Harems turn into rental apartments | Travelogue
On the return journey from Bishnoi village, the conversation somehow turned to 'Modi saab'. Kuldeep, a Congressman, feels that Gehlot can govern the State, but when it comes to the Centre he supports Modi. It's not about the BJP, but he believes that girls in the village have begun attending school because of ‘Modi sahab”.
In stark contrast to the applause and animated discussions that greeted the mention of Salman Khan earlier, our response was with mere nods and inarticulate sounds. Kuldeep appeared to have felt the need for a more compelling argument and came with an alternative line of reasoning.
"Biwi bachche toh nahi hain...."
If nothing else, Modi does not have a wife nor children. Introducing the topic of Yashoda Ben into the conversation appeared inconsequential.
Kuldeep felt that another commendable action of Modi was to terminate train services from Pakistan, Dhar Express and Samjhauta Express. The final destination of the former was Jodhpur, the closest Indian city to Pakistan.
The Jodhpur airport, which was accorded international status prior to Delhi, continues to serve a dual purpose of being a civilian and military airfield. During the journey just before the Independence Day celebrations, the hand luggage had to be opened twice for the checking at the small airport.
Veer, who we met later, ascribed the international status of Jodhpur airport to its last king Hanwant Singh. He had an avid passion for cars and planes, tragically meeting his demise at the tender age of 28 in an aircraft crash while piloting it.
Veer also subscribed to the intriguing conspiracy theory that the king, who pose-Independence had established his own political party and was all set to engage in electoral politics, was abducted and done to death by a contract killing gang.
His son Gaj Singh, who holds the symbolic position of the king today, commands a level of reverence that surpasses even the royal family of Travancore in Kerala. Perhaps, for those revel in the annals of history, enduring loyalty to royalty serves as a source for considerable pride.
The next expedition was to the Palace of Umaid Bhawan, where 'Maharaja' Gaj Singh and his family currently reside. The palace being a tourist attraction, has a few rooms reserved for guests, with steep off-season rent exceeding Rs 50,000 a night.
The exalted hall within the palace shot into greater fame as a destination wedding venue after the celebrated unions of Arun Nair and Liz Hurley, as also the latest of Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas.
Constructed by Hanwant Singh's father Umaid Singh, the palace was the last royal edifice built in pre-independent India and the work was completed in 1942.
Another part of Umaid Bhavan has been converted into a museum where numerous displays highlight the philanthropic endeavours of the royal family members. The Toorji ka Jhalra Bavdi, a huge pond-like well with steps, was dug for the people from taxes levied on them. It was constructed in the 18th century to store rainwater, addressing the acute water scarcity the region grappled with.
Polo game pictures included in the exhibits are a captivating sight. It is quite possible that British King Charles and his sons William and Harry would have come to the notice of many, showcasing them astride horses in polo attire.
Polo, having its origins during the imperialist era, served to engage royal family members during times of peace. Way back in 1889, Sir Pratap, the sibling of the then king, went to England with his team during the Diamond Jubilee year of Queen Victoria's accession. Gaj Singh's son and heir apparent Shivraj Singh was a member of the Indian polo team. After discontinuing his studies and job abroad, he now finds time to run a palace-owned hotel chain and also coaches the Jodhpur polo team.
Following the polo narrative, another building on the premises hosts a collection of vintage cars. This assortment spans from the 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom featured in the James Bond film ‘Octopussy’ to the Cadillac convertible that dropped Queen Elizabeth II at the airport in 1961.
(To be continued)
Part 2: Turbans mark castes in Jodhpur
Part 3: Harems turn into rental apartments
Part 4: The Rajas of Rajputana
Part 5: Marwar's Festival of Tastes