Drenched in tales of chivalry and romance, and famous for its spectacular landscapes, majestic forts and glamorous palaces, Rajasthan encompasses for many the quintessential India. With the bustling cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer built by the mighty Rajput warriors, and the indigenous village and artisan communities, Rajasthan is a unique and striking combination of both royal and rural India. To get the most out of your visit, here are 15 of our favourite experiences:
– Madeleine Hann, Co-Founder
1. Visit historic forts
Alongside Rajasthan’s spectacular palaces are countless fortresses, built in conjunction with or in addition to royal residences, to offer protection against invaders. Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort is perhaps the most majestic; built in 1459 and towering over the city, the fort is known for its beautiful murals and intricate filigree work. Jaipur’s Amber Fort is another highlight of the region, shimmering above Maota Lake just outside the city centre. Near Udaipur, Chittorgarh is one of India’s largest forts, covering 700 acres, and has changed hands multiple times over its 1300 year history. A view of the sunset from Jaisalmer Fort is not to be missed, when the fading sunlight changes the fort’s yellow sandstone to a dark gold. An amazing experience whilst in Rajasthan is to actually stay in one of these forts: in Nagaur, the stunning Ahhichatragarh Fort has now been converted into a stylish boutique hotel, and steering off the beaten track for a night or two here is well worth it.
2. Meet elephants at Dera Amer
Dera Amer is a lovely green space on the outskirts of Jaipur. Here, they take care of elephants, and offer experiences where guests can interact up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. During an evening at Dera Amer, you’d be invited to help feed and bathe your elephant, whilst an expert is on hand to answer anything and everything you’d like to know about them. You’d then be shown how to decorate your elephant’s trunk with vivid colours (these are natural and not harmful to the elephants in any way) in traditional patterns, before heading off through the surrounding forest area for a ride with a mahout during sunset. To end the evening, a buffet dinner is served in the courtyard before you’re chauffeured back to the hotel (private dinners in a secluded area of the grounds can be arranged on request). We find Dera Amer to be a much more enjoyable way to meet elephants than other rides on offer in the city, as the elephants are well cared for and visibly happy.
3. A private cooking class
Learn to prepare a traditional Rajasthani dish in a local kitchen at the house of Divya Singh. After a hands-on demonstration, you can then enjoy the meal you’ve prepared with her delightful family. It is possible to choose the dish that you wish to learn in advance, else Divya will suggest a staple such as Dahl (lentil curry) or Lal Maas (spicy mutton curry).
4. Celebrate a festival with locals
The Pushkar Camel Fair is one of Rajasthan’s most wonderful spectacles, a five-day event in November in which nearly half a million people flock to Pushkar dressed in their most festive attire to see, trade and race camels. Cricket matches, dances and others competitions will give you plenty to do, although the people-watching is the best part of the experience (you can check out our Pushkar Fair sample itinerary, here). Diwali, also in November, is a popular festival celebrated all over Rajasthan in Hindu communities. Also visit in March for Holi, the Hindu “festival of colours”. To experience Holi in all its glory, we invite you to visit your guides home to participate in throwing colours, eating delicious sweets, and performing puja (prayers).
4. Experience rural Rajasthan
Rajasthan is home to more than 73 million people, many of whom do not live near the large cities that attract most tourists. Away from the urban bustle, you’ll see a side of India largely untouched by outside influence. Some of Rajasthan’s most charming hotels are located in off-beat, rural locations, where you can really see this side of India. A few of our favourites include Lakshman Sagar (a hidden gem of a hotel, located in a remote rural setting between Jaipur and Jodhpur), Rawla Narlai (surrounded by forested hills and rocky outcrops, it is one of the most beautiful parts of the state), Devi Garh (an historic 18th century fort converted into a style boutique hotel) and Anopura (the world’s smallest luxury hotel, offering just two rooms in the small village of Anopura). Our Rajasthan with Boutique Hotels sample itinerary would be a great starting point for those who’re looking to experience something a bit different.
5. Take a safari in the jungle on the trail of tiger
Ranthambhore National Park is one of the few places left on earth to spot wild tigers in their natural habitat. The 10th-century Ranthambore Fort provides a stunning backdrop to wildlife viewing in the park, where you can also see leopards, wild boars, hyenas, and several other native species. Whilst in Ranthambhore, we’d recommend staying at the Oberoi Vanyavilas. Built to emulate the grandeur of the maharajas hunting camps, each of the luxury tents are vast and have finely embroidered canopies, luxurious bathrooms and private walled gardens whilst being spread across 20-acres of manicured gardens – the perfect contrast to the surrounding ruggedness of the jungle. Vibrant frescoes and richly detailed interiors of the main communal space create the ambiance of a royal hunting palace which houses their restaurant and bar.
6. Immerse yourself in a musical performance in Jodhpur
Bhopa is a rare Rajasthani art form which combines dancing, singing and painting. A long painted scroll, is, rather like a comic stripped, crammed with paintings depicting dramatic events in the life of a Rajasthani hero. The Bhopa unrolls his scroll and narrates the story through songs, highlighting relevant pictures on the scroll with a lantern, while his wife brings the tale to life with animated dance sequences. Throughout the performance, your guide would translate the story and explain key parts. Afterwards, you’d move on to ‘Indique’ – a rooftop restaurant – for a traditional Rajasthani thali dinner with fabulous views of Mehrangarh Fort behind. Our past guests have found this a very culturally rich experience, and a highlight of their stay. The thali dinner is a lovely way to experience many different tastes of Rajasthan, as you’re presented with a small amount of several different authentic dishes.
