What are the popular forts in Rajasthan

Rajasthan - where splendor and decline go hand in hand

Rajasthan is one of India's most popular tourist regions. With palaces, fortresses, proud people, camels and elephants, it corresponds to the image that the Occident has always had of the Orient.

Place of kings. This is what Rajasthan means in translation. And this is exactly how this Indian state presents itself with its maharajah palaces, fortresses and stately homes, the so-called havelis. The latter were mostly built in the 18th and 19th centuries by wealthy traders along the Silk Road that ran through Rajasthan at that time. Even if the ravages of time have gnawed at many of these former magnificent buildings, many are still in perfect condition. This is especially true for the megalomaniac royal palaces and fortresses of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur with dozens of sumptuously furnished rooms and elegantly furnished halls.

Almost like in a fairy tale

Today, many of these extravagant buildings, which cost a fortune to maintain, serve either as luxury hotels or museums. Large Indian wedding celebrations with over 2000 invited guests take place regularly on the reception terrace of the Udaipur Palace, which has been transformed into a museum. On such days, tourists have to step back into the second tier. In addition, entire suites of rooms are reserved for the Maharajah families, some of whom still reside in these buildings. The latter may have lost much of their former power. Nevertheless, the world of these feudal lords continues to fascinate our days - both in India and abroad. For well-heeled VIP tourists, it is still a highlight to be invited to afternoon tea with a Maharajah family or to attend a private elephant polo in the palace.

The Amber Fort, enthroned on a hill outside Jaipur, may also awaken a lot of fascination. Well over 100 majestic working elephants in colorful clothing carry hosts of tourists from all over the world on their backs up the mountain during the travel season. What a blaze of colors! What a feast for the eyes! The spacious fort in the oasis town of Jaisalmer, where around 3,000 families still live today, is also impressive. And where tourists crowd through narrow streets and past traders and souvenir shops, almost like in San Gimignano in Tuscany.

Alone, the comparison with the Bel Paese limps. Because Rajasthan - like all of India, by the way - surprises with a juxtaposition of opposites that is unfamiliar to Western eyes: wild and often arid landscapes, from which bold and artistic buildings soar. Traditionally and colorfully dressed people who seem proud and stubborn despite widespread poverty: be it women in brightly shining saris, be it theatrical men with dark mustaches and black or red turbans. Or be it the boy with black, curly hair who, at the exit of the Amber Palace, with his unbroken child's voice sings evergreens and arias from western operas to tourists in order to earn a few chunks. All of this in the midst of the wondrous world of the Maharajas.

So you soon come to the conclusion: If the daily fate of large parts of the population of Rajasthan were not so hard, the climate not so challenging, environmental pollution not such a serious problem and water shortage not so threatening, you could almost speak of a fairy tale world like 1001 nights .

Plan enough time

A lot of time should be taken to explore Rajasthan. The distances are huge and the roads are of very different quality. In our 16-day round trip, we covered more than 2000 kilometers in the bus, often on bumpy ground. And it was determined that the closer you get to the border with Pakistan, the better the road network becomes. After all, the Indian army must be able to transport soldiers, material and weapons, whenever the tense relationship with its Muslim neighbors demands it.

To understand Rajasthan, it is advisable to take a look at the history of this territory, which has long been marked by feudal tribal feuds. Initially, the maharajas lived together with their clan, their entourage and numerous soldiers in imposing fortresses. This enabled them to protect themselves against enemies - both against attackers from the imperialist Mughal empire and against those from their own ranks. Because most of the time there was a fight for land. Rajasthan's rulers were considered excellent fighters. The majority of them belonged to the second Hindu caste, i.e. that of the warriors. Even today, their descendants often bear the surname Singh, which very aptly means lion.

However, many of the ostentatious palaces were not built until the time of the British colonial rulers. With a clever divide-et-impera policy, they understood how to break the power and influence of the maharajas. In return, they provided generous financial support. Thanks to this, many maharajas were able to afford such fairytale-like facilities in the first place. For example, the king of Jodhpur only had his palace built around 1920 when a severe drought hit the area. Thanks to the large construction site on which thousands of workers toiled for 14 years, money flowed from the regent's box into the households of his subjects.

Some royal families look back on a long history. The 76th generation of the ruling line now lives in the palace of Udaipur. And it was the ancestor Udai Singh who laid the foundation stone for the family palace in 1559 and thus also initiated the founding of the city of Udaipur, which was later named after him.

One of the most colorful regents of the modern age was undoubtedly Rao Ganga Singh (1880–1943), the 21st and penultimate Maharajah of Bikaner. He kept no fewer than 99 elephants, and he enjoyed a special position because in the early 20th century he represented the British Crown as a representative of the 600 "Indian Princes" that still existed at the time. They had around a third of the land area of ​​the subcontinent and were a serious group - although they did not form a homogeneous block in terms of their history, their personality and, above all, the size of their possessions.

Comprehensive archive

The palace of Bikaner is still considered something special to this day, even if it is off the beaten track. First, it contains the largest collection of documents, photos and records on the history of these kings. And secondly, many revealing objects from the life of Maharajah Rao Ganga Singh, who died in 1943, are on display in the palace.

Among them is a Havilland DH-9DE propeller plane. These are parts of airplanes which the British Army shot down in World War I and which Rao Ganga Singh gave as a trophy. Out of gratitude for his active support of the British war effort. Ganga Singh and his troops fought alongside the British in Flanders and France. The aircraft parts were later reassembled at the palace to form the aircraft on display.