INDIA is such a vast country filled with exotic destinations that any itinerary should be carefully constructed to do it justice. It is best to focus on one region rather than trying to fit too much into a finite period of time. Incredible India has too much to offer! Slimming an itinerary down will deliver a gratifyingly immersive experience that fleeting visits to New Delhi and Mumbai could not match.
The word Rajasthan conjures up romantic images of fiery tribal woman exhorting their orange-turbaned warrior-husbands to magnificent feats of bravery in the hot and arid landscape of north-west India. This is a fabled land filled with rich tales, marshal traditions, architectural wonders, and even religious worship that has spun a ratings-popping television series! Rajasthan offers something for every palate – from spicy to mild (or perhaps not so mild) – and should be at the top of the list when planning a visit to India.
So what are the top jewels in Rajasthan’s illustrious crown?
The Pink City
Jaipur, founded by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II on 18 November 1727, is the capital of Rajasthan and likely the first stop from New Delhi or Agra. It earned its ‘pink’ city moniker when Raja Jawai Singh ordered the entire town painted salmon pink in honour of a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1853. Don’t say this out loud, but it is whispered that Singh actually gave the order in atonement when one of his court officials undiplomatically described the members of a British delegation prior to the Prince’s visit as “pink-faced monkeys”.
As if in contrast to these unguarded words, Jaipur is guarded by a series of imposing gates that give access to broad streets that run east to west and north to south. Distinctive pink buildings, of which the Hawa Mahal is the most famous, compete with each other for real estate space in this city of 3 million people.
However, it is Jaipur’s three forts that captivate travellers! Nahargarh Fort, looming over the City Palace and Jaipur town, the magnificent Amber Fort further north and Jaigarh Fort, which sits upon its eagle’s nest to guard over Amber Fort – glorious structures that would have struck fear in the hearts of enemy troops and charm modern-day tourists. Jaipur’s Water Palace (Jal Mahal) reflected on the placid surface of Man Sagar Lake is another stunning bit of architecture.
Another unmissable attraction in Jaipur is Galwar Bagh, better known as the Monkey Temple in Nat Geo Wild’s popular ‘Monkey Thieves’ series. The programs document the dramatic lives of a group of Rhesus Macaques that live at Galwar Bagh. The compound consists of several temples and sacred water tanks – and, of course, the famous monkeys always jockeying for a friendly hand-out!
Highlight: Amber Fort
The Blue City
Jodhpur is the sapphire in Rajasthan’s crown. Perhaps a blue gown splayed in a curtsy before Mehrangarh Fort would be a more apt analogy. A visit to the fort presents a fascinating journey into Rajasthani history and provides stunning views over the blue painted houses at its feet. Mehrangarh Fort’s audio tour is one of the best – and most informative – I’ve ever heard.
Two principal arguments seek to explain the origin of the blue-painted homes. One maintains that it was done to distinguish the Brahmin class from the rest of the population. Another argues that the colour blue became popular because of its natural properties as an insect repellent. Whatever the reason, it is a glorious and quite unique sight.
Jodhpur also boasts the Jaswant Thada, a white marble memorial built in memory of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. The location also offers superb views over Jodhpur and Mehrangarh Fort.
Highlight: Sitting on rooftop accommodation such as Havelli Inn Pal enjoying a cold Kingfisher beer and watching the sun set over Mehrangarh Fort.
The Golden City
Deep in the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer must be the most uniquely decorated city in the world! Rising up from the desolate plains on a ridge of golden-yellow sandstone and crowned by a fort, Jaisalmer protects an astonishingly unique fusion of ancient Rajputana and Islamic architecture. Detailed latticework on the facades of Salim Singh-ki-Haveli, Nathmal ji ki haveli and the Jain Temples pay homage to the incredible artistic skills of past craftsmen.
However, Jaisalmer is not only about architecture. The Thar Desert is a dream landscape to explore – particularly from the back of a camel. Most hotels and local tourist companies offer a range of camel safaris, mostly at the Sam Sand Dunes or Khuri Sand Dunes. An overnight safari usually includes a cultural performance in or near a local village, an escorted safari into rolling sand dunes and bedding down in the desert under a canopy of twinkling stars! For those who prefer a bit more luxury, cabins are available.
Highlight: Latticework on backstreet buildings
City of Lakes
A bit incongruous in the context of Rajasthan’s arid landscape, I know, but Udaipur is 400km southwest of Jaipur and benefits greatly from the presence of the mighty Aravalli Range. Udaipur is, without a doubt, one of India’s most spectacular – and cleanest – cities.
Splendid Rajput-era palaces and buildings stretch luxuriously along the shore of Lake Pichola. The streets are alive with the hustle and bustle of commerce, while locals take to the ghats to bathe and do their washing. Luxury hotels and havellis serve delicious meals on their rooftop terraces while ferries ply their trade from the mainland to the obscenely extravagant Taj Lake Palace built, yes, on the lake!
The City Palace and Museum offers an instructive introduction to Mewar history and is not to be missed. Other attractions include the Shree Jagat Shiromaji Temple, Jagdish Temple, Bagore-ki-Haveli and Sajjan Niwas Garden. From Duhd Talai, on the lake shore south of Udaipur walking tracks lead to the top of a ridge offering spectacular panoramic views over the city and Lake Pichola. There is an old tower on the slopes used by former rulers as a vantage point for hunting expeditions.
On a hilltop north-east of Udaipur, the palatial residence known as the Monsoon Palace squats like a spider ready to jump. At night, the palace is illuminated – changing from a predatory spider into a glittering diamond!
Highlight: Early-morning activity along the ghats
- Visit the Monsoon Palace to Enjoy Panoramic Views of Udaipur by Availing Packages of Rajasthan Tours (holidaydestinationsindia.wordpress.com)
- palace on Wheels (easeyourtravel.wordpress.com)
- Top Rajasthan Destinations: Monsoon Magic in the Desert (indiadestinationsblog.wordpress.com)