Delhi and Rajasthan

Delhi and Rajasthan

As the pulsating capital, Delhi is an exotic melting pot of delicious food, culture and history. The administrative district of New Delhi and its amazing Lutyen designed buildings is well worth a stroll. Walking from iconic India Gate to the impressive presidential Palace, Rashtrapati Bhavan, is certainly a highlight of every Delhi visit.

The bustling market of Chandni Chowk represents Delhi in a nutshell – mouthwatering street snacks, mind-boggling bridal shopping, iconic Indian gifts, luxurious fabrics and heady spices to name a few. The impressive road on which Chandni Chowk is situated boasts sacred houses of worship of all religions – Sikh temples, churches, mosques, Buddhist temples and more.

Rajasthan is one of India’s most popular tourist destinations, and an overnight stay in Vrindavan and Mathura is highly recommended. Vrindavan by the Yamuna river is an experience of its own, whether it will be a boat ride on the river at sunset, a visit to one of the many Krishna temples, or tasting the wonderful milk and curd products.

Vrindavan is essentially the spiritual heart of India. From here it is on to Jaipur – don’t miss out on Amber Fort, it’s breathtaking!

Jaipur is the shopping capital of Rajasthan, and our favourite city is Jodhpur. The kind people, impressive history, and amazing views across the Brahmin blue houses from the top of the fort makes this a must-see. And last but not least, check out Bundi, a small town tucked away in the southern end of Rajasthan that boasts yet another majestic fort with the world-famous Chitrashala paintings and the annual Bundi Utsav Festival that celebrates the rich and colourful Rajasthani culture and heritage with folk dance, music and live performances.

Delhi - Intro

“Yeh shehar nahi, mehfil hai – It’s not a city, but a gathering…”

Delhi is the melting pot of all that we love and hate about India: the food, the markets, the history, the culture, the noise, the divine, the pomp and the poverty. New Delhi is the capital city of the subcontinent; the National Territory of Delhi, an enormous metropolitan region, is in fact a cluster of cities, a gathering of 22 million people, making it the fourth largest city in the world. For hundreds of years it served as the capital for kingdoms and empires, and many monuments and heritage sites pay tribute to its long history.

Delhi is in fact considered a 5,000 year-old city; its most prominent heritage is Islamic, but the British Empire can be traced in some architectural zones, mainly inspired by Edwin Lutyen (1869-1944). There is an area known as Lutyens’ Delhi, which is located in New Delhi, when Edwin Lutyen was the main architect in the 1920s and 1930s shaping Delhi under the rule of the British Empire. Lutyens laid out the administrative area of the city, at its heart we find Rashtrapati Bhavan, the largest presidential palace in the world, which is connected by the King’s Way with the most iconic landmark in town – India Gate.

Living in colonial India at the turn of the 19th-20th century was considered a prestigious undertaking, however, it was anything but a walk in the park due to the hot climate, diseases, and an adventurous 4-months journey by sea to even get there. Although India was considered the Jewel in the Crown of the Empire, it would not withstand the independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, who, ironically, always cherished his British education and cared for good relations with the Viceroy until the end. The legacy of the British rule in India includes education, railway system, telecommunications, and the ever so popular ball games of which Cricket has become a national obsession.

Delhi - Red Fort

Red Fort, Delhi Gate, India by Birger Hoppe, Flickr

Red Fort, Delhi Gate, India by Birger Hoppe, Flickr

The Red Fort is also known as Lal Qila, and prior to 1857, it was a mini-city with palaces, offices, workshops and halls of audience, where up to 3,000 people lived. The 17th century fort complex, which took 9 years to build, was constructed by Shah Jahan in the walled city of Old Delhi and served as the residence for the Mughal Emperors. In 1857, the last Emperor Bahadur Shah, was dethroned and exiled from here. It covers an area of 254.67 acres, enclosed within 2.4 kilometres of defence walls. The massive walls rise up to 33 metres. Shaped like an octagon, the use of marble, floral decorations, double domes, and other architectural art is exquisite. It is a synthesis of Persian, European, and Indian art, and encapsulates a long history of Indian art and history.

