Category Archives: Rajasthan

Udaipur Travel Guide: Things to do

It isn’t for nothing that Udaipur is probably my favourite city in India. Replete with dreamy lakes, palaces and gardens, this picture-perfect Rajasthani town beckons lovers, poets and families in equal numbers. Easily accessed from Udaipur Airport and Railway Station, a holiday here begins and ends with the impossibly beautiful Lake Pichola. Ideal for a trip of three to five days, greenery-rich Udaipur is most pleasant and cool in October-November, which is when you can also participate in the Haldighati Heritage Run, being held just 40 kms away. Use this list, based upon my own travels in Udaipur, to plan your holiday to the land of puppeteers and churma and look out for accommodation options at the end.

Mesmerising Lakes

1. Stay on the banks of Lake Pichola

Lake Pichola

All the best hotels in Udaipur are situated around Lake Pichola, which is the centre of the city. Wake up to the serenity of the lake and watch the spectacular sunset over its shimmering, palace-studded water.

2. Visit Swaroop Sagar just before sunset

Surup Sagar, Udaipur

On your way to Fateh Sagar Lake, you will pass Swaroop Sagar, a beautiful little spot where you can have a breather and enjoy the view of the dazzling lake, second only to Lake Pichola.

3. Take the last boat ride at Fateh Sagar Lake

Fateh Sagar Lake, Udaipur

Udaipur is indeed India’s Venice and Fateh Sagar Lake at dusk is an ethereal sight best experienced on the last boat ride of the day. Get there earlier to visit Nehru Garden and return at dusk.

Fragrant Gardens

4. Explore the idyllic Nehru Garden

Nehru Garden, Udaipur
Courtesy: Divea Shreeram

Accessible only by boat, Nehru Garden is an idyllic spot in the middle of Fateh Sagar Lake. It is a wonderful picnic spot and has a restaurant as well.

5. Take a stroll at Saheliyon ki Bari

Saheliyon Ki Bari, Udaipur

Udaipur is also a city of gardens and Saheliyon ki Bari is among the prettiest. Come here for a morning stroll and enjoy the fragrance of the myriad flowers. The lotus pool and Victorian statues are some of the remarkable sights in this garden.

6. Take your kids to Gulab Bagh and Zoo

Udaipur Zoo
Courtesy: Divea Shreeram

Gulab Bagh is another beautiful park and in fact the largest in Udaipur. Also known as Sajjan Niwas Garden, it adjoins a zoo full of interesting birds and animals like bears, deer and even a tiger.

Active excursions

7. Enrol for the Haldighati Heritage Run

Haldighati Heritage Run
Courtesy: Twitter.com/runto_breathe
  • Event date: 9th October 2016 (Sunday)
  • The Haldighati Heritage Run is part of the Vedaan Run To Breathe Run series in association with Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)
  • Four ASI Heritage Sites are present alongside the Haldighati Run Route namely Haldighati Pass, Chetak Memorial, Rakht Talai and Badshahi Baug
  • There will be runs in the following categories: 2.5Kms, 5Kms, 10Kms and 21Kms
  • It is only 40 km from Udaipur, 14 km from Nathdwara and approximately 300 km from Jaipur/Ahmedabad
  • It is the landscape where Maharana Pratap of Mewar fought with the Mughal Army in the epic battle of 1576

To participate in this run and showcase your pride in Indian heritage, visit http://www.runtobreathe.org/.

8. Go for a cable car ride

Cable car ride on Mansapurna Karni Mata Ropeway, Udaipur

A not too expensive yet exciting activity in Udaipur is the cable car ride along the Mansapurna Karni Mata Ropeway. At the end of the short ride, an old temple awaits your exploration. But the real draw is the splendid view of the city and mountainside.

Get your dose of culture

9. Watch a live Rajasthani folk show at Bagore ki Haveli

Ghoomar dance at Bagore Ki Haveli
Courtesy: Arian Zwegers on Flickr

Every night at 7 pm, Bagore ki Haveli on Hanuman Ghat Road transforms into a treasure trove of Rajasthani folk art. Arrive early to grab front-row seats for this show including traditional music, dance and puppetry.

10. Immerse yourself in folk art at Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal

Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal (Folk Museum), Udaipur

Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandal or Folk Museum is worth a visit not only for its varied collection of Rajasthani and Indian folk art but also the free puppet shows playing on an hourly basis. There is a small entry fee.

