Rajasthan is a land of contrasts, where miles of ochre sand dunes give rise to colourful towns topped with imposing ancient forts housing intricately-carved havelis and a hodgepodge of buildings. This colour-laced state showcases a romantic India – where you’ll find women in riotously-coloured saris alongside magnificently mustachioed camel traders – that recalls an era when Rajput warrior clans ruled with gilt-edged swords.
Gateway to Rajasthan, Jaipur is the state’s capital that’s buzzing with bazaars, world-class hotels and tourists. Chaotic as it may be, the “Pink City” (buildings were painted to imitate red sandstone) is home to the massive Amber Fort, within which is the extensively-mirrored interior of Sheesh Mahal.
Other attractions include the sprawling City Palace (home to Hawa Mahal, a 950-window structure built for royal ladies to discreetly observe the outside world) and the Jal Mahal that floats in the centre of Man Sagar Lake. Nearby is the UNESCO site of Jantar Mantar, an 18th century astronomical observatory.
To Jaipur’s east is Pushkar, a picturesque pilgrimage town that bursts with visitors and camel-obsessed traders during the annual Pushkar camel fair. Ranthambore – one of India’s premier tiger parks – is located just south of Jaipur.
Home to 3 of Rajasthan’s gems – Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner – the western edge of Rajasthan is also a good place to launch a camel safari into the Thar Desert.
The town of Jodhpur looms into view with the imposing Meherangarh Fort that’s perched on a huge rocky cliff over this “Blue City”, so named due to its chaotic collection of blue-hued buildings that lie within the 16th century old city. Founded in 1458, the grandiose structure is the largest fort in Rajasthan, housing a few palaces (like the extravagant Phool Mahal that was built for the Maharaja’s pleasure), temples and gardens.
Jaisalmer is known as the “Golden City”, thanks to its proximity to the yellow sand dunes of the Thar Desert. Dominated by the Jaisalmer Fort (the only working fort in India), visitors can experience the lives of the people working within its walls. Inside the fort lies the famous Patwon-ki-Haveli (a magnificent collection of havelis with honey-coloured carved stonework) and a collection of inter- connected sandstone Jain temples.
Bikaner, to the north, is a vibrant dust-swirling desert town with an outpost feel and a fabulous fort. The rickety old walled city with its medieval maze of narrow streets is home to more red sandstone havelis and exquisite Jain temples.
More relaxed than the rest of the state, southern Rajasthan still packs in ancient forts, bustling towns and temples.
Nicknamed “Venice of the East”, Udaipur is a collection of shimmering white buildings nestled along the city’s interconnected lakes. The crown gem is the City Palace; floating on Lake Pichola, this marble and granite structure houses palaces, gardens, temples and high-end hotels.
To the west of Udaipur, Mt. Abu – with its wooded valleys and Alpine beauty – is a cool retreat from the heat of the baking plains. A Jain pilgrimage centre, its cluster of stately temples rivals most in India.
Rajasthan is easily accessible from Delhi by road (in 4 hours) and train services (to Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Bikaner). The luxurious Palace on Wheels is a week-long train journey through Rajasthan (Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, etc) from Delhi.