Rajasthan is known as "the land of kings”. It is the largest state of the Republic of India by area. It is located in the northwest of India. It comprises most of the area of the large, inhospitable Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, which parallels the Sutlej-Indus river valley along its border with Pakistan to the west. Rajasthan is also bordered by Gujarat to the southwest, Madhya Pradesh to the southeast, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to the northeast and Punjab to the north. Rajasthan covers 10.4% of India, an area of 342,239 square kilometres (132,139 sq mi). Its history speaks of a proud people whose courage, chivalry and martial traditions are legendary. Here palace and fort, garden and lake attest to pride and honour, love and culture. In this land still living in its historic past, everywhere there is colour and gaiety, art and pageantry, and a love of all things beautiful.
Rajasthan is now one of India’s prime tourist destinations, attracting travellers from all over the world and everyone who visits is sure to leave with principles memories and bundles of souvenir.
Jaipur is the capital and the largest city of the state. Geographical features include the Thar Desert along north-western Rajasthan and the termination of the Ghaggar River near the archaeological ruins at Kalibanga of the Indus Valley Civilization, which are the oldest in the Indian subcontinent discovered so far.
The state is bounded on the west by West Pakistan, on the north by the states of Haryana and Punjab and the Union Territory of Delhi; on the east by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and on the south by Gujarat. The western frontier consists of the sands of the Thar or the Great Indian Desart. A line of the Aravallis crosses Rajasthan from South-west to north-east. The north-west division is about two-thirds of Rajasthan and consists of a sea of sand. The land lying to the south-east of the Aravallis is of a diverse character. Large tracts of it are fertile and watered by several rivers. There are hills and valleys and level plains plains generally covered by forests. Towards Bharatpur it is a flat plain like that of the Ganga.
The Aravalli system of hills is the dominating topographical feature of Rajasthan. Besides the range running across Rajasthan from south-west to north-east and dividing it into two main regions, there is a series of detached hills shooting from Delhi in a south-westerly direction. From Ajmer, severl parallel ranges issue to the south and south-west corner (Mount Abu) of the Sirohi district. Its highest peak is 1717 metres high and is called Gurushikhar, from which the sunset is an enchanting sight. The ranges going towards Udaipur and Dungapur have between them a fertile plain about 40 km wide.
One of the world's oldest mountain ranges, the Aravalli Range, cradles the only hill station of Rajasthan, Mount Abu, famous for Dilwara Temples, a sacred pilgrimage for Jains. Eastern Rajasthan has the world famous Keoladeo National Park near Bharatpur, a World Heritage Site known for its bird life. It also has two national tiger reserves, Ranthambore and Sariska Tiger Reserve, and a famous temple in Khatu, Sikar district, dedicated to Khatu Shyam Ji. Rajasthan was formed on 30 March 1949, when the region known until then as Rajputana, consisting of erstwhile 18 princely states, two chiefships and the British district of Ajmer-Merwara.
A part of the Vindhyan rocks also lies in Rajasthan.
The only river of note in the desert region is the Luni which issues from the Nag hills near Ajmer. During its slow course of 320km in the Jodhpur area, it is joined byits tributaries named Sukir, Jawai and Jairia and falls into the Rann of Kutch. The river Ghaggar flows north of Bikaner. The eastern plateau is traversed by a number of rivers. The largest is the Chambal with a length of 2,040km with its tributaries, the Banas, the Kali Sindh and the Parwati. Another important river of Rajasthan is Mahi, flowing through Dungapur and Banaswara districts. The Banganga is of some consequence in Jaipur and Bharatpur districts.
The first mention of word Rajasthan appears in James Tod's 1829 publication, Annals and Antiquities of Rajast'han or the Central and Western Rajpoot States of India. Rajasthan literally means a Land of Kingdoms. George Thomas (Military Memories) was the first in 1800 A.D., to term this region as Rajputana. John Keay in his book, India: A History stated that the Rajputana name was coined by the British, but that the word even achieved a retrospective authenticity: in an 1829 translation of Ferishta's history of early Islamic India, John Briggs discarded the phrase Indian princes, as rendered in Dow's earlier version, and substituted Rajput princes. R. C. Majumdar explained that the region was long known as Gurjaratra that is Country protected or ruled by the Gurjars.
