The Forts of Rajasthan

The Maharajas once ruled Rajasthan with bejeweled fists from the security of their imposing forts. The passionate monarchs had an affinity for all things exquisite and the splendor and extravagance of these erstwhile rulers lives on in the forts of this fabled land.

The castles of Europe have nothing on the forts of Rajasthan. If you’re after truly massive structures with enough opulence to please the king and queen of any country, Rajasthan is the spot.

Built of burnished sandstone and marble, these architectural marvels contain intricate carvings, elegant facades, majestic domes, and elaborate balconies.

The great Rajput rulers of Rajasthan fought off the Arabs, Turks, and, most notably, the great warriors of the Mughal Empire. It was not until the British came in and offered their protection that the maharajas slowly lost their power.

When the leaders struck deals with the rulers of the British East India Company, the maharajas were reduced to puppet rulers. Rajasthan soon became a part of the newly independent India in 1948 when the “desert kingdoms” were incorporated.

The role of the Maharaja continued its slow fade until the title itself was officially squashed in 1971 when royal entitlements were abolished along with privy purses through a constitutional amendment.

Today, the erstwhile Maharajas are considered political, cultural, and religious icons in modern Rajasthan. They play the role of philanthropist, conservationist, and keeper of traditions.

Here’s a look at three of the Maharajas’ great forts of Rajasthan:

Jodhpur

The muscular fort at Jodhpur is a beautiful beacon on the flat landscape. The formidable walls grow organically out of its rocky perch. From the top, the view over the city of Brahmin-blue buildings is striking. The decadence of Jodhpur’s fort is unmatched. Behind Mehrangarh’s seven gates is a terra-cotta-colored palace complex dotted with elegant courtyards and lined with intricate carvings. The 15th century fort is truly the most impressive example of Rajput grandeur in Rajasthan and the theatrical, award-winning audio tour may be one of the best on the planet.

Jaisalmer

A lighthouse on the edge of the desert, 99 colossal bastions encircle the still-inhabited streets of this massive fort. Within the fort walls are seven meticulously carved Jain temples dating from the 12th to 16th centuries. There are also several lavish Havelis and the elegant seven-storey Maharaja’s Palace. Sadly, the fort at Jaisalmer is an example of what can happen with unchecked development. Unlike Rajasthan’s other historical monuments, the narrow alleyways of the fort now house numerous gift shops, restaurants, and guesthouses. Overcrowding and poor drainage have seen the fort sinking into Trikuta hill.

Kumbalgarh

Nestled 1100 meters skyward in the Aravalli Hills, this 15th century fort is perhaps the least visited of the forts of Rajasthan – and that’s a shame. Kumbalgarh was the most important Mewar fort after Chittor. Kumbalgarh was only taken once in history and it took the combined forces of Mughal emperor Akbar and of Amber and Marwar to breach its defenses. Even then, they only managed to hold onto the fort for two days. Understandably, rulers would retreat within the massive stone fort in times of danger. It is a testament to the romantic expectations of Rajput grandeur. The massive fort walls stretch some 36 kilometers and enclose roughly 360 temples, palaces, gardens, and bunkers.

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Big Shots: Jomsom Trek – Tatopani to Kalapani

A Familiar Farewell

It’s funny… Earth seems like such a large place until you dab your feet into each of her seas.  I feel so comfortable in New Zealand that it’s hard to believe the rush I felt as I exited the plane in Auckland eight months ago.  Everything was significant then – my first steps south of the equator, the cackling over kiwi accents and nights asleep underneath the stars of the southern hemisphere.  Everything was new and exciting.

Eight months in, I am burdened by speeding tickets, damages to the car, dwindling hours at work and escalating power bills.  The vacation morphed into the real world I thought I had escaped.  My child-like wonder for everything new will never pass, but in an attempt to escape the familiar, I have hit it head on.

However, it’s a detached familiarity.  There is a sad realization when you find that you have become numb to the here and there of life.  People you grow to cherish slide in and out of your life with an eerie ease.  You learn to treasure the now, catalogue the past, and look forever forward to the future for fear of tearing up over the could-have-been.

I came to this country halfway across the world alone.  In doing so, I allowed myself to become whoever and whatever I wanted without any tattlers from my past to call out my bluff.

Charles, my best friend growing up, went by Richard during the years he lived with his family in China.  He said he was a different person there.  He even had me convinced one cloudy autumn day that he had been a child spy that killed someone.  Another childhood friend, Elliot, was suddenly struck with agoraphobia and came back from his mental breakdown as John.

I always wanted that superhuman ability to change who I was.  But, if I’ve learned anything, solo travel only brings you closer to realizing who you are at the core.

So, it is with excitement and a slight hesitation that I head to the North Island to travel with my good friend Abby from home (that is to say one of the places I call home – the Virgin Islands).  I am leaving the South Island that I have grown so accustomed to, for a brief soirée with the North Island before I set out to dab my foot in another sea – before I get too comfortable again (or before the bills and tickets threaten to put me on the street).

But, before I go, here is one more look at the South Island.  I have moved every file off of my computer and onto an external hard drive just to keep up with the excessive amount of photos I have amassed.  If I told you how many pictures of sheep and cows I have slowing down my Mac right now you would surely buckle over.

As MarkontheMap approaches its 1st birthday, I am curious to hear what your favorite stories or photos were.  Or, if you have any suggestions or comments for the blog, I’d been keen to hear those as well.  It’s nice to get a little feedback once in a while.

Alas, here are a few shots (that never quite made the cut) that sum up the beauty, purity, and quietude of the South Island.

Farewell,