Dr. Tanvir A. Khan
with Mr. Mohammad Siraj Uddin
THERE is never a wrong time to take the right decision” so goes the adage. You should always live to make a difference. With these in mind, six of us went on a whirl-wind trip to Rajasthan from March 20 to 29, 2008.
Flight 9W 271 of Jet Airways flew us in to Delhi on the 20th. The hotel at Karol Marg gave us the opportunity to freshen up and subsequently board the nine-seater Traveller on the first leg of the trip to Jaipur. Prime Minister Vajpai's 'feel good' policy of developing the infrastructure charmed us. Nearly 300 kms of excellent roads took us to this colorful city in nearly six hours with two stops at the 'dhabas' (road-side restaurant). Food was excellent with steaming hot 'nans' and 'rumali rotis' with local veg and non-veg curries. Tourists have to stop at least twice to exercise to keep their blood circulating.
The previous trip that the same members of the Walkers Club of Gulshan Park took to China spoilt them. They had the luxury to stay in four and five star hotels at Beijing and Kunming since the seven day tour was organized by a young gentleman who knew the art of negotiation. The aspiration of the members during this trip was to receive the same bonuses. But having reached Jaipur, all these myths were dispelled beyond doubt. Jaipur hotels have their own assessment of 'stars'. Right away the colours everywhere would overwhelm you as it did to this group of tourists. Mr. Sirajuddin, the eldest member of the group stated that the people of this Indian state wanted to challenge nature by planting colorful flowers, such as bougainvillea on the dividers of the road all the way from Delhi to Jaipur.
Rajasthan or a bigger part of it is basically a desert. The area is bigger than the land mass of Bangladesh. The route taken was Delhi-Jaipur via Ajmer, Chittargarh, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Mt. Abu Jaissalmer, Bikaner and back to Delhi. Jaissalmer is very close to the Pakistani border and in close proximity to Sukkur. While taking a walk in the morning, as is customary for the members of the Walkers Club, Air Force planes were hovering above. The members observed windmills and solar panels and were happy that this technology has started being used at a time when the oil price has reached $110 per barrel.
Paradoxes and contradictions run side by side. There are lakes and rivers and mountain ranges and fields to till. There are royalty and rich merchant class. At the same time there are rural folks who like the Bangladeshi scenario till the land for survival. The life of indulgence of the gentry is anathema to this lot. But the whole population is tolerant to each other and adaptable. They know and understand beauty and color and they have internalized these attributes in their dress, jewellery and all other conceivable objects, not to talk about objects of daily use. What a fascinating kaleidoscope!
At Udaipur, the hotel was overlooking the lake. The Raja had three palaces-summer, winter and monsoon. The last one is on top of a hill four thousand meters above sea level. It is only 10 kms from the city and takes nearly an hour to reach the top by car. It used to take nearly three days for the Raja and his entourage of 250 people to reach the destination on horse back and elephants. Along the way they would have tents for night halt and one can visualize the fun that these people had.
Basically, the Rajas were tax collectors and the exploitation mingled in the process earned the wrath of the poor people. They must have prayed heart and soul for an end. Presently all these estates have become government property. The toll collected currently from the tourists is used for preserving the sanctuaries. A few of the properties are still retained by the Rajas and the revenue collected is mostly from rich tourists who either make a tour of the inside or stay in these palaces which have been turned into hotels. Like seeing the insides of Buckingham Palace was not open to the tourists in even the nineties but a part of it has been opened currently for tourism. What better way to collect money!
The history of this region is particularly interesting as is observed from discussion with the guide and other learned people the tourists met. The people of Mewar migrated towards Gujarat from Kashmir and they claimed lineage from the sun god. The child Guha was born in a cave, and thus named, was the son of king Siladitya who was murdered. The grieving widow handed her son to a trusted maid and committed sati. The son grew up among the Bhil Tribals.
His descendants were known as the Guhilots. They came to be known as Sisodias and in 734 AD, Kalbhoj popularly known as Bappa Rawal became the first great Sisodia king. The prestigious Chittogarh fort was established by him. For the next eight centuries this remained as the Sisodia capital.
The Pichola Lake enhances the ambiance of Udaipur. This charming lake was a culmination of a small dam built by a Banjara merchant in the early 15th century to carry his grains during the rain. Maharana Udai Singh II enlarged and beautified this lake named after the Picholi village.
Lake Palace or Jag Niwas floats on the lake like a shimmering creation. Prince Jagat Singh II built this summer retreat in 1746 in a fit of anger when his father denied him to entertain his friends in Jag Mandir (the other pleasure palace). Jag Mandir was built by Rana Karan Singh and completed by Maharana Jagat Singh in the 17th century.
Rooftops can be such a pleasant place to sit and chat in the evening that the cities of Udaipur and Jaipur bear testimony to this relaxed environment. The motifs on the wall and the ceiling and the floor bear the litmus test of balance and proportion.
If anybody wants to take the road from Bikaner to Delhi, they should be a bit cautious since it takes nearly twelve hours with five or six stops at the dhabas. The roads are not as great as in Delhi-Jaipur strip. They might want to take the Heritage train which is air-conditioned which leaves at five in the evening and would drop one at Delhi early next morning.
There are so many things to buy. The handicraft shops are state-owned and the prices are fixed, but one gets the value for money.
In short this was the trip.
(Dr. Khan is an Economist and is currently the Registrar
of Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) and
Mr. Siraj Uddin is a Historian and former Member
of the Bangladesh Planning Commission)