In Rajasthan we took private trips by both camel cart and jeep to explore the timeless culture of the villages on the fringes of the Thar desert. We had lunch with a farmer and his 13 daughters, who shared their simple home and invited us to join them in an opium ceremony; then travelled to a Bishnoi village across scrubland and shallow dunes dotted with khejri trees and graceful chinkara gazelle. Both the chinkara and the trees are revered by the Bishnoi tribe, who are even known to bury dead gazelles and mark their graves. Bishnoi translates as ‘twenty-niners’, which refers to the number of principles they live by, two of which are to protect trees and ‘all living beings’. Their fierce affinity with nature, and their aggression in its protection since 1485, has led them to be thought of a the first environmentalists.
We went to Rajasthan for Christmas with the original intention of getting away from traditional festivities. However, our hosts at Fort Chanwa had trimmed up with a tree and there were cheap crackers and party hats to accompany our Indian Gala Dinner. The whole evening had a lovely sense of things as they used to be; a quality that reminded me of childhood Christmases.
On New Year’s Eve the Maharaja threw a party for the locals, and my boyfriend and I dressed in Rajasthani costume - to the great amusement of the Indian guests who were all in the latest designer gear.
At the end of every evening we drank our nightcap around fire baskets on the lawn, and then watched the bright north star from the rooftop before retiring to bed - what could be more Christmassy than that?
Fort Chanwa, in the village of Luni, 35km from Jodhpur, is an oasis of peace that is far removed from the madding crowds of the Blue City. This restored sandstone fort, owned by the Maharaja Dalip Singhji, is built around connecting courtyards and decorated with intricately carved lattice work. From atop its walls and secret pavilions you can watch village life drift by, trains snaking their way through the surrounding countryside, and glorious sunsets. We travelled into the surrounding bushland by camel cart and wandered down to the train station for a cup of pukka railway chai. In the evenings we sat around fires on the lawns and watched traditional dancing, before stargazing from the rooftop before bed. The staff are charming - as are the Maharaja and his wife.
This small family run hotel, hard by the central market, and the clock tower and city gate, is a small, inexpensive, heritage hotel. It has interesting, traditional, and comfortably furnished rooms, with all modern amenities, around a peaceful inner courtyard, where wifi is available and free. Family run and friendly, it is delightfully finished off with a rooftop terrace restaurant, with spectacular views of the Mehrangarh Fort, illuminated at night. Watch out for crazy Indian wedding processions going past in the streets of the city below!
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