Top 10 Places to See in Rajasthan, Part I

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1) Jaipur

Jaipur, the City of Victory`, is chaotic and congested, though it still has a habit of turning its travellers pink. As modern capital, Jaipur has grown well beyond its old defensive walls, and now shiny chrome-and-glass shopping malls march along its new thoroughfares. As the gateway to Rajasthan, it welcomes and farewells tourists trianguling beween Delhi and Agra, as well as those embarking on an extended exploration of the desert state.
Here you’ll find a well preserved and living past- stunning hilltop forts, glorious palaces and humming, bargain filled bazaars- as well as a wealth of accommodation and dining options. However, Jaipur is also a city permanently under siege by its exploding population and stretched-to-the-limit infrastructure.
The old city is partially encircled by a crenulated wall punctuated by gates including the major gates of Chandpol, Ajmer and Sanganeri. It may not feel like it in today’s chaotic mechanised traffic, but the Old City is a masterpiece of town planning. Wide avenues divide the city into neat rectangles, each one specialising in different crafts, as ordained by the ancient treatise of Shilpa-Shastra. The main bazaars include Johari, Tripolia, Bapu and Chandpol. At sunset, the buildings take a timeless glow.
Jaipur’s most distinctive landmark Hawa Mahal is a remarkable five storey, delicately honeycombed, pink sandstone structure. It was constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh to enable ladies of the royal household to watch the life and processions of the city. It’s an amazing example of Rajput artistry, and remains a great place for people-watching from behind the small shutters. The top offers stunning views over the Jantar Mnatar and the City of palace in one direction, and over Siredeori in other. Inside there is a small museum evoking the royal past.
The impressive City Palace encompasses a vast complex of courtyards, gardens and buildings. The outer wall was built by Jai Singh, but other additions are much more recent, some dating from the early 20th century. Today the palace is a blend of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture. There are two entrances, approached through Virendra Pol, and one through udai Pol near Jlaeb Chowk.
Near the City palace is Jantar Mantar, an observatory begun by Jai Singh in 1728, which looks like a collection of mammoth, bizarre sculptures. The most striking instrument is the sundial with its 27m-high gnomon; the shadow this casts moves up to 4m per hour.
Built in 1734 and extended in 1868, sturdy Nahargarh Fort overlooks the city from a sheer ridge to the north. An 8km road runs up to the fort through the hills from Jaipur, or it can be reached along a zigzagging 2 km footpath. There are some interesting furnished rooms and glorious views-it is a popular picnic spot on weekends and the perfect place to catch the sunset. Apart from Nahargarh, the magnificent Amber and Jaigarh are also must-visits for travellers.
Travel guides and books have lauded Jaipur in superlatives but the true Jaipur is what you will have to discover for yourself as you make your way through its narrow maze of lanes and witness a city in transformation that is still holding tight to its ancient culture and tradition.

Hawa Mahal, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicocrisafulli/

Hawa Mahal, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicocrisafulli/

 

2) Ajmer

Faith and history intermingle in unprecedented ways in the city of Ajmer. Ajmer was once a stronghold of the Chauhan Rajputs. The legendary Prithviraj Chauhan lost Ajmer (then called Ajayameru) to Mohammad Ghori in 1193. It was then annexed by the Mughal King Akbar in the 16th century and soon became a pilgrimage site for the Mughals.
Nestled amidst the Aravalli Range, Ajmer sprawls along Taragarh Hill in central Rajasthan. To its north-west lies the Ana Sagar Lake and beyond it, the famous town of Pushkar. It is hardly a 2 hour ride from Jaipur and only 15 minutes from Pushkar.
Ajmer is most famous for the Dargah Sharif of Khwaja Sahib who was a Sufi Saint and whose disciples included the Mughal Emperors. The Ajmer Dargah Dargah is an Islamic shrine built on the grave of a saint) is not only the centre of faith in Ajmer but also an architectural marvel that proudly exhibits the unique style of Mughal architecture. The entrance gates tower 70 ft high above the congested bazaars. These majestic doorways were built by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1915. To the right, steps lead to the famous Akbari Masjid that is made up entirely of red sandstone. Ahead lies the grand Buland Darwaza, which is believed to have been built by Mahmud Khalji in the 15th century. Next come the wonderful gifts of King Akbar which add sheen to this holy site. The two degs (cauldron), are used to cook food to offer to devotees. The air here is heavy with a religious fervour that grips all its visitors, accentuated by the Qawwalis (devotional songs) that are sung here almost all nights.
Apart from the Dargah, Baradari, a marble structure erected by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan in AD 1637 over a large embankment of Anasagar Lake is another chief attraction of Ajmer.
The rich history of Ajmer combines with the fervour of prayer to create an atmosphere of mystique that has to be seen to be believed.

