Crashing the Wedding Party in Kumbhalgarh

Trip Start Apr 24, 2011
Trip End May 13, 2011

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Wednesday, May 4, 2011

During the medieval era, the state of Rasjasthan was a collection of many Rajput kingdoms. The Moghuls swept down from central Asia in the 16th century and conquered most of northern India, making most of the Rajput kings vassals of this offshoot of the Mongolian war machine. The vassal kings, sometimes referred to as maharajas, kept their jurisdiction and power first under the umbrella of the Moghuls, then the English. Then, in a series of changes, including Indian independence from the British Empire in 1947, the power and properties of these kings, and the feudal lords beneath them, faded and all but disappeared.

Usually, they were granted some of their royal lands as compensation, and still hold positions of honor and, in many cases, wealth. The last two generations, however, have seen sweeping changes in their lifestyles, and have taken jobs and learned to earn their way in the new India.

Last night, we met the noble family that owns the Deogarh Mahal Hotel, the palace converted to a hotel in which we've been staying. The son of the current family patriarch is a vibrant, middle age man with a sharp mind, a quick wit, and a love for early morning walks. When he learned that our objective was to set up walking routes, he invited us for a hike this morning. This meant a wake-up call at 5:30 am, and a pre-breakfast walk, but you can’t say no to a "royal".

We rode in his 4x4 jeep to an area of government owned land and hiked cross country as the sun crept up over the horizon. The area is marked by great expanses of granite bedrock, volcanic lava that oozed up in fissures in the earth’s crust at the dawn of time. We spooked a herd of Blue Bull antelope, and the maharaja pointed out signs of animal activity: a leopard marking a massive rock, recent digging by a porcupine; footprints of a mongoose.

Satisfied that we’ve identified an excellent walk option in the area, the maharaja drove us to another family holding, a mini-palace on a lake converted to a plush, 4-bedroom hideaway, “fit for a king”. We had breakfast there, experiencing the now familiar pampering of the waiters, always watchful for any hint of a desire, always at our elbows whispering offerings of more tea, or a second helping.

Reluctantly, we left Deogarh, bound for Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. A friend of our partner here in India told us of another walk option in the region, so upon arrival, we set out into the forest in the 100 degree heat. We’re in the dry season, and we keep hearing that when we come back, the foliage will be green and the farms will be patchwork quilts of various shades of green and yellow. Even so, the forest was lovely - the trees majestic.

As we climbed, our local guide told us there was a wedding going on in a tiny hamlet partway through our walk. Indeed, we encountered tipsy partiers working their way unsteadily down the path, and a group of camels, apparently commissioned to supply the multi-day event.

The trail leveled out and led us into a clearing where the festivities had clearly ended for the day. We were greeted, nonetheless, with warm hospitality. Snacks and drinks magically materialized in what seemed like seconds, and the local brew was proffered – Girish told us it was 80% alcohol.

We met the groom, the groom’s father, and conversed with the groom’s brother, who was in the Indian Air Force and possessed a solid enough command of English to fill us in on the family particulars. Photos were taken all round just in time for the music to start. Even though the festivities had ended, our arrival prompted a renaissance, and the paid musician and his wife and young son soon were seated in the grass, wailing out passionate tunes, accompanied by drum and harmonium (accordion-like instrument). Audience participation was unavoidable and soon all of us were flailing around like palm trees in a hurricane, much to the amusement of our hosts.

We left a gift for the groom, with wishes for a long and happy union, and were invited to the official ceremony tomorrow, which we unfortunately had to decline. We said our farewells and headed back down the mountain, basking in the afterglow of yet another cultural encounter, and yet another display of the hospitality of the Indian countryside.

As we neared the finish of the trail, we veered off to visit a humble farmhouse that Girish said was likely owned by “tribals”, groups of Indians that pre-date the Rajputs, and predate the Aryans. We encountered a family of beautiful women and children – the men must have all been away working in the towns.

Girish was able to communicate with them through Hindi. They bashfully posed for our cameras and it was clear that outsiders were not a common experience. The matriarch told Girish that we were the first foreigners she’d seen. Since it is likely she had been to market in nearby towns regularly over the years, where she would have had opportunity to see the occasional tourist, we wondered if perhaps she meant first foreigners that had come onto their land

The day ended at another beautiful rural hotel. As we entered the threshold, I felt something dropping on my head. Looking up, I could see a man kneeling on the archway throwing flower petals down onto us in welcome to the hotel. India excels in the art of hospitality!
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Diane H on

Beautiful people - in more ways than one.

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