Things to do in Rajasthan
Travel to Rajasthan, and you’ll immediately see why many consider it to be the crown jewel of India. The second largest state in the country, Rajasthan is a place of swirling turbans, swaying camels, sweeping forts and opulent palaces. Whether you’re buzzing through chaotic traffic in a tuk-tuk or discovering the mesmerising traditions of the Royal Maharajas, Rajasthan promises a one-of-a-kind Indian adventure that’s overflowing with both colourful chaos and awestruck wonder. Wondering what to do in Rajasthan? Here are a few of the highlights you won’t want to miss.
Udaipur: the Venice of the East
Udaipur was first dubbed India’s “most romantic spot” in 1829; though increasing numbers of tourists and traffic have certainly changed things, Udaipur’s undeniable charm holds strong today. The town centre is perched alongside Lake Pichola. This is where you’ll find white-washed buildings, many with rooftop terraces and restaurants offering spectacular views of the nearby lake and surrounding Aravalli Hills.
Start your exploration of Udaipur with a stop at the extravagant City Palace. You’ll need about two hours to fully enjoy the complex details, which include marvellous tiles, mirrors, artwork and gold-plated rooms. Next, take a leisurely boat ride or meander the winding cobbled alleys in search of the best handmade leather goods and textiles. Finally, finish the evening with folk dance and music at Bagore Ki Haveli, a lovely courtyard show with talented performers spinning fire and balancing heavy pots while twirling in dizzying circles.
Where to stay in Udaipur: For unparalleled luxury that’s as romantic as Udaipur, try the Oberoi Udaivilas. The 200-year old grounds promise exceptional views and five-star service.
After you’ve had all the bargaining and street hawking you can handle, head to the Step Well House Cafe
Jodhpur: The Blue City
This desert city is chiefly distinguished by the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort, a former palace dramatically perched in the Old Town. Surrounding the Mehrangarh Fort are various shades of bright blue houses, earning Jodhpur its famed nickname “The Blue City”.
The Mehrangarh Fort is a must-visit; the audio tour will take you through the palace’s rich history, including stories of princes and princesses, bloody battles, and unique desert artwork and culture. The nearby mausoleum, Jaswant Thada, is worth a quick visit if you have the time; the marble structure and surrounding gardens are idyllic.
The Sardar Market is perhaps Jodhpur’s most famous bizarre, stretching out from behind the city’s iconic Clock Tower. After you’ve had all the bargaining and street hawking you can handle, head to the Step Well House Cafe. A relatively new restaurant, cafe and bar, the plush cushions on the rooftop offer an ideal spot to sip a mint julep while listening to the sounds of daily life below.
Where to stay in Jodhpur: Hotel RAAS offers boutique accommodation in traditional haveli-style architecture. In addition to the one-of-a-kind views of the Mehrangarh Fort, you can also expect large rooms and a relaxing pool.
Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur: one-of-a-kind day trips
Conveniently located between Udaipur and Jodhpur, Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur are must-visit stops on any Rajasthan road trip.
The Mewar fortress of Kumbalgarh dates back to the 15th century and is home to the second largest wall in the world (after the Great Wall of China.) The remote fort is tucked away in the Aravalli Mountains, promising beautiful views of the arid scenery. Just be sure to arrive early in the day before the blazing sun is at its highest (if you plan to climb to the top of the fort.)
A short drive from Kumbalgarh, the small town of Ranakpur is where you’ll find one of the largest and most exquisite Jain temples: Chaumukha Mandir. The highlight of this serene temple is the intricate white marble carvings that cover the ceilings, pillars and elephant statues. Be sure to keep an eye out for the hundreds of monkeys that line the road leading into Ranakpur. Though harmless, they will likely hop onto your car in search of food.
Jaipur: The Pink City
Jaipur is one of Rajasthan’s most popular destinations, in large part due to India’s “Golden Triangle,” a tourist loop consisting of Delhi, Agra and, of course, Jaipur. The capital of Rajasthan also offers a perfect balance of both old and new India, with historical landmarks, traditional markets, trendy cafes and world-class restaurants.
The historic walled section of Jaipur is almost entirely terra-cotta pink. Don’t miss the City Palace, a complex of beautiful buildings and gardens dating back to 1729, which continues to serve as a royal residence. Jaipur’s most famous monument is without a doubt the Amber Fort; perched upon a hill 11km outside of Jaipur, this fort was built some 1,000 years ago. A guide is recommended to appreciate the full splendour of the ancient architecture and surrounding views.
Where to stay in Jaipur: The Hotel Taj Rambagh Palace was once home to the Maharajah of Jaipur. Today, the historic building offers spectacular grounds, chic rooms and a convenient location. Don’t miss afternoon tea on the Verandah.
Jaisalmer or Bikaner: desert escapes
If you want to experience the heart of the Thar Desert, you have two primary options: Jaisalmer or Bikaner. Jaisalmer is the most popular option and is also home to the magnificent Jaisalmer Fort (one of the largest forts in the world, where some 3,000 people currently live.) This is where you’ll find the most famous camel treks and desert camping experiences. However, it is also undeniably touristy.
Alternatively, Bikaner is a more off-the-beaten-track desert town in the north. While the desert here has more brush than dramatic sand dunes, the quiet town makes a good alternative for camel trekking if you don’t want to share your space with any other tourists. Adventurous travellers won’t want to miss the Karni Mata Temple where you’ll find up to 20,000 rats scurrying about; locals seek their blessing along with the lucky sighting of the rare white rat.
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Chaumukha Mandir | Photo: Dan Moore
Mewar Fortress of Kumbalgarh | Photo: Dan Moore
Jaisalmer Bazaar | Photo: Judd Grutman
Udaipur City Palace | Photo: Dan Moore
Bagore Ki Haveli | Photo: Dan Moore
Mehrangarh Fort | Photo: Dan Moore
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