Special places inside: Hamams, Diwan-i-Aam – the carved throne canopy is housed in a 60-pillared hall, gilded pillars all over the fort (lavish use of marble and gold), Rang Mahal – inlaid marble fountain shaped like an open lotus

The Viceroy: RASHTRAPATI BHAVAN

Ceremonial Changing of Rashtrapati ( President ) Guard by  Ranjith shenoy R - Flickr

Ceremonial Changing of Rashtrapati ( President ) Guard by Ranjith Shenoy R – Flickr

The largest Presidential Palace in the World:

Rashtrapati Bhawan was once known as the Governor-General’s House, a magnificent building designed by Edwin Lutyens between 1911-1916.  The Governor-General of India, or Viceroy, was the head of the British Administration from 1858 to 1947 (India’s independence) and remained in office until India had adopted its republican constitution in 1950. Today, it is the residence of the President of India.

The story goes that Lord Irwin constantly got lost in its 340 rooms (and fumed over it too). Everything about the building is big and grand – stairs, ceilings, ornaments and furniture to reinforce the importance of its occupant. Mahatma Gandhi, who highly respected Lord Irwin (see Gandhi-Irwin pact), famously and pragmatically suggested to him it should be turned into a hospital for the poor. Rashtrapati Bhawan is used to describe the President’s Estate as well as the beautiful Mughal Gardens.

The entire complex displays a wondrous mix of architectural styles, ie the most magnificent Durbar Hall under the main dome, which showcases the best of Indian and British architectural elements, and the Mughal Gardens combine Mughal and British landscaping talent. The columns at the front entrance to the Durbar Hall have bells carved into their capitals, following the Lutyens’ reasoning that “the ringing of bells sound the end of an empire and stone bells never sound!” Despite this, the empire came to an end a brief 16 years later. The guard changing ceremony resembles the one at Buckingham Palace, uniforms and horses included.

Gandhi's Memorial

Raj Ghat, Delhi by Humayunn Niaz Ahmed Peerzaada, Flickr

Raj Ghat, Delhi by Humayunn Niaz Ahmed Peerzaada, Flickr

RAJ GHAT – The Mahatma

On 31 January 1948, a fresh pyre had been built at the Raj Ghat of stone, brick and earth, eight feet square and two feet high. Mahatma Gandhi’s body lay on the pyre with his head to the north. Almost a million people had gathered and waited silently in the sun for the funeral procession to reach the cremation grounds, by the holy waters of the Jumna.

When he died, Gandhi was what he had always been – a private citizen without wealth, title, official position, academic distinction, or scientific achievement. Yet the chiefs of ALL governments around the world, except the Soviets, paid homage to the thin man of 78 years.

Raj Ghat is the official memorial site to Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi, the founding Father of India and leader in the struggle for independence against the British Empire. NB: Gandhi was in good relations with Lord Irwin and most of the British Empire. The site marks the spot of his cremation and remains an international place of pilgrimage until today.

Vrindavan

Goverdhan Temple in Vrindavan

Goverdhan Temple in Vrindavan

Half way between Delhi and Agra lies Vrindavan, in the Mathura District, just ten kilometres from Mathura, the actual birthplace of Krishna. Situated along the Yamuna River, Vrindavan (also Brindavan – forest of fragrant basil) is a sacred pilgrimage site for Hindus; hundreds of temples are scattered all over the little town in honour of the deity Krishna.

Daily rituals of worshipping and religious celebrations can be easily observed; especially the evening aarti is a good opportunity to witness the joyful celebration of Lord Krishna and can be observed in almost any temple. The village became an important pilgrim centre in the 16th century, when Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from Bengal (a Vaishnava saint) revived the Krishna cult there. Since that time, widows have been encouraged to settle here in ashrams endowed by wealthy Hindu merchants.

Lord Krishna was born and raised in the nearby Mathura forest; he was born into a traditional cowherd’s family who he loved dearly and entertained with his flute (family and cows), one often finds Krishna depicted as a child with flute and cow (see below). Lord Krishna is regarded as the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and considered the divine embodiment of love and divine joy.

Celebrations of worshippers tend to be especially amazing, joyful, loud and vibrant. The cows of Krishna still have the run of the streets, and stalls outside temples sell elaborate flower garlands and milk sweets called pedas, which were Krishna’s favourites.

