Every year for the past eight years, my wife and I have been making trip to Rajasthan to visit various Jain temples. For a few days, we are in a different world. Driving through the land where my parents were born, I invariably think of a life and world which is so very different from the one I was born and brought up in. Besides heritage, there has been a natural affinity to Rajasthan. It is a state I have visited almost annually for the better part of my life for a variety of reasons holidays in the 1970s, my fathers factories in the 1980s, temple visitations in the late 1990s to now.
Here is what the official state website has to say: Rajasthan is a vibrant, exotic state where tradition and royal glory meet in a riot of colors against the vast backdrop of sand and desert. It has an unusual diversity in its entire forms- people, customs, culture, costumes, music, manners, dialects, cuisine and physiography. The land is endowed with invincible forts, magnificent palace havelis, rich culture and heritage, beauty and natural resources. It is a land rich in music, dance, art and craft, and adventure, a land that never ceases to intrigue and enchantThe state has not only survived in all its ethnicity but owes its charisma and color to its enduring traditional way of life. So rich is the history of the land that every roadside village has its own tales of valour and sacrifice, the winds sing them and the sands shift to spread themThe panoramic outlook of the state is simply mesmerizing, with lofty hills of Aravali’s – one of the oldest mountain ranges of the world and the golden sand dunes of the Great Indian Desert – the only desert of the sub-continent. No other region in the country is a conglomeration of so many paradoxes.
Think of Rajasthan and one also thinks of heroism and bravery, the bright colours of its people, grand palaces, its mineral wealth (especially marble and granite), the enterprising Marwari community, the wonderful handicrafts and the rich cultural traditions. But in reality, Rajasthan has been considered a backward state in India being lumped as a sickly Bimaru state with the likes of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. It is now the largest Indian state by area, and eighth largest in population. Its 55 million people have been largely left out of both the agricultural revolution which transformed the North and the IT and Services revolution which is changing Peninsula India. Tourism has been one of the big attractions in Rajasthan the flights to and from its cities are packed with foreigners.
My vantage point is very small. We travel through a tiny part of Rajasthan. This year, our four-day trip included Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Nakodaji (which is always the cornerstone of our visit), Rankapur, Mount Abu and Udaipur. We travelled over 1600 kilometres by car (an Ambassador) in four days through what is quite literally, deserted terrain. We were driving from place to place for about 7-8 hours daily. We stayed in Jain dharamshalas for two nights at rates of Rs 50-100 (USD 1-2), with the third night being at the factory home in Abu Road (at the foothills of Mount Abu). Each of our Jain meals (no onion or garlic) cost less than Rs 50 per person. This is very much the trip we do each year. As we travel through the Land of the Kings (for what is what Rajasthan means), I wonder – how have things changed in a generation, and what to expect in the future?
Tomorrow: A Little History