11. Shop for handicrafts at Shilpagram

Shilpagram, Udaipur

One of the lesser known attractions in Udaipur is Shilpagram, a government-funded model of a handicraft village, complete with artisans, musicians, dancers and little cottages typical of Rajasthani villages. You can buy an array of attractively priced jewellery, clothing, carpets and accessories here.

Atmospheric Palaces

12. Trek up to Monsoon Palace (Sajjangarh)

Monsoon Palace (Sajjangarh), Udaipur

Rajasthan is India’s land of the kings and home to some of the most exquisite palaces from bygone eras. Monsoon Palace or Sajjangarh is set atop the Aravalli Hills and affords stunning views of Fateh Sagar Lake and Udaipur city. In the evenings, you will be able to spot the palace from any point in Udaipur thanks to its golden illumination.

13. Rediscover royalty at City Palace

City Palace, Udaipur
Courtesy: Divea Shreeram

Located near Lake Pichola and at the city centre, the City Palace is a must-visit while in Udaipur. A huge complex comprising 11 small palaces built in granite and marble, City Palace will take a while to explore.

Food for your soul

14. Have breakfast at Café Namaste or Cafe Edelweiss

Apple pie & Arabic coffee at Cafe Edelweiss in Udaipur

A post shared by Ankita & Mohit (@trailstainedfingers) on

Dedicate your lunches and dinners to Rajasthani food and your breakfasts and tea-time snacks to the charms of Cafe Namaste or French Bakery and Cafe Edelweiss or German Bakery. You might also strike up a conversation with a foreign tourist while you sip on your coffee and tuck into some apple pie.

15. Enjoy an atmospheric dinner at Ambrai or Whistling Teal

Ambrai Restaurant, Udaipur
Courtesy: Amethaveliudaipur.com/restaurant.html

Rajasthan is famous for both its vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare and a visit to Udaipur is incomplete without dinner at Ambrai, the beautiful garden restaurant at Amet Haveli and a thali meal at Whistling Teal. At Ambrai, don’t miss the lal maas and methi papad ki subzi.

Picturesque temples

16. Pay homage at Jagdish Mandir

Jagdish Mandir, Udaipur

As you exit Hanuman Ghat Road, you will come upon the majestic Jagdish Temple, whose architecture is so marvellous that you can spend hours running your palms along the walls. If you’re in Udaipur during a festive time, the area around the temple will be abuzz with activity and decorations.

Extend your trip

Add a day for Chittorgarh Fort (116 km) and another for Kumbhalgarh Fort (85 km), both easily accessed by State Transport Buses (RSRTC).

17. Chittorgarh Fort

Chittorgarh Fort
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Just a two hour bus ride away is Chittorgarh Fort, one of the most impressive fort complexes in India. It is a World Heritage Site and was once the capital of Mewar. Set aside half a day to inspect its palaces, reservoirs and pillars.

Accommodation options

Budget: Lal Ghat Guesthouse

I stayed here in 2013 and loved its location on the banks of Lake Pichola and proximity to City Palace although the accommodation was humble.

Boutique: Jagmandir Island Palace

Get the experience of staying in a palace in the midst of Lake Pichola that comes with its own spa, luxury dining and museum.

Luxury: The Oberoi Udaivilas

The Oberoi Udaivilas
Courtesy: Oberoihotels.com

I dream of staying in this luxury palace resort some day, renowned for its views of the lake, idyllic gardens and temperature-controlled outdoor pools.

Explore Udaipur on your own with auto rickshaw tours or choose from many Rajasthan tour packages.

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In conversation with Manvendra Singh Shekhawat

The charming young managing director of Suryagarh, one of the best known luxury hotels in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan dons many hats. At the recently held INK Conference at Grand Hyatt, Mumbai, I probed into the swashbuckling hotelier’s penchant for conservation and social entrepreneurship. Presenting a few excerpts.

  1. In India, you often find cases of vandalism and neglect at heritage sites. When I visited Shahpura, the ruins of the erstwhile palace had been completely plundered. As someone who works for heritage conservation, what are your views on this? Where are we going wrong and how can we make it better?

It’s human tendency. We take what we have for granted. But if we learn to value what we have and try to make it better than how it was when we found it, then there’s hope. There are two ways in which you can inspire people to be more conscious about our heritage:

  • Lead by example
  • Tell stories; the more stories you tell them, the more they get inspired
  1. On a recent visit to a boutique resort in Uttarakhand, the proprietor said that more and more, experiences are becoming the selling point rather than the property itself. Do you agree? And do hoteliers pay enough attention to the experiential part of travel?

