Rajasthan Province – India
Welcome to the land of Maharaja Forts, crumbling desert cities, vibrant and exciting cultures and India’s premier desert escapes. Rajasthan is India’s historic center. It hosts some of India’s most traditional culture. Across this desert province are colour coated cities that conceal and preserve a very unique part of India. If you are new to traveling in India, then Rajasthan should be at the top of your list. You will not leave this beautiful province feeling empty handed. You will leave its borders with a huge appreciation of how complex and incredible this place is.
Jaipur is known for its notoriously chaotic traffic, pink palaces, and moustached men. Jaipur is also one of India’s greatest examples of the country’s contrast of old and new; the new being Jaipur’s popular clubs and bars inside towering modern neon lit hotels. Enter Jaipur’s medieval city gates into “old” Jaipur and step back in time. Its narrow alleyways are filled with tiny shops that occupy the holes in the walls and vibrant vegetable markets.
Jaipur’s old city hosts the beautiful honeycombed Hawa Mahal and at the heart of the city is the Jaipur Palace. Jaipur’s city palace displays the city’s rich former past with royal decked out halls, and armories filled with the Maharaja’s finest medieval weapons. Getting lost in the labyrinth of markets and historic buildings in the old city is a magical experience. Jaipur also has many unknown sights, such as the Monkey Temple, which has so many pesky monkeys awaiting snap happy travelers to take their photo. Head up into the hills to see the haunting Nahargar fort for one of the best views of the city.
On the outskirts of Jaipur sits Amber Fort, in all its glory, atop the mountains. From miles away the fort towers above all. This was the Maharaja’s capital city. From the bottom of the mountain, there are two options to get into Amber. The first is to haul yourself up as the peasants would have, or, like the Maharaja himself, ride atop a gloriously painted elephant through the honey-comb gates like a boss. From the courtyard, you are led into Amber’s intricate network of hallways and chambers.
It’s incredibly easy to get lost in here due to Amber’s sheer size! However, getting lost is one of Amber’s greatest joys. Find hidden rooms with balconies that overlook the Maharaja’s kingdom. Continue through the maze, and you will discover how stylish of a designer the Maharaja was; with his rooms filled with mirrors and vibrant colors. If you are going to visit only one fort in India, make it Amber Fort.
Arguably the most romantic destination in India, the beautiful Lake Pichola, dotted with palaces, should be included on the itinerary of every traveler heading to Rajasthan. Udaipur is home to Rajasthan’s largest palace. The Udaipur City Palace is full of history and the riches of kings. In fact, the largest collection of crystal is kept here. If you are a movie buff, then you will recognize Jagniwas Island from the popular Bond film “Octopussy”. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” also has many scenes filmed here. There are plenty of interesting neighborhoods to wander among around the lake. The buildings, all plastered white, are intricate and beautifully designed. The streets that intertwine below are full of life. Bustling markets selling wares from around the province, including holy cows, rickshaws, monkeys, and colourfully dressed locals, all merge into an incredible setting. Rolling hills with green foliage cover hidden lakes, ready to be discovered by one of Udaipur’s great horse trekking outfits, surround the city.
Heading further into the desert, the Blue City, Jodhpur, rises above the landscape. Its crown jewel is the mighty Mehrangarh Fort. The fort sits atop a massive hill that looms over the entire city and can be seen from a very lengthy distance. Mehrangarh is full of history and shiny objects once revered by kings, but the real sight in Jodhpur is the stunning Blue City itself. I don’t just mean a small district, I mean the entire city is plastered blue! Jodhpur is also one of Rajasthan’s most traditional cities. Its markets are full of traditionally dressed locals haggling over livestock and spices around clock towers and crumbling infrastructure.
The city’s markets are also famed for its antiques! So equip your best bargaining skills, and make room in your backpack. The men here don colorful turbans that pile high on their heads, and the women cover themselves in silver bracelets, anklets, and intricately carved piercings. Jodhpur is definitely worth the stop on your way the Thar Desert.
