Jaipur, the City of Victory, The capital of the state, Jaipur is also the largest city in the princely state of Rajasthan.It was founded in 1727, by the Kachwaha Rajput Ruler Sawai Jaisingh II, who was the ruler of Amber. Also known by the nickname ‘Pink City of India’ which is due to the distinctive saffron or pink color of the buildings. The planning of the city was done according to the Vedic Vastu Shastra (Indian architecture). The well planned streets and detailed and artistic architecture make it one of the top preferred tourist locations. Has a habit of tickling travelers pink. Here you’ll find a well-preserved and living past – stunning hilltop forts, glorious palaces and humming, bargain-filled bazaars – as well as a wealth of accommodation and dining options. From the timeless bazaars of the old city to the towering malls of glass and chrome, which seem to be sprouting everywhere, there is an amazing array of items for sale – Rajasthani crafts, textiles, art and, of course, gems.
Rajasthan’s famous festival is less about the eponymous camels and more about a rollickin’ good time, though the dunes outside of Pushkarare still a sight (and a smell) to behold when the cameleers come to town. Drawing in 50,000 camels and 200,000 people, the fair is ostensibly when Rajasthani farmers gather to buy and sell their camels, cattle and horses – most of the trading, however, is completed in the days leading up to the fair. When the festival proper begins, the camels go to the outer as moustache competitions and sporting events take centre stage. For the camels it’s a time of lounging about the dunes, riding visitors through the grounds and participating in races and dance competitions.
This national park is 1334 sq km of wild jungle scrub hemmed in by rocky ridges. At its centre is the 10th-century Ranthambore Fort and scattered nearby are ancient temples and mosques, crocodile-filled lakes, chhatris (cenotaphs) and hides. The park was a maharajas’ hunting ground till 1970 – a curious 15 years after it had become a sanctuary. Ranthambore is the best place to spot wild tigers in Rajasthan.
Udaipur is Rajasthan’s, maybe India’s, most romantic city, a tag that was first applied in 1829 by Colonel James Tod in his Annals & Antiquities of Rajasthan. Framed by the ancient Aravalli hills, the old city is dominated by the cupola-crowned City Palace, which rises abruptly from the glassy waters of Lake Pichola. The palace’s balconies gaze over the lake towards the city’s other famous landmark – the Lake Palace – a reflective, fairy-tale confection gleaming by day and spotlit by night.
Mighty Mehrangarh, the muscular fort that towers over the blue city of Jodhpur, is a magnificent spectacle and an architectural masterpiece. The formidable walls appear to grow organically from its rocky perch. Down below, the old town, a jumble of Brahmin-blue cubes, sprawls into the haze. The ‘blue city’ really is blue! Jodhpur proper stretches well beyond the 16th-century border, but it’s the immediacy and buzz of the old blue city and the larger-than life fort that capture travellers’ imaginations.
The fort of Jaisalmer is a breathtaking sight: a massive sandcastle rising from the sandy plains like a mirage from a bygone era. No place better evokes exotic camel-train trade routes and desert mystery. Ninety-nine colossal bastions encircle the still-inhabited narrow streets. Inside are shops swaddled in bright embroideries, a royal palace and numerous businesses looking for your tourist rupee. Despite the commercialism it is hard not to be enchanted by this desert citadel. Beneath the ramparts the twisting lanes of the old city conceal magnificent havelis of crumbling beauty. The havelis, the fort and its enclosed palace are all carved from the same golden honey sandstone, hence the city’s designation as the Golden City.
The Desert National Park has been established in the Great Thar Desert, 42km from Jaisalmer. One of the most popular excursions is to the sand dunes on the edge of the park. This is Jaisalmer’s Sahara-like desert, with huge, silky, undulating folds of sand. It’s best to be here at sunrise or sunset, and many camel safaris spend a night here, but it’s still possible to frame pictures of solitary camels against lonely dunes.
Bundi is a captivating town, with narrow lanes of Brahmin-blue houses, assorted temples and a picturesque palace. This – or at least the old town beneath the palace – is the Rajasthan of the travel brochures, virtually free from noisy polluting engines and choking crowds. It still has an atmosphere of past wonders (as Kipling appreciated while he lived and wrote here), most readily felt around the cupola-clad fairy-tale palace that spills down the hillside. From January to March, delicate pink poppies fill surrounding fields. Here you will find a welcome break from the customary tourist trail. Bundi is still the place to explore laneways or just sit and soak up the history or gaze at contemporary life.