A Little Historical Reference
The history of the horse in Rajasthan spans hundreds of years. At one time in the land of kings, horses were used for pleasure trips and thunderous warfare.
Rajasthan society was infused with a social caste system. This included horses. The Marwari breed reached the highest esteem, thus only Rajputs were privileged to ride these stunning creatures in battle.
As I poked around places like Jaipur or Udaipur, Chetak by far is the most famous horse. He belonged to Pratap Singh, Hindu ruler of Mewar. Singh is a revered hero of Rajasthan, prominently featured in the Battle of Haldighati in 1576, the power struggle between the Mughal-Mewar kingdoms.
Several Rajput generals had joined under Mughal Emporer Akbar, but Pratap refused, selfishly protecting his pride and honor. You can imagine the fall-out. During the Battle of Haldighati, as Pratap perched on the regal Chetak, he attacked Man Singh on his elephant, a prince and special envoy to Mughal Emperor Akbar. In the heat of swords clashing and guttural cries of the battle knell, Chetak suffered severe injuries and died valiantly in battle. His master cried like a baby and entered a page of history.
That’s as much as I know. When I noticed posters for horse safaris at my guesthouse, it was tantalizing, too hard to resist.
Did I mention I’ve never ridden a horse before? Ever. I’m the anti-anti Alberta girl. While farming debutantes were thrust into the limelight of cowtown, I buried myself in my room, writing morose poetry.
I was picked up at my hotel and driven about half an hour out of the Udaipur city to Pratap Country Inn.
You can stay there for 500 RS and ride free everyday for two hours, as long as you help out a bit on the farm. I chose the two and a half hour ride with a guide for 700 RS. Figured I should go easy my first time.
I snuck up close and took pictures. Some of them looked straight at me, wearily.
Oh, another stupid tourist taking my picture.
The riding coordinator asked if I had any experience.
He pointed to a clipboard.
“Sign here.” Uh, what did I just sign? If you fall, not our problem, methinks.
Her name is Radha. With shiny fur, glossy and dark as coal. Horses are big animals, strong and sinewy. She had a charming Mohawk down her neck and she would gaze at me with hesitation. Her almond shaped eyes brimmed with curiosity.
The hard part was actually getting on. Full-grown horses are tall, I am short. I put my left food in the stirrup and tried to heave my other leg over, while someone held Radha.
Second time around, they told me to hold onto the front of the saddle and use it for leverage. I needed some assistance, needless to say. A helper had to shove my butt onto the saddle.
I pet her frequently and whispered to her. It’s better to be paired with a female horse because they scare less easily than males. I hoped that was true.
My guide, Shaja, slinked onto his horse with maddening ease, asked if I was ready to go.
A full-stop, definite, no.
I was visibly nervous as Radha started moving underneath me.
I gripped her too tight between my thighs, sat too forward.
Thank bloody goodness, a helper walked alongside in case I couldn’t handle her, which was often.
We started off along dirt pathways, which connected to hilly areas.
The landscape unfolded and I gasped in delight. Rolling fields of fading gold spread before us. Rustic dwellings sat upon hills, spilling onto other hills. Some of the land was scrubbed free of bush or grass. I pictured the early Rajputs, taming the earth and wooing horses into loyal companions.
The other phenomenon – stillness. You could feel time closing around you, existing in a period when India was only a handful of families populating a village.
We reached the nearby village of Titardi, kids swarmed us with “hello” or “namaste”. It was time for refreshments. We parked the horses by the town pump to stop for a Sprite and Miranda.
With some more mounting assistance, we set off again. Then a miracle happened.
Without knowing, my body began to relax. Ever fiber of my body felt alive, nerves twisting and turning to the visuals and soothing quiet. We were trotting mostly, sometimes Radha would go a little faster or I would prompt her by clicking my heels against her trunk. I felt hyper aware of my surroundings, the motion of Radha, or when she grunted at me. For once, the heat was a tickle instead of insufferable. What felt strange was the unfamiliar swaying of my body from side to side.
I danced with taking her for a run. How freeing that would be.
Just when I was starting to love horseback riding, it reached a transcendent level.
We climbed a steep range, where my psychological footing grew nervous again. Radha navigated with her delicate hooves, startling loose rocks, kicking up dirt. It eased once we reached the top.
Right in the center of the exhausted dirt and yellow grass stood a jade green oasis.
If there was ever a Utopian well, a spring of youth, Jogi Lake is it. I had to ask several times what the name was, and I’m still not positive of it’s exactness. It was that unreal.
Everything halted. It was a portal of peace that is a rare find in India. So, I posed and smiled and felt present.
These are the “hell yeah” experiences I missed before.
Should You Do It?
An unequivocal yes. It’s one of those rare experiences that leap into your journal, the kind of story you pull out at parties.
Next round will be a five to seven day safari. The full deal. I can’t wait. Some are tailored to weave through the Arravali mountain-range or as far as the Pushkar camel fair. A big tip: don’t stand behind a horse when a) they dump b) they kick. One scars your olfactory senses and vision (a lot comes out!), the other will land you in the hospital.
Cost: I paid 700 RS for two hours. A full safari trip of five, seven or ten days can really depend on number of people. That can range from 5,000 to 10,000 RS. Possibly even higher. These longer trips include lodging and food.
Some reputable horse safari companies: