The Indian state of Rajasthan isn’t hailed as ‘the land of kings’ for nothing – the breathtaking landscape is punctuated with majestic forts, colourful palaces and royal cities and is waiting for you to discover its treasures.
Admire the majestic Amber Fort in Jaipur
Jaipur is both the state capital and largest city within Rajasthan and was founded in the 18th century. Together with Agra and Delhi it forms the ‘Golden Triangle’ area of India, which has long attracted tourists, drawn to the fascinating ancient culture. And a great starting place in Jaipur, aka the Pink City (thanks to the vibrantly decorated buildings) is the majestic Amber Fort. The city itself was named after its founder Maharaja JaiSingh II and the Amber Fort served as the centerpiece of his kingdom. The vast palace slash fort complex served as the royal palace of the Kachwahas. Make like a typical tourist and hitch an elephant ride to the top for awesome views out over Jaipur.
Don’t miss the Water Palace, aka Jal Mahal, which is located in the middle of Jaipur’s Man Sagar Lake, which is pictured below.
Prepare to be blown away by the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur
The historic city of Jodhpur goes by many different names from ‘The Blue City’ (take a peek from the top of Mehrangarh Fort and you’ll soon see why), ‘Sun City’ thanks to the permanent blessing of the sun and ‘Gateway to Thar’ thanks to its location beside the vast Thar Desert. Whatever you call it, you can’t fail to be wowed by the stupendously impressive Mehrangarh Fort which both dominates Jodhpur and is also the second largest fort within Rajasthan. It was originally built in 1458 and was designed to serve as Rao Jodha’s new capital. It’s no great surprise that standing atop a 150 meter hill, Mehrangarh Fort is impenetrable and has never been captured. The image at the top of this post shows Mehrangarh Fort and Jaswant Thada Mausoleum in Jodhpur.
Get lost in the divine City Palace in Udaipur
The former capital of the Rajput kingdom of Mewar, Udaipur also holds several different monikers, from ‘Venice of the East’ to the impressive title of ‘Most Romantic City in India’. You’ll spot the romantic connection pretty early on – Udaipur is brimming with picturesque lakes and beautiful palaces. Don’t miss the stunning Udaipur City Palace – there are no superlatives great enough to convey the beauty of this palatial structure. Looking out over Lake Pichola, this City palace was built in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh to serve as the residence of the Sisodia Rajput clan. The complex is actually made up of a number of palaces, varying in sizes as well as museums and vast manicured gardens.
Explore the Mount Abu Hill Station
The only Rajasthani hill station is at Mount Abu, close to the Gujarat border and sits upon the rocky plateau of the Aravali hills. Rent a bike to explore the many temples, forts and lakes of Mount Abu. Don’t miss the gorgeous white marble Jain Dilwara Temples, try boating on Nakki Lake and wander the divine Achaleswar Mahadev Temple complex. Watch the YouTube video below of the sacred Nakki Lake, which is situated in Mount Abu. The name refers to the Hindu legend that it was dug out from nails (nakh);
Discover the rich birdlife within the Keoladeo Ghana National Park of Bharatpur
The far eastern area of Rajasthan is home to Bharatpur and the renowned Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, aka Keoladeo Ghana National Park. Home to around 365 different species of bird, this is one of the most important breeding and feeding grounds in the world. The 29 km2 UNESCO World Heritage Site is made up of swamps, woodland and wetlands, which in turn supports many species of birds, fish, snakes, turtles and lizards.
Experience the mighty Chittaurgarh Fort up close
Lying on the Berach River is the city of Chittorgarh which is notable for its vast fort complex – the largest of all the Rajput forts. In fact Chittaurgarh Fort is the largest of its kind in India! Constructed by the built by the Maurayans in 7AD, it has a long and chequered history. The mighty fort has seven gates (known as pols), several towers and 20 or so bodies of water varying from ornate ponds to exquisite lakes. The site is vast so break up your visit to include the symbol of Chittor: Victory Tower, the impressive Rana Kumbha’s Palace and the Lord Vishnu Meera Temple which dates back to 1449.
Enjoy the serenity of Ajmer
As the gateway to Pushkar, Ajmer is popular with pilgrims exploring the local religious sights, including the Sufi saint Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti tomb. Travellers can also explore the Nareli Jain Temple, admire the white marble of the Shah Jahan’s Mosque at Dargah and browse the exhibits within the Emperor Akbar Royal residence which now serves as a museum.
Gawp at the impressive Junagarh Fort in Bikaner
The narrow streets of Bikaner give way to yet another impressive Rajasthani fort. Built by Raja Rai Singh this is the fort of the Bikaner royal family who reigned between 1571 and 1612. Originally known as Chintamani, it adopted it new name Junagarh, aka Old Fort in the early 20th century. And Junagarh Fort’s modesty remains intact as it has never been defeated. Of particular interest is the on-site museum which has interesting exhibits of the royal ornaments and weaponry.
Spot tigers in the Ranthambore National Park
One of the largest and most important National Parks within India is the one located at Ranthambore, which supports a small, but vital, population of tigers. The park covers some 400km2 and has long attracted keen photographers and wildlife enthusiasts keen to catch a glimpse of the majestic, yet elusive tiger. Nestled between the Aravali and Vindhya hill ranges, beside the Thar Desert, Ranthambore also supports sloth, mongoose and leopard. Originally known as the Sawai Madhopur Game Sanctuary when it was established in 1955, it changed focus to ‘Project Tiger’ in 1973 and achieved national park status seven years later.