Vrindavan is now famous for the sight of ‘the White Widows’, about 20,000 are said to roam about this little town now (total population estimated at 56,000 currently), and their sight reminds us of the consequences of the cast system in India. According to some, if not most, Hindu traditions, upper-caste widows may not remarry after their husband’s death; many are abandoned by their families. Widows are expected to mourn their husband’s death for the rest of their lives and lose any status in society. Vrindavan has become their focal point to try and escape this ‘social death’, as numerous ashrams and NGOs have started to absorb the widows and provide food and shelter, trying to prevent them from begging on the streets or being drawn into prostitution.

Rajasthan

 

Palace of Winds, Rajasthan

Palace of Winds, Rajasthan

Rajasthan is probably the best-known state in India and for some it is the very essence of the country. With its royal palaces and impressive forts, vast deserts and vibrant colours that are known across India, it is a natural place to start exploring India. It is known as The Land of Kings and it is also the largest state in the Republic of India, although the greatest part of is the Thar Desert, which is part of the Great Indian Desert – dry and inhospitable.

The Aravalli Range crosses the state from south-west to north-east and offers remarkably different scenery with green hills and lakes to the dry and yellow stretches of vast open desert land.  With a population of 66.7 million people, the state came into existence following the Independence in 1947 when 19 smaller states where grouped together, which explains much of the diversity of its citizens and different tribes, the main languages are Hindi and Rajasthani; the economy relies on agricultural goods, copper and zinc mines, quarries for sandstone and marble, as well as gems and tourism.

Due to the heritage of kings and emperors, Rajasthan is famous for heritage hotels – palace turned hostels and hotels that cater for the budget as well as the upmarket traveller. Most heritage hotels house little museums with artefacts of the old times, old photographs of the families that inhabited the palaces and mansions, and frequently, the descendants of royal families run these family properties with anything from 10 to 100 rooms.

Jaipur and Surroundings

Amer Fort, Indian Architecture, Jaipur, Palace, Sheesh Mahal (Diwan-i-Khas) by Peter Steward, Flickr

Amer Fort, Indian Architecture, Jaipur, Palace, Sheesh Mahal (Diwan-i-Khas) by Peter Steward, Flickr

Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, rarely disappoints the first-time visitor. Camels wait at traffic lights with auto-rickshaws and fancy cars. The ancient forts provide a stunning backdrop and a testimony to an era of royalty and splendour. The old city is a fascinating place to visit and wander around with its colourful bazaars and artisan’s quarters.

Jaipur is known as the pink city, as in 1876 Maharajah Ram Singh had the entire old city painted to welcome the Prince of Wales. It is a wonderful combination of the old and the new side by side, the medieval alongside the modern, and at the heart of it in the centre the myriad-windowed pink Hawa Mahal, the Palace of Winds.

Jaipur is one of the largest ornament-making centres in India and generations of highly skilled jewellers can be found here that cater for every taste. Jewellery is an integral part of Rajasthani culture, all tribes and locals like to wear different ornaments and enjoy decorating camels, elephants and horses as well.

The oldest jeweller in Jaipur is called ‘The Gem Palace’ and takes the visitor back in time to the rule of the Maharajahs where opulence was the rule of life. Some of the greatest diamonds have been mined in India (especially in Sri Lanka), and Jaipur is famous for its semi-precious stones (coloured gem stones), coloured and cut here to look like the real deal.

Gemstones – There are many shops offering bargain prices, but more likely than not, they ain’t the real deal and it’s a hard bargain! Johaari Bazaar and Chameliwala Market are also destinations to check for gemstones, and due to the many gem scams that have been reported in the last years, a gemstone-testing lab has been set up to get their gems checked and authenticated.

Jodhpur and Surroundings

Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur by Rainer Voegeli

Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur by Rainer Voegeli

The district of Jodhpur was known as the ancient kingdom of Marwar, the largest kingdom in Rajputana and the third largest of the Indian kingdoms, after Kashmir and Hyderabad. The city of Jodhpur stands at the edge of the Thar desert and is the largest city in Rajasthan after Jaipur. It’s dominated by a massive fort built in 1459, which sits on a rocky ridge rising in the middle of town. Jodhpur is commonly known as the blue city, as all houses in the old city below the fort are painted blue, to distinguish them as those of Brahmins (=priests).

The Meherangarh Fort is still run by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, who owns this majestic fort sprawled across the 125m high hill. It is said to be the most impressive fort in fort-studded Rajasthan. A winding road leads to the entrance from the city and offers stunning views of the city below. The fort has seven gates, a number of courtyards and palaces, which offer the most fascinating collections of artefacts in Rajasthan.

