It’s easy to lose yourself in Rajasthan’s extraordinary cities, but this land has much more than just spectacular architecture, chock-a-block streets and bustling markets. Turn off the main path to appreciate the rural landscapes, from well-tended farmland to scrubby desert, placid lakes to rock-strewn mountains. Take time to stop, exchange smiles and learn about the day-to-day realities of those you meet along the way - the heart and soul of Rajasthan. These are the days that can turn your India sojourn from a holiday into travelling, with the opportunity to do something meaningful for yourself and for the region’s small rural communities.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Palaces, forts and hunting lodges; historically these regal residences, and the families who built them, were instrumental in providing protection and income for the local area. Increasingly, the current owners are looking for ways to attract travellers to help support their communities. For a modern twist on an age-old relationship, stay in one of these converted properties and learn from the original ruling families, who are often still very much present in the form of faded black-and-white photographs, personal possessions dotted here and there, and as the subjects of fireside stories. Where their descendents are still in residence, it’s not unusual for them to greet guests on arrival. The experience is much more personal than any city hotel, no matter how swish.
As you wander around your home for the next few nights, taking in the remnants of elaborate carvings, glittering mirrors and colourful tile-work, passing artefacts and furniture that in other circumstances would be cordoned off in a museum, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped back in time. The feeling continues as you step outside where, alongside the modern tangles of electrical wires and ever-present mobile phones, village life continues much as it has done for hundreds of years. Potters fashion clay on hand-spun wheels, farmers plough their fields with bullocks, and women cook over open fires at the hearth. You’ll also come across some very forward-looking plans for sustainable tourism, something that other areas of the world are just starting to catch up with.
Whether you’re enjoying the shelter of the Aravali mountains around the former ‘country manor’ of Rawla Narlai, bird watching beside (or floating on) one of the 250 small lakes close to the Shahpura Bargh regal residence, taking a drive through the wilderness encircling Ramathra Fort, or walking the village surrounds of Fort Barli, you’re likely to feel your pace slow, shoulders drop, and get an irresistible urge to breathe more deeply. Unwind by the swimming pool, or with some gentle yoga classes. The in-between places of rural Rajasthan are ideal for relaxing and revitalising yourself for all the travel yet to come.
Take your best shot at spotting wildlife with an itinerary that includes not one but three different parks, all located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. This allows you to explore some surprisingly diverse scenery, see myriad bird and animal species, and hugely increase your chances of spotting one of these elusive big cats.