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Published: February 29th 2016
We bid farewell to H.H. the Maharajah of Jhalawar. Before he leaves he is keen to show us his armoury, locked away at the top of the house. We see his pair of Purdeys custom made for his grandfather in 1928, and his tiger hunting rifle with telescopic sight. Various other shotguns and rifles previously owned by different Maharajahs, handguns, swords, cutlasses, war axes, and various nasty stabbing and hacking things, many wrapped in their original oiled cloth and leather packaging. A treasure trove.
Once upon a time there was a government minister who decided that rural India needed decent roads. So he created a Central Government Road Project as part of the five year plan. We know this because occasionally we espy metal notice boards, now rusty and overgrown, proclaiming this. And many roads were laid with tarmac, though only one lane about ten feet wide and not the sections that ran through villages – they were left as soil as they were the responsibility of the villagers. Sadly his successors did not think so much about the farmers, so they made no further provision for rural roads in their five year plans. The extremes of heat and monsoon,
and the tractors with their heavily laden loads took their toll on the roads, which grew bumpier and bumpier. Meanwhile in the villages deep ruts and potholes developed.
And so it came to pass that our journey from Jhalawar to Bhainsrorgarh, which Google Maps helpfully assured us was 86km and would take 1 ¼ hours to drive, took 2 ½ hours and a lot of stops to check the way. The first hour of the journey was through a landscape turned white by the numerous quarries and stone cutting businesses, producing a white dust that settles on everything. Hillsides have vanished in the pursuit of building materials, while new ones have been created from the sharp slate like rubble left behind. Gradually the white gave way to parched yellow-grey soil and stubble, interspersed with the dusty green of wheat, steadily being harvested. The poorer farmers harvest by hand – or at least, their womenfolk do while the men watch – while combine harvesters block the road as they travel from job to job for the more affluent farmers with more fields, many blasting out music from their somewhat incongruous sound systems. Even more of a traffic hazard are the
massively overladen trucks carrying crops or hay, which extend well over the edges of the single track road, usually with three or four farmhands perched on top that you watch waiting for them to fall off. Overtaking continues of course, by judicious use of the rough verges to either side, and cars career along at 45 degrees with one wheel in the dust and stones at the roadside. Cows and goats are herded down the roads, while cows and dogs sit unmoving in the middle of the road. Finally we reach a town where an auto rickshaw driver tells our driver that the hotel is only 5km away. We are somewhat surprised to see a sign for the Indian atomic research centre, followed by one for the heavy water plant, until a third sign tells us that the nameless town is home to an atomic power station. Which slightly spoils the view from the hotel when we eventually get there but hey you can't have everything.
Bhainsrorgarh fort perches atop a 200ft high slate ridge over the Chambal river, one of the main rivers of Rajasthan. It was built in 1741 by Rawat Lal Singh, one of
the sixteen highest ranking nobles of Mewar, which was the princely state ruled by the Maharajah of Udaipur, 160miles away. It is still owned and now run as a hotel by the family. Our host Mahendra Singh has perhaps the finest moustache in Rajasthan. The fort is built over three levels around a courtyard and we have the Mewar suite. The lounge has stained glass windows, the bedroom has an original mural on the domed ceiling. The suite has jharokas on three sides – a jharoka is an overhanging enclosed balcony with a curved roof and arched window openings, very characteristic of Moghul architecture. We have jharokas on three sides of the suite so we will be able to see any invading army approaching from three of the four cardinal directions. In the dusty dry landscape we will see their column of dust from miles away........
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