Ajmer's Dhai-din-ka-Jhonpra, built in 1153, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nagarjun/

Ajmer’s Dhai-din-ka-Jhonpra, built in 1153, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nagarjun/

 

3) Jojawar

Rajasthan has a plethora of small, quaint towns and villages. One such place, away from the usual tourist trails in Rajasthan is a small village located in Marwar Junction tehsil of Pali district in Rajasthan. Jojawar in Rajasthan gives you an opportunity to find undiscovered treasures to explore away in rural setting. Hardly anything has changed in Jojawar over the years and the place has held tight to its charm. Situated not more than two hours north of Narlai, Jojawar is home to Rawla Jojawar, a beautiful heritage hotel bristling with memories of its original inhabitants who belonged to the Royal House of Marwar. Build amidst a town untouched by modern life, Rawla Jojawar affords you a feel of the real India.
Imagine going on an exclusive expedition on a mountain train that will take you through the picturesque Aravallis for a meagre sum of 4 Rupees. Sounds too good to be true? Make sure to visit to experience this unique train safari in Jojawar. All aboard the train in that takes you from one section of the hill to the highest station in the Aravallis- the Kambli Ghat. This safari offers you a spellbinding journey through numerous tunnels and bridges encircled by the most beautiful forests, hills and valleys that are to be found in the state. This is not a tourist train but a true slice of local transportation in this area. Hence it provides a great opportunity for meaningful interaction with friendly locals who would be more than happy to share their experiences and stories with you. Mellow sun-shine, breathtaking scenery, the rhythmic chugging of engine as it laboriously hauling up the train through winding paths, fellow passengers chatting away in native language guarantees to give you one of your most memorable and authentic experience on your Rajasthan Trip.
Breathe in the clean and cozy air of Jojawar and soak in a true rural experience.

 

4) Kumbhalgarh

Built on a hilltop 1100 metres above sea level in the southern region of Rajasthan is Kumbhalgarh Fort. Considered by many as the second most impressive fort in Mewar (after Chittaurgarh), Kumbhalgarh Fort is where you come face to face with glorious history, where the legacy of valorous kings of Mewar and its warriors is still alive. The rugged magnificence of Kumbhalgarh Fort inspires one to discover innumerable secrets of the centuries past.
Situated 82 km northwest of Udaipur and around 370 km by road, Kumbhalgarh Fort can be easily accessed via highways NH8 (from Jaipur) and NH76 to Iswal (from Udaipur). There is a top-end luxury heritage hotel called The Aodhi nearby that is a wonderful base to explore the magnificent Kumbhalgarh Fort.
Built in 1448 by King Rana Kumbha of Mewar (after whom the fort gets its name), it was also the birth place of King Rana Pratap. The air here is rife with fascinating tales of conspiracy and treachery. It was a major site where the dramatic history of Sisodiya dynasty was played out. It is believed that it also provided refuge to Prince Udai from Chittor who was smuggled out of Chittaurgarh by his nursemaid Panna Dai. Legend has it that Panna Dai sacrificed her own son to save Udai from his traitor uncle, Banbir. Prince Udai was crowned as a king by the nobles of Mewar here in Kumbhalgarh, who ruled the fort before going on to establish his new capital of Udaipur. His eldest son Maharana Pratap was born the same year. The fort was also a hideout for Mughal Prince, Jahangir, from his estranged father, Emperor Shah Jahan.
Proudly perched on the top of 13 mountain peaks in the Aravallis, Kumbhalgarh fort is both impressive and formidable. 36 km long battlements gird its grandiose bastions. Steep walls rise from all sides embellished with decorative windows projecting outside. A steep climb up a narrow road leads to the entrance. Within the fort, Badal Mahal stands out for it’s the exquisite interiors and soaring height over other structure. Jain temples dating back to the Mauryan period are just 50 kilometres from Kumbhalgarh and can be accessed through the picturesque route of Vanpura and Saira.

