Rajasthan is one hell of a colorful place.  Its like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, except instead of horses its elephants and instead of helmets its turbans.  When the Muslim Invaders conquered northern India, and the great emperor Akbar installed himself in Agra, one of the few peoples he never fully conquered were the Rajput kingdoms.  They were legendary fighters and soon Akbar realized that he was better off forming alliances with them then attempting to defeat them outright.  As a result, the Rajputs retained power until very recently (when India became independent around 1950), and their influence is still fresh and alive.  Loads of fully intact ancient forts and palaces sit perched on their hilltops ripe for exploring.  The awesome Meherengarh fort in Jodphur was still has cannonball marks on its walls and has a ton of cool cannons on its ramparts.  Its totally badass, I can’t believe I haven’t seen it in any old Sylvester Stallone movies.
 
The Rajputs were kinda like a cross between a samurai and MC Hammer.  They blended honor in battle with a love for flashy clothes and artsy weapons and armor.  You should see the facial hair on the old kings!!  Like elvis sideburns mixed with Mario Bros. mustaches, then topped with a turban that has a giant 6-foot long sprout of horse hair coming out the top!  The turbans are a range of crazy colors that even Skittles Neon version would have a hard time matching.  Red, flamin’ orange, cotton-candy pink, and canary yellow are actually common colors around here for headgear.  I guess since the women get 12 pieces of flair and the men only get 1, they have to really make it count.
 
Their swords are curvy, covered with gold and precious stones, and ingraved with humorous bits like: "To the Ruler of the Rathores, may your sword kill a 1000 enemies and the elephants they ride upon."  And they are serious about this, one painting shows a Rajput King slicing a guy AND his elephant in half in one bloody stroke!  Gory and kinda campy like Kill Bill.  Like the samurai, they disdained firearms and preferred the sword.  Even when Akbar slaughtered a whole mess of them with cannon and they had to take up muskets, they found a way to carve them into all sorts of cool shapes just like their swords.  One painting I saw, which said was a typical Rajput warrior, had the following getup that would make any REI gear-head jealous: intricate carved armor, a battle axe, a lance, a sword, a dagger, a bow and arrows, and a musket.  Dude a little overkill maybe?  I’m guessing if you get attacked you’re going to be so busy fiddling with that swiss army knife you might accidentally pull out the tweezers.
 
One thing that I liked was their love of knowledge and the arts.  They had hundreds of traditional dances and songs, and lots of the kings would sponsor painters and make them famous.  Its a little touch of renaissance in the desert.  One of the big Kings, Jai Singh, built all these fascinating astronomical structures.  The sundial he built in Jaipur was accurate to within 2 seconds!  Supposedly you can see the shadow move but it was too cloudy when I was there.  The architecture, of course, is the biggest attraction.  Most of the temples are Jain, which look pretty ordinary from the outside.  I guess Jains believe in not being too flashy.  Course the irony is once you are inside the temples look like a 70’s Studio 54 party on acid.  There isn’t a flat wall in the place, they have so many carvings every which way.  The castles are a blend of Hindi and Muslim styles, with tulip-bulb domes, cookie cutter windows, intricate peek-a-boo balconies, and flashy mirror-inlaid murals of peacocks and fighting warriors.  They love the stain-glass too, some of the inner palace rooms are pretty amazing to visit when the sunlight hits the windows and lights them up in a mix of filtered reds and greens.  The insides are covered with all sorts of pillows and cushy furniture.  Apparently they even have secret passages leading to the concubine chambers so the women won’t be seen by anyone but the king.  It kinda reminded me of some of the better VIP rooms I used to hit in Hollywood.  (Course we don’t call ’em concubines anymore.)
 
The women are even flashier than their Delhi counterparts, and the Purdha is still alive and well.  If you even think of taking a picture of one of the gals flashing more ornaments than a Christmas-tree, her spider-sense goes off and she pulls her headscarf down.  Hey I can take a hint, ladies!  I’ll just take more boring pictures of the forts, fine.  Be like that.  I coulda made you famous in Hollywood ya know.  Your loss.
 
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