The Indus Valley Civilization, one of the world's first and oldest, was in parts of what is now Rajasthan. Kalibangan, in Hanumangarh district, was a major provincial capital of the Indus Valley Civilization. It is believed that Western Kshatrapas (405–35 BC) were Saka rulers of the western part of India (Saurashtra and Malwa: modern Gujarat, Southern Sindh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan). They were successors to the Indo-Scythians and were contemporaneous with the Kushans who ruled the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. The Indo-Scythians invaded the area of Ujjain and established the Saka era (with their calendar), marking the beginning of the long-lived Saka Western Satraps state. Matsya, a state of the Vedic civilization of India, is said to roughly corresponded to former state of Jaipur in Rajasthan and included the whole of Alwar with portions of Bharatpur. The capital of Matsya was at Viratanagar (modern Bairat) which is said to have been named after its founder king Virata.
Traditionally the Meenas, Gurjars, Bhils, Rajputs, Charans, Jats, Yadavs, Bishnois and other tribes made a great contribution in building the state of Rajasthan. All these tribes suffered great difficulties in protecting their culture and the land. Millions of them were killed trying to protect their land. A number of Gurjars had been exterminated in Bhinmal and Ajmer areas fighting with the invaders. Bhils once ruled Kota. Meenas were rulers of Bundi and Dhundhar region.
Gurjars ruled many dynasties in this part of the country. In fact this region was long known as Gurjaratra. Up to the tenth century almost the whole of North India, excepting Bengal, acknowledged the supremacy of Gurjars with their seat of power at Kannauj.
The Gurjar Pratihar Empire acted as a barrier for Arab invaders from the 8th to the 11th century. The chief accomplishment of the Gurjara Pratihara empire lies in its successful resistance to the foreign invasions from the west, starting in the days of Junaid. Historian R. C. Majumdar says that this was openly acknowledged by the Arab writers themselves. He further notes that historians of India have wondered at the slow progress of Muslim invaders in India, as compared with their rapid advance in other parts of the world. Now there seems little doubt that it was the power of the Gurjara Pratihara army that effectively barred the progress of the Arabs beyond the confines of Sindh, their first conquest for nearly 300 years.
The earlier contributions of warriors and protectors of the land Meenas, Gurjars, Ahirs, Jats, Bhils were ignored and lost in history due to the stories of great valour shown by certain specific clans in later years, which gained more prominence than older acts of bravery.
Modern Rajasthan includes most of Rajputana, which comprises the erstwhile 18 princely states, two chiefships and the British district of Ajmer-Merwara. Marwar (Jodhpur), Bikaner, Mewar (Udaipur), Alwar and Dhundhar (Jaipur) were some of the main Rajput princely states. Bharatpur and Dholpur were Jat princely states whereasTonk was princely state under a Muslim Nawab. Rajput families rose to prominence in the 6th century CE. The Rajputs put up a valiant resistance to the Islamic invasions and protected this land with their warfare and chivalry for more than 500 years. They also resisted Mughal incursions into India and thus contributed to their slower-than-anticipated access to the Indian Subcontinent. Later the Mughals, through a combination of treachery and skilled warfare, were able to get a firm grip on northern India, including Rajasthan. The fighter spirit and valour of Rajputs impressed the Mughals to such an extent that even after defeating the Rajputs, the Mughals held their valour and value in the highest esteem. Mewar led other kingdoms in its resistance to outside rule. Most notably Rana Sanga fought the Battle of Khanua against Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire.
Hawa Mahal or "Palace of Winds" in Jaipur.
Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya, the Hindu Emperor, also known as Hemu in the history of India was born in the village of Machheri in Alwar District in 1501. He won 22 battles against Afghans, from Punjab to Bengal and defeated Akbar's forces twice at Agra and Delhi in 1556, before acceeding to the throne of Delhi and establishing 'Hindu Raj' in North India, albeit for a short duration, from Purana Quila in Delhi. He was killed in the Second Battle of Panipat.)
