Famous for Ranthambore, there are other beauties not to be missed in Rajasthan. With far fewer tourists, Keoladeo is an artificial wetland dating back to the 1700s and an ornithological orgy, to use the technical term. And Sariska is home to leopard, jungle cats, hyena, chowsingha and sambar deer and ancient archaeology. And last, but not least, Desert National Park, which protects vast swathes of the Thar.
The palaces are out of this world, but you can also swap chauffeur for cycle and have one foot firmly planted in the grass roots of Rajasthan when visiting, for example, indigenous Bishnoi desert dwellers, or dining and staying with homestay owners. Tailor made trips in Rajasthan are not all silver and silks; there are plenty of gems to be found in real Rajasthan too.
Regal, colourful cities are what many people seek out, but the desert gateway towns of Jaisalmer and Bikaner are spectacular too. The former is home to an ancient fortified city, constructed of sandstone and so merging magically with the desert landscapes. The latter has fewer tourists but still vibrant with the compulsory fort, camel safaris and two stunning temples: the Jain Bhandasar, and Hindu Lakshminath.
A region once brimming with aristocrats, the fading glamour of their havelis (mansion houses) are a sight to behold in this desert region. Tumbleweed blows through courtyards boasting stunning murals, colonnades and obsolete opulence. Some are being restored, others are simply there to be photographed and figure out how these places came to be. Check out the eco-glamping gorgeousness at Mandawa too.
A colourful stop on Rajasthan’s multicoloured magic carpet, this time blue. The mammoth Mehrangarh Fort oversees the city like a lion overseeing its pride, the ancient, blue houses seeming to worship at its feet. Delve deeper to discover markets bursting with every colour of the rainbow. Jodhpur is also gateway to the Thar Desert where villages are home to contrasting desert dwellers, the Bishnoi and Bhil.
Bang in the middle of this desert state is a wild array of tropical forest, with ruined temples popping up at sporadic points and the eyes of fauna such as nilgai, sambar, jungle cats and, of course, the great Bengal tiger all watching the goings on in their precious habitats. It is a very special place and somewhere to spend a few days if possible, not just a ‘been there, done that’ scenario.
Heritage heaven, Rajasthan boasts some of the world’s most luxurious, but not always astronomical, sleeps. Stay in beautifully restored forts or former Raj’s palaces, boasting fine Rajput or Mughal architecture. Overlook Lake Pichola in a beaux arts palace in Jodhpur, a 19th century former home of the Maharaja of Jaipur or a symmetrical beauty in Bikaner. Heritage hotels are places to immerse yourself in class and opulence.
The gateway to the great Thar Desert, this sandstone fort looks like it could be washed away in a storm, if there was such a thing. But in fact, this fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site inside the eponymous ancient city, has stood the test of time since 1156 when it was built by Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, after whom it was named. It is now home to hotels, markets and a lot of camels.
It may have been a real working tradition in times gone by, but it is now just a tourist trap, and an animal trap, with camels and elephants being abused, dressed up, made to race and generally whooped up into a frenzy simply to keep tourists happy. Not a happy sight at all. And while we are at it, the Brahma Temple is not great either, with more pushy hawkers than cultural highlights.
It may seem magnificent but often the animals are severely mistreated in order to perform or conform, with mahouts, or elephant trainers, shackling them or using a bull hook to tame them. The Amber Palace in Jaipur is just horrific for this, with over 150 elephants carrying tourists up and down the hill. Similarly, elephant polo wouldn’t be one of our favourites. Read our ‘Elephants in tourism’ guide for more details.
Especially when it comes to dress sense. For women, in particular, showing bare legs, shoulders and wearing low cut tops are a faux pas. And always cover your head in places of worship. Please also practise responsible photography. Rajasthan is so stunningly beautiful, it is hard to keep the cameras at bay; but always ask before you snap.
Sometimes people want to head to the state with the sole mission of seeing a tiger in Ranthambore. And they are extraordinary, but don’t forget there are Asian lions and sloth bears in Rajasthan too – as well as leopard, elephants, buffalo, rhino, monkeys, wolves and a veritable fiesta of birdlife.