I agree a 100 per cent. And hoteliers are increasingly becoming more aware of this. The problem is that your definition of luxury is different from mine. I might show you chandeliers and mosaic flooring and maybe you already have all that back where you come from. So luxury is no longer aspirational. When people go out, luxury for them is bespoke and that consists of unique experiences. So the question to think about is – what can I show you that’s really memorable? So you’ll go for the silk route in Jaisalmer or the Buddhist temple crawl in Leh.

Suryagarh Hotel
Courtesy: http://www.suryagarh.com/gallery/
  1. Tell us about your NGO ‘I love Jaisalmer’. What kind of issues does it focus on? Did you always want to get into social work? Would you say it’s a consequence of your royal ancestry?

Not really. We’re operating in eco-systems and we need to work on reinforcing them. If you’re hungry, you feed yourself. You don’t wait for someone else to feed you. In the same way, I solve my own problems in Jaisalmer because I take custodianship for them. Cleanliness was a big issue. Also when art is undervalued, it moves us and becomes our problem. So we ensure that the artisan gets his credit. Otherwise, his son will go do something else. I began I love Jaisalmer with a friend and we’ve taken Jaisalmer’s fashion and music to the world.

  1. Your hotel Suryagarh continues to be in the news for all the right reasons. What’s your secret? What sets it apart from all the other heritage hotels in Rajasthan? And there are many of them.

There’s no attempt to set ourselves apart. Because of our love for that region, we understand it very well. We are able to present it in a manner that people like it. We tell unheard stories, provide comfortable accommodation and focus on explored facets. India is a land so diverse that there can be a Suryagarh in every region! I’ve just returned from Leh and I was wowed by the beauty of that place. Maybe I’ll set up something there. The more we see our country and understand our inheritances, the more we love our country.

Suryagarh Hotel
Courtesy: http://www.suryagarh.com/gallery/
  1. You are currently working on the restoration of a 350 year old military fort. Tell us more about that. What are the other structures you’d like to restore in future?

We are working with a conservation architect and we have already documented the entire fort. We are currently restoring the parts that are majorly damaged and restoring the 17 rain water harvesting structures “bawdi’s and wells” within the fort. I would like to restore any and all physical and cultural heritage, if I can collect the resources and get the opportunity to do it. Our heritage tells us about the best that is remaining of our glorious past. I believe we can learn a lot from it, and it can help us stride confidently into the future.

  1. Most of the royal families in Rajasthan today are engaged in the hospitality industry. What is the way forward to ensure that the tourists keep coming? What innovations are on the anvil?

The way forward is by living up to the promise that we make to guests before they come. This is the promise of being genuinely hospitable and giving our guests more value than what we are charging them for. The way it works best is to constantly put yourself in your guests shoes and ask, “Given the choices I have around the world the paucity of time I have for a holiday, will going to this place and spending my hard-earned money be worthwhile?” That’s the question we should ask ourselves as hoteliers, guides, travel agents, industry bodies and governments. And if the answer is no, we should identify what’s making that happen and then play our part in solving those problems and leaving things around us, better than we found them.

Suryagarh Hotel
Courtesy: http://www.suryagarh.com/gallery/
  1. What is your favourite destination in India and abroad? And what kind of traveller are you – laid-back or hectic, planned or spontaneous?

I honestly cannot answer that. That’s like picking between your parents and siblings. However, I love the antiquity of Jaisalmer, the magic of Mandu, untouched Ladakh and the enterprise of people in Mumbai and similar examples around the world. I am a curious traveller and for most times, spontaneous.

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The people of Shahpura: Dreamers and Rain God appeasers

If you passed him on the street, you wouldn’t guess that he was the principal of Shahpura’s only children’s school (there is another one for girls in the eight grade and above). But that’s Natwarkumar Sharma for you – unassuming, humble and ever ready to offer a proud story of a child who went on to become an engineer or a tourist who was wowed by the students’ manners.”Last year, three children gave the eighth standard board exams and all three passed,” he told me with obvious pride. For me, that slight throw back of his shoulders symbolised the quintessential Indian reverence for academic excellence.