Maharana Pratap of Mewar resisted Akbar in the famous Battle of Haldighati (1576) and later operated from hilly areas of his kingdom. Bhils were Maharana's main allies during these wars. Most of these attacks were repulsed even though the Mughal forces outnumbered Mewar Rajputs in all the wars fought between them. The Haldighati war was fought between 10,000 Mewaris and a 100,000-strong Mughal force (including many Rajputs like Kachwahas from Dhundhar).
Over the years the Mughals began to have internal disputes which greatly distracted them at times. The Mughal Empire continued to weaken, with the decline of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century, Rajputana came under suzerainty of the Marathas, until the Marathas were replaced by the British East India Company in early 19th century.
Following their rapid defeat, the Rajput kings concluded treaties with the British in the early 19th century, accepting British sovereignty in return for local autonomy.
Rajasthan's formerly independent kingdom created a rich architectural and cultural heritage, seen even today in their numerous forts and palaces (Mahals and Havelis) which are enriched by features of Islamic and Jain architecture.
The development of the frescos in Rajasthan is linked with the history of the Marwaris who played a crucial role in the economic development of the region. Many wealthy families throughout Indian history have links to Marwar. These include the legendary Birla, Bajaj and Mittal families.
The Thar Desert
The main geographic features of Rajasthan are the Thar Desert and the Aravalli Range, which runs through the state from southwest to northeast, almost from one end to the other, for more than 850 kilometres (530 mi). Mount Abu lies at the southwestern end of the range, separated from the main ranges by the West Banas River, although a series of broken ridges continues into Haryana in the direction of Delhi where it can be seen as outcrops in the form of the Raisina Hill and the ridges farther north. About three-fifths of Rajasthan lies northwest of the Aravallis, leaving two-fifths on the east and south direction.
The northwestern portion of Rajasthan is generally sandy and dry. Most of this region is covered by the Thar Desert which extends into adjoining portions of Pakistan. The Aravalli Range does not intercept the moisture-giving southwest monsoon winds off the Arabian Sea, as it lies in a direction parallel to that of the coming monsoon winds, leaving the northwestern region in a rain shadow. The Thar Desert is thinly populated; the town of Bikaner is the largest city in the desert. The Northwestern thorn scrub forests lie in a band around the Thar Desert, between the desert and the Aravallis. This region receives less than 400 mm of rain in an average year. Temperatures can exceed 45 °C in the summer months and drop below freezing in the winter. The Godwar, Marwar, and Shekhawati regions lie in the thorn scrub forest zone, along with the city of Jodhpur. The Luni River and its tributaries are the major river system of Godwar and Marwar regions, draining the western slopes of the Aravallis and emptying southwest into the great Rann of Kutch wetland in neighboring Gujarat. This river is saline in the lower reaches and remains potable only up to Balotara in Barmer district. The Ghaggar River, which originates in Haryana, is an intermittent stream that disappears into the sands of the Thar Desert in the northern corner of the state and is seen as a remnant of the primitive Saraswati river.
The Aravalli Range and the lands to the east and southeast of the range are generally more fertile and better watered. This region is home to the Kathiarbar-Gir dry deciduous forests ecoregion, with tropical dry broadleaf forests that include teak, Acacia, and other trees. The hilly Vagad region lies in southernmost Rajasthan, on the border with Gujarat. With the exception of Mount Abu, Vagad is the wettest region in Rajasthan, and the most heavily forested. North of Vagad lies the Mewar region, home to the cities of Udaipur and Chittaurgarh. The Hadoti region lies to the southeast, on the border with Madhya Pradesh. North of Hadoti and Mewar lies the Dhundhar region, home to the state capital of Jaipur. Mewat, the easternmost region of Rajasthan, borders Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Eastern and southeastern Rajasthan is drained by the Banas and Chambal rivers, tributaries of the Ganges.
