The Queen’s Hand: Visiting Rajasthan, India

  Long ago, there was a little king of ancient India who lived in a palace deep in the desert. Because it is on the ancient Silk Road where gold, silver and precious stones formed rivers, his palace has everything that one expects to find. Legend has it that there was the most beautiful queen in his palace, and even the Mughal emperor could not forget seeing her in the reflection of the pool in the palace.
  The walls of his palace were adorned with innumerable miniatures, flowers painted in saffron juice that never faded, between which were inlaid countless colored gemstones, and countless fragments of mercury mirrors. When night comes, just light a candle, and the entire palace will be like a clear night sky, shining with countless small bright lights.
  Legend has it that there were 23 ancient countries in this desert between Pakistan and western India. Most of their red sandstone or yellow sandstone fortresses were built on steep hills, and at the foot of them were ancient trade routes. There are thick and dense iron nails on the tall wooden door of the fortress, which are as high as the elephant’s head to defend against the enemy’s elephants coming to break the city. In order to prevent the enemy elephants from having enough distance to run up the gate, the gate of the fortress is always opened behind the road that turns sharply at 90 degrees.
  This huge flat castle is built on a hill 80 meters high. In those days, the emperor of Delhi besieged the city for 9 years in order to recover the goods robbed by the people in the castle. When the fall was imminent, self-sacrifice was performed in the castle, women threw themselves on fire, and men donned saffron-colored robes of martyrs and rushed down the castle to die. The people of this castle are as famous for their commercial fraud as for their heroic campaigns. Now it is the most endangered castle in the world.
  Passing through the dry Arabian pool in the fortress, and passing through the king’s chair carved with white marble in the middle of the courtyard, is the harem of white sandstone. Square courtyards, latticed windows of white marble or red sandstone appeared. The lattice windows here have more than 280 different obtuse angles, acute angles, equilateral triangles and trapezoids. The strong sunlight of the desert passes through the lattice windows and plays exquisite light and shadow games in the long and dark corridors of the inner palace. .
  Inside the lattice window is the corridor of the deep palace. The queens and concubines of ancient kingdoms leaned behind the windows to watch the commotion outside, but people outside could not see them.
  The once snow-white marble has now turned brownish-yellow. Presumably there are fingerprints and breaths of the queens and concubines of the past, as well as the fine saliva when they saw the wonderful places and couldn’t help admiring them.
  I have touched those yellowed marble panes carefully, looked out from the holes of desert roses solidified on the marble, and once covered them with my palms, as if with them through time and geography. Heavy smoke meets.
  In ancient times, the Grand Duke always had a queen and many concubines. Back then, the women lived in their own dark rooms. They each have their own stairs and rooms, but there is also a corridor only for the Grand Duke, who can go in and out of any room without being disturbed.
  Walking into the Queen’s room barefoot in the dry noon of Ouge, the closed windows are decorated with stained glass bought from Belgium in the 16th century, when they were as valuable as precious stones. The strong sunlight pierces through the glass, so the cool and quiet room is filled with multicolored light, only in India can there be such a warm dream.
  The walls of the queen’s room are covered with various blooming flowers, vermilion, some of which do not exist in reality, but plants imagined by artisans in the desert, miniature paintings of those plants the size of half a palm, Glisteningly protected by an ancient layer of egg white, it exudes a dreamy vibe.
  The queen’s bedroom is as colorful, gentle and delicate as it is depicted in the story of One Thousand and One Nights, and the perfect details are overwhelming. The doors in the palace are often incredibly narrow, which is to prevent assassins from driving straight in. The sleeping bed, which was so low that it almost touched the ground, retained the cruel killing atmosphere of the war era, because the assassin once hid under the bed.
  The desolate land, which is now almost swallowed up by the sand dunes, buried the sixteen largest cities of ancient India. There is an ancient town of Bangal that even Google Maps can’t find the exact route. Its king was the younger brother of the king of Jaipur, and now it is an abandoned city that ranks first among the top ten ghost cities in the world. Just in the dry season of 2013, six locals entered the ancient city of Bangar after sunset and were found dead there the next day.
  The local government announced that they should not enter Bangal after the sun goes down to protect their lives. Legend has it that the queen of Bangal was poisoned and the principality was destroyed in the war. Today there are only cemeteries, temples, remains of marketplaces and crumbling palaces. Black-faced monkeys live in groups in various ruins. Observe them carefully. Some have elegant manners, some have melancholy faces, some are irritable and vulgar, and some behave submissively but have sinister faces.
  When you pass by them, they will raise their heads and watch you quietly.
  The history of Rajasthan is said to be longer than the history of the rest of the country put together, full of conquests and sacrifices. Today, on the walls of small palaces in remote wilderness, there are still battle scenes from the Indian epic “Ramayana” thousands of years ago. From the 12th century to the 19th century, this land has experienced countless wars and plunder. After Alexander the Great’s expedition came here, the Crusaders came again, and then the Mughal army came, the Jihad fighters came, and the British came. But those small principalities in the desert who are proud of the Rajput knight tradition, from grand dukes to warriors, always prefer to die rather than surrender.
  Carrier pigeons are always kept in the tallest tower of the inner palace. The Grand Duke took pigeons with him when he went to war. The queen waited on the tower for the dove to return. If the dove brought back news of victory, the queen sent orders to prepare a feast. If bad news came and the army could not return, the queen ordered people to burn a raging fire in the fortress, and jumped into the fire to burn herself as a martyr. The queen did not commit suicide alone, the princesses also jumped into the fire with her. Then, the wives of the soldiers who died in battle also went into the fire. This is the ancient “Sati” in Rajasthan, that is, the burial of the dead husband.
  Nowadays, most of the walls at the entrance of the fortress have some blood red handprints of women. It was the mark left by the king’s wife and the soldier’s wife before the small kingdom was destroyed before they jumped into the fire to die for their husbands. The ancient customs of women’s burial in India began in these fortresses in the desert.
  There are 15 handprints left on the wall at the gate of the Jodhpur Fortress, which are the handprints left by King Man Singh after his death in battle. The last mass burial led by the Queen of Rajasthan.
  The short words engraved under the red handprints at the gates of some fortresses have been lost, so no one understands what they mean. But today, some people still often smear them with sesame oil, and some people hang a string of white and red flowers on the handprints protruding from the big stone in the early morning as a souvenir.
  One day, on a dusty dirt road, I met a young woman. She stretched out her hand to me, showing the ornamentation on her hand: it is a traditional ornamentation from Arabia more than 5,000 years ago, and the ornamentation on the bride’s hand is the meaning of wishing the bride good luck. The flowers on it are like the flowers on the lattice window, desert roses. Her hands were boxy, with short, flat fingers that reminded me of those silent palms on the fortress.
  At the gate of the Junagarh Fort, I put my palm on the palm print of a soldier’s wife who set herself on fire. Her hand is very small, much smaller than mine. She should be only a teenager. girl.
  I put my hand over her palm print, wondering if she was hurting from the raging fire. She is willing to sacrifice for her husband, can she rest in peace?

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