Natwarkumar Sharma, principal of Shahpura's school
Natwarkumar Sharma – unassuming, humble and ever ready to offer a proud story of a child who went on to become an engineer or a tourist who was wowed by the students’ manners.
Shahpura's school
Here, the children aren’t caged in by the classroom. They are supremely happy to go to school.

There is a pervading fascination with journalism in the schools of Shahpura. Natwarkumar’s son wanted to be a journalist and so did the son of the principal of the girl’s school in the neighbouring section of the palace-turned-school. Some parts of the school retained their palatial aura more than the others. Shabbir Ahmed, our guide from Shahpura Bagh, a suave young fellow with a refreshing passion for his vocation convinced the principal to let us venture into the loftier parts of the ruins, now closed to public entry because of their precarious condition. “That’s where the real treasures are!” he told us conspiratorially and we were thrilled to be breaking the rules and entering where no tourist had gone before us.

Two boys at Shahpura's school
Two boys at the school get a drink while trying to ignore my intruding lens.
Students at a school in Rajasthan
Students at every classroom stood up and chorused a ‘Good morning sir!’ Yes, they only seemed to address my companion!

Walls maimed by careless scrawls and declarations of love met our surprised eyes. Here and there, an enduring remnant of Mughal-era art hinted at the palace that once stood on these very grounds. Like a ghost that had been overshadowed by its living sibling, the Gandhian figures and golden etchings struggled to gain our attention. “Most tourists aren’t interested in the finer nuances of places,” Shabbir said. I wasn’t sure if he was being honest or merely flattering us. But he did seem genuinely pleased when I noted the mysterious European influence in the paintings on the ancient walls. Beyond the parapet, we could see young girls teetering on the verge of childhood, about to slip away between their fingers. But their smiles still retained the innocence and freshness of one’s salad years. Or maybe, villagers simply don’t age the way city dwellers do.

The students at Shahpura's girls' school
Beyond the parapet, we could see young girls teetering on the verge of childhood, about to slip away between their fingers.
A painting on the walls at Shahpura's old palace
Shabbir seemed pleased when I noted the mysterious European influence in the paintings on the ancient walls.

Shahpura’s schools are an intriguing study in contrasts. Here are students dreaming of international careers and lives far removed from their farmer parents and then there’s Natwarkumar Sharma who staunchly believes that a havan (ritual fire) will result in a good monsoon. I found it difficult to repress a smile as I observed the large havan kunda (fire altar) standing incongruously in the midst of playing children and the echoes of mathematical tables being repeated aloud. But Shabbir shot me a warning glance and I knew better than to mock the principal’s reverence for the ancient Hindu practice. “We perform the Vrishti yagna when the rains are insufficient,” Natwarkumar told us. “One has to pour ghee into the altar for five consecutive days.” The famous Malhar raga was said to invoke torrential rains as well. Who knows, perhaps these arcane practices truly can summon the rain Gods.

The havan for Vrishti Yagna
“We perform the Vrishti yagna when the rains are insufficient,” Natwarkumar told us.
A Phad painting at Shahpura, Rajasthan
We spotted life-size phad paintings outside temples in the market area of Shahpura as well.

In the dusty corners of Shrimad Dayanand Mahila Shikshan Kendra, we chanced upon colourful drawings of Rajasthani warriors on horses, the position of their limbs not unlike the Egyptian wall paintings. “These are phad paintings, unique to Shahpura,” Shabbir informed us. The phad is a kind of scroll painting and the Joshis of Shahpura claim to have upheld the tradition in Rajasthan over the years. And what we classified as ‘Rajasthani warriors’ are apparently sagas of one particular epic hero called Pabuji. We spotted life-size phad paintings outside temples in the market area of Shahpura as well. Incidentally, similar drawings grace the walls of many modern buildings including The Times of India at CST, Mumbai.

The erstwhile palace at Shahpura, Rajasthan

The terrace at Shahpura's old palace
The beautiful terrace with its mosaic flooring of multicoloured stone

From the phad paintings, we moved on to a chamber whose ceiling was adorned with the remnants of intricate golden carvings. “Why are so many parts missing?” I asked Shabbir and he shrugged sadly. “People have thrown stones at the ceiling to bring down parts that they can sell for money.” He then bent to pick up a circular golden disk and handed it to me with a flourish. “The covering is pure 24 karat gold,” he assured me. I hadn’t known I’d be leaving Shahpura with such riches stashed away in my humble bag. That piece of Shahpuran history now has pride of place in my drawer at home. Feeling decidedly wealthier, we moved on to the beautiful terrace with its mosaic flooring of multicoloured stone. “This style is typical to Rajasthan,” Shabbir said and I told him it had been imitated in numerous homes across India. The terrace offered a sweeping view of all of Shahpura and its many dreamers.

