Rat temple !

Although i am not scared of Rats but these little creatures make me feel eww. Despite of this feeling I still wanted to visit Karni Mata Temple famously known as the Rat Temple whenever i visited Rajasthan. Being so close to Bikaner i could not miss this chance.

The entrance of the temple.

The entrance of the temple.

The Temple is situated at a place called Deshnok 30 kms from Bikaner and houses the official deity of the royal families of Bikaner and Jodhpur. Although i had expected what i would see here, still the whole feeling of being inside a temple with Rats running here and there made me a little uncomfortable. But everything just disappeared once I was inside. The Entrance of the temple was beautiful with typical Rajasthani architecture, carvings and marble walls.The doors had carvings of Shiva and other gods alongwith carving of tiny rats .  The Marble carvings at the entrance were just brilliant.

The brilliant marble carvings.

The brilliant marble carvings.

Once inside the complex you see Rats everywhere. Thousands of Rats either sleeping or running or feeding on food given to them by visitors. There were large bowls of milk kept here and there, and the rats were busy drinking from it in a very systematic way. Although the smell was replusive, yet the place had a spiritual feeling. These Rats are considered sacred and are taken care by the priests and the devotees. It seemed as if these tiny creatures were not bothered by the number of people visiting. They were happy in their own world. They dont bother you , so you dont bother them.

Rats just at the entrance.

Rats just at the entrance.

Busy eating oblivious of the curious eyes..

Busy eating oblivious of the curious eyes..

You can see the powerful idol of Karni Mata inside the temple and Rats all over the idol,  it seemed like home to them and the goddess their mother. Goddess Karni Mata, is said to be an incarnation of Goddess Durga and hence a lot of people visit the place to seek her blessings. I could see the rats feeding on the Prasad, but it looked like an every day affair.

Feeding on the Prasad.

Feeding on the Prasad.

The story goes as such, that a devotee of Karni Mata came to her with her dead child and she promised to help, by bringing the child back to life. However, she failed because Yama, the god of death, had already taken away his soul and incarnated him in a human form. Disappointed as she was, Karni Mata announced that her clan/tribe would die and be reborn as rats and then as humans but would not fall into Yama’s hands. And thus, the Rats inside the temple are considered to be Mata’s devotees.

in every corner ...

in every corner …

on the steps, in the verandah, in the passage...

on the steps, in the verandah, in the passage…

Some say, if your bitten by them its good luck, while some say its auspicious even if they just run over your feet . Our driver told us that there are 1-2 white Rats in the temple complex which are not so easily spotted. But if you happen to see them then that means with whatever wish you have come here , that wish will be fulfilled. I was hoping and praying that i see atleast one those white Rats but hard luck 😦

Peacefully sleeping

Peacefully sleeping

Here i was trying to avoid stepping on one of the rats and there i saw this little boy playing so peacefully with them. He cuddled them, petted them till they fell asleep. Strange, but I found it cute .

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While some might find this whole thing bizarre, for me and some others this connection between the Lord and the rats is a spiritual experience which is beyond words. The place is an experience in itself . And I would recommend it ro anyone visiting Bikaner just to see the uniqueness of this Temple, where thousands of tourists come to worship these long tailed rodents.

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Bikaner

On our way from Jaisalmer to Jaipur, we stopped at Bikaner for a few hours to break our journey. After our delicious Rajasthani lunch at a restaurant in Bikaner we headed straight to the Junagadh Fort. It was a massive fort made of red stone and had a series of gates that one has to pass to enter the fort.

Junagadh fort unlike other forts in Rajasthan was not built on a hill, that was a surprise to me.

The Fort Complex.

The Fort Complex.

Rao Bika, the second son of Rao Jodha who was the founder of Jodhpur was the first one to built a fort in Bikaner even before Junagadh fort was built. The stone fort still exists but is in ruins. The city of Bikaner was founded by Rao Bika in the year 1478. It was only later,after 100 years that the city of Bikaner flourished under the rule of Raja Rai Singhji , the sixth ruler of Bikaner who ruled the city from 1571 to 1611 AD. The Junagadh fort was then built under the supervision of Karan Chand, a trusted aide of Raja Rai Singhji. History has it, that despite repeated attempts to capture the fort, it could not be captured. Only once when Kamran Mirza, the second son of the Mughal Emperor Babur had captured the fort for one day, he was then defeated by the Rathors and had to return back to Lahore.

