India - Getting to know Rajasthan
Regal Rajasthan is the India you've probably been dreaming of. The region’s iconic sights and cultural delights are what instantly spring to mind when we imagine travelling in this astonishing country. Wander through lakeside palaces, spot wild tigers at a hundred paces, haggle in atmospheric bazaars, and explore ancient walled cities. This is India at its most spectacular.
The hardest part about planning a visit to Rajasthan is deciding what to leave out! This grand state was formed from 19 princely kingdoms, and their ornate royal palaces are scattered throughout the region. You won't want to miss the vast serenity of City Palace on the shores of Lake Pichola at Udaipur, or Jaipur's sumptuously extravagant Pink City. Taking time to stop at the smaller palaces, such as Bundi, can reveal some true hidden delights. Towering over many of these former royal residences are invincible hill forts built to protect them, perched on steep cliff tops with unparalleled panoramic views.
Rajasthan is home to some epic wildlife. Ranthambore is India's premier tiger spotting destination, and many other species including leopards, hyena, sloth bear and wild boar, have also made this national park their home. Head towards Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert and you could even see caravans of camels... Rural Rajasthan is the perfect counterpoint to the bustle and rush of the city, and life in its peaceful, friendly villages goes on much as it always has. There’s so much more to this state than the headline sights, and we urge you to step off the well-trodden tourist trail.
- Jaipur: This fabled Pink City - and recently designated UNESCO World Heritage Site - is a kaleidoscopic snapshot of India’s modern, glitzy, romantic and chaotic landscape. At its centre, historic streets are lined with stately pink mansions that give the city its name. A breathtaking cascade of pink gabled windows sweep over the Palace of the Winds (part of the opulent City Palace and Museum, which is still a royal residence today) and a host of huge, exotically decorated ancient forts dot the surrounding hills. The best way to see Jaipur is with an early morning cycle tour, or by soaring over the walls in a hot air balloon…
- Jodhpur: Dubbed the ‘Blue City’ due to the sky-hued, Brahmin-owned houses which line the fortified old city, Jodhpur is a maze of winding alleys and bustling bazaars. Its tightly-woven grid of roads and plazas is overlooked by the mighty Mehrangarh Fort, sitting serenely atop a sheer sandstone outcrop. Take a stroll through the narrow streets and you'll stumble across spice markets, puppet makers, chai wallahs and dozens of diverse handicraft shops. Spending a view days here gives you a fascinating insight into a side of everyday Rajasthani life which has remained relatively unchanged for generations.
- Ranthambore National Park: India’s most famous wild animals are undoubtedly its tigers, and Ranthambore National Park is the best place to catch sight of this king among cats. The tigers are impressively unperturbed by human presence, and there are jackals, panthers, and a wide variety of bird species to see throughout Ranthambore, making it a popular safari spot. It's not just the wildlife that attracts visitors; the setting is spectacular too, with mysterious lakes, tumbled down forts and ancient pavilions covered in creepers. As with all of Rajasthan's national parks, Ranthambore is closed between July and September, and gets pretty busy during peak season.
- Udaipur: Could this be India's most romantic city? We think so. A fairytale collection of ornate turrets and domes that seem to float above the glistening waters of Lake Pichola. Peaceful funeral ghats fringe the lake's edge, and at its centre two superb palaces perch on their own private islands. History buffs will love the myriad palaces and museums full of opulent rooms, dripping with intricate carvings and royal heirlooms. Udaipur sunsets are particularly picturesque, when the views across the lake display a city bathed in golden sunlight… they’re among the country’s most photogenic sights, and that’s saying something.
Rajasthan away from the crowds
- Bundi: This well preserved, ancient walled town is something of a hidden gem. Its atmospheric bazaars reflect local life, and you can wander the narrow streets with few other tourists in sight. High above the town is a mighty star-shaped fortress, and below it is a wonderfully complete Rajput palace with a feast of peaceful courtyards to discover, and intimate rooms covered with delicate and colourful murals.
- Jodhpur to Udaipur: If you take the slow roads from Jodhpur to Udaipur, stopping frequently to explore, you'll experience rural Rajasthan at its most untouched. Stay at Narlai Lodge, a luxurious 17th century sanctuary, visit friendly local villages, and see spectacular Jain temples hidden deep in a wooded valley at Ranakpur. Keen to encounter a leopard? They roam wild round the rock temples in Jawai, somehow coexisting in close proximity to the local villagers.
- Khichan: Well off the tourist trail, this little village is a magnet for birdwatchers. Every winter Demoiselle cranes migrate here, sometimes as many as 10,000, and it’s an incredible sight. The villagers have a long tradition of feeding the birds in special areas. This is a step beyond other untouched corners of Rajasthan, and combines well with visits to the ancient walled city of Bikaner and the golden desert settlement of Jaisalmer.
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