The city of Jodhpur boasts no less than three colourful bazaars, the Kapra, Mochi and Sardar bazaar, which are particularly well known for great clothes shopping. The Rajasthan people show a distinct preference for bright costumes, and wear beautiful ornaments. The preferred colours are bright red, dazzling yellow, lively green, and bright orange, highlighted by a lavish use of sparkling gold and silver zari. The turbans reflect a person’s caste and region in the way it is tied, coloured and styled.

Jodhpurs are tight-fitting trousers that reach to the ankle, where they end in a snug cuff and usually worn for horse-riding, however, the traditional Jodhpuri suits are worn to special occasions such as weddings and formal gatherings. Jodhpurs originate from an Indian trouser called the Churidar, and are especially popular in Northern India. A son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Sir Pratab Singh, made the pants popular in England at the end of the 19th century when he came to play polo. Over the years, a particular style of Jodhpur pants for women developed as well.

Bundi

Getting Ready for the Bundi Festival

Getting Ready for the Bundi Festival

Bundi in the Hadoti region is a real slice of Indian past, off the beaten tourist track. Located only 39 km north-west of Kota in the south-east of Rajasthan, it’s a picturesque and captivating little town, and part of its appeal lies in the few tourists finding their way here. Set in a narrow encircling gorge, it has remained relatively isolated and independent, and the Chambal River even offers opportunities for water adventures.

Bundi’s palace alone justifies a visit, a splendid piece of Rajput architecture. Rudyard Kipling, born in Bombay of British India in 1865, who became one of the world’s most praised short story writers and children’s book author (ie The Jungle Book), found inspiration for his novel Kim here after staying in the Sukh Mahal for a few days in the late 19th century. He is quoted to have said ‘The Taragarh Fort must have been built by angels not by human beings’. Bundi is further known for its world-famous and sacred Chitrashala paintings.

The town fully comes to life during the 3-day Bundi Utsav festival, held this year from 20-22 November, a cultural festival complete with traditional music, folk dance, kabaddi, horse riding and camel races, fireworks and a moustache as well as a turban-tying competition that bring the streets alive and draws locals from surrounding villages.

The Tourism Board estimated that 90% of the region attends the festivities, plus the odd 1000 tourists that find their way here who are generously invited to participate in moustache and turban tying competitions.  On the second evening of the festival, the palace is lit with millions of lights for a small festival of light and in the early mornings, women float lighted diyas (lamps prepared by flour dough) into the river and pray and chant, with the temple and hills providing a stunning backdrop.

Top Sites

Taj Mahal, Agra, India by Sandeep Achetan

Taj Mahal, Agra, India by Sandeep Achetan

1. Mehrangarh Fort (Jodhpur)

Rajasthan is not by chance an absolute favourite for tourists, and Jodhpur an increasingly popular stop on the journey, slowly overtaking Jaipur and Jaisalmer. The famously blue city, the city of Brahmins (priests), is nestled at the foot of one of the most majestic forts in the state. Mehrangarh Fort sits on a 400 feet high hill and has impressive thick walls that have never been conquered by a hostile army. The Fort has one of the most incredible museums in the country and it is well worth spending an entire day inside the walls that offer protection from the fierce Indian sun. Sunrise and sunset hours are a great for photography lovers to catch wide panorama shots of the blue city and more palaces in the background.

2. Amber Fort (Jaipur)

Situated about 11 km from Jaipur in the small town of Amer, this fort ranks as another favourite. Built by Raja Man Singh, one can climb up to the fort on foot or take an early morning elephant line (the earlier you arrive, the better). The fort is situated in between rolling green hills and when walking just down the pathway to the adjacent fort, you will find yourself all alone and daydreaming back to the days of emperors and kings. The three greatest places inside the fort are probably Diwaan e-Khaas, Sukh Niwaas, Sheesh Mahal, the latter having come to fame through a famous Bollywood Classic. For those less interested in history, hanging back on one of the terraces and watching the Indian tourist crowds in their beautiful saris is just as rewarding.

