Sunday, 4 March 2012

Indian Odyssey 2: From Palaces to Poppies

Udai Bilas Palace looks out over the lake at Dungarpur and has a private temple which is lit up at night
From palaces to poppies, Rajasthan has it all and whilst travelling with John Brookes in Rajasthan last month, we stayed at several of the first and saw acres of the second! Once we'd acclimatised to the unusually cold weather on arrival and shivered our way round Udaipur, we travelled south to Dungarpur, close to the Gujarat border. 
This is a glorious, unspoiled area, with some of the best bird watching in India. The only place to stay is a palace on the shores of the lake in this thriving town, some two hours drive from Udaipur - the charming Udai Bilas Palace hotel run by the ruling family. The architecture will enchant and another major attraction is the Juna Mahal palace (below) with seven storeys of ecclectic architecture and art, rising high above the town. Don't miss this if you're in Dungarpur - buy tickets at the hotel and will be astounded by the intricacy of the decoration and the vibrant colour schemes within. But equally impressive is the decor at Udai Bilas, where you'll encounter the occasional taxidermed tiger (left).

Juna Mahal Palace, Dungarpur 
This is a place to enjoy views over the lake and lounge at the infinity pool. We spent two days relaxing at Dungarpur and met many like-minded travellers. Both artists and birdwatchers are drawn to this place, which has stood still in time. There are endless lakes in the area which attract migrating birds and I shall return to what we saw in a later blog entry. Definitely one for the wish list when in Rajasthan!
John Brookes surveying the view at Chittaurgarh's hill fort
With batteries recharged, we left here for Chittaurgarh, a city some some four hours drive north, which has one of the most impressive hill forts in Rajasthan, covering nearly 700 acres of hilltop. 
Cows, baboons and tourists mingle at Chittaurgarh fort
The ruins, which include temples, palaces and towers, are well worth stopping to see and you'll find cows and baboons mingling with the tourists here. Most visitors make a brief half-day stop here before heading on to their next destination, which in our case was the magical palace at Bijaipur. This palace has a charming cottage garden, laid out by the present owner's grandmother, which I reviewed last year. 
Bijaipur Palace, Rajasthan
The Bijaipur palace lies in the heart of India's opium growing region  - and you'll see acres of white poppies at the roadside, guarded by farmers. India produces nearly half of the world's opium required by pharmaceutical companies, and both growth and production are strictly controlled by the government. But for the tourist, the bobbing white heads at the side of the road make an impressive display!
Opium poppies in flower at the side of the road in Rajasthan
John Brookes has his own garden blog and you can read his interpretation on our India travels together here.

1 comment:

  1. Those opium poppy fields are lovely. Are all the varieties that are grown there commercially white-flowered or are there also fields of pink/purple/red?