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In Rajasthan, an old icon is being revived

The Marwari horse is a part of the Rajput soul.

The Marwari horse is as much a mystery as a legend.

The horse is distinctive with his curvy rotating ears, height, majesty of bearing and extreme intelligence and loyalty. He can rise on his rear legs and land the front ones on the sides of an elephant, for his master to engage in battle. When he leaps, he spans 12 feet! He learns easily, is hardy and ever willing .The Marwari became the battle-horse of the Rajputs and a beloved native breed.

The legend of Chetak, that loyal horse of the redoubtable Maharana Pratap of Mewar is alive even today in Rajasthan. At the battle of Haldi Ghati, near Udaipur in 1546, the Maharana waded into battle against the huge Moghul forces of Akbar. As his fortunes waned, he fought on, atop a severely wounded Chetak. When the battle seemed lost, Chetak began the journey remembered to this day by teary-eyed folks of Rajasthan: Chetak carried its master to safety and then, - only then-, died in his arms.

The Chetak though an Arab thorough-bred, is the fore-runner of the Marwari horse. He is of the same stock as the other famous horse in history: Bucephalus of Alexander the Great.

Turkmenistan meets Kathiawar

The Marwari probably draws his size and sturdiness from Turkmenistan and his good looks and intelligence from Kathiawar, in north Gujarat! The recipe was such a success that hundreds of thousands of them were in the cavalries of the Rajputs and the Moghuls from the 17th century. The decline probably began with the arrival of the Europeans, who nursed a contempt for the 'mixed-up' horse and preferred thoroughbreds. The Rajputs however stayed loyal to the Marwari. Over time, decreasing number of wars, reduced incomes and finally the denial of privy purse by the government of India in the late sixties sapped their capacity to stable any significant number of their horses.

But as on many fronts in India, there is good news now for the Marwari horse.

There are two streams of effort to restore the breed- one formal and the other informal.

By DNA mapping the Equine Research Centre in Hissar, Haryana hopes to identify the 'real' Marwari from the very small number of the probables they have short-listed. Then, zeroing in on a few, the line can be bred back over the years.

The princes lead the come back

The non-formal effort has largely been by Rajputs, both princes and other elite. In the thirties, the late Maharaja Umaid Singh of Jodhpur began buying up the horses he could identify as being representative. At about the same time in Udaipur, Maharana Bhagwat Singh of Mewar started the Chetak Trust. This stemmed the ebbing tide, but just about.

What appears to be the turning-point, is the 'discovery' of Rajasthan by the post-modern world! Here was a land that can take you back even today, to the old world of valour, chivalry and elegance! As tourists began to arrive, princes turned their palaces into hotels and the elite, their stately homes. The resulting steady income turned their minds to the Rajput's first love: the Marwari horse.

And slowly began active but systematic breeding.

Raja Narinder Singh is the oldest living Mewar prince. A fit, handsome man in his seventies, he turned an old hunting lodge and grounds, on the outskirts of Udaipur into a breeding centre. Pratap Country Inn, stands at a slight elevation and the Raja lives here full time. So do Sultan his prized Marwari stud and Ganga, a beautiful mare. Starting with 2 carefully selected originals in 1972, he has bred some 44 authentic Marwaris so far. Over the years, as the numbers grew, he began offering horse safaris for discerning horse lovers. These are elaborately organised rides across the countryside, lasting between 5 and 10 days. Kitchens, tents and tens of attendants move ahead of the riders in trucks. Comfortable camps spring up at each nightfall! Needless to say only Marwari horses are used.

Then came the Chetak Horse Society of India, headed by Raja Narinder Singh and co-promoted by S.A.H.A.A Hamam,( a keen horseman of Bihar), Fred Stuben, (a knight and chairman of the Federation of European Knights), Thakur Inder Singhji Dhamli, (a horse breeder), Col.Rajinder Singh and Lt.Col. Govind Singh (two ex-army officers with devotion to horses).

The Society focuses on conservation and revival of the Marwari horse by every conceivable means: research programmes, educational camps, horse-centred tourism etc. The centre-piece of their achievement has been their organisation since 1993, of the Haldi Ghati Horse Fair, at the site of Chetak's last stand. To this show come horse lovers from around the world - to fall in love with the Marwari! The fair has created a great awareness about this horse and a demand for it, motivating breeders and promoting horse-tourism.

Sunny and Billa

'Maharaj Narinder Singhji is a pioneer in breeding the Marwari horse', says Satyendra 'Sunny' Singh Chaura. In his late forties he is much younger than the Raja, but no less passionate about the Marwari. He is something of a historian and preserver of the Rajput's horse-centred way of life.

Kot Kaladwas, also on the outskirts of Udaipur makes many statements. From here begin Jharokha India's well-planned Marwari horse safaris. Kot Kaladwas is also a delightful campsite and above all a living demonstration of the Rajput love of horses.

'Cow is holy, but a horse is divine', says Sunny. He, though not a prince, is a dreamer and has scant regard for profits. As you sit in the courtyard of his stylishly recreated haveli, five Marwaris stare at you out of their private windows! The stables are a part of the house and the horse comes first in everything! It is clear Sunny needs a business manager! Billa Edwards, an Englishwoman has for some years now, helped promote his safaris in Europe. It has been a hard climb for Sunny and Billa. But such is the magic of the Marwari horse that they will not give up or compromise.

Bhils were the tribe that stood loyal to Maharana Pratap and Sunny keeps alive the relationship. Kot Kaladwas is manned by Bhils. The triad of the Rajput, the Bhil and the Marrwari is on view here!

There have been many other Rajputs too who have played a part in reviving the Marwari horse, whose number is edging towards a 1000 now. But considering the growing worldwide desire to buy them, there won't be enough for years to come!


Pratap Country Inn

Jaisamand Road


Udaipur 313 001


Phone 91-294-583138

Fax 583058


Kot Kaladwas and Jharoka India

Motiyonwali Magri

Raniji ki Bawdi

Jhamarkotra Road

Kaladwas Village

Udaipur Dt.-313 001

Phone: 98290 42583

Phone/fax: 91 294 493075

email: billaedwards@btinternet.com

website: http:// www.indianencounters.co.uk