Exotic and Colorful

Reaching for Rajasthan

4 MARCH 2015,
Ciudad rosa © Alfredo Miguel Romero
Ciudad rosa © Alfredo Miguel Romero

Introduction:

Rajasthan, is India at its exotic and colorful best. This is the home of the Rajputs, a group of warrior clans who have ruled this part of India for over a thousand years with a code of chivalry and honor which is akin to that of the medieval European knights.

Geographically Rajasthan is a somewhat dry and inhospitable destination, but it’s very varied. A line drawn south-west to north-east divides the state into the hilly and rugged south-east region and the barren north-east Thar desert which extends all the way across the border to Pakistan.

The Department of Tourism has innovatively unwrapped this magnificent state of Rajasthan to the discerning international tourists and visitors can experience the rich heritage, vibrant culture and surreal landscape of Rajasthan in a manner befitting royalty.

The varied experiences range from palatial havelis resonant with the past. Of forts at the rim of deserts. Rugged jungle lodges in the midst of haunting wilderness. Luxurious Spas in royally opulent hotels. In fact, there is an endless list of avenues to pamper your sense and soul.

Rajasthan today has the blueprint of a truly extravagant holiday laid out for you. This is one Indian state that offers you an opportunity to go where you get all that is not ordinary. All that is exclusive, unusual and an atmosphere that is far removed from standardized sameness and hospitality that comes from the heart. We take you on an incredible journey that passes through the fairytale cities of Jaipur, Udaipur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer, with a peek into surreal Pushkar and round up with a visit to the famed Ranthambore National Park.

Jaipur – India’s Pink City:

Jaipur, the capital city of the state of Rajasthan is popularly referred to as the “Pink City” from the pink colored sandstone with which the edifices in the old, walled part of the city are constructed. This fascinating city is remarkably harmonious and is located in the midst of a desert-like landscape, surrounded by barren hills.

The city owes its foundation to the erstwhile royal warrior-astronomer – His Excellency Maharaja Jai Singh II (1699-1744) who laid out the city with its quintessential walls and six rectangular blocks by adhering to the principles of town planning as laid down in the ancient Indian treatise on architecture – the Shilpa Shastra.

The Old City is situated to the north-east of Jaipur while the new settlements have spread away to the south and west. As dusk descends, this part of Jaipur attains a magical glow, courtesy the pink and orange colored edifices which is befittingly complemented by the brightly clothed Rajasthani folks.

What to See:

Hawa Mahal, City Palace, Chandra Mahal, Mubarak Mahal, Dewan-E-Khas, Dewan-E-Aam, Observatory, Museum, Govindji Mandir, Art Gallery, Nahargarh Fort, Jhal Mahal, Nahargarh Fort.

Where to Stay:

Jaipur being a major tourist hub has a wide variety of luxurious hotels. The magnificent Taj Rambagh Palace hotel, which used to be the past residence of Jaipur’s royal family, located ideally to the south of the town is in a class of its own. Amongst the Indian brands, the ITC Rajputana and the Oberoi Rajvilas are in a class of their own. In fact, Jaipur’s hotel landscape is dotted with big players of the global hospitality industry – The Hilton, Holiday Inn, The Marriot, The Sheraton, Le Meridien, Radisson etc… have all made their presence felt in the capital city of Rajasthan.

What to Buy:

Mirza Ismail Road (M.I. Road) is the main commercial street of the new part of Jaipur and the modern shopping centre. Jaipur’s bustling shops and markets are located in the neighborhood of Hawa Mahal, Johari Bazzar (jewellery), Bapuji Market (textiles), Tripolia Market (wooden carving and brass products).

Udaipur – The Lake City:

The lake city of Udaipur is a cool oasis in the dry landscape of Rajasthan and probably the most romantic city in a state where every city has some romantic or exotic tale to boast off. Udaipur dates back to 1567 and was founded by His Excellency Maharana Udai Singh and is enclosed by the remains of a city wall that sprawls away on the east side of Lake Pichola. Being the capital of the erstwhile Mewar dynasty (568 AD), this romantic city abounds with tales of heroism and valor of the redoubtable Rajput warriors.

The city is replete with magnificent palaces and The Lake Palace in particular, which has now been converted into a luxury hotel, is simply awesome in its regal grandeur. This one-of-its-kind palace towers over the lake and is basically a conglomeration of buildings added by various royal figures (Maharajas) but it manages to retain a surprising uniformity of design.

Apart from royal palaces, there is a peculiar museum – Bharatiya Lok Kala Museum, which epitomizes the preservation of folk arts and has an interesting collection of dresses, dolls, masks, musical instruments, rare paintings and the high point of the museum – puppets.

What to See:

City Palace and museum, Fateh Sagar Lake, Jagdish Temple, Pratap Samak, Puppet Museum, Saheliyon Ki Bari, Ahar Museum.

Where to Stay:

Udaipur being the city of palaces, it isn’t surprising to find some of India’s most magnificent palace hotels in this charming city. The city’s top hotel is also one of the most delightful hotels in India – the opulent Taj Lake Palace hotel located bang in the middle of Lake Pichola. Other luxurious and royally appointed hotels are The Shiv Niwas Palace, Ramada Udaipur, The Oberoi Udaivilas, The Leela Palace, The Lalit Laxmi Vilas Palace to name just a few.

What to Buy:

Udaipur has a bustling market zone consisting of the commercial neighborhoods like Chetak Circle, Bapu Bazar, Palace Road and Shastri Circle. Udaipur is renowned for its exquisite silk block prints, Bandhini sarees, wooden crafts and embroidered items.

