HOLLY MORRIS travels across the cradle of Indian history, Delhi and Rajasthan; an epic journey sweeping across the Indus valley from Delhi, to the holy town of Vrindavan, into the royal cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur, celebrating in Bundi for a classic Globe Trekker festival.
This is a backpacker’s dream destination and one which takes one back to the time of the great Mughal Emperors and Maharajas, their grand palaces, haveli mansions and magnificent forts, all wrapped up in the vibrant, regal colours of the Rajasthani people.
We begin in India’s great metropolis, Delhi. Polluted and riven with the caste divides of the Hindu religion, Delhi is also a city humming with ardent co-existence. Sikhs feed the migrant workers, the overcrowded, honking traffic find order in the chaos and a profound faith in destiny soothes the soul.
After this brief but unforgettable introduction, Holly goes on a whirlwind tour of the frenzied Chandni Chowk market where she feasts on a world-famous paratha and explores its hidden Arab quarter. Here, on a lone rooftop , she enjoins the pigeon masters, the ‘khalifas’ flying their prized birds over Old Delhi’s souks and bazaars a tradition that harks back to the Mughal rulers who communicated with their nobles in this way.
Holly admires the Mughal’s Red Fort and jumps on a bus to holy Vrindavan, the birthplace of the 8th incarnation of the God Vishnu. She takes a boat along the Yamuna river and makes a pilgrimage to Goverdhan hill where she joins the throng of worshippers in anointing its holy temple with milk.
Immersing herself ever more enthusiastically in the world of little Lord Krishna, Holly adopts a cow during a boisterous worshipping ceremony, which is full of pomp, ceremony, and doting Brahmins singing joyous bhajans. Ever curious, Holly observes the white widows of Vrindavan, who crowd the spiritual hermitage that is the ashram.
Holly bids farewell to this pilgrim’s town and hitches a bus ride on a highway setting off westerly into the Land of Kings – Rajasthan! Her first port of call is Jaipur, the ‘pink’ city which was given its wash of terracotta colour by the visiting Prince Regent, George IV, in the 19th century.
Holly checks into a Duke’s mansion –a haveli – which has been transformed into one of India’ s esteemed heritage hotels. She meets the Thakur of Mandawa, the right honourable Randhir Vikram Singh, and learns that life has not much changed for the Rajput royalty in the 21st century, for they still entertain guests and they still enjoy the luxuries that paying guests offer!
Jaipur’s other gem is, well, its gems, for this royal city is a world centre for cutting and polishing precious and semi-precious stones. Holly keenly sets out to haggle a dazzling gemstone in Jaipur’s bustling side streets but first, she feels compelled to visit Pundit, local astrologer to the “stars” (i.e. Bollywood), for a recommendation that will suit her character and her destiny.
Armed with Pundit’s commendation, she then proceeds to haggle a gang of hawkers for a budget amethyst before hopping aboard the Maharaja Express – a luxury passenger train designed for the comfort-seeking tourist who wants to experience this land of kings in the shoes of a King or a Queen.
Holly’s next destination is Jodhpur. She explores the Nai Sardar market, buys a bag of saffron -infused tea and tries on a pair of Jodhpur pants – those baggy breeches made for the sporting polo player. She visits a turban shop where she learns how the Rajasthani gent chooses the colour of his headwear according to his caste.
But it’s Mehrangarh fort that draws her eye and a motorbike ride sends her to Rao Jodha’s castle – a towering battlement on a rocky sandstone outcrop where all the Maharajas of this former kingdom of Marwar were crowned.
Guide and Fort Director, Karni Jasol, shows off the petite throne carved out for the incumbent Maharaja who was only 4 years old when he was anointed. But more striking are the vermilion handprints on the gate walls belonging to the procession of Queens who committed “sati” – a sort of marital suicide – upon the death of their husband, by throwing themselves on his funeral pyre, presumably in the hope of a celestial union.
Holly ends her journey in Bundi, immortalised by the writer Rudyard Kipling. He stayed in its Sukh Mahal Palace where legend has it, he composed his famous novel “Kim”.
Although Holly has come to beautiful Bundi to partake in the Utsav festival which takes place every winter. It’s an exuberant festival of celebration involving a knotty turban-tying contest and a water urn carrying race, in which Holly fails spectacularly!
She concludes her journey through North West India by the Chambal River, offering a candle to Yamuna the river goddess or any other deity out there that she can thank, for her wonderful, Asian adventure.
With thanks to the Following Companies:
Incredible !ndia (Ministry of Tourism)
Rajasthan Tourism Board – Bundi Utsav Festival
Maharajas’ Express – The World’s Leading Luxury Train
Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Fort Jodhpur
H.H. Maharaja Gajsingh II of Jodhpur
Sulabh International Social Service Organisation
Hotel Mandawa Haveli
Thakur Randhir Vikram Singh Mandawa
BEST WESTERN India
Ranbanka Palace – A Heritage Hotel in Jodhpur
Hotel Ratan Vilas Jodhpur
Places Mentioned - IndiaShare the series
Delhi and Rajasthan
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