection. Out of all of the thousands of rats in the temple, there are said to be four or five white rats, which are considered to be especially holy. They are believed be the manifestations of Karni Mata herself and her kin and hence sighting them is considered a blessing. We could not.
Now it was time to go around Bikaner city and try out their famous savouries. We  shopped for the savouries at 'Bhikaram Chandmal Bhujiawala' on the advice of our Hotel reception and picked up quite a few packets of the famous Bikaneri Bhujiya which is fun to have with chai.
Got back to the Hotel for the night to ready for our trip next morning to Mandawa the city of Havelis.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rajasthan rolling - 6 (Jaisalmer)

Got on to the highway for Jaisalmer at 0830. The initial few kilometers of road were bad on NH114 but later on NH56 it was good.

Reached Jaisalmer at 1300 and were guided through to the Desert Boys Guesthouse in the Jaisalmer fort. This is a very traditionally decorated Hotel. 

We chose a room that suited us and after a briefing from the informed owner about the history of Jaisalmer and what to see and do we had our lunch and rested for awhile.
Jaisalmer is named after its founder Raja Jaisal a Rajput king. "Jaisalmer" means "the Hill Fort of Jaisal". Jaisalmer is sometimes called the "Golden City of India" because the yellow sand gives a yellowish-golden tinge to the city and its surrounding area.

In the afternoon we visited the Jaisalmer Palace (adjacent to our guesthouse) which is rather shabby. Not many artefacts in the museum. Only good for panoramic views of the city. After a brief tour we went to the Nathmal ki Haveli and the Patwa Haveli, which were situated just outside the fort. The Nathmal Haveli could be viewed from outside and the lobby while the Patwa haveli was a muesum. It was an amazing experience.

Patwon-ki-Haveli: Guman Chand Patwa (and later by his five sons), a wealthy merchant belonging to powerful Oswal Jain community and banker who had over three hundred trading centres from Afghanistan to China. This ornate five-storey complex took fifty years to complete. This is the largest, the most magnificent, and the most elaborate of Jaisalmer havelis.

Nathmalji-ki-Haveli: Built by a Prime Minister of princely state of Jaisalmer. Its facade is a riot of ornamentation: flowers, birds, elephants, soldiers, a bicycle and even a steam engine.

We got to view a wonderful sunset from the guesthouse sit out.
On our way through the fort we noticed plenty of Italian restaurants! Hence we decided to dine at one that was very close to our guesthouse. There was a huge board announcing its existence but the entrance was through a narrow passageway and had to climb up some steep stairs to reach the roof top. The tourists have not started pouring in as yet and here again we were the only customers! We ordered for Canneloni and Lasagna, both vegetarian as there was only an egg dish which could qualify as non vegitarian. Vegetarians will not have a problem in Rajasthan, as most of the Rajasthan cusine is vegetarian. The food took an hour to make it to the table but was value for money.
The agenda for the next day was a visit to the Jain temple in the morning followed by the Jeep safari to Sam sand dunes for a total Rajasthani experience.
Like all Jain temples this too was beautifully carved. 

This Shitalnathji jain temple was built in 1486.

After the temple visit we moved on to street shopping of puppets and miniature art. 

Before you go shopping it is advisable to ask the Hotel reception what the reasonable price would be for things that you want to buy. Bargaining is a must.
Had lunch at ‘8july’ cafe in the marketplace. It is a multicuisine restaurant and like all restaurants in Rajasthan caters to the European tastes. 

However the personal attention of the owner ensures that you will get the food with an Indian touch if you so desire.
The jeep safari to the sand dunes is a fun trip. 

On the way we stopped at Bada Bag six kms north of Jaisalmer. There are Royal cenotaphs with carved 

images of late Maharawals and their families where each chhatri preserves an inscribed tablet recording the death of Maharawals on which the memorials are raised. The chhatris have been built in a set pattern but in different sizes.  

The next stop was Luderwa16 kms. northwest of Jaisalme. Luderwa is the old capital of Jaisalmer. Now a 

silent city, the only witness to its former splendour are the Jain temple, toran (ornate arch) and artificial divine 

tree (Kalptaru).

Finally we were taken by jeep to a point in the Thar desert where there were camels waiting to take us to 

the sunset point. Once the sun bid goodbye, we were taken to a camp where there was a cultural 

programme of Rajasthan music and dance followed by a buffet of Rajasthani food.

Had a great time and headed back to the hotel.
Next stop would be Bikaner!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rajasthan rolling - 5 (Jodhpur)

The rains had rested and it was a clear sky with a few scattered clouds. This meant that the day temperature would be in its 30s so we had a heavy breakfast and set out maneuvering through the narrow streets populated by cattle and people and other 2/3/4 vehicles, to the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort.