The fort where twenty kings have resided, was once called Chintamani Durg, but was later named Junagadh, when the royal family moved out to their new palace residence.
However, The Raja Rai Singhji trust founded by the Royal family has put in a lot of efforts to maintain the fort and the museum within. They also provide guided tours to visitors for a minimum cost. The person who took us around was a very old security guy who has been here for ages and before him his family too worked with the Royal Family. He was systematic in his approach , provided a lot of information while showing us around and answered all our questions with a smile.07_Bikaner (55)

As soon as you enter the Fort , you come across this massive red colored wall with steps on each sides.(pic below). It was such a beautiful sight and my favorite part of the fort. As we entered inside, we could see there was restoration work going on one side of the palace. Hence, we coudnt click the famous cannon which was captured by Maharaja Gaj Singh, the 14th ruler of Bikaner, in 1808. Its a small cannon but the guide told us that it has a lot importance in the history of Bikaner.

My favourite part of the fort complex.

My favourite part of the fort complex.

Restoration work in progress.

Restoration work in progress.

When we went further inside I could see that there were lots of courtyards and each of them were different . The courtyards then led to different palaces or Mahal like the Karan Mahal, Anoop Mahal, Phool Mahal, Badal Mahal, Durbar Hall , each one an architectural marvel, some with rubies and emeralds studded, some with gold dazzling chandeliers, white washed marble walls, motifs of flowers, glass inlay work, and 1100 year old Sandalwood throne. Beautiful paintings on the walls, lattice work on the windows , use of red stones and marbles in the construction, everything was a visual treat to the eyes. My favourite was the door made from Walnut tree wood. It looked as if it was made just yesterday. Kudos to the efforts of the Trust who maintain the place.

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The beautiful cielings

The beautiful ceiling.

The palace complex has a museum within the fort called the Junagadh Fort museum which was established in 1961, with lots of objects in display. A huge collection of armouries, sofa sets, tea sets, spoons, mirrors, gold and silver howdahs, thrones, palanquins,sanskrit and persian manuscripts, war drums, royal costumes, paintings etc. A special mention to the huge Haviland Plane which was on display, the guide told us that the King of Bikaner had good relations with the British and this plane was gifted to him by the Britishers as a friendly gesture.

The Junagadh fort is a grand affair and something very different from the Mehrangarh fort of Jodhpur. It took us 2-3 hours to see the whole place  and this was just a small portion of the fort that is open to the public.

The Marble seat was used by the King .

The Marble seat was used by the King .

The view of Badal Mahal.

The view of Badal Mahal.

When we came out and were about to leave, the guide told us there was a small museum just outisde the fort but within the premises that we should not miss. We walked towards the small complex facing the fort palace. This museum called PRACHEENA is founded by the present princess of Bikaner has some of her personal and some royal collection in display. Its surely not to be missed.

One thing that comes to mind when I think of Bikaner fort palace is “Grand” , yet I see a lot of people giving Bikaner city a miss. The Rao Singhji Trust is doing a great job and the Palace itself is so beautiful and full of history that more and more people need to know about it.

Jaisalmer – the golden city

We reached Jaisalmer late in the evening when it was almost dark. Tired and exhausted i just had my food and retired to bed. Morning when i got up, i was least expecting anything extraordinary from the place. But the moment we stepped out i came to know why this city is called as the golden city. Everything from the houses, shops, hotels etc were golden in colour or it has probably got to do more with the yellow sandstone that has been used extensively in the construction of these, and the shining golden sun just added to the sight giving this place a honey-golden feel.  The one thing that kept following us everywhere we went were the Cows….where ever you see there were cows all around. Maybe its because major part of the population lead a life grazing their flocks and herds.

