How on earth do you choose the top 5 must-see places to visit in a state as fabulously picturesque as India’s Rajasthan?
With huge difficulty, is the answer.
Rajasthan is everything a visitor thinks and hopes India will be.
And then some.
It is dramatic, it is colorful, it has forts and palaces and castles, it has camels and brightly painted elephants, and the men wear the most fabulous turbans you can imagine. History, culture, amazing scenery, serious shopping…
…in other words, choosing the top of the Rajasthani pops is not easy, but here goes.
The #1 spot has to go to the western city of Jodhpur. Dominated by the 15th century Mehrangarh Fort, the city of Jodhpur looks as though it has come straight out of the pages of a storybook. The old town, the houses painted sky blue, huddles at the foot of the fort, which you reach by a steep, winding path.
The fort is undoubtedly the best kept and best maintained fort in the country, and is truly world class. There is a palpable commitment to upholding and displaying the royal heritage of Jodhpur. Wander through the museum galleries, marvel at the paintings, the fabulous collection of royal armor, the decorated buggies and carriages, and, a personal favorite – a collection of royal cribs. Some of them are decorated with guardian angels, probably thanks to the stern English nannies of yore, who brought up the royal babies.
The desert city of Jaisalmer was founded in 1156 by the Rajput chieftain Rawal Jaisal, who gave the city his name. Jaisal also built the iconic Fort, where a quarter of the city’s population still lives within the ramparts and bastions of the citadel, turning it into a fascinating example of living history.
Udaipur is one of those magical places which never disappoints. The Maharajahs of this former princely state knew how – and more importantly where – to construct, building their palaces and forts around a series of lakes: Lake Pichola, Fateh Sagar Lake, Udai Sagar and Swaroop Sagar.
Wherever you look, there is a fort perched on a hill, dramatically overlooking the city below, or a sprawling palace on the shoreline – the City Palace is breathtaking. And, to top it all, there is the beautiful Lake Palace, on an island in the lake. Now a luxury hotel, there are ferries that take you out there for a visit.
Sixty-five kilometers north of Jodhpur is a small, utterly fabulous slightly over-the-top place, an oasis in the Thar desert. Osian was a major religious center and place of pilgrimage centuries ago, and is now home to a series of impressive Hindu and Jain temples dating from the 8th to 11th centuries.
What is delightful is that it is a very relaxed place, with none of the pressures and hassles that sometime surround religious shrines. You visit the winding little lanes of the village, and the temples, at your own pace, while the villagers pray and come and go.
This is the place to do a camel ride, by the way. Great fun, lolloping along – though slightly alarming when the animal kneels down for you to get on/off.
Jaipur is known as the Pink City – and with reason. During construction in the 18th century, the Maharajahs of the former princely state of Jaipur, insisted on a uniform color and building code for their city, and even though modern India has grown up at vast speed around the historic centre, there is an architectural elegance and cohesion to Jaipur. And everything is pink.
The City Palace is absolutely not to be missed, nor is the exceptional 18th century observatory, the Jantar Mantar.