I rode up to the gate of our hotel, framed by fire torches and leading up a circle drive. As we pulled up to the grand front entrance to the hotel on one side and jumping fountains on the other, I had only one thought. Clearly, we paid too much for our tour. (Don’t worry, we didn’t actually.) But I have certainly received royal treatment as a guest in Rajasthan, one of three “maharanis”. Maharani is Hindi for queen (technically the “first” or “greatest” queen, as the king/maharaja had many wives–the rest of whom are simply “ranis”–said like “ma-ha-ronny” and “ronnies”).
And that has been the theme of the last week or so. I just can’t believe where I am and everything I have seen. Since leaving Bhubaneswar, I have seen parts of New Delhi, temples, palaces, forts, crematoriums of royal families, peacocks, camels, shepherds, goats, desert, beautiful art, and noticed the tribal, Indian, and colonial influences. I have stayed in these palaces. The rooms have bathrooms that are the size of my friend’s entire apartment in Brooklyn. I have also gotten henna and NOT gotten over my disgust of rats. I apparently look like a Bollywood star and one of our English-speaking guide’s brothers is happy that I am not yet married. I have been told that my disgust of rats means I don’t want a husband, but I found the “lucky” white rat anyway (a symbol of luck and finding a husband)…shown to me by a guy who asked for my email address and Skype name, so maybe I will get married after all.
Before leaving Delhi for our tour of Rajasthan (“Place of Kings”), we met an international politics professor in Brazil who is currently on the World Peace Council. I am officially better connected in India and around the world than I am in the U.S.
Mandawa was the first stop where I spent the night in a palace, toured beautifully painted havelis, ate at a family restaurant (where I literally walked through the family’s home to reach the rooftop dining area), and had henna painted on my hands. This town is so beautiful it’s known as the open-air art gallery of Rajasthan. The paintings consisted of camels, elephants, peacocks, Hindu deities, and even the Wright Brothers! Our guide took us to a friend’s house to get Henna. We saw 2 live beautiful peacocks on the rooftops and enjoyed some spiced chai–one of my India favorites!
The next stop was Bikaner–home of more beautiful havelis and, of course, spicy snack mixes (I kid you not). The royal families in each city have memorials which sort of look like several mini temples. The Bikaneri royal family had many old ones, but also one constructed as late as 2003. Each city still has a royal family, including a maharaja or king. Most present day maharajas now direct trusts, run museums or hotels, or work with NGOs. We had a great audio-guide tour of the Junagarh Fort (best fort in the state of Rajasthan) and stayed once again in a beautiful palace converted to a hotel. We also took lunch at what we’ve nicknamed the “clay restaurant”, as the walls were all a reddish terra cotta with beautiful paintings of peacocks and bright colored hanging lanterns. I tried paneer, a delicious cheese that is mistranslated to “cottage cheese”, but is more like a white medium texture cubed cheese.
I then went to the Rat Temple. Yuck. I hate rodents. Don’t mistake my disgust for fear, but I went. Barefoot, as required for any temple. The place was COVERED with black rats. There is one White Rat which when spotted brings luck and a good husband. A handsome young Indian pointed him out to me and then later asked for my email address/skype name. Win. Next we went to a camel breeding farm and research center. They had a camel dairy cafe, serving camel milk, ice cream, and more. I am adventurous, but not unpasteurized milk adventurous.