3. Rashtrapati Bhavan (Delhi)

Rashtrapati Bhavan is the presidential palace in New Delhi and in fact the largest presidential palace in the world. Open for visitors on Fridays and weekends, this incredible building was designed by Edwin Lutyens in the beginning of the 20th century when the British Empire was still strongly holding on to their most exotic colony. Located on the other end of the Rajpath (the “King’s Way”), this is a great destination when walking from famous India Gate down the green long alley of Rajpath and admiring the architectural site of New Delhi along the way. With more than 340 rooms, it is so majestic that the British Viceroy (head of colony and representative of the monarchy) repeatedly got lost in the many wings and halls.

4. Jantar Mantar (Delhi and Jaipur)

What looks like a playground for giants at first site is in fact a UNESCO world heritage site. Sawai Jai Singh, the first Maharaja of Jaipur, had a lifelong interest in astronomy and mathematics and built observatories in Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, Mathura and Benares. Only the Jantar Mantar (literal translation ‘instrument for calculation’) in Jaipur is still being used to predict weather and/or intensity and duration of the monsoon season. The giant astronomical instruments can be observed in Jaipur (yellow) and Delhi (red) and are a highlight for anyone interested in history and astronomy, given that India is renowned for its astrological wealth.

5. Chandni Chowk (Delhi)

This busiest and most popular of all Delhi markets is India in a nutshell – crowded, noisy, dirty, with delicious food, glittery fashion, and a sheer endless number of houses of worships of any and all religions lined up on its central street. Chandni Chowk translates into ‘moonlit square’ and was built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century. From here it is a short rickshaw ride to the famous Red Fort. To explore the market properly one needs to spend at least 1-2 days in the midst of the hustle bustle; for those eager to try the different foods caution is advised to check use of bottled water in restaurants and not to indulge into too spicy food, as the Delhi belly is as infamous as it is a real holiday killer. Beware also of pickpocketing that is rampant in the crowded market streets.

6. Vrindavan – Yamuna boat ride
Vrindavan is one of the most incredible places in India, equally mesmerising and spiritually important as Varanasi. Situated on the Yamuna river, this small town lives, breathes and celebrates Krishna and all that is connected to this highest of high gods of the Hindu pantheon. Strolling through the small streets and visiting temples is only surpassed by a boat ride on the rather dirty Yamuna river that offers spectacular views of temples and worshippers on the one side and open land on the opposite side. These boat rides offer a rare tranquil moment in the usually pulsating little town that is never quiet.

7. Goverdhan – pilgrim’s walk
Goverhdan is about 20 kilometers from Vrindavan and an important pilgrim site. All year long pilgrims from across the country come to complete the 21 km long Parikrama of Goverdhan Hill, and finishes with a traditional milk offering in one of the temples. Men, women and children walk this pilgrimage, chant and pray, others devote their energy to complete the pilgrimage through complex rituals of working the prayer beads and moving forward one body length at a time, an exercise that can easily take years. Goverdhan is true Indian spirit and can be experienced best on foot.

8. Rajasthani painting class at Umaid Heritage Art School (Jodhpur)
Jodhpur’s Clock Tower Market is a wonderful experience in itself, but hidden away in the back alleys is a cultural gem. The Umaid Heritage Art School, founded and run by Vijay Prajapat, is situated in a small shop and offers amazing art lessons in traditional local painting, and lessons in miniature paintings. Ever decorated a lentil with a sophisticated painting? Vijay will teach you how in less than an hour. An excellent opportunity to actively engage in the rich Rajasthani culture.

9. Sulabh Toilet Museum (Delhi)
Tucked away in the west of Delhi, north of Indira Ghandi airport, is a museum of its own kind – the Sulabh International Toilet Museum. Best to get to with a personal driver or taxi, but absolutely not to be missed – in fact this museum was built by a social service organisation inspired by Ghandi’s principles and it does excellent work in educating the public about sanitation, history of sanitation, environment friendly toilets and more. The incredibly friendly staff takes visitors on personal tours and offers more than just one funny story along the way.

10. Laughter Yoga class (Delhi)
Laughter yoga has become India’ hottest yoga trend and enjoys increasing popularity. A combination of Hatha yoga with laughter exercises, this early morning workout in the parks of Delhi is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy pure yoga spirit and encounter friendly Delhiites that have healed various diseases and physical ailments with the help of good breathing and laughter.

