Rajasthan: literally, the land of kings. India’s largest state, set on the northwestern edge of the country where jungle descends into desert, this ancient region has more marvels than are possible to take in during a single trip. Sprawling palaces still, in many cases, house royal families, while towering forts made of sun-baked stone remind visitors of the region’s long history. Sign up for these 10 extraordinary things to do in Rajasthan, and be sure to bring your camera along.
The World Sacred Spirit Festival
It isn’t only the architecture of Rajasthan that has a rich heritage: the state’s cultural and religious history is equally enthralling. One of the best ways for visitors to dive into this legacy is at the annual World Sacred Spirit Festival, held each February in Nagaur and Jodhpur. With the candlelit forts of Mehrangarh and Ahhichatragarh forming an atmospheric backdrop, the festival offers captivating musical and dance performances, including whirling dervishes and others working within the tradition of Sufi mysticism.
Ranthambore National Park
Located in the southeast of the state, Ranthambore National Park is certainly on our list of extraordinary things to do in Rajasthan. The largest nature preserve in northern India, it was once used as hunting grounds for the local maharajas. Today, the park is renowned for its protected population of wild Bengal tigers and a number of safari experiences cater to those after a glimpse of Sher Khan stalking through the undergrowth. Alternatively, visitors can opt to spend an unforgettable night in a luxury tented camp on park grounds.
Also known as the Amer Fort, this sprawling landmark on the outskirts of Jaipur (Rajasthan’s largest city), ranks amongst the most-visited sights in the region. Dating back to the 16th century, the building is an architectural wonder, blending royal Mughal influences with Hindu decorative elements. Wander its courtyards and wend your way through its alleys: the labyrinthine fort is best discovered during a slow amble.
A stunning architectural landmark that could give the Taj Mahal a run for its money, the salmon-coloured Hawa Mahal is an extraordinary sight to behold, thanks to its height, its hue, and the breathtaking level of ornamentation on its faÃ§ade. The so-called “˜Palace of the Winds,’ the building dates to the very end of the 18th century, and is today one of the most popular sights in Jaipur. Trek five storeys up for spectacular views over the surrounding city.
Sheesh Mahal at the Leela, Udaipur
No trip to Rajasthan would be complete without indulging in the region’s food – famous for its rich, cream-based curries, its use of meat and its regal history (many traditional Rajasthani recipes have ties with the royal courts of the past), the cuisine is certainly worth savouring. One of the best places to do so is Sheesh Mahal, the highly rated restaurant at the opulent Leela Palace hotel in Udaipur. Overlooking Lake Pichola, the restaurant’s balcony is one of the finer places in the city to spend a balmy evening.
Thar Desert Camel Safari
With its swooping dunes and cascading sands, the Thar Desert could easily be mistaken for the Sahara. While this gorgeous stretch of land can be forbidding, thanks to its heat and sun, travel by camel and you’re in for exceptional access to the region. A number of agencies and hotels host tours-by-dromedary through the desert, ranging from afternoon encounters all the way up to multi-week excursions.
Maharajas Express Train
If you were inspired by the colours and style of Wes Anderson’s “Darjeeling Limited,” you’ll want to book one of the itineraries available with the Maharajas Express. A luxury train that’s more akin to a hotel on wheels, it’s also one of the best things to do in Rajasthan, given the gorgeous views of the region as you glide by. Complete with air-conditioning, full beds, and dining cars, it’s far from being just a simple mode of transportation.
A colossal complex that stands like a sentry 120 metres above cerulean-hued Jodhpur (all of the city’s houses are painted in bold blues), the Mehrangarh Fort is a brilliantly impressive building. Less a single military structure and more a complete, enclosed town, the fort contains within its thick walls palaces, gardens, courtyards, shops, and a museum.
Pushkar Camel Fair
Camel safaris aren’t the only camel-based activities to be had in Rajasthan. Though it comes around only once a year – timed with the November full moon – the Pushkar Camel Fair is famous the world over, thanks to the many, many thousands of traders and animals that descend on this otherwise quiet desert city for a period of two weeks. Camels are bought and sold, and also bejewelled and entered in beauty contests. Feel free to have a gander – just be sure mind the hooves (and the spit).
The Taj Lake Palace
For those after luxury accommodation, it doesn’t get much more inspired than the Taj Lake Palace. True to its name, the hotel is located in the midst of Lake Pichola in Udaipur, and is only accessible via boat. Originally built as a pleasure palace for a local prince in 1746, the building has since opened its doors to guests, though virtually none of its regal allure has been lost over the years – the hotel was even used as the set for a Bond film in the 1970s.
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Have you discovered any of these top things to do in Rajasthan? What are some of your favourite places to visit in the region? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
Written by Claire Bullen