7. Explore Jaipur by night
The Pink City is beautiful during the day, but even more so at night. Our night tour begins by taking the splendid Amber Fort and Jal Mahal, lit up in all their night-time glory. You’d then move on to the bazaars of the old walled city, to sample delicious local street food and take in the markets at their liveliest. Here we will taste the best Kachories (spicy dumplings), Laddoo (sweet) chai (tea), and kulfi (Indian ice-cream flavoured with cardamom) in Jaipur.
8. Hot air ballooning over the Pink City
Take in Rajasthan from a unique point of view, flying over the glimmering pink city of Jaipur on a hot air balloon ride with Skywaltz. It’s an exhilarating way to experience India and get a different perspective of the country. There’s two flights each day; one in the morning, one in the afternoon. In addition, flights also operate in Udaipur, Ranthambhore and at the Pushkar Camel Fair.
9. Puppet making in the Blue City
On our private puppet-making workshop in Jodhpur, you can learn not only the basic skills of puppet playing, but also the art of puppet making. You’ll be presented with a semi-finished puppet, and can then follow the puppet maker’s advice to complete it. The puppet will be yours to take home as a memory of the experience.
10. Stepwell dinner at Rawla Narlai
A stylish 17th-century hunting retreat of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Rawla Narlai is located in the heart of the semi-arid, granite-boulder strewn Aravalli Hills halfway between Udaipur and Jodhpur in the village of Narlai. The Stepwell Dinner is magical: four courses of local specialties served beside a 1100 year old stepwell, spectacularly lit by thousands of oil lamps and accompanied by soulful folk songs performed by a local musician on a tambura.
11. Find one of a kind souvenirs
When it comes to shopping, Rajasthan has something for everyone. From elegant silk saris to kitschy wooden camels, even the most frugal visitor is likely to leave the state with some goodies tucked in their luggage. Rajasthan is well known for its craftspeople, and each region has its own distinct specialities. Jaipur is at the hub of the state’s tourism industry and has handicrafts from accross the state, but is most famous for its jewellery; if you want something with a local flair here, pick up a piece of blue pottery or a pair of emerald earrings. Jodhpur is a good place to shop for appliqued cloth, glass bangles, mirrored, sequined bedspreads and wood furniture. Udaipur is known for miniature paintings and marble work. In Jaisalmer it’s camel leather – patchwork bed covers, shoes, purses, even book covers are made from the animals’ hide. Yellow sandstone statues are also popular here.
12. Make a palace your home
The Land of Kings is bursting with historic royal residences, many of which have now been converted into heritage hotels offering the ultimate in luxury accommodation. One of our favourites, the Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, is still home to the Mahraja himself and was recently announced by TripAdvisor as their ‘Best Hotel in the World’ for 2016. We also love the Taj Rambagh Palace; once a hunting lodge and later a royal residence. Perhaps the most famous palace hotel in India, the luxurious Taj Lake Palace appears to float above Lake Pichola in Udaipur, originally built as a pleasure palace by Maharana Jagat Singh II in the 18th century.
13. Luxuriate at the world’s best hotel
Voted as the Best Hotel in the World by readers of Travel+Leisure magazine, the Oberoi Udaivilas is everything you would expect of the world’s top hotel. Built on the shores of Lake Pichola overlooking the Lake Palace and the City Palace, the opulent Oberoi Udaivilas has been designed along the lines of a Marwari Palace. Domes, turrets, fountains and reflection pools feature regularly throughout the hotel and the beautiful bright and airy bedrooms are amongst the most comfortable in the country. To complete this experience in pampered luxury, visit the stunning spa, with views over the lake.
14. Sleep in the desert
The stark, compelling beauty of the Thar Desert draws travellers to far-western Rajasthan for good reason. Jaisalmer is a picture-perfect medieval city resplendant with golden homes and havelis and a towering citadel, and is an excellent base for camel safaris into the desert or day-trips to the photogenic Sam Sand Dunes and Desert National Park. It is easily one of India’s most unforgettable destinations and well worth the journey to this farthest corner of the state. For the ultimate luxury desert experience, we’d recommend The Serai – located just half an hour from Jaisalmer in the heart of the dunes, this luxurious desert camp offers a truly unique experience. There are just 21 tents with facilities one would expect at a hotel rather than a tent, each having a private veranda, a drawing room and en suite shower room. Using traditional products, such as Jaisalmer stone floor and tribal dhurries (rugs) combined with state of the art technology and silent air conditioning, The Serai offers contemporary luxuries whilst remaining at home in the surroundings.
Feeling inspired and ready to get started?
We’d love to assist with the planning of your holiday to Rajasthan. At Indian Excursions, all our tours are private and tailor-made to suit your individual tastes, budget and requirement. To get started, please do get in touch. Or, for inspiration, you might like to browse our sample itineraries by clicking here.