Jaisalmer Fort- the second largest fort in Rajasthan.

Jaisalmer Fort- the second largest fort in Rajasthan.

Jaisalmer is surrounded by Bikaner, Jodhpur and Pakistan border. Jaisalmer was a major route for trade between Indian and Arabian Merchants. But when Mumbai emerged as an important port for sea trade, Jaisalmer’s land routes just faded away. Further the India Pakistan partition led to the closure of the routes completely.

Jaisalmer lies in the Thar Desert and boasts of the only living fort in India, with one fourth of the citys population still living inside the fort. Although its something that is a major attraction for tourists , i personally felt that the fort was not clean and nobody made efforts to keep it clean. With large number of families living inside the fort, temples, shops, restaurants etc inside the fort the amount of garbage and trash that you see makes you disappointed. Especially after visting forts like the Amer Fort and Mehrangarh Fort.

But despite of all this, The Jaisal fort is major tourist attraction especially with the foreign tourists. Its the second largest fort in Rajasthan with a 30 feet high wall  and has 9 bastions, 92 of which were built between 1633 and 1647. The jain temples inside the fort just makes you go Wow. The architecture is awe inspiring. We walked and walked and came across such beautiful architectural gems that we couldnt get our eyes off them. The view of the City from the fort was amazing.

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Beautiful Architecture of the Jain Temples.

Beautiful Architecture of the Jain Temples.

Patwon ki Haveli and Salim singh ki Haveli are also major attractions here. Its definitely worth a visit. The Jali work windows or Jharokas that had got me mesmerised at Mehrangarh Jodhpur again managed to get me excited at Patwon ki Haveli. Its also the best place to get some amazing photo-ops.You will be speechless looking at the architecture and your camera wont stop clicking.

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Patwon Ki Haveli

Later in the evening we visited BaraBaugh a garden complex that contains a set of royal cenotaphs or chhatris of Maharajas of Jaisalmer. It was so beautiful , and with the setting sun in the background the place looked just out of this world. The hill with the cenotaphs are frequently visited by tourists whereas the garden is highly neglected.

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Chhatris of Bara Baugh

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Cenotaphs of Bara Baugh

Shopping is another attraction here, with locally made bedsheets with beautiful designs, shawls, carpets, jewellery,amazing handicrafts especially puppets etc. You will also find musicians playing their instruments in every nook and corner of the fort giving it a very soothing feeling.

Being a Desert , Jaisalmer majorly depends on Tourism.  Like our guide said , the local people here are so much depended on tourists for their livelihood that even kids know spanish, german and french more than English. And we actually saw a lot of people/ guides talking spanish and german to the foreign tourists.

Our Hotel - the rooms were basic but the food was amazing.

Our Hotel – the rooms were basic but the food was amazing.

The one thing that i thoroughly enjoyed in Jaisalmer apart from the food was the Desert safari. I could easily compare it with the Desert Safari that i took in Dubai and surely theres nothing that could even come close to it. But Jaisalmer’s Desert Safari has a charm of its own. A very local, Indian and soothing feeling. I felt i was living a dream. The Camel ride was scary but super entertaining. We had a 10 year old kid taking care of our camel which added to our fear. But soon we realised that he was a Pro. And then seeing the sun set at the Thar desert was the most thrilling experience ever.

My favourite shot of the setting sun at the Thar Desert.

My favourite shot of the setting sun at the Thar Desert.

my singing campanion at the desert.

my singing companion at the desert.

Although cleanliness was something that bothered me, but still Jaisalmer had its own way of winning me over. Its definitely a great place to unwind and losing yourself to desolate landscapes and artistic monuments.

A visit to Kuldhara a ghost town, with haunting stories which i dint dare visit this time as i was too scared after hearing all the stories is still pending. Maybe next time when i have gathered all the courage.