Explore the ‘living’ fort of Jaisalmer
The city of Jaisalmer is dubbed the ‘Golden City’ thanks to its ethereal yellow hued buildings, which is epitomised by the impressive Jaisalmer Fort and Palace complex. It’s pretty unique in that it ones of the very few living forts in India, that is to say, people reside within the complex and go about their daily business. Travellers can see the traditional ‘havelis’ (private mansions) of the rich merchants that made the Jaisalmer their home. Stop at one of the five lookouts for incredible views over the city – especially at sunset. The YouTube video below captures the city perfectly.
Chill out in Ranakpur
The small village of Ranakpur offers the perfect opportunity to get away from it all. There are a handful of Jain temples, such as the impressive Ranakpur temple whose white marble ceiling rises to 7 meters high. There are also further smaller Jain temples nearby, the Neminath and Parsvanath temples offer a valuable insight into the unique Indian religion of Jainism.
Try birdwatching at the Sita Mata Wildlife Sanctuary
The serene wildlife sanctuary of Sita Mata is located in the Pratapgarh district and is a protected forest, home to endemic animals, birds and plants. It occupies a unique location at the meeting point of the Malwa Plateau, the Vindhyachal Hills and also the Aravali ranges. The rich bio diverse sanctuary is studded with majestic teak trees which provide essential shelter for the large number of resident and migratory birds that call Sita Mata home. In fact the sanctuary is dubbed ‘a birds’ paradise’ thanks to the large number of birds, including grebes, darters, eagles, quails, partridges, cormorants, parakeets, cuckoos, mynas and many many more species.
Experience holy Pushkar
The holiest town within Rajasthan is Pushkar, which is best known for its magnificent Brahma temple, ghats, bazaars and lakes. The name ‘Pushkar’ translates as ‘lotus flower’ and the town is home to the only Brahma temple in the world, Jagatpita Brahma Mandir, which makes it the most important Hindi site in the world. The best way to experience Pushkar’s delights is to take a walk around the central Pushkar Lake, which is lined with temples and monuments. Don’t miss the exquisite Bramha temple, the south Indian style Temple of Rangji which is dedicated to Vishnu and the Shri Vaikunthnathji temple. Hire a bike to get a little further outside of the town to admire the myriad of temples in the countryside.
Try a camel safari
Pushkar is also famous for its annual Pushkar Camel Fair, which is held each November (to coincide with the Kartik Purnima full moon) where thousands congregate from far and wide for the five day fair where camels are bought, sold and raced. Travellers can get involved too – definately one of the more thrilling things to see in Rajasthan!
Things to See in Rajasthan; explore princely Alwar
The city of Alwar played an important role within British India and the colonial influences are evident throughout the architecture and monuments. Alwar is steeped in history, throughout its multitude of opulent palaces, intriguing museums and of course spectacular forts. Alwar has more than its fair share of natural sights: it’s surrounded by the majestic Aravali Hills and is home to the serene Siliserh Lake. It’s also a good base to explore the Sariska Tiger Reserve which is one of the few tiger sanctuaries within Rajasthan. Culturally don’t miss the impressive Bhangarh Fort, the formidable Bala Quila Fort which sits atop a 300 meter hill and the curiously named Moti Doongri Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Ganesha and is a replica of a traditional Scottish castle!
Admire the history of Sawai Madhopur
The town of Sawai Madhopur was founded in 1765 and is also known as the ‘City of Tigers’. Nestled between the undulating hills of Vindhyas and the peaks of the Aravali range. Its earns its association with the elusive tiger thanks to its close proximity to the world famous Ranthambore National Park (mentioned above). But Sawai Madhopur is also packed with historical sights in its own right. Stop off at the Ganesh Temple, admire the pretty-in-pink Chouth Mata Temple and wander the Khandar Fort. Sawai Madhopur is also known for its impressive annual calendar of fairs, such as the Shiv Ratri Fair where devotees seek approval of Lord Shiva and the large Ganesh Chaturthi Fair where visitors gather at the Ranthambhore Fort.
Discover the temples and palaces of Kota
The city of Kota feels more laidback – maybe it’s something to do with the temperate climate afforded by the Chambal River which flows through the heart of the city. The story of Kota’s history is told within its magnificent temples, palaces and gardens. Don’t miss the Garadia Mahadev Temple, the Khade Ganesh Ji Temple which contains a rare standing statue of Ganesh and the Hanuman temple of Godawari Dham. Include the impressive Jagmandir Palace, the city’s Garh Palace and the serene Chambal Garden (complete with crocodiles) on your sightseeing list.
Experience Bundi, the ‘Blue City’
The Blue City of Bundi is something of an oasis in this desert state and its serene atmosphere has long attracted writers and actors, including the legendary Rudyard Kipling (who penned The Jungle Book). The compact city is perfect to explore on foot. Take in the exquisite 16th century Taragarh Fort which is the biggest within the city, the historic Bundi Palace which is also home to a school of painting and the Stepwells which date back to 1699 and provided vital water for the city.
Explore the divine Shrinathji Temple of Nathdwara
Close to Udaipur is the charming town of Nathdwara, which lies on the banks of the Banas River and is nestled within the Aravali hills. The main claim to fame in Nathdwara is the absolutely stunning Shrinathji Temple, dedicated to Lord Shri Krishna. Built in the 17th century, it’s said that the lord selected the optimum spot himself. The temple is currently undergoing expansion and is busy all year round as devotees begin pilgrimages from this site.
Experience the frescoes and havelis of Churu
The small city of Churu is known as a gateway to the Thar Desert and the highlight of the city is undoubtedly the traditional havelis (mansions), detailed fresco paintings and handful of traditional Indian Chhatris (dome-shaped pavilions). The most visited mansions and one of the most beautiful things to see in Rajasthan include the Surana Haveli and the Kanhaiya lal Bagla ki Haveli. Hire a local guide to show you the colourful frescoes and the Chhatris which dominated Mughal architecture and actually became a feature in all Rajasthani buildings.