The hills around Jaipur
The Aravali Range runs across the state from the southwest peak Guru Shikhar (Mount Abu), which is 1,722 m in height, to Khetri in the northeast. This range divides the state into 60% in the northwest of the range and 40% in the southeast. The northwest tract is sandy and unproductive with little water but improves gradually from desert land in the far west and northwest to comparatively fertile and habitable land towards the east. The area includes the Thar Desert. The south-eastern area, higher in elevation (100 to 350 m above sea level) and more fertile, has a much diversified topography. in the south lies the hilly tract of Mewar. In the southeast, a large area within the districts of Kota and Bundi forms a tableland. To the northeast of these districts is a rugged region (badlands) following the line of the Chambal River. Farther north the country levels out; the flat plains of the northeastern Bharatpur district are part of an alluvial basin. Merta City lies in the geographical center of Rajasthan.
Flora and fauna
Though a large percentage of the total area is desert, and even though there is little forest cover, Rajasthan has a rich and varied flora and fauna. The natural vegetation is classed as Northern Desert Thorn Forest (Champion 1936). These occur in small clumps scattered in a more or less open forms. Density and size of patches increase from west to east following the increase in rainfall.
The Desert National Park, Jaisalmer, spread over an area of 3162 km², is an excellent example of the ecosystem of the Thar Desert, and its diverse fauna. Seashells and massive fossilized tree trunks in this park record the geological history of the desert. The region is a haven for migratory and resident birds of the desert. One can see many eagles, harriers, falcons, buzzards, kestrel and vultures. Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus), Tawny Eagles (Aquila rapax), Spotted Eagles (Aquila clanga), Laggar Falcons (Falco jugger) and kestrels are the commonest of these.
The Ranthambore National Park located in Sawai Madhopur, is one of the finest Tiger Reserves in the Country which became a part of Project Tiger in 1973.
The Dhosi Hill located in district Jhunjunu, known as "Chayvan Rishi's Ashram' where 'Chayawanprash' was formulated for the first time has unique and rare herbs growing
The Sariska Tiger Reserve located in Alwar district, 200 km from Delhi and 107 km from Jaipur covers an area of approximately 800 km2.The area was declared a National Park in 1979.
Tal Chhapar Sanctuary is a very small sanctuary in Sujangarh, Churu District, 210 km from Jaipur, in the Shekhawati region. This sanctuary is home to a large population of blackbuck. Desert foxes and the caracal, an apex predator also known as the desert lynx, can also be spotted, along with birds such as the partridge and sand grouse. The Great Indian Bustard, known locally as the godavan, and which is a state bird, has been classed as critically endangered since 2011.
Rajasthan is also noted for National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. There are four national park and wildlife sanctuaries named the Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur, Sariska Tiger Reserve of Alwar, Ranthambore National Park of Sawai Madhopur, and Desert National Park of Jaisalmer.
Ranthambore National Park and Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary are both known worldwide for their tiger population and considered by both wilderness lovers and photographers as the best places in India to spot tigers. At one point, due to poaching and negligence, tigers became extinct here, but recently 5 tigers have been shifted here . Prominent among the wildlife sanctuaries are Mount Abu Sanctuary, Bhensrod Garh Sanctuary, Darrah Sanctuary, Jaisamand Sanctuary, Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, Jawahar Sagar sanctuary and Sita Mata Wildlife Sanctuary.
The summer months are May and June. In midsummer strong winds blow from the south –west and west, their maximum velocity being 136km per hour. They raise hot clouds of dust and considerably reduce visibility and obliterate tracks, sometimes temporarily immobilizing trains. In the winter season, this region is quite cold. Rainfall in the sandy region is very scanty, though once in five or six years it is fairly plenty.
The climate of Rajasthan, on the whole is extreme, but north western Rajasthan Bikaner, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer is hotter and colder than the north eastern region. In summer the maximum temperature in the sandy area ranges round about 47°C. Due to the sandy soil the temperature comes down rapidly after sunset and by midnight it drops by 5°C.