My Maharaja War Horse Kirti And The Horse Safari Of A Lifetime.
I’ve always been fascinated by India.
So when friends invited us to join The Princess Trails, a unique horse safari in Rajasthan, northern India, we didn’t hesitate. There would be five of us riding The Princess Trails together – Peter and Sigurd would come from Norway, Rupi and Michael from America and William and I traveled all the way from South Africa.
After arriving in Udaipur, we made our way to the Shaktawats’ residence and stables. The Princess Trails are run by a member of the noble family of Boheda Shaktwat, Virendra Singh Shaktawat, and his German wife, Ute.
Love At First Sight
By the time we arrived at the stables, Ute and Virendra had already selected our horses for us. After a small traditional Indian ceremony and some cold beers, we were introduced to our riding companions for the next five days. Direct descendants of Chetak and the former warhorses of the Maharajas, these fine horses have ears that are distinctively curved inwards in a lyre-shape, making them unique and easily recognisable.
I was partnered with Kirti, a Dark Bay Marwari mare with a very spirited character. Her name in Hindu means fame, and she would live up to it on our journey together. I loved Kirti from the moment I laid eyes on her.
Our First Night In The White City
On the eve of our safari, we stayed at the famous Shiv Niwas Palace in Udaipur. Udaipur is a former capital of the princely state of Mewar. The last Maharana of Udaipur, Bhagat Singhji of Mewar, converted parts of the huge palace complex into a luxurious heritage hotel after India became independent and he had lost his kingdom.
Situated at the shore of two beautiful lakes – Lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar – Udaipur is also known as Venice of the East. The old city is a fascinating labyrinth of narrow lanes, old havelis, palaces and temples. It’s also one of the most romantic towns in India. Over centuries poets, writers and painters have all been inspired by the white city’s splendor and the romance of it all; it was not lost on any of us.
The Perfect Start To Our Horse Safari
A short drive to the little village of Haldo Ghati the next morning, served as the beginning of our journey. Chetak Chabutra is a marble memorial for the famous white charger of Maharana Pratap. This famous horse gave his life to save his master during the battle of Haldighati in 1576. A legend in Indian war horse history, the story was a perfect way to start our horse safari.
With the sun on our backs, we rode out into the beautiful Haldighati Valley, stopping only for a quick rest under the trees at lunch.
After many hours and a final steep climb, we arrived at the Kumbhalgarh Fort. Perched on one of the highest mountain peaks of the Aravallis, we came to a rest at The Aodhi. The historic Kumbhalgarh Fort, where we stayed until nightfall, was especially memorable. Built on a hilltop 1100 meters above sea level, the fort of Kumbhalgarh is a well-known Mewar fortress in the Rajsamand District of Rajasthan, a state in western India. The fort was mainly built as a refuge for Mewar rulers during invasions.
Kumbhalgarh Fort has perimeter walls that extend 36 kilometers; it is the second longest continuous wall in the world, with seven fortified gateways. The walls in the front are fifteen feet thick. When illuminated by hundreds of lights at night, it’s a breath-taking sight.
The next morning we set off for the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. This is one of the last homes of the Indian wolf as well as leopards and bears. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any as they’re mainly night active and prefer to sleep during the day. But we did see Chetal (Indian spotted deer), Nilgai antelopes and Indian gazelle. We also spotted countless birds of different sizes as the Aravalli Mountains are abundant with bird life – there are more than 250 species in the area.
Laden with small villages, the Ranakpur Valley is brimming with warmth, and as we rode through we were greeted with smiles, curiosity, but always generosity by the locals. I will never forget the sight of villagers dressed in bright colors, the beautiful, soft-eyed children with big smiles, running next to us, clapping or cheering us on our way. I don’t think I have said hello and waved so many times in my life.
A stone’s throw away from the Jain temple, we came to rest at the impressive Heritage Hotel Fateh Bagh, where we each took great delight in posing by the vintage Ford parked next to the hotel. Being a lover of vintage cars, I soon discovered that these vintage gems are prolific all over northern Indian – although most of them sit on bricks. It didn’t stop me from wondering if I could pick up a few and take them home with me.