 

Saas Bahu Temples – Off the beaten path

Just 23 kms from Udaipur, is the ancient capital of Mewar, Nagda. It was ruled by the Mewar rulers for 7 generations. As of today, the place is in ruins and visited bya few. The Saas-Bahu Temple at Nagda  is the main attraction of this place. The Temple though called Saas Bahu (the literal transalation of which is Mother-in-law and Daughter-in-law) is actually a temple dedicated to a form of Lord Vishnu, known as Sahastra-Bahu (One with thousand Arms).

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The temple complex built in the 10th century houses Vishnu, Shiva and Jain Temples with wonderful architectural details. Stories from mahabharat and ramayana are depicted on the temple walls. The complex is divided in 2 parts, the Saas temples which is comparatively little larger than the “Bahu” temples. Most of these temples are in ruins but anybody interested in history and architecture , this place will surely interest you. Its an opportunity to experience the artistic beauty of those times.

The entrance

The entrance

The Saas-Bahu Temple

The Saas-Bahu Temple

The place is now maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. And finds it place in the list of Heritage monuments. With interesting Architecture and carvings, the Saas-Bahu Temple is a not to be missed trip when in Udaipur.

Makes for a perfect postcard !!

Makes for a perfect postcard !!

Shopping outside the complex..

Shopping outside the complex..

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Another place which is well worth a visit from Udaipur is Haldighati, a historic site where the great battle between Maharana Pratap and Mughal Emperor Akbar took place.The place is called Haldighati because the soil is yellow (Haldi-turmeric) in color. Enroute you can also visit the Chhatri of Maharana Pratap’s beloved horse “Chetak”.

Haldighati

Haldighati

The museum@Mehrangarh fort

Like i had promised , This post is a photo essay of the things i saw in the Mehrangarh fort museum. It definitely deserved a separate post.

A typical Rajput Sheesh Mahal (found in most of the Rajput palaces) full of delicate Mirror work.

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Everything from the cieling to the walls are made of delicate glass work.

The Phool Mahal, the most private and grandest room of the palace where the dancers used to perform inorder to entertain the Kings.

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Phool Mahal

Jhanki Mahal or The Palace of Glimpses is from where the women from the royal family used to look outside without being seen as they used to practise the tradition of “Purdah.” It is also where the numerous royal cradles are kept.

A room full of The Royal cradles...

A room full of The Royal cradles…

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Takhat Vilas is Maharaja Takhat Singh’s Palace which is blend of modern and traditional architecture. Can you see shiny disco balls on the cielings?

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Daulatkhana was the Treasury of the Royals,  the gallery has a display of huge collection of palanquins, artworks, coins, armory, hookahs etc .This also shows the close ties the Kings had with the Mughals. Its like a well-stocked museum.

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The howdahs were a wooden seat covered with gold and silver sheets, which was fastened on to the elephant back.

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Howdahs

A Palanquin

A Palanquin

Mahadol Palanquin was won in a battle in 1730

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Mahadol Palanquin

Peacock Palanquin

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Covered Palanquin or Pinja

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Howdahs.

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Howdahs

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This silver howdah was gifted to the King Jaswant Singh by the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan.

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The make-up box.

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The Swords…some that belonged to Emperor Akbar.

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Marks of cannon balls on the walls / doors.

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Usually i get bored of museums, but Mehrangarh fort museum and the Bikaner palace museum (more on this in a later post)  had some really interesting things to see that got me hooked right from the beginning.

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Mehrangarh fort – Jodhpur

We had just 4 hours in Jodhpur before heading to Jaisalmer. So we had to choose the best from the best things to see in Jodhpur. For me Mehrangarh fort was the “bestest” thing that Jodhpur could offer. I had seen pictures of the fort on various websites and was fascinated by them. So a visit to the fort was on top of my list.

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The Mehrangarh fort offers the best views of the Blue city, Jodhpur. It is from here you can see that all the houses are of color blue.It seems the city of  Brahmapuri as it was known earlier was where only Brahmins used to live and blue houses signified that of a Brahmin. These Brahmins also used to paint their houses blue/indigo as a protection from mosquitos and insects. It is said that Blue color is a natural repellent to mosquitoes and other insects. The color stayed on and the city got its name of “Blue city”.

