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When enemies faced down Rajput foes they would first see a cloud of dust on the horizon, followed by the fierce defenders of this Land of Kings, charging into an unwinnable battle, outnumbered and outgunned. In the cliff-top fortresses of the Thar Desert, Rajput women and children would follow their men in honorable death choosing mass immolation (jauhar) over surrender. Perhaps it was the stark desert and the unforgiving heat that bred this intensity, for the stubborn loyalty of Rajasthan’s warriors prevails to this day.

Rajasthan’s maharajas were so obstinately concerned with their own independence that Rajasthan dissolved into a mess of uncooperative kingdoms, easily overthrown by the powerful and united Mughal Empire. However, the Mughals quickly realized that granting the Rajputs some power in their ruling hierarchy was more effective than engaging in punishing battles with unwavering foes. When the British overthrew the Mughals, the maharajas collaborated with the Raj; in return they were given license to live in utter decadence, depleting the state’s resources and arresting its social and economic development. Their subjects, however, stuck by their nobles, and the unequivocal pride and piercing gaze of traditional village artisans still mingles naturally with the lavish palaces, havelis, temples, and pavilions that litter the state. The close relationship between maharaja and subject, often one of noblesse oblige, has continued well into the late 20th century, with royal families entering the democratic politics of Independent India and being elected by their loyal citizens.

Rajasthan can be geographically divided into three regions. In the northeastern and eastern part of the state, plains roll under a combination of rick national parks and cosmopolitan centers like the famed Jaipur, the state’s capital and part of the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur ‘Golden Triangle’ of tourism. To the west, the plains gradually yield to the arid lands of the Thar Desert and its imposing forts. In the south, the majestic Aravali Mountains decorate the landscape with verdant valleys and numerous mountain lakes. While some Rajputs have traded in their swords for cell-phones, amid all the development, you will catch glimpses of the glorious past: the brightly colored bandhani cloth of Jaipur’s markets, the fortress at Chittaurgarh, the hardened shepherds and nimble goats in the hills, the steady camels in Pushkar and the opulently luxurious palaces in Udaipur.

Map of Rajasthan

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