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Wheels of royalty

March 7, 2015

There's more to Rajasthan than camels and sand. Rahul Ghosh scours the cultural heartland of India for automobiles that can be traced back to the very annals of history.

FATEH GARH
Udaipur, Rajasthan

The road trip to Fateh Garh is nothing short of an experience. The palace is located atop a hill on the outskirts of Udaipur, and the road leading to it is mostly paved with stone slabs. The narrow path twisting up the hill gives our cars a good shakedown. The Merc and the Audi please with their softer suspension setups, while the BMW feels stiffer. Nevertheless, we zip up the hill in no time, our eagerness getting the better of us.

We find a tiny MG from the 1930s, a Chevy saloon, and a '35 Dodge standing outside the palace garage. Inside, we are pleasantly surprised to see a couple of old Mercs and a Jeep, besides two vintage BSA bikes and a paratrooper.

Unfortunately, the only thing available for a drive is an old Land Cruiser FJ. I hop in excitedly, and almost land in a soup. As I speed up the hill, I see our troupe busy shooting the BMW, blocking the way in the process. I hit the brakes desperately, but to no avail; the FJ does not have a parking brake. It takes a while before I find myself heading up the hill again.

In the meantime, the little MG is getting ready to be 'shot'. Clad in black and red, it almost seems like it's asking you to join it for the ride of a lifetime. No surprise, then, that the automobile was invited to the coveted 2013 Cartier Concours d'Elegance recently.

Interestingly, most of these automobiles are used almost regularly - ancient as they may be. Apart from the MG, all the other cars have air conditioning. We are told that they are the favourite mode of transport for most visitors. And whyever not, considering that the Dodge has so much room in the back that it can easily be compared to our extended wheelbase cars.

DEOGARH MAHAL
Deogarh, Rajasthan

{mosimage}The satellite navigation asks us to drive right into a narrow lane, which turns out to be a bustling market. We obey and end up creating a traffic jam. A few tense minutes later, we find ourselves standing before the Deogarh Mahal in all its grandeur.

Just as we start walking towards the car collection, a rumbling sound announces the arrival of Veerbhadra Singh, a scion of the erstwhile royal family of Deogarh. His current joy is the Sunbeam, which has some serious tech under the hood. But even more attractive is the Desoto, which we rode to Seengh Sagar.

Once inside, I feel like a veritable king of the road, and my hands itch for the steering wheel. But, as luck would have it, its brakes give way while going downhill, and we don't end up in a heap only because of Veerbhadra's driving skills. We clamber into an S-class and start following the Sunbeam. The Sunbeam's engine has a thermocycle cooling system that does well even in Rajasthan's heat. It is kept in a pristine condition, complete with a wooden dash, period dials and large steering wheel.

UDAI BILAS PALACE
Dungarpur, Rajasthan

{mosimage}The Dungarpur collection is impeccable, complete with Steyrs and Jaguars. After drowning our fatigue at the bar, we step out to find the cars ready and waiting. Our favourites are a Mercedes 230SL, a Jaguar XK and a Cobra.

The Merc 230SL is an icon, and the one at Dungarpur sports a massive 3.0-litre engine and a detachable hardtop. Okay, it doesn't have the gadgets the present S-class may have, but it more than makes up for it with some serious firepower. We can't help but notice how the 230SL keeps zooming past our S350CDI even 30 years past its prime.

After having a go with the Merc, we step into the Jaguar. The car is draped in a classic shade of British racing green, and every nut and bolt look factory fresh. And what's more, it has a beautiful story to tell.

Apparently, the Jaguar was no more than a basket case when the Maharaja found it; the car didn't even have an engine. While the exteriors were restored to factory specifications, it had to do with an Isuzu motor. The Maharaja is still looking for an original piece, but has met with little success.


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