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Mehrangarh fort or the Sun fort built by Rao Jodha in the 12th century is situated at a height of 400 feet . Its one of the largest and best preserved forts of India. And amongst all the forts that i had visited in Rajasthan in those 10 days, this one was a Masterpiece. The gigantic appearance, the massive walls, the architecture, the carvings everything about this fort was magnificent. There are 7 gates in this fort , the main ones being Jai Pol, Fateh Pol and Loha Pol. This is the only fort i came across which has an elevator for the tourists to use.

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The fort has a very interesting story , it seems Roa Jodha wanted to shift his capital to Jodhpur and had chosen this hill where he wanted to lay the foundation of the fort. He asked his men to shift every person found on the hill elsewhere. At that time, there was just one person who lived there an old hermit called Cheeria Nathji, the Lord of the Birds (even today the fort is home to thousands of birds). He was so upset at being forced out that he cursed the place with scarcity of water. The King was so upset with this that he pleaded that the curse be taken back. But the man said , although he could not take back the curse once its given he would however, offer a solution. He said that a person had to be buried alive here for the effects of the curse to be reversed. A man named “Raja Ram Meghwal” offered to be buried alive at the hill, and the king in return promised to look after his family. His family still live at Raj Bagh , a place given to them by the King. The foundation of this fort was thus laid.  And a memorial for Raja Ram Meghwal was also built here.

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The fort has a lot of beautiful  palaces namely, Sheesh Mahal, Phool Mahal , Moti Mahal etc.What fascinated me were the Jali work  of the windows, they were extremely beautiful with delicate carvings and detailed architectural designs. I couldn’t stop peeping through the  jharokas and posing in front of them. It also houses a beautiful museum with a huge collection of royal palanquins, howdahs, cradles etc. There were swords some of which belonged to the times of mughal emperor Akbar, it is said that the Rathore rulers had good relations with the Mughals. There were furnitures, armory, hookahs, makeup box, musical instruments, paintings etc. But what caught my attention was the Daulatkhana, a place where the treasury was kept or you can say it was the king’s bank hence, the name Daulatkhana.

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The fort also has a spine chilling history of Sati or Jauhar. A practise of mass self-immolation (where the women jump into the fire to kill themselves,commonly practised among Rajputs those days) by the women of the palace including the queens, the dasi’s etc to avoid being used by the enemies if the men lose the war. Many a times the women would kill themselves even before the men went to war because they were unsure of the result. Before the  Jauhar the women would leave their handprints on the wall. You will find these handprints on most of the forts in Rajasthan, i saw these in Jaisalmer and Bikaner too.

Mehrangarh fort was my brush with Rajputana history. Being here was like a dream come ture as this fort had always fascinated me.  Its one of those fairytale forts that you had always seen in movies. It was here that the movie Dark Knight Rises was shot and a lot of bollywood movies too. It overlooks the City of Jodhpur and boasts of  a well stocked museum ( i’ll be writing about this in the next post), mind blowing architecture, well preserved cannon,it also the best place to see the sunset and sunrise.

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Amongst all the forts that i had seen in Rajasthan, this one remains my favourite. I wish i had spent one whole day there as theres so much to see in the city that 4 hours was definitely a short time and we had to leave out the beautiful Umaid Bhavan and Jaswant Thada. But i left the city with a promise that i will be back for more.

 

 

 

 

Jaipur -A royal affair

Jaipur was our last stop in Rajasthan. The pink city surprised me in many ways. I dint expect it too be so crowded, I din’t expect it to be so touristy and I dint expect it to be so Royal. But it was all that and more.

We arrived quiet late in Jaipur and had no idea whatsoever that it would be so different in the morning. We zoomed past so many cars, buses, scooters and lots and lots of people evry time we went out to visit a place. In the beginning it was like the city was testing my patience with so much traffic and chaos but eventually and slowly the city grew on me. And at the end of journey and I kind of liked this place.