Kumbhalgarh, WIkipedia

Kumbhalgarh, WIkipedia

 

5) Pushkar

 

Tucked away in the Aravalli Valley in central Rajasthan is the spiritual centre of the state. Pushkar is nestled at the foot of Nag Pahar or Snake Mountain, which forms a natural border between Pushkar and Ajmer. Every year thousands of Hindu devotees and Hindu dilettantes flock to this small town in large numbers looking for spiritual reawakening. The dilettantes consist of a wonderful variety of foreigners from all over the world. Israilis, Americans, Koreans, British-all come together to create an air rife with chants of “Om Shanti Om”.
Only 15 minutes from Ajmer and two and a half hours from Jaipur, Pushkar is easily accessible from all major spots. The town is divided into Badi Basti and Choti Basti (earlier known as Varahpura), of which the latter is considered older. The geographic and religious heart of Pushkar is the lake (commonly known as sarovar) surrounded by 52 Ghats, concentrated on both the eastern and northern side. Immediately next to the ghats, runs the main bazaar, spreading from Jaipur Ghat in the south-east and curving round the ghats through the east, north and part of the west till the famous Brahma Temple. Of the three main ghats, the Varaha Ghat and Gau Ghat are to the north of the lake and the bazaar lane takes a sharp turn south to the Brahma Ghat. The Savitri temple is on the Ratnagiri Hill, roughly behind the Brahma Temple. Everything in this small town is within walking distance and everything can be accessed on foot.
Lake Pushkar is the centre of life in Pushkar. Here you’ll find devotees taking a dip in its sacred waters in their quest for purification. Legend has it that Lord Brahma combined waters of the four places of pilgrimage sacrosanct to Hindus- Badrinath, Jagannath, Rameshwaram and Dwarka to create this sacred lake that seems to have combined all their powers in itself. Brahma performed a yagya or ritual fire ceremony in the spot where now the Brahma Temple proudly stands, and dropped a lotus from his hands to create this lake.The lake is lined by 52 Ghats, closely hugged by pure white ghat buildings. The place is full of sadhus, devotees and enthusiastic tourists. The whitewashed ghats of the sacred Puskar Lake provide a singular monochromatic aesthetic experience. The Brahma Temple is particularly important because it is the only temple in India dedicated to him. But by no means is it the only temple here. As many as four hundred temples line the banks of the lake, each unique in its own way.
Pushkar is an exemplary microcosm of the diverse nature of Hindu religion. It is a sacred site where the Hindus Trinity with all their attendant gods and goddesses live peacefully with gods of different castes. Rajputs, Rawats, jats, Gujjars, Malis, Mochis, Loharias, all have their own religious centres in this place.
On Kartik Purnima (the new moon, roughly October-November) each year, Pushkar explodes in a profusion of color. Easily the most identifiable of Rajasthan’s many fairs, Pushkar fits the stereotype of an Indian fair like a T. Storytellers, hypnotists, traditional dancers and singers, snake charmers, magicians, monkey trainers, all elements that have gone into the making of an “exotic” India can be found here. The fair is a weeklong fiesta with various competitions. Most of the events are staged around the four legged beast that dominates this desert- the modest camel.
Layers of human experience and belief systems blend together to make Pushkar as mythical as the legends claim it to be.