The ceiling at Shahpura's erstwhile palace
We moved on to a chamber whose ceiling was adorned with the remnants of intricate golden carvings.
A relic at Shahpura's erstwhile palace
That piece of Shahpuran history now has pride of place in my drawer at home.

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The birds and animals of Shahpura

The monsoons bestow a lush green blessing on the fields and glades of Shahpura, a small town in Jaipur district of Rajasthan. It is a delight for nature worshippers as well as the birds and animals that spend idyllic days in this Rajasthani gem. In this post, I present a photo story of the beautiful denizens of Shahpura and Shahpura Bagh, the wooded summer home of the royal family, where I spent a rejuvenating weekend.

A peacock in Shahpura, Rajasthan

Rajasthan is true peacock country, with these fanned beauties gracing every other royal home and heritage hotel. Wherever we stepped in Shahpura, be it the forts, fields or farms, we were almost always greeted by the harsh call of India’s national bird. We spotted this one in the estate of Shahpura Bagh, a delightful nature park in itself.

A peacock in Shahpura, Rajasthan

The monsoons delight these stunning birds in many different ways. Not only does the weather inspire them to dance in joy, but it’s also their mating season, meaning that the peacocks are all out to impress the peahens. Post the monsoon, the landscape is full of peachicks, the folks at Shahpura Bagh told us.

A peacock in Shahpura, Rajasthan

The first time I laid my eyes on this sight, I wondered if there was a different species of peacocks with a different colouring. Photographs rarely show us how the feathers look from the back but as you can see, the rear view has a beauty of its own. Since the peacocks loved to rotate their fanned feathers, we were privy to many such views.

A peacock in Shahpura, Rajasthan

This here is the quintessential view of the Indian peacock, whose scientific name pavo cristatus is as elegant as its deep blue colouring and graceful gaze. It’s easy to see why this bird was chosen as the national bird in 1963 over all the other contenders. We were also lucky enough to see peacocks flying and perching high up on the trees but I was unable to capture that in a photograph.

Parrots of Shahpura, Rajasthan

We spotted these rose-ringed parakeets at Dhikola Fort, a recommended excursion for guests staying at Shahpura Bagh. As a child, a parrot was the first bird I learnt to draw perfectly and I’ve fantasised about having one as a pet. Yet, why would one cage a creature so lovely and free in the wild?

Red wattled lapwing in Shahpura, Rajasthan

This red wattled lapwing that we spotted on our walking trail through the lush fields and woods of Shahpura Bagh seems to be quite hungry. Its wide eyes lend it a perennially surprised look; then again perhaps it was amazed to be the cynosure of my Canon lens. A ‘wattle’ incidentally is defined as ‘a fleshy lobe or appendage hanging down from the throat or chin of certain birds’.

Indian pond heron at Shahpura, Rajasthan

We spotted this bird at a clearing in the woods at Shahpura, a little way away from Shahpura Bagh. Bhaya, our middle-aged driver was admirably knowledgeable about the biodiversity of the area and informed us that this was an Indian pond heron. Even at his mature age, Bhaya (his real name was Rajendra) wore no spectacles and possessed sharper eyesight than any of us!

Indian pond heron at Shahpura, Rajasthan

Interestingly, the pond heron looks like this only during the breeding season, which begins with the monsoons. It strikes me that although we visited Shahpura during the tourist off season (winter is when all the hotels teem with travellers), we were fortunate to see all the birds in their mating avatar. When it’s not mating season, the legs of the pond heron become a dull brown (here they are bright red) and the beak loses its beautiful green colouring.

Cattle egret at Shahpura, Rajasthan

See that wonderful yellow flush on this cattle egret‘s plumage? It’s only present during the breeding season. Otherwise, the bird is entirely white with a yellow beak. It’s called a cattle egret (‘bugla’ in Hindi) because it’s usually present around cattle, as you will see in the following photograph.

A cow and cattle egrets at Shahpura, Rajasthan

We spotted numerous little cattle egrets milling around grazing cows in the fields at Shahpura Bagh. The egrets feed on the insects and small vertebrae that are disturbed when the cows munch on the grass. I’m sure the cows don’t mind the company either.

