Bhilwara in Rajasthan is the perfect mix of history and beauty. While most of its wonder lies in gorgeous architecture and heritage, it is also well-known for its natural beauty
Imagine softly rounded scrub-covered hills cradling a shallow bowl like valley where green thorny vegetation conceals tigers, leopards, and coiled pythons. Slender acacia trees leave deep purple shadows on the scanty underbrush and turbaned shepherd leads his trail of skipping goats over forgotten half ruined temples. Neon green parrots flock to those forests fearlessly and they are disturbed only by the bejeweled village women in multi-coloured veils walking miles to collect firewood. Such is the pristine beauty of rural Bhilwara district, one of Rajasthan’s lesser known jewels. A visit to this district is a soul-soothing affair. Expect nothing, explore deep and go down the roads less taken. Rural Bhilwara will start to reveal its beauty gently and this landscape seems straight out of a Wild, Wild West movie.
A SILENT ZONE
It is a very desolate land and this is the most striking feature of rural Bhilwara. One can drive along the highway through the heart of the district and not see any other soul for miles. Solitude seems to be the joie de vivre here and even the occasional firewood collecting village women walk in silent trails. Silhouetted against the golden brown countryside, their bright clothes make them stand out like flashes of colour and the long bundles of kindling wood on their heads throw shadows in sharp straight lines. In closer proximity, these women stun you with their exquisite jewellery especially when the dazzling elaborate nose rings dance with the slightest movements. They are the Bhil ladies, a tribal group which is believed to have named the district of Bhilwara. Although not many of them still live in that region, the Bhils and the Bhilwara district remain deeply enmeshed throughout history.
One of the largest tribal groups in India, the Bhils make up for 39 per cent of Rajasthan‘s population. Also known as the Bowmen of Rajasthan, the Bhils are exceptionally talented archers and in the past used to work as hired mercenaries and hunters. They were often employed by the royalty of Mewar for guarding their supplies, families or as fighters. During the colonial times, their services were hired by the Rajputs and till day, the Mewar Bhil Corps is an acclaimed special division of Rajasthan police.
The Bhils also have a very celebrated heritage which goes way back to the Indian mythological era. They have often been mentioned in the epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata and many legends are associated with them. One tells the Mahabharata tale of Eklavya, a Bhil who surpassed Arjuna in archery and in Ramayana, Bhil women supposedly offered ber to Lord Rama when he was searching for Sita in the Dhandaka jungles. The great sage Valmiki, who authored the Ramayana was said to have been a Bhil dacoit himself before he was reformed with the blessings of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Incidentally, the Bhil Ramayana is one of the most important tribal versions of the great Hindu epic.
Bhilwara‘s literary mentions continue beyond the Hindu epics. Written by Rudyard Kipling, the setting of the Jungle Book was supposed to have been inspired by the wilderness of this region, until the researchers gave the credit to a place in Madhya Pradesh. However, in many places throughout the book, Bhilwara’s wilderness along with Udaipur and Chittorgarh have been mentioned. Collectively called the Rajputana, it has been the setting in which the black panther Bagheera trekked from Udaipur to the forests of Seeoni, in Madhya Pradesh, through wild rural Bhilwara. Kipling was in love with Rajputana, a place he knew like the back of his hand and had written another book, Kim in the neighbouring district of Bundi.
In fact, the old Rajputana states of Bhilwara and Bundi are very similar in their geography and both the districts merge into each other seamlessly. It is not easy to tell where one ends and the other starts and this is also one of the best routes for exploring rural Bhilwara. The roads are good in most places and the whole region is an unbroken space of a dry scrubby landscape, which is beautiful in its own way. Gold and brown are the predominant colours of this area and this monotony is broken by still lakes, reflecting low hillocks and swooping kingfishers. Nature flourishes freely in rural Bhilwara and it is wild, uninhibited and gorgeous.
COLOURS OF SEASONS
A change in seasons can be keenly felt here and each season paints the landscape in its individual style. Summers are cruel months when intense heat scorches the earth and dust storms dance with the fiery winds. Ruins of ancient temples which are scattered throughout the rural Bhilwara district stand out like bleached bones in the shimmering heat and at mid day shepherds seek shelter within the old crumbling walls.
Monsoon brings relief by adding a moist greenery to everything in and the dry river beds, waterfalls, springs and streams come alive with flowing water. Beautiful waterfalls like the Menal gush down the rugged ridges, which house chains of caves filled with prehistoric paintings and birds sing riotously in joy. Flowers burst out in wild abundance and mating calls of animals fill the air. Autumn dons a sombre hue in rural Bhilwara and wood smoke and jasmine scent fill the evening air. The short, but intense winters make the village mustard fields bloom forth with dense golden blossoms.
Experiencing such placidity of rural Bhilwara is like delving deep into the soul of India. Gorgeous, rough at the edges and blissfully relaxing, it is a place where there is the warmth of rustic hospitality and travel pleasure lies in exploring the rich wilderness, which still remains delightfully untouched.
Text & Photos: Svetlana Baghawan