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Rajasthan

Population:   44 million
Languages:  Rajasthani, Hindi
Capitol:          Jaipur

History

RajasthanThe state of Kings, Rajasthan has the dubious distinction of being one of the territories in India that witnessed a great deal of warfare.  The Rajputs (or sons of kings) are famous for their truculent code of honour and a fierce pride that led to intrigue, family feuds, and territorial warfare throughout the history of this beautiful desert state.  The popular belief was that the Rajputs were the direct descendents of the sun and the moon and are to this day acclaimed as gods in some communities.

The Rajputs waged some of the fiercest battles against Muslim invasion.  Despite this, Mohammed Ghori beat the passionate Rajputs in Ajmer and established the Sultanate in Delhi.  However, the establishment of Islamic rule could never undermine the solidarity of the clans or lead to the take over of Rajasthan.  It was only during Akbar's rule, (the grandson of Babur who upstaged Ghori's descendents) that a peaceful accord was chartered.  The Moghul, realising the futility of warfare with the Rajputs married Rani Jodha Bai the Princess of Ajmer.  This union resulted in a peace and coexistence and created a confluence of Moghul and Rajput art and architecture which is evident in the palaces, mosques, temples and pleasure gardens throughout Rajasthan.

The decline of the Moghul Empire, during Aurangzeb's rule saw the Marathas oust the Rajputs in the emperor's favour.  Thus the strong Rajput-British alliance was born.  Soon the British authorities wielded more power than the Rajput princes did, but the latter were never denied their royal status and amassed great wealth through the trade connections.

The British indulged the Rajputs and soon the rajas were spending their time traveling across Europe with an army of attendants.  Relations with the colonial powers were so good that few Rajputs joined the 1856 Mutiny although the British rule was obviously detrimental to the common man and the economy.

In 1947, the Indian National Congress persuaded the Rajput states to join the Indian union with promises of Privy purses and 1949 saw the 22 states of Rajputana combine to form the state of Rajasthan.  By the early 70s, the privileges to the Rajput kings were abolished making some of them convert their palaces and gardens to museums, luxury hotels, and national parks to cope with the financial crunch.

Rajasthan, despite the vagaries and ravages of time is one of most beautiful states in India.  With its multitude of forts, palaces, colourful folklore, music, culture and festivals it is a tourists delight.  Every region boasts of an old temple, a fort, a repository of historical keepsakes, or a mosque that capture ones imagination.  

Southwest of Delhi, Rajasthan is geographically varied, from fertile plains, to the rocky Aravalli mountains in the southeast to the forbidding and arid Thar desert to the northwest of the state that extends across the border to Pakistan.  Trains and buses connect most of the major cities and tourist attractions of the state while only Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur have airports.  Tourists offices operate in most the cities and big towns, which offer accommodations for a shoestring budget.

The best time to visit Rajasthan is between mid-October to February when the temperature is more moderate, about 30 degrees centigrade.  The climate in this desert region can be extreme, going up to 45 degrees centigrade during the day.  Most of the major fairs and festivals -like the Desert festival, the Pushkar Camel fair, the Chandrabhaga fair, Holi, Dussera, Diwali, Nagaur festival and the fair at Bikaner - also take place during this time.  

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Jaipur

The 'Pink City', framed against the Nahagarh fort lies in the dry bed of a lake amidst an arid landscape.  Jaipur was coined the pink city only after it was painted the Rajasthani colour of hospitality during Prince Albert's visit in 1856.  Jaipur's rigorous symmetry and broad avenues are a welcome surprise to anyone who is familiar with Indian cities.  The high walls of the old city enclose a well-planned layout that was built according to the principles of Shilpa Shastra.  The shops and the streets have prescribed dimensions and only the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) and the Crystal Palace vary from the rest of the city.

Artisans and craftsmen abound in Jaipur and one can buy souvenirs and gifts of beauty and delicate craftsmanship.  The commercial centers of Nehru, Bapu, Tripolia, Chaura and Jowhri bazaars are a shopper's paradise.  An array of brilliantly hued tie-dye textiles, perfumes, Mojaris (camel skin shoes), intricate silver jewelry, precious, and semi precious stones tempt tourists to loosen their purse strings.  The few of the landmarks in the old city, are the spacious gardens surrounding the Govind Deviji temple, the vast Talkotra water tank and the Iswari Minar Swarge Sul (the minaret piercing the heaven).

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