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On Location August 2007 – India (1)

India has always struck me as a unique melting pot of class, religion, language, scenery and culture, within a single country, which makes it incomparable to any other destination one may visit and continues to enchant me.

I was delighted to revisit Rajasthan to see for myself what changes had occurred since I was last there. The main highlights on this route for the first time traveller are the sites of Delhi, the breathtaking and mesmerising view of the Taj Mahal, and the fortressed cities of Jaipur and Jodphur.

This time around, the real highlight for me was the painstakingly renovated fortressed palaces, fabulous scenery and fascinating historical anecdotes of the bygone era found deep in the heart of Rural Rajasthan.

My journey started in New Delhi, the international gateway to Rajasthan. A five hour journey south by car brought me to the "pink city" of Jaipur. Renowned for its gems, artworks and textiles it is an artisan's city. With the assistance from the government and the King, artisans are invited from all over to keep their art and teaching alive, passing on their fine brush painting to younger generations. You can witness them in the grounds of the city palace.

It is said that the buyers of Bulgari are hid away in this city buying up the best diamonds. Unfortunately my budget only stretched to some high quality saffron that day.

The Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, dating back to 1835 and the first palace in India to be converted to a hotel in 1957, allows you to truly experience the nostalgia of the British Raj and the lifestyle associated with this bygone era. An extensive renovation programme has seen the addition of a sumptuous tented spa facility, complete with love swings and sitar players - set in the beautifully private gardens. I hope to return when I have more time on my hands for this pampering!

On leaving the city of 3 million inhabitants, I travelled to Shapura Bagh, located midway between Jaipur and Udaipur, escaping the city into the countryside. My driver informed me that the drive from Jaipur was four hours, but I hadn't been asleep that long when we turned off the National Highway, at Gulabpura. From here it is a further 40 km of single track asphalt, slowing the journey down in order to allow passing herds of cattle, local buses bulging with colourful people and precariously loaded trucks carrying twice the height and width of itself again in hay!

Eyes wide open now, I had arrived in rural Rajasthan - raw life - and it was flooding my senses.

Shapura is a small bustling market town with a fabulous old bazaar, famed for its local Rajasthani slipper, the Mojaris. Although brimming with life, nobody appeared to be rushing. My driver continued to use his horn in the fashion of a city dweller, but nobody took the blindest notice! I knew instantly I would love it here.

Shapura bagh is a slice of heaven, offering a comfortable haven, allowing me to take a deep breath of fresh air and to hear the sounds of nature, instead of the sound of the persistent beeping of horns. Once the summer palace of the rulers of Shapura, it is now run as a boutique homestay and my hosts, Maya and Sat Singh gave me the warmest of welcomes and embraced me into their home as if I was a long lost relative. Active conservationists, they provide an eco friendly environment - solar heating, organic vegetable gardens, and fresh milk from their herd of cows. All meals are taken at the house and Maya proved to be the most excellent cook - ask for the home made Mango ice-cream!

I was lucky to spend two nights here, and it proved to be the ideal spot to recharge the batteries - no mini bar, no TV, barefooted servants with a quiet gracefulness and no airs and graces required on your behalf!

A highlight of the stay at Shapura is visiting the partly ruined and utterly romantic Dhikola Fort, which is still owned by the Singh family. Travelling by 1952 Willys jeep, up close and personal to the sights and smells of India, Sat and I drove out to the Fort for sunset. From the top of the turret the fort commands a view of the numerous lakes that extends as far as the eye can see - an unforgettable view.

About the Author

Steppes Travel specialise in holidays to Peru, China holidays and South Africa safari.



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