Lewis Waller explores India’s desert state and finds the life and soul behind the abundance of sand and old forts that Rajasthan is built upon.
Windswept, dry and lonesome: lying on the banks of the Thar Desert is the Indian state of Rajasthan, a country in its own right with historically rooted customs of the noble warrior Rajputs. The land of Rajasthan – literally land of the Raja’s – holds a handful of India’s gems. The Thar Desert is India’s and Pakistan’s two million square mile natural border, home to people, camels, snakes and a nuclear bomb test site, but don’t let any of that put you off. Rajasthan is an idiosyncratic joy of India’s north.
Want to feel like Rodger Moore in 1983? Much of Octopussy was filmed on location in Udaipur, city of lakes. The Arabian style architecture here is only matched in uniqueness by the art that fills its winding narrow streets. The sandstone buildings are tall and skinny, fighting for space and air along the edge of the lakes. Udaipur is sat on the edge of the Thar, in the rough, erratic landscape of the Avaralli Hills. It’s known for two incredible buildings: The Floating Taj Palace and the City Palace, both monumental, unforgettable homes to long-dead, ancient Kings.
Jaisalmer, a night bus ride to the northeast, is one of the final towns before you reach the sands of the Thar, and Pakistan beyond. It’s home to what’s claimed to be the world’s largest fort in terms of footprint. The fort is an almost alien town in itself, enlaced with claustrophobic alleyways that lead to hidden cafes and vantage viewpoints of the desolate desert beyond. Jaisalmer is said to be the best place to experience a camel safari. One to three nights sleeping under the piercing stars on sand dunes, waking to chai and eggs cooked on a morning fire. It doesn’t get much more peaceful than that.
Rajasthan is a land littered with ancient forts perched and carved onto any vantage point ancient rulers deemed fit, and for superlative awe-inspiring magnificence, the town of Bundi beats them all. The long-abandoned Taragarh Fort stands authoritatively over the small town, leaving the locals divided; the humans have the town, but the fort has since been conquered by the monkeys. Taragarh is said to be the inspiration for Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” and is a dilapidated network of buildings, walls, towers and swimming pool-sized wells, carved with symmetrical artistic steps descending into their bowels. Rows of large sticks line the wall at the bottom of the hill. “You must take one,” I’m advised. “To ward off monkey!” Good advice.
Forts aside, Rajasthan is home to food and people that match the beauty of its majestic landscape. The Blue City of Jodphur shines a hypnotic hue of indigo as the sun sets over the exotic rooftops, and the view of Pushkar from its temple-topped mountain is a melancholic patchwork quilt of yellow and brown fields surrounding a lake that was said to have formed from Brahma’s tears. If you want to feel like you’re in an Indiana Jones film, head to Rajasthan.