Famous for its majestical palaces and formidable monuments, a visit to the romantic state of Rajasthan will take you through the history embodied in the Red Forts. Amongst your list of must see places will be the sandcastle forts rising amidst the Golden City of Jaisalmer, evoking utter magic as if straight out of an arabian night's phable. It's an incredible destination for the intrepid tourist. Take yourself off on a camel or elephant safari in the Thar Desert, follow the tiger trail or feast your eyes on spectacular sand dunes. Marvel at the Jantar Mantar Observatory at Amber Fort in the “Pink City” of Jaipur and witness the fortified deserted blood red capital of the Mughal Em-pire, Fatehpur Sikri, abandoned for its lack of water. If your budget allows, pamper yourself in the lavish Lake Palace Hotel on Pichola Lake in Udaipur. But no trip is complete without a visit to the fairytale Taj Mahal in Agra.
Jaipur is certainly a city, mostly pink, that has diverse attractions and a remarkable heritage given its short history. The pink colour is a result of an edict issued by Maharaja Ram Singh in 1876 to commemorate the forthcoming visit of The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). The owners of the city’s buildings are required to repaint the outside of their dwellings every two years with another coat of pink paint! It is fittingly the capital of Rajasthan and an axis of India’s Golden Triangle that includes Delhi and Agra. On the one hand it has fairy tale grandeur and, on the other, it is just as dirty and full of annoyances as every other Indian city.
Jaisalmer has some incredibly fine sculpted sandstone buildings built by successful merchants in the 19th and 20th centuries, partly as a way of showing off their wealth and status. Whole blocks of these houses exist where subsequent building has been added to an existing house by sons and brothers who sole aim was to try to outdo their relatives next door.Today the outer wall, with hundreds of linked semi circular turrets, complete with fingers of round bastions above them, contrast with the square buildings inside the city. It is a glorious sight. But one that may not be there for much longer as the soft sandstone on which the fort is built cannot withstand the rigours of modern day living.
Jodhpur is stepped in history. The building of the city and is cocooned within a 10km length of wall of 16th century origin and walking its narrow, tangled streets. It is easy to imagine how life must have existed for the inhabitants during their heyday of trade and struggles. There is a mass of building block houses, many adorned with Brahmin blue paint which the locals believe help to keep the interior cool and ward off insects. The endless little shops sell everything from western clothing to saris, colourful bracelets and jewelry, spices and teas, toys and temple trinkets and the inevitable tourist tat. Hire a jeep and get out of town to find and visit the local craftsman scattered around in the villages outside Jodhpur, we hired a jeep to get out of town and visit local workshops. These small hamlets are dotted about in dry scrubland often with no road close by. They are difficult to find, especially as India seems to be devoid of maps, so we recommend hiring a guide. Take time to visit the local potter, a cow herdsman and a local Prajapatti or weaver to really experience the resourcefulness of these Rajasthan people.
Udaipur has been called the ‘most romantic spot on the continent of India‘, the ‘Venice of Rajasthan’ and the ‘City of lakes’. The old city, sitting on Pichola Lake, is a cupola crowned area of hues of icing sugar, creams and honeysuckle. The ‘new’ city is an unimaginative collection of undistinguished buildings that has grown up on zinc smelting. Surprisingly, it is the old city that everyone comes to enjoy and it is possible to spend many days exploring all the gems it has to offer.
The delightful blue town of Bundi feels like a touch of old India. It is off the tourist trail and, as yet, uncorrupted by the hordes of visitors that we have encountered elsewhere. It’s a captivating place with narrow twisty lanes, grand old town gates, little shops and bazaars; a place where we can wander without continual harassment. There are no stand-alone restaurants in this sleepy backwater; a measure of how innocent it remains.