The giant orb of a setting sun guided us down river, casting magical lights on the rippled water as, surrounded by the stark cliffs, we spotted nilgai, owls, vultures, storks and crocodiles. This was our spectacular introduction to Kota, Rajasthan, why had no one mentioned this to me before? In a world of over tourism and where a bombastic bombardment of social media has caused best kept secrets to become mainstream and chance discoveries have become as common as hen’s teeth, this experience, this destination, this hour long assault on the visual senses, pounced upon us as an unexpected delight.
Breakfast tables set amidst manicured lawns, trees home to parakeets, provided shade as, lost in a companiable silence we watched as a black shouldered kite, perched not 5 feet away, swoop down to try and take an Indian palm squirrel. Relieved as it got away we turned our attention to the prolific bird life dancing in and above and on the river oblivious to the large Marsh Mugger lazily swimming by.
The thirteenth century Kotah Garh City Palace turned out to be well curated and beautifully maintained. With no other tourists in sight, the staff in brilliant fuchsia saris invited us to share their mid-afternoon chai. These ladies then delighted in showing us around the museum, moving on to proudly point out the extraordinary paintings of the palace and then, confidence built, amidst shy giggles, leading to peals of laughter, they encouraged us pose for photos in various locations. Our guide was knowledgeable, passionate and hilarious and not once were we accosted by jaded locals trying to sell us over-priced tat.
A return to our hotel in its serene location, charmingly old fashioned, not modernised to become a swanky parody of what it once was, cosy and homely with flashes of colour amidst family heirlooms and delicious home-cooked food served by courteous staff.
Lack of time meant that we missed out on exploring the weaving but nevertheless, India you never fail to surprise and delight. Thanks to Ijyaraj from Brijraj Bhawan for his patience in waiting for me to accept this invitation, his kind hospitality and for never once even hinting at an “I told you so,” which he would have been well within his right to do.
In the words of Road Dahl, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”,
Kota is just 4 hours from Delhi by train, (1 hour from Bundi) and is well worth a visit.
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