11. PIGEON HANDLERS – the winged legacy of Old Delhi and the Mughals

British historian William Dalrymple was the first to write about the art of pigeon combat, Kabootarbazi, on the old, dilapidated rooftops of Old Delhi in his book City of Djinns. Traditional pigeon fanciers still make hundreds of pigeons fly above the rooftops of Old Delhi in the evenings; the art of pigeon racing is considered a royal legacy. Hundreds of men gather upon rooftops to send their birds flying. While there are thousands of pigeon handlers in Old Delhi, there are only a few Khalifas and Ustads, men who trained under earlier masters and consider pigeon handling a serious craft. Pigeon handling has been an Indian tradition since the 1500s, when they were used for communication purposes between the different kingdoms…flying hundreds of kilometres to pass on messages.

12. KATHPUTLI COLONY – Rajasthani Street Artists in Delhi

Tucked away between the New Delhi metro line and adjacent to a highway flyover, the entrance to Kathputli Colony is as inconspicuous as it gets. Behind it lies a hidden world of traditional Indian street art, home to magicians, sword swallowers, dancers, jugglers, and puppeteers, traditional performance art passed down through the generations. There isn’t a single child in Kathpuli that cannot play a drum. Most of the families are originally from Rajasthan and they have brought the array of colours with them – blue, red, yellow, pink – brightening up the smog brown template of Delhi. Everyone performs and they perform all the time, children re-enact Bollywood numbers without any prompting. There is never a dull moment in Kathputli.

13. TAJ MAHAL

The Taj Mahal has been described as ‘the teardrop on the face of eternity’; it is undoubtedly one of the most splendid monuments on earth, the zenith of Mughal architecture. Overlooking the Yamuna River, the Taj Mahal stands at the northern end of a vast walled garden. Its architectural layout is the Islamic theme of ‘paradise’; it is above all a monument to romantic love. Shah Jahan built it to enshrine the body of his favourite wife Arjumand Bann Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal.

Top Festivals

Diwali by Amanda Richards, Flickr

Diwali by Amanda Richards, Flickr

1. Diwali – Festival of Light

Diwali, deepavali = row of lamps, better known as the Festival of Light, is a 5-day festival that is celebrated across India and in some other countries and some islands. It is a holiday observed by Hindus and Jains, a family focused holiday where family clans come together to celebrate traditional family activities. It is customary to light small clay lamps with oil to symbolise the triumph of good over evil and make Rangoli decorations (mandalas made of coloured powder) and to remember the ‘light within’. The lights are usually kept on during the night or sent floating on rivers, families gather for big feasts, wear new clothes and share sweets. The festival marks the end of the harvest season in India; farmers give thanks for the bounty of the season and pray for a good season in the year to come. The goddess worshipped on Diwali is Lakshmi, who symbolises wealth and prosperity.

2. Pushkar Camel Festival (Pushkar)

Pushkar Camel Festival is probably Rajasthan’s most famous festival held each November at the Kartik Purnima full moon. Originally set up to attract local camel traders, farmers and cattle traders, it has become a major point of attraction for Indians and foreigners alike. One can witness a spectacle with thousands of camels, colours, local food and entertainment as well as proper old style bargaining in camel trades. Some tourists even feel inspired to buy a camel of their own and go down the roads less travelled in the desert sands of Rajasthan. The festival is held in the small town of Pushkar near Ajmer and planning the trip and accommodation well in advance is advised.

3. Bundi Utsav Festival (Bundi)

Bundi in the Hadoti region is a real slice of Indian past, off the beaten tourist track. Bundi fully comes to life during the 3-day Bundi Utsav festival, held in November or December, a cultural festival complete with traditional music, folk dance, kabaddi, horse riding and camel races, fireworks and a moustache as well as a turban-tying competition that bring the streets alive and draws locals from surrounding villages. The Tourism Board estimates that 90% of the region attends the festivities, plus the odd 1000 tourists that find their way here who are generously invited to participate in moustache and turban tying competitions.  On the second evening of the festival, the palace is lit with millions of lights for a small festival of light and in the early mornings, women float lighted diyas (lamps prepared by flour dough) into the river and pray and chant, with the temple and hills providing a stunning backdrop.