What to see :-

Hawa Mahal :- Hawa Mahal is located in a crowded street. It’s beautifully made from the outside with lots and lots of window…for air to pass in. Hence, the name Hawa Mahal- the palace of wind. It is a place where the ladies from the royal family used to sit and watch the people go by as they were not allowed to come out in the open.It was their idea of evening entertainment. You can go inside as well but due to lack of time, and because a lot of people said it’s not that great inside, we decided to skip it. I wish the authorities took a little effort to maintain the place and keep it clean.

Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal

Jaipur City Palace :- The City Palace is built in true Rajputana style , and a part of the palace is still the residence of the royalty. You are however, not allowed to enter that part. Luckily for us, the day we arrived at City Palace the royal family was expecting a few guests and so we could witness a grand procession of horses, camels, elephants of the royal family welcoming the guests in true royal style. But once the guests went inside, the gates were closed. But nevertheless it was a magical experience. The part open for tourists houses big courtyards, fountains, gardens and museums which are well maintained and preserved. The architecture is something that will make you sit down and take notice. One of the displays that caught my attention was two magnificient silver urns which were used to carry water for the king whenever he went on a trip. Unfortunately,you are not allowed to take a picture of it.

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Palace where the Royalty still lives..as visible from one of the courtyards.

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the beautiful peacock design at the entrance

Amber fort :- Amber fort also pronounced as Amer fort is situated in Amer, 11kms or so from Jaipur. You have to take an Elephant ride to go up there, trust me the ride is worth it and luckily for us our elephant and the rider both were entertaining , we had a ball of a time with them. Once up you will be mesmerised by the beauty of the palace, but what puts you off at the same time is the hundreds and hundreds of visitors, which makes the place super crowded. The palace is full of courtyards, palaces inside each with a story to be told. A lot of movies have been shot here, and you are also told stories of how jodha bai of Jodha Akbar fame used to live here. One marvels, at the largeness of this place. It amazes me as to so much detailing must have gone into designing the interiors which is well preserved. While there I could visualize the lives led by the Rajput royalty.

Amer fort

Amer fort

 

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Elephant ride up..

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Jal mahal :- it’s impossible to drive past this place while visiting Jaipur. It’s on your way to Amber fort , the most sort after tourist attraction in Jaipur. Unfortunately, you can’t go inside, and so the place is not that crowded. Tourists just stop by to take some pictures enroute amber fort. But it’s a perfect place to unwind in the evening, with a cup of tea in hand, a walk by lake makes you appreciate this beauty called Jal mahal…especially during sunset. The palace is half submerged in the water.. And hence remains cool from inside. Jaipur is usually hot in the summers. So some say This was used a getaway palace by the king back then during summers. While some say, it was built so that the royalty could do some duck hunting as pastime without having to sit in an uncomfortable boat. It however, surprises me how the palace has stood the test of time and weather without corrosion despite being in the water for so long.

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Jantar mantar :- What looks like a sculpture park full of modern art to one, is actually a place full of astronomical instruments. It was built during the end of Mughal era , and allowed common people to learn about the science involved in astronomy. Instruments of marble and stone were used for tracking the movement of stars and planets. It also predicted the arrival of the monsoons. It is still used to forecast opportune time and date for special occasions like weddings. Even if you are not into astronomy, give it a try as this place is worth a visit.

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Jaipur & shopping :- Shopping & Jaipur to hand in hand. The old city of Jaipur is full of shops, markets and is a treat for shopoholic’s. Johri bazaar ,chand pole bazaar, tripoli bazaar, Bapu bazaar are all a Shoppers haven. From jewellery, to bags, to textiles especially the famous Rajasthani bandhani, to handicrafts, puppets, arts, mojdi’s etc you name it they have it. Jaipur is also famous for blue pottery and you will find a lot of showrooms on your way to Amber fort.

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Chokhi Dhaani :- To experience the whole of Rajasthan under one roof head straight to Chokhi Dhaani at night . With different dance shows, cultural activities, entertainment, mehendi stalls, astrologers and stalls selling products from rajasthan the palace is an experience in itself. Its a complete rajasthani village experience. And then you can savour some rajasthani food in the end which is super delicious.

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