When I arrived into the Indian State of Rajasthan, known as the Land of the Kings, I had no idea I was about to meet one!
I was headed to the Pushkar Camel Festival, one of the most fascinating festivals in India that takes you back in time. Thousands of Rajasthani tribal people gather together from all over India and beyond to buy and sell camels, cattle and livestock in the middle of no where.
Set in the middle of the desert, Pushkar is swarming with local tribes setting up their tented camps and securing their caravan of camels. The tribes wear their traditional costumes – women wearing their veils, and men dressed in the white dhotis and colorful turbans. In between bartering, many tribal people bathe in the holy waters of Pushkar Lake and receive blessings from Brahmin priests, or they browse the local markets for textiles, jutis (leather shoes curving up at the toe), camel saddles, pottery, mounds of spices, baskets, bangles and silver jewelry.
Before heading to the camel festival, I decided to get over my jetlag at the famous Taj Hotels in Udaipur and Jodhpur, before “roughing it” in a tent in Pushkar. The first palace I stayed at was the Taj Floating Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur. My driver picked me up at the Udaipur airport and drove me straight to a private boat docked at Lake Pichola. I felt like royalty with all the welcome surprises from the cold washcloth to being greeted with a shower of rose petails while entering the palace, and then given a glass of freshly squeezed watermelon juice off a silver tray.
I was escorted under a royal umbrella to my new home – the Maharaja’s Suite – an instant cure for jetlag! For a couple days I felt like a princess, and then traveled through the countryside of Rajasthan to stay at one more Taj Hotel in Jodhpur before going to the Pushkar Camel Festival.
The desert capital of Jodhpur, known as the “blue city” since many of the homes and shops are painted blue, is located to northeast of Udaipur. From the Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel, you can see the majestic Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest forts in India built in 1459 by the Rathore clan. I received another royal greeting from the staff and was escorted to my suite. I noticed there was alot of decoration and new lights being strung throughout the Palace and set about to discover what was happening at the Palace. I walked through the long hallways and under the grand central rotunda of the Palace, and went through a passageway that led to an enchanting beautiful garden. I turned a corner and almost bumped into an Indian gentleman in a plain white tunic. I exclaimed to this other “guest” how beautiful the palace was. The man agreed with me and asked me if I had just arrived. It was fairly obvious I had been initiated as a new guest upon my arrival a lei of saffron flowers around my neck and a red bindi painted on my forehead. I told him “yes” and we visited for a few brief moments and said good evening. As I turned to walk away, I found a security guard standing in front of me who said to me softly, “You are very lucky, you just met the King Maharaja Gaj Singh II.”
I was shocked and amazed that he lives in the Palace still and is the leader of today’s Rathore clan. I knew there were generations of Maharaja that go back for centuries, but didn’t realize that they still existed. The Palace had a living King, a Maharaja who still lived in the Palace I was staying at. Later, I was told by the staff that preparations were underway for the Prince’s wedding to take place in the next few days. I noticed a beautiful woman in a pink sari walking the grounds for the final inspection and found out she’s the real Princess.
Couple days later, reality set in….I was in the middle of thousands of camels in Pushkar while the Prince was getting married. The festivities must have been grand. I even heard the Prince arrived by elephant to meet his bride.
For more information, visit: http://www.maharajajodhpur.com/