Rajasthan, or Rajputana as it was before India's independence from British rule is a vast area of palaces and peacocks,camels and citadels. If one travels from the extreme east of the state at Bharatpur one gradually leaves lush pools of the famous bird sanctuary and encounters semi desert and finally in the extreme West the desert - the Great Thar Desert.
Dream come true
Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Rohet Garh, Ranakpur, Pushkar, Chittorgarh, Ranthambhore are all names resonant with mystery and India's history and the first time I visited it felt like a dream come true. One can stand on a rampart or look at filigree stone work and think of the centuries of palace life, love and intrigue that have taken place within the walls.
India's cities may be vast and impossibly overcrowded, yet over 650 million people still live in villages across India, their lives simple hard-working and very poor but infinitely more pleasant than in the mean pinched areas of places like Mumbai and Kolkata.
Along the roads, shaded in places by big old trees, one could almost see in one's mind's eye young Kim and his mentor the Lama, sitting in the shade watching the goatherd with his flock of floppy-eared goats. A camel with its cart stalks by and the camel as ever gives one a disdainful look, and in Jaipur whilst driving in the Pink City look to your left and most probably there will be an elephant lumbering along with an impatient cycle rickshaw wishing to overtake from behind!
On the roads near Tonk the roadside is plentiful with peacocks and Rajasthani women brightly dressed like stately red and orange jewels carrying pots of water on their heads. Their simple dignity shines out of their smiling faces when answering your greeting.
Be it five-star luxury and elegance, or a simpler heritage haveli inevitably the welcome will be warm, the service friendly and efficient and the food delicious. The marble foyers of five-star establishments have their own charm which can be essential when the searing heat drives one indoors, but in the cooler months the various little palaces and havelis with their well tended gardens provide a welcome refuge after a full day's sightseeing. Sitting out under the stars with a welcome glass of your favourite drink and a delicious dinner being served, with perhaps some local musicians adding to the atmosphere makes for a pleasant end to the day.
Princes and princesses
The Maharana, Maharajahs, Nawabs, Rajkumars princes and princesses - indeed the whole spectrum of Rajput nobility with their palaces, polo ponies, hunting cheetahs, tigers and leopards evoke the whole wonderful mystery and fascination of this great land.
However, the ordinary simple man selling you spices, the Bishnoi tribe with their total dedication to preserving wildlife, the local craftsmen and women and the naturalist who may help you to fulfil a dream and see tiger, all these too are the proud people of Rajasthan.
Now oil has been discovered in the North West and hopefully, this will add substantially to the revenues of this proud, historic but relatively poor part of India. As a traveller just remember, if you will, these lovely people live there, whereas in the West we have theme parks and Natural Trust living museums, the Rajasthanis in all their glory face the challenges of desert and drought continuously. May their monsoon this year have been a good one.