“Mehrangarh Fort stands a hundred feet in splendour on a perpendicular cliff, four hundred feet above the sky line of Jodhpur. Burnished red sand stone, imposing, invincible and yet with a strange haunting beauty that beckons . Much has been written about the Citadel of the Sun, for truly, it is one of the most impressive in all Rajasthan. So colossal are its proportions that Rudyard Kipling called it “ the work of giants”. Today, it is acknowledged as the finest living example of a Hindu fortress.
Jodha’s fortress was 'Chao Burja' – a fort with four Bastions. The extremities of the original fortress fall within the limit of the second gate today. Of Jodha’s time itself, very little remains, the fort expanded beyond his outer gates within fifty years of his death but the spot where this gate stood is known as “ Rao Jodhaji Ka Falsa” ( Jodha’s outer limit of the boundary). In its Janampatri the fort is named Chintamani, after the Mythological gem worn by lord Ram which supposedly frees the owner of all worldly worry. Chintamani gave way to Mordhwaj, the flag of the peocock, presumably because the forts outer parameter suggests the fan like tail of a dancing peacock, It is at some point after this that the name Mehrangarh began to appear in chronicles and poems. “Mehr” is a Rajasthani word for the sun and it is not at all unlikely that the Suryavanshi Rathores would name their first citadel in their mythological ancestor’s honour.”
Above sourced from

It is immense in every sense of the word.
Within the fort, several brilliantly crafted and decorated palaces are found. 
Moti Mahal - The Pearl Palace
Built by Raja Sur Singh (1595–1619), the Moti Mahal is the largest of the Mehrangarh Museum's period rooms. Sur Singh's Moti Mahal has five alcoves leading onto hidden balconies; it is believed they were built for his five queens to listen in on court proceeding.

Sheesha Mahal - The Hall Of Mirrors
It is a fine example of a typical Rajput Sheesh Mahal. The mirror-work includes large, regular pieces, rather than an intricate mosaic of tiny fragments; another thing is the superimposition over the mirror-work of brightly painted religious figures made in plaster.

Phool Mahal - The Palace Of Flowers
The Phool Mahal was created by Maharaja Abhaya Singh (1724–1749). The grandest of Mehrangarh's period rooms the Phool Mahal was in all likelihood a private and exclusive chamber of pleasure; dancing girls once swooned in exhaustion here under a ceiling rich in gold filigree.

Takhat Vilas - Maharaja Takhat Singh's Chamber
Built and lived in by Maharaja Takhat Singh (1843–1873), Jodhpur's last ruler to reside in the Mehrangarh Fort, Takhat Vilas is an interesting blend of styles, most traditional, but some, like the glass balls on the 

ceiling, testifying to the modern age which arrived with the British.
They have an excellent museum there.

This museum houses an exquisite collection of palanquins, howdahs, royal cradles, miniatures, musical 

instruments, costumes and furniture. 

The ramparts of the fort are home to not only several excellently preserved old cannon (including the famous 

Kilkila) but also offer a breath-taking view of the city.

After soaking in the magnificence we moved down to Jaswant Thada a memorial to the King and other 

family members of the royal family. This too is very impressive and well maintained.
It was time for lunch so returned to the hotel, had lunch and then drove to the fabulous Umaid Bhavan which

 is divided into 3 parts – 1) Hotel 2) Museum and 3) The residence of the Royal family.

Took a guided tour of the museum replete with history and then checked out the vintage car collection of the

Maharajah. Unfortunately all the vintage cars were behind glass walls and had to photograph holding the 

camera close tothe glass to avoid any refelction resulting in only close ups.
For dinner we wanted to gorge on some typical Rajasthani street food which apparently was available in the

precincts of Ghantaghar (clock tower). There is a bustling market there.

Had Mirchi bada (huge fried stuffed chilly), shahi samosa, Mava Kachori (sweet) and washed it down with 

Makhaniya Lassi. This filled us and was our dinner. 

While roaming around the area we found a unique restaurant (Nirvana cafe) sharing premises with the Teejamata mandir! We dropped in the cafe for a coffee. We were the only customers there! The prices were very reasonable and though we just had coffee we have heard that they serve value for money food too.
Tired and sleepy we headed back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep as we had to move on to Jaisalmer next morning.         

Rajasthan rolling - 4
Rajasthan rolling - 3
Rajasthan rolling - 2
Rajasthan rolling - 1