The REAL Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Alright, so I am a big fan of the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” If you are not familiar with this movie, well, I suggest you go and watch it. The Ravla Khempur in the small town of Mavli near Udaipur is, in fact, the REAL Marigold Hotel. Not only was the Best Exotic Marigold movie filmed here, it is also a real active hotel in which you can stay. The owner has the blueprints of the movie so you know whose room was where, and you can request to stay in certain characters’ rooms.
The owner is also full of stories about the actors and the film itself being made. Outside this amazing hotel is the town of Mavli. Mavli could, quite possibly, be just as brilliant as its famed Marigold Hotel. Dirt roads lead to golden-yellow pastures. Goats and ox carts replace cars and the locals could not be friendlier. Mavli truly is a way to experience an “untouched” part of rural Rajasthan. Watch the sun set over the hills from the Marigold Hotel and love every moment being in this magical place.
Interested in staying at the Ravla Khempur (Marigold Hotel)? Check it out below.
Rising above the sand dunes at the entrance to the Great Thar Desert is Jaisalmer, the final outpost before you head deep into the relentless desert’s heart. The medieval city’s golden walls rise high above the desert, giving this city more of a fortified citadel trading post feel that makes most travelers squirm with glee. In the city center is the Jaisalmer Fort and Palace. The fort displays its robust fortifications with its massive iron gates and spikes protruding from the carved, wooden doors. The city’s markets are full of jewelry and leather goods, all being hauled in from the surrounding rural villages on camel back. Jaisalmer is where you can hire a camel to tackle the Great Thar desert, or rent a motorbike to cruise the desert highways leading to remote communities. Whatever your reason for visiting Jaisalmer is, this desert outpost will leave an impression on you with its rich history and deep culture.
Pushkar’s milky blue town surrounds one of the Hindu religion’s holiest lakes. It is said that all Hindus must bathe in the Ghats that line the shores of this holy lake at least once in their lifetime. Visiting this town should be done with respect and an open mind.
Chat with the Sadhus, get your feet wet with the pilgrims and learn about the complex traditions of the Hindus. At night, Pujas (prayers) fill the air with the sound of gongs, drums and hypnotic Hindu songs. Top that off with all of the Pilgrims and setting of this city, and you witness a deeply spiritual place. You can truly feel the energy here. During the day, walk the streets of Pushkar and peruse the hippy shops or just find a peaceful corner of the lake and watch this beautiful place change in every possible different light.
Camel Treks into the Great Thar Desert
All that lies between Jaisalmer and the Pakistan border is the Great Thar Desert. Roads end here, but to get the real feel of the desert, you must ride aboard the ship of the desert: the camel. From Jaisalmer, it is easy to arrange camel treks which entail driving deep into the desert, where you will meet your new camel friend. After a quick lesson on commands (strange camel sounds they listen to), you head off into the sand sea. Massive golden yellow sand dunes cover the horizon and the silence is haunting. It doesn’t take long to feel like you have left civilization and everything becomes just you and the desert. At night, you sleep beneath a million stars… oh and the odd Pakistani or Indian fighter jet flying by the sensitive border area, reminding you of where you actually are.
The desert is also exhibits some fascinating Rajasthan culture. The odd village can be found here. Its inhabitants and their culture have not changed in hundreds of years. Visit them and learn about a whole new, untouched side of India. Desert safaris here should not be taken lightly, however. Getting lost is a serious issue, and only the guides know where the next well is in the desert. Come to the Thar and conquer the desert, as the locals have for generations.
Rajasthan is famous for its festivals. You can start with Pushkar’s camel fair, held in November at the time of the Kartik Purnima full moon. Hundreds of decked out camels are brought here and paraded around in the tackiest camel gear imaginable. Then there is the Jaipur Elephant Festival. Elephants are painted and covered in elaborate, beautifully made outfits and paraded around like Maharaja’s themselves. If you time it right and make it to Rajasthan for Holi festival, then get ready for war… colour war! Grab handfuls of colourful powdered dies to throw at each other in India’s most exhilarating festival. Rajasthan really is home to the most colourful festivals imaginable.
Location: Rajasthan, India
Getting here: Train-Flight-Bus from Delhi, Mumbai.
Main cities: Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer