The Best of Rajasthan, India

One of the most popular tourist destinations in India is the state of Rajasthan. Fortified palaces, arid landscapes, rich curries…all conveniently close to the capital of New Delhi, where most international travellers first arrive. I spent six weeks in India last year, with a good chunk of that in Rajasthan — and I still just scratched the surface of what this state has to offer.

Arch in Udaipur

Arch in Udaipur

Here, then, are the do-not-miss experiences:

1. Trains

Riding the train in India is quite the experience — it is by turns exciting, confusing, stressful, and fun. (For more, see Guide to Train Travel in India.) But if you’re going to do it, Rajasthan is the place to do it in. Most of the major cities are a reasonable six-hour ride apart, with signage and announcements in English as well as Hindi.

If you’re really pressed for time, try riding the Golden Triangle — New Delhi to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) to Jaipur (which will give you a quick glimpse of Rajasthan) and back to Delhi. These are all fairly short rides, with no worries about security on overnight trains, and you’ll get a little taste of the vast Indian train system.

2. Forts

The forts of Rajasthan deserve their own post. For now, I’ll just say that if you love old architecture or are a history buff, these are not to be missed. (For a quick primer on Indian forts, see Visiting the Red Fort in New Delhi.)

There are many fine forts (really fortified palaces) to visit, each with unique charm and character. If I had to pick two to recommend, it would be Amber Fort near Jaipur, with its gorgeous surroundings, many courtyards, and beautiful decor…

Amer Fort near Jaipur

…and Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, with its towering walls, intricate detailing, and museum showcasing items from the time of the rajahs (most of the other forts are simply empty):

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Did I mention this was my favourite part of Rajasthan?

More pictures after the jump…

3. Camel Treks

If you have time, it’s worth slogging out to Jaisalmer, on the far western edge of Rajasthan. Book early if you’re taking the train. It fills up fast! We ended up having to rent a car…which in India means you also get a driver. That’s not prohibitively expensive for Westerners, but it is a lot pricier than the train.

Not only is there a fine fort (*grin*), Jaisalmer is on the edge of the Thar Desert, and that means camels.

Camels, Thar Desert, near Jaisalmer

Opportunities for camel treks abound, from afternoons to overnights to multi-day trips. A word of warning: you may find that your guides include a couple of preteen boys learning the trade. If that bothers you, ask questions before you book. (I didn’t know until after the trek had begun.)

Riding a camel is not terribly comfortable, but it’s memorable. Especially if you sleep out under the stars…and in the desert, there are a lot of stars.

4. Food

Rajasthan is in northern India, and that means lots and lots of rich curries, naan bread, and biryani rice. The food is spicy but not hugely so. You won’t get chicken tikka (tandoori chicken) — that’s more of a Punjabi dish — and in fact a lot of the food is vegetarian. But it’s still rich, with cream in the curries, and often paneer (cheese cubes), and dried fruits and cashews or other nuts.

You can also get very rich lassis (yogurt smoothies) — but beware, they may be made with untreated water. My travelling companion and I got sick after several days and I suspect the lassis were to blame.

5. Romance

If you’re travelling with your sweetie, or you’re a romantic at heart, there’s no better city than Udaipur. It’s known as the “White City”, for obvious reasons.

Udaipur 1

It’s also called the “Venice of the East”, but that name is shared with several other cities (including Bangkok and Ayutthaya in Thailand).

Oh yeah, and there’s an absolutely fascinating palace/fort/thing.

6. Old City Wandering

As you may have noticed, I’m a sucker for old architecture. But even if you’re more of a culture buff or a shopping nut, or you just want to take in the surroundings, a wander through the old part of any town is a great way to spend your time.

Tiny street in Jodhpur

Tiny street in Jodhpur

The cities in Rajasthan are named by colour — the pink city (Jaipur), the blue city (Jodhpur), the golden city (Jaisalmer), and the white city (Udaipur). It’s easy to see why, and that makes them striking places to wander and take photos. Poking around the narrow streets, you’ll quickly go off the beaten tourist track, see all sorts of interesting things, and get lost, which is half the fun in a city like these.

(Be careful, though, especially if you’re a solo female traveller. Blonde women in India get a lot of attention. One guy who saw me rubbernecked so hard he almost fell off his motorcycle….)

7. Haggling

While you’re wandering, try your hand at haggling for something — anything. You’ll get ripped off, of course, but you’ll polish your skills, get a nice souvenir, and probably have fun doing it.

(Try to avoid haggling in the Golden Triangle — New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. These three cities see the most “fresh” tourists, and as a result the competition for your rupees is pretty fierce.)

Rajasthani textiles, Jaisalmer

Rajasthan is famous for its textiles, among other things…and textiles are handy to pack because they’re flat and not heavy. Intricately decorated wall hangings and light, warm pashmina shawls are two of the top sellers. But take your time looking, because everyone sells them. You might as well look carefully and walk away with something you really love.

Or you might just have to come back.

If you liked this post, you can read more of my travel posts — and see more photos — here.

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