Pushkar, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lfphotos/

Pushkar, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lfphotos/

 

6) Bera

The smallest of the “four big cats”, the leopard, has a mythical aura around it. This cat is known for it’s shy and reserved nature and is considered a rare sight in it’s natural habitat. But here in Bera village in Rajasthan, located along the river Jawai, leopards are a common sight making this place a heaven for nature enthusiasts and tourists who want a glimpse of this powerful cat in it’s full glory amidst it’s natural habitat.
Bera village is shrouded in obscurity. Forget outsiders, even most of the natives are oblivious to this safe haven for wildlife. Although leopards are the showstoppers in this faunal exhibition, the jungle has an array of wildlife specimens like hyenas, hares, antelopes, foxes and exquisite birds like the pelican, the graylag goose and the robin accentor. Moreover, the river Jawai is full of crocodiles measuring almost 15 feet in length.
Thakur Devisinghji works tirelessly in his endeavor to conserve leopards in the forests via his leopard lair resort. Crocodile safari and leopard safaris are offered of which the former is generally done in the mornings. Jawai Bandh is the nearest railway station and both the Udaipur airport and the Jodhpur airport are 4-5 hours drive from Bera village.
So this trip to Rajasthan, experience the faunal and the floral variety of Rajasthan along with it’s rich cultural heritage.

Leopard in Bera, Photo by Abigail Gossage, Photo Courtesy: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/traveler-magazine/photo-contest/entries/55723/view/

Leopard in Bera, Photo by Abigail Gossage, Photo Courtesy: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/traveler-magazine/photo-contest/entries/55723/view/

 

7) Merta

Myth and facts coalesce in this city of Rajasthan. Situated in the Nagaur district of western Rajasthan, Merta is the birthplace of Meera Bai.
Her life story is much more than a historical event. It is an emotional, religious and devotional journey of a human being, a journey so fascinating that it is simply unparalleled. She wrote around more than 1312 pads or poems in her own language that stand testimony to her intense emotional attachment with Lord Krishna. Considered by many as a divine incarnation of Radhika, who was Lord Krishna’s beloved and companion, during the Dwapar period (two thousand five hundred years ago), Meera Bai’s life story is that of a strong and determined woman who gave up materialistic affinities to pursue spiritual growth. The small town of Merta has been a witness to this amazing journey and is home to the beautiful Meera Bai Temple, which is about four hundred years old.
Devotees also flock around Bhanwal Matta temple situated about 25 km from Merta. A city that shows exemplary tolerance to all religions, it is only obvious that the Charbuja temple here are is as sacred as the Aurangzeb Mosque.

Meera Temple, Merta, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kkoshy/

Meera Temple, Merta, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kkoshy/

 

