In Travel

Follow The Path Of Kings In India’s Rajasthan

It's the perfect state to start exploring the enormous country.

It’s difficult to see all of India in one trip. It’s big, overwhelming, and draining – physically and emotionally.  That’s why we recommend tackling India in smaller parts, returning to explore a new area each time. Rajasthan, India’s largest state, is the perfect place to start.

Rajasthan means the “land of kings.” An appropriate translation given the area was once dominated by maharajas (great kings) and maharanas (king of kings), who lived opulent lifestyles and possessed intimidating forts, stunning palaces and luxurious havelis (mansions).

Over time, the kings lost power. In 1971, the Indian government imposed large taxes on their land. In need of money, the kings turned to using their properties to attract tourists.

Rajasthan, India’s largest state travel guide india

For us non-royals, these historical buildings are now fair game, with overnight stays to literally experience what it’s like to live like Indian royalty.

This guide will weave through four of Rajasthan’s most stunning cities, highlighting what to do, see and eat, and encapsulating what makes each city so unique.

Jaipur

Rajasthan, India’s largest state travel guide india

Many people who visit Jaipur – ‘the Pink City’ – are left bemused. Some say it’s more tangerine than pink, or even more terracotta than anything.

Nevertheless, the story behind the ‘pink’ dates back to the 19th century. The maharaja of Jaipur decided to re-paint the city pink, the colour of welcome, to impress the visiting Prince of Wales (and future King of England), Edward VII. Thanks to a law banning the removal of ‘pink’ paint, the city has retained its unique colour since.

The Jantar Mantar

There’s no shortage of interesting things to see in Rajasthan’s capital: Jantar Mantar is like a theme park of astronomical instruments, the Hawa Mahal is an intricate palace façade made of small windows, but the best site of all requires a half-an-hour drive north.

Rajasthan, India’s largest state travel guide india

The Hawa Mahal

Set high in the Aravalli Range – a range of mountains stretching across Western India – the Amer Fort housed royalty of the Amer region from the 15th century to the 18th century. To reach the fort’s entrance, you can take a car or ride an elephant. The latter is a much more exciting experience but it’s a practice that has been heavily criticised by animal rights groups. Whichever way you get there, the pale yellow sandstone fort with numerous courtyards, stunning mirror work, and a magnificent view over the region will take your breath away.

 Jaipur is filled with many top-quality rooftop restaurants serving Indian and international cuisine. Stick to the traditional food and order Rajasthani thali – a traditional platter comprising North-Indian curries (veg or non-veg), breads, rice and condiments.

Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer – a small desert city near the border of Pakistan – provides a perfect escape from the chaos of Rajasthan’s major cities. You could easily spend weeks here, relaxing and chatting with the friendly, laid-back locals.

Jaisalmer is called ‘the Golden City’ because of the city’s prominent use of yellow sandstone, and its location in the middle of the Thar desert. Towering over the city is the Jaisalmer Fort, the city’s main attraction.

The fort is a living fort, meaning you can stay at a guesthouse inside it. It almost feels like you’re in medieval times, minus the noisy motorbikes that rampage through the tight streets.

While the restaurants inside the fort are quite touristy, you can’t beat their rooftop vistas over Jaisalmer, nor their views of the sunset.

No stay in Jaisalmer is complete without going on a desert safari. All tours are different, but the Desert Boys Guesthouse safari includes a rural village visit, a camel ride into the Thar desert, a Rajasthani thali made over a camp-fire, and a night under the stars.

Jodhpur

Unlike Jaipur, there’s no question Jodhpur – the ‘Blue City’ – is indeed blue. The only thing is, not all of the city is blue, just the Old City. Many people of Brahman religion lived in this part of the city, and they painted their houses blue as it’s the associated colour of Brahman.

For years, the elegant Umaid Bhawan Palace was home to the maharajas of Jodhpur. After the events of 1971, the current maharaja decided to turn parts of his palace into a museum and five-star hotel. If you stay at the hotel, expect a red carpet and guard of honour upon arrival. You may even see the maharaja himself strolling around the grounds.

From any spot in Jodhpur, you can likely see the Mehrangath Fort. Melded into a cliff-face, the fort is 120 metres above the skyline. Once a fort that endured many battles, it has now been turned into a museum exhibiting palanquins, paintings and amour, among other historical pieces.

Out of all the cities in Rajasthan, Jodhpur is regarded as having the best street food. One of the most popular stalls, the Omelette Shop, is run by just one man with cartoons of eggs stacked in front of him. He whips up omelettes like the Masala Spanish Butter Cheese Omelette, and sandwiches it inside fresh white bread.

In India, whenever someone creates a successful business, others tend to copy. Just across the road is another Omelette Shop, which is not as good. You’ve been warned.

Udaipur

With its expansive man-made lakes, Udaipur could possibly be Rajasthan’s most picturesque city. It’s no wonder it’s known as the ‘City of Lakes’. The best way to take advantage of the water is to cruise around the main lake, Lake Pichola, by boat. On the journey, you’ll circle the Lake Palace and Jag Mandir Island, and spot the City Palace on the shoreline.

The City Palace was first constructed in the 15th century by the maharana of Udaipur, but over time, his successors continued to add onto the palace. After getting significantly bigger, the palace is now regarded as one of Rajasthan’s largest.

James Bond fans may recognise Udaipur’s Lake Palace from the 1983 film, Octopussy. It was previously the ‘pleasure palace’ of the maharana, but has now been converted into a five-star hotel. Only people who stay at the palace are allowed entry, so it’s super exclusive.

In the late afternoon, there’s nothing better than finding a lake-side rooftop restaurant, like Jaiwana Haveli, and ordering a drink. Overlooking Lake Pichola and the Lake Palace, you’ll have a perfect view of the sunset.

For something to eat in Udaipur, you can’t go past Natraj Dining Hall and Restaurant. Packed with hoards of hungry locals, Natraj serves one of the most authentic thalis in Rajasthan. It’s also unlimited, meaning waiters will continue refilling your platter with vegetarian curries, breads, rice and condiments, until you tap-out. For 200 rupees ($4 AUD), it could be the cheapest way of dining like royalty.

Published 31 January, 2018