Plain tiger butterfly at Shahpura, Rajasthan

The tiger butterflies are a common sight in India but this one is not striped like its cousins. If you’ve ever tried photographing butterflies, you know how difficult it is with their constant flitting and alighting. But we managed to capture this one twice. In the following photograph, you get a better look at its beautiful wings.

Plain tiger butterfly at Shahpura, Rajasthan

We spotted this beauty during our walking trail as well. Hard as it was to tear our eyes away from the tranquil waters of the Umaid Sagar lake, we found many delicious distractions in the surrounding forest. The plain tiger (danaus chrysippus) is also called the African monarch and is native to both Asia and Africa.

A myna at Shahpura, Rajasthan

Tell me this myna doesn’t look as though it’s lost in thought. We found it perched pensively on this ledge overlooking the panorama below the lofty ramparts of Dhikola Fort. I would have loved to know what question was bothering this little bird of the starling family. But alas, the language of every creature other than man is but a nature-cloaked cipher.

Indian roller at Shahpura, Rajasthan

Two birds seemed to have an ongoing affair with the overhead wires – rollers and drongos. I saw many of these beautiful Indian rollers in my last trip to Kanha and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh as well. In this part of India, they are quite common though I’ve never seen any in Mumbai.

Indian roller at Shahpura, Rajasthan

This is the favoured pose of the Indian roller. Google the bird and you will find any number of photos of the roller in this exact same pose! Although rollers are found all across tropical Asia, India has the highest number and several Indian states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and Telangana) have elected to have it as their state bird. Did you even know that there are state birds in India? An entire list is available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Indian_state_birds.

A pigeon at Shahpura, Rajasthan

Pigeons love these hollows drilled through the windows and towers of forts and palaces and we found them in large numbers at the erstwhile palace of the royal family, now turned into a school for girls.

A great egret at Shahpura, Rajasthan

I don’t think even the slimmest and most svelte of models can compete with the long-necked elegance of the great egret, also called the common egret, large egret or the great white heron. The lake surrounding Shahpura Bagh was dotted with these graceful birds and their dark-coloured counterparts. Here are a few more photographs of these water-loving wonders.

Great egrets at Shahpura, Rajasthan

These two resembled a married couple who have fought and turned their backs on each other!

A great egret at Shahpura, Rajasthan

There were numerous such leaf-less stumps sticking up in the midst of the lake and every one of them had a great egret on top. I suppose it was an ideal vantage point to survey the happenings in the entire expanse of the lake.

A jungle fowl at Shahpura, Rajasthan

I’ll tell you one thing – the front view of this bird’s face isn’t as pretty as its side profile. Birds have their best angles too. We saw a lot of jungle fowl and hens near a farmhouse clearing where we stopped for tea and cookies. My travel partner was particularly fascinated by its claw-like webbed feet. Its black feathers had a greenish sheen in the afternoon sunlight.

Reef heron at Shahpura, Rajasthan

I’m guessing that these are Indian cormorants, but clarification is welcome in the comments section below. Swimming in the water, these looked a lot like the fair egrets. But unlike some humans, they didn’t seem the slightest bit unhappy about their dark colouring!

White fronted water hen at Shahpura, Rajasthan

This white fronted or white-breasted spotted hen darted across the fields in front of us at Shahpura Bagh. I think it’s lovely facial features and white and brown colouring redefine the image of hens as ‘boring’, don’t you think?

A black drongo at Shahpura, Rajasthan

This black drongo simply wouldn’t show his face to us. I guess he didn’t like being photographed much. We spotted a drongo another time but it was hidden by the branches of the tree and I was unable to capture a good photograph.

Goats at Shahpura, Rajasthan

I swear the goat to the right smiled back at me when I smiled at him. These two caught my attention while we were heading to a 200 year old banyan tree in a patch of woods at Shahpura for their obvious affection towards each other. A few moments before this photograph, they were caressing each other in a way only animals can. We also saw an adorable baby goat (kid) and my friend managed to pick it up for a cuddle!

A partridge at Shahpura, Rajasthan

This plump little waddling bird is a patridge we spotted on our way to the ancient banyan tree. We stopped the car to click a few pictures and watched it settle down on the ground, looking like a fluffy brown ball. Then it stood up, shook off the dirt and waddled away into the lands beyond.