8) Udaipur

Thousands of years of history awaits in one of Rajasthan’s oldest cities- Udaipur. Perfect for a short break, step back in time to discover the cities’ illustrious past. The former capital of the kingdom of Mewar in the former Rajputana Agency, the city boasts a number of beautiful Rajput-era palaces. Hailed as the ‘City of Lakes’ and ‘The Venice of the East’ for its spectacular lakes, Udaipur is a city filled with unexplored wonders that are sure to awaken your inner explorer.
Udaipur is located in southern part of Rajasthan, amidst the low hills of Aravalli, bounded by its two massive lakes, Lake Pichola and Fatheh Sagar, and River Ahar. It is nearly 276 km South-East of Jaipur, 396 km South-West of Jaipur and 652 km South-West of Delhi making it easily accessible from all major points. Well connected to the major cities of India by land, rail and air, take a road trip from Jaipur on highway NH-8, or a train from Jaipur or Delhi or simply fly to this beautiful city.
Come Monsoons and Udaipur’s lakes magically come to life, proudly glowing with a silvery sheen. It’s amazing lakes, reservoirs and dams have earned Udaipur the epithet of “Venice of East”. Overcast skies of a tender crimson, perfect temperatures, clean air, bright greens of mango and ryan trees, golden sheen of lively palaces, and brooding greys of its abandoned ruins, everything becomes colourful in Udaipur in the monsoons.
Of all the things that come to life, the one that stirs the imagination most with its beauty and grace is Lake Pichola. It is considered that Udaipur took birth and evolved on the shores of Pichola. While the lake beautifies the palaces and havelis around it, the houses and hotels depend on it for their sustenance. Udaipur derives life and meaning from this lake. The best way to enjoy this lake is taking a boat ride from the City palace jetty on Bansi Ghat and behold the beauty of the its mesmerizing shores and its graceful buildings. Another way is to sit on the numerous rooftop restaurants on Lal Ghat, Gangaur Ghat and Hanuman Ghat and enjoy the picturesque scene nature has laid out in front of you. Located just besides the entrance to Moti Magri Hill and north of the more famous Lake Pichola is Fateh Sagar, an artificial lake built by Maharana Jai Singh in 1678 (later reconstructed by Maharana Fateh Singh and so the name). There are three islands on the lake which can be reached by taking a boat ride in the lake: one is called Nehru Park (embellished with a garden, restaurant and a zoo), the other has a fountain and a garden and the third has a Solar Observatory. Take a tour to Rajasthan this summer to watch the Fateh Sagar Lake‘s crystalline waters taking centre stage in the beautiful city of Udaipur. A boat ride is a memorable way to appreciate the majestic setting. The vantage point from the water gives visitors spectacular views of the encompassing Aravalli Hills. The lakes of Udaipur are significant not only for being natural wonders but also because their dams and reservoirs are nothing short of marvels of engineering. One can see some of the most amazing and artisitic engineering feats in Udaipur’s lakes: Pichola, Dudh talai, Govardhan Sagar, Kumaria Talav, Rangsagar, Swaroop Sagar and Fateh Sagar. Collectively known as the seven sisters of Udaipur, they generate an air of magic and romance in the city.
A traveller’s itinerary in Udaipur inevitably includes a visit to the City palace complex and Museum. Different rulers at different times made willing contribution to the making of this magnificent building which is now a conglomeration of palaces built over 400 years by more than twenty different Maharajas of Udaipur. The imposing Tripolia Gate with its seven arches welcomes you into this fascinating edifice. Its huge size, profusion of different architectural elements as seen in its myriad jharokhas, columns and towers, City Palace Complex envelops you into its rich history. The City palace Museum holds some of the most amazing paintings of the famous Mewar School of Painting and is a wonderful way of getting a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Udaipur.
Some other famous locations are The Crystal Gallery, Jagdish Temple, Bagore ki Haveli, Ahar and the “fairy talish” Monsoon Palace. The areas near the City palace, Jagdish Temple, Lalghat and Gangaur Ghat have many hidden shops selling unique artefacts and crafts, the most famous being the miniature paintings of Udaipur.

Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76932422@N00/

Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76932422@N00/

 

9) Sariska

Comfortably nestled in a wooded valley between Alwar and Jaipur, Sariska Tiger Reserve made headlines in 2005 when it was revealed that there were no tigers living in the park. In 2008, god news arrived. Big cats had started roaming once again in the park. These tigers who had been relocated from Ranthambore, gradually made Sariska their home. With this reintroduction and few other steps such as relocation of villages, one hopes that it remains a natural habitat for tigers. With or without tigers, this National Park is still worth a visit on account of its magnificent wildlife. The 800 sq km park is also home to Sambar, chital, wild boar and innumerous other rare and endangered species. As if the wildlife sightings were not enough, Sariska also boasts a number of fascinating forts and ruins within and around its boundaries, including the spectacular hilltop Kankwari Fort, and Bhangarh, a deserted, well preserved 17th century city that is famously haunted. If you decide to take a longer tour then you can as to visit one of these sites. Bhangarh can be easily reached by a bus that runs through the sanctuary to the nearby Golaka Village. Unlike most national parks, Sariska is open year round, although the best time is to spot wildlife is November to March.

Sariska, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/53744164@N07/

Sariska, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/53744164@N07/

 

10) Nagaur

Nagaur, 135km northeast of Jodhpur, has the massive, 12th century restored ruins of Ahhichatragarh (Fort of the Hooded Cobra), which has a unique water-cycling system. At the ruins’ heart is a richly painted Rajput-Mughal palace complex. Nagaur’s Hindu and Islamic heritage has given it architectural wealth that belies in its main streets. Big time tourism hasn’t reached here and is perfect if you are looking for exotica minus the frills. Time a visit during the annual Nagaur Festival in January/February. Amar Singh’s Cenotaph, Achitragarh Fort, kaanch Ka Mandir (Temple of Mirrors), Bansiwale ka Mandir are some of the places one can go to.

Nagaur, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/raulmatali/

Nagaur, Photo Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/raulmatali/

 

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