The north western Indian state of Rajasthan went to polls last month and now has a new government in place. When covering elections it is the politics of the place that takes precedence over other interesting aspects which also need to be highlighted by reporters.

Every state, its mofussil towns and cities has distinct characteristics that leave a lingering memory for its visitors. Rajasthan is no different. The state is known for its tourism, embedded largely in its forts and palaces and the desert landscape. Yet there are other aspects too that entice visitors.

Take for instance Sikar, which is known for being the birthplace of industrialist, freedom fighter, Gandian and philanthropist Jamnalal Bajaj. But what surprised this reporter was the local shopkeepers’ reluctance in accepting Rs 10 coins. They would rather take a currency note of the same denomination, or were happy to receive the amount digitally.

None could explain the reluctance to accept the Rs 10 coin and all that they said was, “The coins are not in circulation here.”

Bikaner city is often overshadowed by the other tourist destinations of Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and others has a lot to offer to a visitor apart from its towering Junagarh Fort. It is well known that the city is the ‘Bhujia Kingdom’ of India. Around 3.5 lakh people are employed in the industry and some of the top Bhujia and sweets’ manufacturers of the country have roots in the small Bhujia Bazar of this town.

Right next to this market is the equally enticing Supari Bazar that exports betel nuts, and tangy churans all across the country. Another small market strip adjacent to the Bhujia and Supari Bazars is the Chai-ki-Patti (tea strip).

All the shops here offer tea and snacks with a local delicacy of mogra parantha, that is stuffed with lentils. Bikaner also takes pride in being one of the most affordable cities in Rajasthan. Located in the northern part of the state, it is a sought after marketplace for people from the neighbouring districts of Punjab and Haryana as well.

While a lot has been written about the Golden Fort, Havelis, sand dunes and Gadisar Lake of Jaisalmer, it is the culture hidden in its lanes and by-lanes that is the most interesting.

Given the fact that water is the most precious of items in the desert regions across the world, the public taps and wells are aptly called ‘Jal Mandir’ (water temples) in this area. The existence of covered wells is marked by a specifically designed yellow stone pillar. Some taps are artistically designed.

It needs to be pointed out again that Jaisalmer Fort is perhaps the only fort in India that is a ‘live fort’ where people live. An interesting practice that one comes across inside the fort is the ‘announcement’ of an auspicious ceremony in a household through wall painting.

There are wall paintings depicting marriages, tonsuring, or the tying of sacred threads all over the residences dotting the fort’s interiors.

This city also boasts of being a foodie’s destination. In Jaisalmer the most popular kiosk is Fateh Kachori, located right outside the fort. Both locals and tourists queue up here to get piping hot kachoris. Sales begin early in the morning, till the stocks last. Right next to it is a kiosk that sells Bhang (cannabis) Lassi.

An interesting character that this reporter met in the narrow by-lanes of the market outside the fort was J. D. Bhatia who runs a newspaper agency and book shop. “It was in the mid-eighties that the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had come to the city and had halted at this newspaper shop. He had paid Rs 100 for a newspaper costing just a couple of rupees,” Bhatia recalled. One can also come across some rare Hindi literature titles at his shop.

The city draws a lot of foreign tourists who are enticed by the cultural heritage. One can come across a lot of them posing with hermits for photographs, and paying the latter for agreeing to do so.

Among the indigenous tourists a large chunk comes from the neighbouring dry state of Gujarat. The Gujaratis’ love for alcohol that is prohibited back home is well demonstrated by the empty bottles dumped along the highways.

“Gujarat too has a lot of tourist potential. It can be realised if prohibition is lifted,” said the visitors, adding “but all that is for the government to decide.”

Jodhpur city has a lot of old world charm to offer to the visitors, apart from the towering Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Palace.

For example, one can still take a tonga or ‘ikka’ ride from the clock tower to the other parts of the old city. The clock tower area also boasts of some of the oldest shops selling local specialties of Mirchi Vada and Mawa Kachori, that have no competition from the modern day pizzas and burgers.

One also comes across some catchy local level marketing in this city. There was a stall with a tagline that stated, ‘Allah ka karam hai, Biryani garam hai’ (By the grace of God, the biryani is hot), inviting diners to partake.

Then there was a tea joint by the name of ‘Dhakad tea stall’. Dhakad in colloquial means bold and brash.

In the towns and cities dotting the western strip of the state, a visitor must savour the local dish of Ker Sangri. This is a vegetarian dish made from the dried Ker berry and Sangri beans that are locally sourced. A bit tangy in taste, it ranks high on the local menus.

Before signing off it must be pointed out that in majority of the cities and towns in western and northern Rajasthan auto rickshaws, even the ones plying on sharing basis, are referred to as taxis. The visitors often get befuddled when they are suggested to take a ‘taxi’ even for a few hundred metres even in the most congested by-lanes of the mofussil towns. And when they do take a ride, they begin to discover hidden cultural treasures in the narrow lanes less travelled.