Over The Hills And Across The Desert
Another early wake-up call. (The time to start our horse safari each day is very important. You have to get out early, as the horses are fresh and enthusiastic and the temperatures best for riding.) After breakfast, we headed through the serene Ranakpur Valley and down the way to the Rajasthani Bagar – the fringe area between the hills and the Thar Desert in the northwest. Our guides took us over an open plain dotted with small villages and little fields to the Rawla Narlai, in the hamlet of Narlai. And here we found a true oasis.
The Rawla Narlai is a beautiful old family fort, rated for excellence by Trip Advisor for it’s hospitality. It evokes the nostalgia of the bygone era. The erstwhile hunting lodge of the royal family of Jodhpur has a genuine rustic charm. Set in the lap of Aravallis, enveloped by rocky outcrops, and a huge granite rock, it is a tranquil getaway with a small spa on site. Everything about the fort was welcoming. From the friendly staff to the gracious manager, the exquisite rooms, outdoor patios, gardens and swimming pool. We spent the late afternoon resting on a traditional day bed. After a deep tissue massage, we watched a golden Indian sun set slowly behind the hill. Followed by a dinner on the rooftop terrace where I gave in to the advice of everyone and ate fresh salad. While I love Indian food, I had been craving fresh food for days. I succumbed and survived – no Dehli belly at all.
I’d recommend a trip to the Rawla Narla on its own, just to experience the hospitality and beauty of this area. We all would have happily stayed over for a few more days, but we had to get our boots back on and stick to the riding schedule. So reluctantly, we left the little town early and headed toward Rajasthani Bagar and the open arid plains of northern India.
The sandy terrain meant we were able to pick up speed and canter to our final destination. The small town of Jojawar and another iconic and magnificent old fort, the Rawla Jojawar.
This signaled the end of my journey with my companion, Kirti, and our group of marvelous riders. My horse had been challenging, always moving upfront ahead of the others, but still considerate with me. She would patiently stand as I platted her hair each day with red ribbons, so she could ride in Princess style. We had spent these intimate times together, man, woman and horses exploring the Indian countryside and getting to know each other. I had many fascinating conversations about life, health politics and everything else you can imagine, while taking in the extraordinary sights and sounds of northern India.
And now we were at the end of our extraordinary horse safari. At the Rawla Jojawar we kicked off our riding boots and headed to the swimming pool to soak off the heat and dust of the day. Then with a large glass of cold gin and tonic in hand, we relaxed on the pristine lawns and celebrated the end of our riding safari together.
A Time To Remember
I will never forget this horse safari; the oneness with nature and the joy of small surprises that made each day a unique experience. Like the time we unexpectedly stumbled upon the Jungle Lodge hidden among the trees. Here after a particularly hot morning and rigorous ride from Kumbhalgarh we were welcomed with cold beers that saved us from the sun and ourselves. And how we laughed when a large goat tried to get too friendly with Michael during one of our picnic breaks in the countryside. Determined to eat his lunch, the goat became aggressive when Michael refused to hand it over so it charged and butted him. The scene would have made a great You Tube video, but we were all so pre-occupied trying to drag the goat off Michael, that no-one had the chance to film it. And when William jumped off his horse to save a drowning Mongoose from a water trough it had fallen into, that just took our breath away.
Or the time when riding through a small town we found ourselves ambushed by an unexpected impromptu carnival atmosphere of hooting trucks, banging of drums and gongs, accompanied by the clapping and smiling of the locals. Despite all of this our horses remained calm and rode on oblivious to the excitement of it all.
After The Princess Trails came to an end, we headed off to splendid Jaipur, then Agra to see the remarkable Taj Mahal. Finally returning to Delhi where we would connect back home. India is truly a remarkable country that offers a diversity of travel experiences. However, this horse safari in the heart of Rajasthan remains for me the ultimate journey for the mind, body and soul.
How To Get There
VISA: India has visa requirements and you would need to check the details through your the local embassy.
FLIGHTS: You can reach India on several airlines, among the better value for money airlines and routes are Etihad Airways and Emirates. Air India is also a good option. We used the very professional team of Ventours International Travel to assist us with transfers and transport in all the cities, throughout our stay.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL: For a horse safari, the cooler months are ideal (autumn – winter). The team at The Princess Trails will advise what is best depending on the choice of horse safari. For more information about The Princess Trails
CURRENCY: Rupee, although ATMs and amenities accept all cards.
LANGUAGE: English is spoken in most cities and hotels, but not in the villages.