4. Holi (Spring Festival)

Holi is also known as the festival of colours or festival of love and is celebrated each spring. Although it originates in northern India, it has become customary to celebrate Holi all across the country. The holiday is associated with Krishna, one of the most revered gods in the Hindu pantheon, and the epicentre of the celebrations is Vrindavan, a small town three hours south of Delhi. The celebrations begin with bonfires to cast out demons and then continue with music, dance, chanting and praying and a wild throwing of coloured powders on anything that moves in memory of Krishna’s mother painting her son’s face with colours. The array of colours is absolutely breath taking, and streets are filled with people, young and old, until dawn.

5. Elephant Festival (Jaipur)

The history and culture of Jaipur in Rajasthan is closely connected to elephants and thus unsurprisingly, the city celebrates annually to worship these majestic elephants as well as their deity, Lord Ganesha. Ganesha is the master of all ceremonies and happy beginnings and is called upon at the beginning of any celebration in India. The festival sees hundreds of elephants being decorated and paraded in the streets of Jaipur, offerings are made and the interwoven history of the elephants is told in song and dance. The festival is held each year just a day before Holi and is thus a good opportunity for visitors to catch two amazing celebrations in one go.

6. Teej Festival (Jaipur)
The Teej Festival commemorates the reunion of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva is especially significant for married or engaged women. It is celebrated across the country with more events being held in northern India and especially Jaipur. There is lots of singing, dancing and feasting and women dress up in their finest clothes and jewellery to worship Parvati. The festival also marks the beginning of the monsoon season and is usually held in July/August.

7. Marwar Festival (Jodhpur)
The Marwar Festival is a central celebration for the traditional Rajasthani culture in the Marwar region, formerly known as Maand. It is a 2-3 day festival that incorporates lots of music and dance and tells the old stories of Rajasthani history and culture, a state as diverse as all of Europe with a significant number of different tribes, languages and traditions.

8. Brij Festival
The Brij Festival is another festival celebrated prior to Holi (Spring Festival) and its focus point is the village Brij in Bharatpur district in Rajasthan. It is dedicated to Krishna who is said to have spent considerable time there in his early years. It is tradition to paint houses in different colours and splash coloured powders around, but the highlight is villagers performing a dance called Raslila, which is said to display Krishna and Radha’s affection for each other.

9. Independence Day (15 August)
India’s Independence Day commemorates the end of British rule on 15 August 1947 after many years of non-violent resistance against the Empire. India’s Independence marked also the division of territory into India and Pakistan. Today this national holiday is celebrated nation-wide with parades, flag-hoisting ceremonies and political speeches. The best place to be is around Red Fort in Delhi, where Jawaharlal Nehru had raised the first Indian flag in 1947 and where every prime minister has raised a flag and delivered a speech since.

10. Republic Day (26 January)
This national holiday celebrates the day the Constitution was established in India on 26 January 1950. As one of the three national holidays, it is celebrated across the country with the main festivities held at Rajpath in New Delhi, between India Gate and the Presidential Palace. It honours the non-violent resistance against the British Empire led by Mahatma Ghandi. Thousands of Indians flock to see parades, fireworks and speeches, and gather for picnics with their families in the parks.

 

Local Crafts

Delhi and Rajasthan are fabulous destinations to go shopping. Although Delhi offers almost all of the international brands and outlets, its markets are prime destinations for bridal shopping, spices, and local Indian fashion. In Rajasthan, one can find excellent local crafts such as pottery, traditional paintings, jewellery and locally produced fabrics.

The crew’s favourites for great shopping and great stories:

 Baba Art Emporium

All kind of old & new textiles (i.e. sheets, blankets, scarfs)

224 Sardar Market, Clock Tower Market, Jodhpur

Tea & Spices

Shop No 206, Vegetable Market, Clock Tower Market, Jodhpur

www.mg.spices.com

 Umaid Heritage Art School

Free Traditional Painting Lessons & Paintings Sale

153 Sumer Market, near Clock Tower, Jodhpur

www.umaidheritageartschool.com

 

Globe Trekker's Route

Palaces, desert forts, amazing food and warm hospitality – Globe Trekker is back in incredible India! This time the GT crew explored the very heart of India – Delhi and Rajasthan – on an exciting 1,200 km route from the vibrant capital of Delhi to the rural corners of beautiful Rajasthan.

After a few days of exploring Delhi’s melting pot of culture, history and food, Holly and the GT crew moved on to the state of kings via Vrindavan, a small and beautiful place on the Yamuna river, only kilometres away from the border to Rajasthan.