Bikaner – Jewel in the Thar Desert:

This surreal desert town is ideally located to the north of Rajasthan and was founded by His Excellency Rao Bikaji. The quintessential feature of Bikaner is its high, battlemented fortification which is 7 kms. long with five entrance gates, built way back in the 18th century.In the days of yore, it used to be an important staging post on the great caravan trade route.

Apart from the impregnable fort, Bikaner has carved a niche for itself as a camel breeding centre and there is a camel breeding farm in close proximity to the city, which is unique in Asian context. There are hundreds of camels here and rides are available.

One of Bikaner’s prized possession is the imposing red sandstone Palace – Lallgarh Palace, built by the erstwhile Maharaja Ganga Singhji in the year 1902. This oriental fantasy designed by Sir Swinton Jacob, is one of the most magnificent specimen of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. Today, this exemplary Rajput Palace has been converted into a luxurious heritage hotel, standing tall with its rich heritage and having played host to a number of dignitaries from all over the world.

Another feather in the cap of this desert city of Rajasthan is the Ganga Golden Jubilee Museum, said to be one of the best museums of Rajasthan and is replete with artifacts dating back to the pre-Harrapan, Gupta and Kushan period.

What to See:

Junagarh Fort, Sri Sadul Museum, Royal Cenotaph at Devi Kund Sagar, Prachina Culture Centre & Museum, Deshnoke Temple, Camel Breeding Farm, Laxmi Nathji Temple.

Where to Stay:

The regally done up Laxmi Niwas Palace hotel and the WelcomHeritage’s Lallgarh Palace are two exquisite royal properties. They offer a unique blend of medieval charm with contemporary amenities.

What to Buy:

The best place for shopping is in the neighborhood of K.E.M. Road located near the fort. Camel hide articles like shoes, purses, cushions etc… are top draws. The pride of Bikaner is of course its unique range of sweets. The Haldiram outlets are simply fabulous and do brisk business.

Jaisalmer – India’s Most Exotic City

Jaisalmer is one of Rajasthan’s, indeed India’s most exotic and unusual city. It is remote as it is splendidly isolated. This medieval looking place is something right out of the tales of the “Arabian Nights”. Centuries ago its strategic position on the camel train routes between India and Central Asia brought great wealth to Jaisalmer. The merchants and townspeople built magnificent mansions (Havelis), carved out of the rarest variety of golden-yellow sandstone. Even today, new edifices must be so designed so as to blend harmoniously with the old.

The Patwon Ki Haveli is the most elaborate and magnificent of all the havelis of Jaisalmer. It stands on a narrow lane and one of its apartments is painted with beautiful murals. There is also the Salim Singh Ki Haveli, which is more than 300 years old.

The Old City is surrounded by an impregnable fort and from within this a hill rises with more fortified walls. The ancient Jain temple and an old palace are ideally located on this hilltop. Besides being a strategic military base of the armed forces, Jaisalmer’s economy is pumped up to a considerable extent by tourism - courtesy the increasing number of travelers who are waking up to the fascination of this exotic place.`

There are some fascinating locales around Jaisalmer which is best explored by embarking on a Camel Safari – a stupendous experience in itself. The usual tours take four days and three nights in a circuit around Jaisalmer via Mool Sagar, the Sam sand dunes and back via Lodruva passing through fascinating Rajput, tribal and abandoned villages. The more adventurous ones may opt for the longer duration Camel Safaris that stretches to 7 days and some even 11 days that takes the discerning travelers through some of the most amazing desert landscape anywhere in the world.

What to See:

Havelis, Gadi Sagar Tank, the Fort, Jain Temples. (The annual Jaisalmer Desert Festival is a riot of colors. Camel races, exotic dance recitals, folk music, desert ballads, puppet shows etc… are all part of the festivity).

Where to Stay:

Hotel Suryagarh on Sam Road and hotel Sonargarh Fort are two outstanding heritage hotels in Jaisalmer. There is also the WelcomHeritage’s Mandir Palace, which is an exquisitely carved architectural marvel and its intricate stone carvings are unmatched by any other hotel.

What to Buy:

The Central Market located just below the Trikut hill and another bustling market near the gate of Amar Sagar are great places to go shopping while in Jaisalmer. Stone artifacts, embroidery items and woolen blankets are very popular and much admired by the discerning travelers.

Traveler’s Fact File:

Reaching Rajasthan:

The most convenient way to reach Rajasthan is by air to New Delhi, India’s capital city, which is linked worldwide by a wide network of international airlines and from New Delhi one has the option of either flying by any of India’s domestic airline or by road to Jaipur, the capital city of the state of Rajasthan. There are also regular train services from New Delhi to various cities of Rajasthan. Ideally, Jaipur should be your gateway city to explore the state of Rajasthan. By air, there are convenient flights on the New Delhi – Jaipur sector. By road, the distance from New Delhi to Jaipur is 260 Kms. which can be covered in 5.5 hours. Hired taxis and luxury buses are readily available from New Delhi Airport. By train, two of the world’s most outstanding luxury rail journey originates from New Delhi – The Palace on Wheels and The Royal Rajasthan on Wheels

Informative Websites:

Department of Tourism, Government of Rajasthan - www.rajasthantourism.gov.in
Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation – www.rtdc.rajasthan.gov.in
India Tourism Development Corporation - www.theashokgroup.com
Ministry of Tourism, Government of India – www.tourism.gov.in
Air India – www.airindia.in
Jet Airways - www.jetairways.com