In her quest for the unconventional, our contributor chances upon the green paradise of Banswara in Rajasthan. By Archana Singh
There is more to Rajasthan than meets the eye. Banswara is proof. A part of the Vagad region of southern Rajasthan, the countryside of Banswara is surrounded by the Aravallis. Forests, rivers, waterfalls, and verdant hills dot the region, with the Mahi Bajaj Sagar dam acting as the lifeline of Banswara. If one were to judge the place on the basis of pictures, Banswara could easily be mistaken for a place in the North-Eastern state of Meghalaya. It is hard to believe that a green paradise such as this exists in the desert state of Rajasthan.
What distinguishes Banswara from the rest of the state is the amount of rainfall it receives every year. For instance, compared to Jaisalmer’s annual average of 146.88 mm rainfall, Banswara receives 900 mm. As a result, when the rest of Rajasthan reels under drought-like conditions, Banswara stays lush green. Quite fittingly, the region has earned the epithet ‘Cherrapunji of Rajasthan’. However, there is another nickname that struck me: ‘City of Hundred Islands’, courtesy of numerous small islands on River Mahi, which flows through the region. Needless to say, Banswara makes for a great escape from the bustling cities of Rajasthan.
The journey to the land of bamboo, Banswara
My starting point was Udaipur, located around 165 kilometres from Banswara. The first pit stop of the four-hour road trip came rather early, just 20 kilometres from Udaipur, when we stopped at a tea stall named Kewada Ki Naal. This humble establishment is popular among locals for its special tea, which is made from locally grown herbs, including lemongrass.
We passed by tiny villages, rivers, ponds dotted by water lilies, and locals shepherding their cattle. Although I was enjoying the countryside scenery, gluttony took over when we stopped to wolf down dahi kachori and samosa chaat before resuming the journey. One of the most stunning regions in Banswara is Chacha Kota, so we set out to explore it soon after reaching the guest house. As we approached, the guide began to narrate the tale behind the name ‘Banswara’. “There are two legends,” he said. “One says it was named after King Bansiya, ruler of the Bhil tribe, who established Banswara on the day of Makar Sankranti—on January 14—in 1515 CE. He was defeated in 1527 by Jagmal Singh, who crowned himself Banswara’s first Maharawal or ‘great king’. The other theory links the name to the bamboo trees (bans in Hindi) that once grew here in abundance.” Banswara does translate to ‘land of bamboo’ in English.
As we drove on the serpentine road flanked by rolling hills covered in mist, kutcha houses kept cropping up around us. These villages are inhabited by the Adivasi ethnic group of Bhils—popularly known as the bowmen of Rajasthan due to their expertise in archery—who make up more than half the total population of the region. There was no other vehicle in sight, and it felt as if we were flying through cotton candy clouds.
We stopped at the Chacha Kota viewpoint, but the whole area was enveloped in mist. I noticed a young boy playing nearby and walked towards him in the hope of striking up a conversation. Suddenly, it began to pour and we ran to take refuge under a tarp. Though hesitant at first, the boy shared with me stories of his school, family, and friends. His tales painted a picture of a parallel universe, where social media and gaming fads didn’t pervade daily life. Half an hour later, it stopped raining and the sun peeped from behind the clouds. Along with the sun came hens, roosters, and goats.
I could finally feast my eyes on the beauty of the place. Clouds hung low, and the water of the Mahi Bajaj Sagar dam glistened in the sun. A few boats were docked in the corner. I spent a few hours meeting the locals and enjoying Bhil hospitality.
Meanwhile, my guide revealed that Banswara’s fertile plains are used to grow maize, wheat, rice, cotton, soya bean, and gram. The district is also known to be the hub of mangoes in the state and grows around 46 varieties of the juicy fruit, out of which 18 are indigenous. Besides mango orchards, the region is rich in teak, date, and mahua trees. While I couldn’t spot any wildlife as it was off season, I was told that animals like leopard, chinkara (Indian gazelle), chowsingha (four-horned antelope), sambar (Asiatic deer), wild boar, and chital (spotted deer) thrive here. Birdwatchers can spot the jungle crow, red-vented bulbul, myna, red spurfowl, black drongo, green bee-eater, parrot, house sparrow, woodpecker, and other species.
As the golden hour lit up the many islands of the area, we decided to return to our guesthouse but not without making a pit stop at the Bai Talab lake to see the holy Kalpavriksha trees that are said to be 350 years old. Usually found in pairs (male and female), these sacred trees are said to be capable of granting wishes. Some say that there are only 10 such trees left in India.
The next day was reserved for adventure. The tourist attraction of Kagdi Pick Up Weir, located three kilometres away from the main city, has beautiful gardens and fountains that make for the perfect picnic setting. The park overlooks the Kagdi Lake and is part of the Mahi Bajaj Sagar project. There are walkways for daily joggers, playing area for kids, and boating facilities. But I was most excited to zipline over the calm waters of the lake.
After whooshing along the 410-metre-long zipline, we decided to visit the Kadeliya Waterfall, a popular spot among locals. During the monsoon season, this cascade’s beauty increases manifold. The rest of the day was spent chasing more waterfalls and visiting places that abound in natural beauty, like Jagmeru Hills and the village of Singpura. With a beautiful lake, hillocks, and greenery all around, the destination offered me a much-needed break from the regular holiday spots.
After two eventful days in Banswara, I started my return journey to Udaipur. On the way, however, I took a detour to visit the abode of Roothi Rani, around 200 kilometres from Banswara. Jaisamand Lake (also known as Dhebar Lake) is renowned for being the second largest artificial freshwater lake in India. Spread over an area of 36 square kilometres, it was built in 1685 by Maharana Jai Singh. On the northern end of the lake are the two summer palaces of Jai Singh—Hawa Mahal and Roothi Rani ka Mahal.
Legend says that the youngest queen, Kamladevi, got angry with the king and left the palace to live in a forest (hence the name ‘Roothi Rani’, which means upset queen). Maharana Jai Singh, in a bid to appease his angry wife, built this palace surrounded by a lake on all four sides. One has to walk 2.5 kilometres from the modern entrance of the Jaisamand Lake to reach here. The palace is in a dilapidated state today, but it still took my breath away with its views of the lake and its rich history. As I walked back to the car, I smiled thinking about all the exceptional people and stories this offbeat holiday had introduced me to.