Best of Rajasthan
7 May 2015 by Krishna Ghosh
Rajasthan's etymology, translating as land of the kings, is rather apt considering its rich royal heritage and palace-strewn landscapes. Known as one of the most romantic places on earth, Rajasthan is located in northern India and borders Pakistan, and is defined by desert scenery, pastel coloured cities, ancient forts, and people wearing swathes of scarlet, fuchsia and marigold coloured textiles.
The state was formed in 1949 from a mosaic of twenty-two feudal kingdoms running from Mount Abu in the southeast to within a stone's throw from Delhi in the north. Its royal heritage lies in the Rajputs, whose reign spanned 1,000 years and who built the majestic forts and lavish palaces that now rise imperiously from the desert landscape like mirages. Alongside its vast swathes of desert scenery, it's also a land of dunes and jungles, camel trains and wild tigers, and vibrant, culture-rich cities.
Suggestions for where to stay in Rajasthan
- The Serai, Jaisalmer; deluxe tented camp
- The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambore; deluxe safari lodge
- Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur; ultra hotel
There are four main cities to visit in the state, alongside nature reserves and expansive parks. Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer are all history-rich cities, packed with fascinating attractions, stunning architecture, and tantalising tastes and smells. Alongside these, there's the magical, decaying town of Bundi that inspired Kipling's The Jungle Book and the nature-rich Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, one of the best destinations to see tigers in their natural habitat in India.
The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur is known as the Pink City because of its blush-coloured buildings, which are swathed in a reddish paint. A magnificent city, it's most famous attraction is the Amber Fort, an example of Rajput architecture that's located on a high hill and overlooks the Maota Lake. Built from red sandstone and marble, the structure is split over four layers, and centres on beautiful central courtyards.
Other sights not to be missed include the beautiful 18th century Jal Mahal, or Water Palace, that is located in the centre of the Man Sagar Lake. To reach it, you have to take a gentle boat ride, before exploring its beautifully decorated hallways. Across the lake, marvel at the Aravalli Hills, dotted with temples and forts, and on the other, you'll see bustling Jaipur.
Also visit the City Palace, an incredible temple complex built by the Maharaja of Jaipur, and the spectacular facade of the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds. Other highlights include the awe-inspiring Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observation site built in 1726 and the Galata Kund, which is abundant with famous temples and water tanks. Further, each March and February, the fantastic Elephant Festival Jaipur brings the city to life with colour and fun.
Jodhpur is located in central Rajasthan, and is famously known as the Blue City, because of its central labyrinthine mass of sky-blue painted cubic houses. These are overlooked by India's most imposing hilltop fort - the Mehrangarh Fort.
The Mehrangarh Fort is no doubt the star of the show in Jodhpur. Standing a hundred feet in splendour on a cliff, and four hundred feet above Jodhpur, its burnished red sandstone combines to make one of the largest forts in India. Inside its thick walls are several palaces known for their intricate carvings and expansive courtyards. Enter to visit its impressive museum, with an expansive collection of beautiful Rajasthani heirlooms.
Other highlights of the impressive city include the Jaswant Thada, a white marble memorial built by Marharaja Sardar Singh of Jodhpur State in 1899 for his father. The beautiful temple, constructed from carved pieces of marble, is one of the most impressive pieces of architecture in India. For an extra day trip, and a journey slightly more off-the-beaten-track, visit the Bishnoi Village, which is in the forest just outside Jodhpur. It is an exquisite village, with inhabitants that are nature lovers who support the protection of the local wildlife and practice pacifism and vegetarianism.
Coated in decaying lime wash, with waterside palaces and beautiful havelis, Udaipur is undeniably one of the most romantic cities in the world. Comprising of a jumble of cream-coloured buildings, surrounded by the Aravalli Range and dominated by the Lake Pichola, Udaipur is also undeniably beautiful.
Don't miss the Jagdish Temple, which is a large Hindu temple in the centre of the city and was completed in 1651. Also admire the Jag Mandir, a palace built in the centre of Lake Pichola. Also known as the Lake Garden Palace, it used to be the royal family's summer resort. The island palace is also said to have inspired the Taj Mahal. Make sure to visit the city in October - March, when the monsoon rains are at their highest meaning the lake's water levels will be topped up.
Located on the western side of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer is firmly ensconced within the Thar Desert, and is known as the Golden City because of its fairy-tale architecture. The city is resplendent with golden homes and havelis, and is best known for its splendid Jaisalmer Fort. The fort's ramparts conceal magnificent havelis and twisting lanes all carved from bright golden sandstone.
One of the best ways of visiting the city is by camel, because of its desert location. There is quite a lot of competition among tourists to get a camel, however, so make sure you're prepared! Within the city walls, marvel at its ornate havelis; fine merchant-built houses and pavilions in the city's medieval lanes. Also, the surrounding Desert National Park has fantastic wildlife, including blackbucks, desert foxes, and chinkaras.
In the Rajput times, Bundi was the state capital of Rajasthan, and is renowned for its paintings and murals, ornate forts, palaces and step well reservoirs. An astonishing destination, the diverse township is also the place that inspired Kipling's Jungle Book.
A picturesque little town in the jungle, Bundi fills a narrow valley in the Aravallis Range of hills. Like Jaipur, many of Bundi's houses are painted a vivid blue, making it a particularly photogenic destination. Top attractions include the Taragarh Fort, which was constructed in 1354. Situated on the same hillside is the Bundi Palace, which was described by Kipling as ‘the work of goblins rather than of men'. A sprawling structure, inside there's a range of beautiful murals and frescoes, including a wonderful Chinese-inspired ceiling decorated with petal shapes, peacocks and Krishnas.
Ranthambore National Park
Ranthambore is the most popular wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan, and is home to one of the finest tiger reserves in India. Located in the Sawai Madhopur district of south-eastern Rajasthan, it's about 130km from Jaipur, and is one of the former hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur.
Today, the park is a wildlife reserve that's spread over 392 sq km. It is one of the best places to see tigers in their natural habitat in India, especially from October - June during the dry season when the lack of water lures the big cats out in search of water. Alongside tigers, the park also boasts verdant greenery, leopards, jungle cats, black bucks and a wide-range of bird species.