A lizard at Shahpura Bagh

I was quite fascinated by this lizard outlined against the light of the lamp in the night. We were taking a stroll around the gardens of Shahpura Bagh, after drinking in the mesmerising sight of the dimly lit pool when we chanced upon this little adventurer.

A chameleon at Shahpura, Rajasthan

Now you see it, now you don’t. The master of camouflage, an Indian garden lizard revealed itself to us during our drive through the farm-lined roads of Shahpura. Note the lovely orange flush at its throat.

A chameleon at Shahpura, Rajasthan

Here is a closer look at this talented reptile. I hope you enjoyed this showcase of the birds of Rajasthan. In my travels, I have come to realise what a wide variety we have of birds in India. And every one of them is a breathtaking sight, rare or common.

Photos courtesy: Team Trail-stained Fingers

Entranced by Shahpura Bagh, a royal homestay

In the olden days, India was known to the world by the three pillars of Indianism, as viewed by foreign lens: Kings, tigers/elephants and godmen. Today, the tigers are struggling to be saved and the godmen are all suspect. And the kings – well, they have been forgotten everywhere except a few towns like Shahpura, a tiny town in the heart of Rajasthan.

Shahpura Bagh, the summer home of the royal family

Jai Singh and Shatru Jeet Singh Rathore, along with their wives, children and faithful coterie of housekeepers, cooks, gardeners and drivers reside in this beautiful whitewashed edifice, topped with windows and railings in the traditional Rajasthani style.

Shahpura Bagh

IMG_5201

IMG_5202

Another wing just like this one, houses luxury suites where the family entertains guests and tourists looking for an experiential holiday in the midst of pastoral serenity. If you’re lucky, Jai Singh will have a drink with you in the lavish bar and dining area in the residential wing or Shatru Jeet Singh will show you how to take great photographs even in diffused lighting, being a former advertising photographer.

The tasteful dining area

Shahpura Bagh

Shahpura Bagh

Shahpura Bagh

Shahpura Bagh

With time, the heirs of the royal families have departed from the legacy of heart attack-inducing meals and adapted to modern tastes. In fact, the Rathore family is quite fitness conscious and the meals we had reflected their penchant for light but incredibly tasty and innovative food. We sampled the best of vegetarian fare including stuffed bell peppers, bottle gourd koftas and paneer preparations that were completely different from the Punjabi style of cooking. Preparing vegetarian meals was actually a challenge for the cooks of Shahpura Bagh, as the royal family is fond of meat and wont to eating Rajasthani delicacies like lal maas (mutton in a red gravy).

The infinity pool

My favourite place at any luxury resort is the swimming pool and Shahpura Bagh scores brownie points for the lovely white diwans laid out by the pool for a relaxing afternoon drink and perhaps even a shuteye. The infinity pool at Shahpura Bagh will always be special for me because it is where I regained some of my lost swimming prowess. Guests enjoy absolute privacy while having a soak in the pool or relaxing in the floating beds as the staff has been advised to maintain a safe distance. But feel free to call out to them if you need a drink or a snack!

The pool at Shahpura Bagh

The pool at Shahpura Bagh

The pool at Shahpura Bagh

The suites

I suspect that the royal family had secret access to my colour preferences beforehand because my suite was done up in deep shades of the colour I love most – red. Luxurious doesn’t even begin to describe the spacious and impeccably designed suites that Shahpura Bagh offers.

The suites at Shahpura Bagh

The suites at Shahpura Bagh

The suites at Shahpura Bagh

The suites at Shahpura Bagh

The estate

When you think of Rajasthan, what comes first to your mind? Deserts? Camels? Colourful turbans? You’d only be right about that last one because Shahpura in the monsoon is as unlike dusty, sandy Rajasthan as possible. The farms are lush green, the lakes are nearly full, a delight for the egrets and pond herons and the sky is perennially cloudy, lending a lovely coolness to the evening air.

Shahpura Bagh is set amidst acres of private woods that are inhabited by a wide variety of birds and animals. The walking trail on my last morning here is what I cherish most about my stay, as we explored hidden thickets and walked along a serene lake, trying to lure out peacocks and getting clicked by a cow herder in return when we photographed him with the cows.

Rajasthan is dotted with such kingly municipalities and regal relics that have managed to retain some of their sheen. One day, I would like to chart a trail across all of the princely towns in India’s last surviving land of the kings.

Don’t miss my other journeys through unexplored India:

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