During our travels around Rajasthan I took a lot of photos that didn’t relate to one specific part of this ‘Land of Kings’, but were fairly indicative of the desert state as a whole. For that reason, I have separated these photos into a separate journal entry and want to share them with you as a final look back at our 2008 visit to India. Our main goal this trip, apart from seeing family again, was to really see Rajasthan properly and we feel that this time we have done it justice.
Now for a little bit of background on this fascinating part of the Indian subcontinent. Rajasthan operated under a feudal system with a largely rural population. Frequent droughts make subsistence living very hard indeed. The Rajputs, Hindu warrior clans, forged temporary alliances for protection and to repel outside invaders. Their bravery and sense of honour were unparalleled. When it appeared that all was lost, the men would ride out to certain death dressed in saffron robes while the women prepared themselves to perform jauhar (mass suicide) by climbing on the funeral pyres of their men.
The squabbling with each other allowed eventually allowed the Muslim Mughals to dominate them. Some Rajputs even became generals in the Mughal armies. Rajput princesses were often married to Mughal princes but the Rajput males only married Rajput women in order to maintain the bloodlines. As the Mughal Empire waned the Rajputs allied themselves with the British, who allowed them to continue as independent states.
When India gained independence in 1947, Rajasthan had one of the subcontinent’s lowest literacy and life expectancy rates. At Independence, the rulers were allowed to keep their titles, their property holdings and were given an annual allowance from the government. This arrangement was abolished by Indira Gandhi in the early 1970s and many of the rulers found themselves without an income. Some sold off their holdings while others converted their palaces into hotels and now live in only a part of what was once their vast residence.
Rajasthan has made headway now that they are no longer feudal serfs, but the state remains poor. Life is especially tough for the women as tradition and customs remaining are strong. Tourism has become a major industry in Rajasthan, but visitors come mainly in the cool months of December to February and the remainder of the year, the people must manage in ways that they have done for centuries. I was surprised to see stone fences constructed to clearly mark family land holdings in a region where little seems to grow other than scrubby trees. It is obvious that the land means everything to these proud people.