From there it was on to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan and pink city that excites with majestic forts in the hills and elephants marching side by side in traffic with camels, rickshaws and fancy cars. From here, the famously blue city of Jodhpur can be reached by car or train and it won’t disappoint – the more relaxed atmosphere combined with local traditional dress and craftsmanship is balm onto the traveller’s soul after the hustle bustle of Jaipur and Delhi.

Bundi with the annual colourful Bundi Utsav Festival rounded off an amazing trip that culminated in a feast of local Rajasthani cuisine and fireworks for the gods!

Recommended Hotels by the Globe Trekker Crew

Ranbanka Palace – A Heritage Hotel in Jodhpur

ranbanka hotelsRanbanka Palace is one of the many beautiful heritage hotels scattered throughout Rajasthan that offer beautiful accommodation honouring the traditionally very luxurious style of the Maharajas and old Emperors. Ranbanka Palace offers particularly beautiful rooms, tastefully decorated, and a beautiful lush garden where meals are served throughout the day and night. It offers venues for all functions as well as a gorgeous spa, where guests can indulge in some pampering after a long day of exploring the blue city of Jodhpur.

Hotel Mandawa Haveli 

mandawa-haveli-hotel-courtyardThe Hotel Mandawa Haveli is one of four hotels of the Mandawa Hotels group. Centrally located in Jaipur on Sansar Chandra Road, this marvellous old mansion with its beautiful green courtyard and terraces offers a charming serenity in midst of the hustle bustle of Rajasthan’s largest city.

The 70 rooms are all individually decorated in traditional style with large royal portraits adorning the different rooms. The haveli turned hotel is owned and managed by the grandson of the royal family and the family ensures diligently that staff will provide their guests with excellent customer service, a warm atmosphere and a good traditional Indian food.

Ratan Vilas

Ratan VillasIt must have been the exceptional service and warm atmosphere at Ratan Vilas that made this heritage hotel a favourite of the Globe Trekker crew whilst filming in Jodhpur. The mansion, built in 1920 by Maharaja Ratan Singhji of Raoti, offers a number of lovely rooms, a magnificent swimming pool and beautiful decorations that offer a glimpse into a bygone era. The mansion-turned-hotel is still owned and run by the Maharaja family; rooms fill fast and so booking in advance is advised especially during the peak season.

Where to Stay

Ratan Vilas Jodhpur

Budget: £30-£50 depending on season and room category

Web: http://www.ratanvilas.com/

Ranbanka Palace – A Heritage Hotel in Jodhpur

Budget: £50-£150 depending on season and room category

Web: http://www.ranbankahotels.com/

Hotel Mandawa Haveli Jaipur

Budget: £30-£100 depending on season and room category

Web: http://www.mandawahotels.com/

Maharajas’ Express – the World’s Leading Luxury Train

Budget: £4000 and up for 8 days and 7 nights on board the luxury train

Web: http://www.maharajas-express-india.com

 

Useful Website

Useful Books

  • Lonely Planet Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra
  • The Rough Guide to Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra
  • Lonely Planet India
  • Wanderlust and Lipstick
  • City of Djinns (William Dalrymple)

A Huge Thanks to the Following Companies

  1. Incredible !ndia (Ministry of Tourism)

www.incredibleindia.org

  1. Rajasthan Tourism

www.rajasthantourism.gov.in

  1. Rajasthan Tourism Board – Bundi Utsav Festival

http://www.rajasthantourism.gov.in/Attractions/Fairs-Festivals/BundiFestival.aspx

  1. Maharajas’ Express – World’s Leading Luxury Train

www.maharajas-express-india.com

  1. Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Fort Jodhpur

H.H. Maharaja Gajsingh II of Jodhpur

www.mehrangarh.org 

  1. Sulabh International Social Service Organisation

www.sulabhinternational.org

  1. Hotel Mandawa Haveli

Thakur Randhir Vikram Singh Mandawa

www.mandawahotels.com

  1. Best Western Sky City Hotel Gurgaon

Best Western India

www.bestwesternindia.com

  1. Ranbanka Palace – A Heritage Hotel in Jodhpur

www.ranbankahotels.com

  1. Hotel Ratan Vilas Jodhpur

www.ratanvilas.com

by Zaynin Kanji

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