Magical, mystical Rajasthan is an absolute must-visit destination for the intrepid global traveler. Its distinguished imperial history, a regal landscape dotted with palaces and forts, and a vast array of exotic luxury heritage hotels make it irresistible for those looking for a blend of tradition and modernity. Here are the six destinations that cannot be missed.
6. DELHI: VIVID & VIBRANT URBAN LANDSCAPE
Majestic, bustling Delhi will keep even the most worldly traveler engaged and enchanted for a lifetime. Three days will provide enough time to take in the city’s major sites and to get a feel for its vibrant culture. Particular must-sees are Humayun’s tomb, a palatial resting place built in the mid-16th century by the Emperor’s widow that sparked a new architectural era that culminated in the Taj Mahal, and the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, and Qutb Minar. For a more modern experience, visit the stunning Lotus Temple. Travelers who truly want to experience the city’s real character should arrange a tour with Salaam Balaak Trust, a charitable organization that offers two-hour ‘street walks’ guided by former street children, who will show you first-hand what life is like for Delhi’s homeless youngsters. Fees are used to help children on the streets.
Where to stay: The Trident Gurgaon. This award-winning resort showcases cutting-edge contemporary Indian design inspired by both British colonial and Mughal architecture, and is set among 7 acres of beautifully landscaped Mughal gardens, walkways, courtyards, fountains and cooling reflection pools, and is only a 30-minute drive from the heart of the city.
5. VARANASI: ROMANCE ON THE GANGES
Varanasi, also known as Kashi (“‘resplendent with light”), offers an experience unlike any other. This is the epitome of a holy city, inundated with religious pilgrims and sacred cows, yet it is also a city firmly grounded in the commerce and reality of day-to-day existence. A visit here is thrilling but exhausting, and never boring. Each drop of the Ganges water is believed to hold the power of salvation: immersing oneself in it is said to cleanse one not just of sins in this life, but of all the sins of past lives, too. As a result, millions of pilgrims come to this city every year to take part in ritual cleansing. A full two days should be spent exploring the labyrinthine streets of the old city and journeying down the Ganges, where locals from all walks of life congregate. From Varanasi, a 20-minute drive will talk you to the holy site of Sarnath, where the historical Buddha first taught the Buddhist dharma.
Where to stay: Suryauday Haveli. This riverfront hotel reflects the traditional building style of the holy city of Varanasi and has been redeveloped to provide a comfortable and spacious interior whilst retaining the property’s character and soul.
4. AGRA & TAJ MAHAL: PURE MUGHAL MAGNIFICENCE
Next, satisfy your wanderlust in Agra, once a seat of the Mughals’ power. Today, their legacy remains intact in the city’s regal culture, art, architecture, and cuisine. A must-see is the Agra Fort, where a succession of Mughal emperors grandly lived. With a treasury, mint, royal apartments, mosques, and a dungeon, Agra Fort is a microcosm of the city itself. Next, visit the epic Taj Mahal, built by the fifth Mughal emperor in honor of his beloved wife. Words do not do the building’s perfect proportions, intricately laid details, and beautiful hue justice – it must be seen first-hand.
Where to stay: ITC Mughal. This gorgeous getaway is renowned for its luxury and style. The stunning swimming pool, perfectly manicured gardens, and impeccably appointed rooms make this an ideal hotel for rest and relaxation after a busy day of travel.
3. JAIPUR: THE PINK CITY
Modernity and tradition come together in Jaipur, known as the “pink city.” Begin with Amber Fort, a stunning fortress perched high on the hills, containing interior palaces, gardens, and temples that retain much of their pristine beauty. Take an elephant ride to ascend to the top. Continue on to the old walled area of Jaipur and to the City Palace, now a museum. Stroll through the palace pavilions, or marvel at the Royals’ finest brocades, silks and hand-blocked garments and robes, which are beautifully restored and displayed. Finish the day with a visit to the Jantar Mantar observatory and to the iconic Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), built as a discreet retreat for women of the court. Just one room wide, the five-story structure is airy, with a delicate honeycomb design and nearly 1,000 windows.
Where to stay: Jai Mahal Palace. Located in the heart of downtown Jaipur, close to the main shopping district and many historical sites, the five-star Jai Mahal Palace preserves the regal customs of the region’s heritage. Opulent designs and unique architecture will make you feel like royalty.
2. JAISALMER: DESERT RETREAT
For a change of pace, visit Jaisalmer, a remote town located in the Thar Desert. Founded in the 12th century by Maharawal Jaisal of the Bhatti Rajput clan, the town was once a flourishing trade center, strategically located on the busy caravan trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia home to wealthy traders and regal leaders. Sandstone buildings are surrounded by stark desert and illuminated in a gold hue by the sun. This ancient city is defined by its carved spires and palaces and the massive sandcastle-like fort that towers over the imposing wall that encircles the town. Begin the day by exploring the gargantuan Jaisalmer Fort, where the entire population lived during medieval times. Next, visit the city’s Havelis (mansions), built by merchants and ministers, with golden stone facades so finely carved that they could be made of lace. Finish the day with a visit to the 14th-century reservoir, Gadisagar Lake, today lined with ghats and temples.
Where to stay: The Serai. Truly an oasis in the desert, this luxurious desert camp offers a truly unique experience in Rajasthan. There are just 21 tents, each with a private veranda, a drawing room and en-suite shower room. Traditional decorations are offered alongside modern luxuries, including wifi, a large swimming pool, and beautiful spa facilities.
1. JODHPUR: THE BLUE CITY
Jodhpur, the second-largest city of Rajasthan, is known as the Blue City because of the pale blue-painted narrow and tall houses of the jumbled and entrancing medieval Old City. For spectacular views, visit Mehrangarh Fort. Inside this famously impregnable fort, you’ll find delicate latticed windows and pierced sandstone screens. The Fort’s palaces – Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace), Phool Mahal (Flower Palace) and Sheesh Mahal (Glass Palace) – and other apartments are exquisitely decorated; their ceilings, walls, and floors are covered with murals, mirror work and gilt. The palace museum has exquisite rooms filled with lavish royal elephant carriages, palanquins, thrones, and paintings. From the ramparts, there are excellent views of the city. After lunch, continue with a walk through the narrow streets of the Old City. Jodhpur’s vibrant bazaars are among the city’s key sights, particularly Sadar Bazaar and the Girdikot Bazaar, near the clock tower. Wandering among the tiny shops dotting these crowded, narrow lanes in the heart of the town, you’ll get a real feel for the life and color of Marwari jewelry, utensils, kitchenware, leather shoes, trinkets, wedding clothes – you can find just about everything here.
Where to stay: the Vivanta by Taj Hari Mahal. With Marwar and Mughal inspired architecture and extravagant interior decor set within six acres of verdant gardens, the architecturally stunning Taj Hari Mahal is an oasis of calm and tranquillity. Set close to the city center, this luxury hotel is a 21st Century palatial homage to the regal heritage of Jodhpur and refined luxury is the order of the day.
Booking: To properly experience this region, we recommend using a tour operator such as Indian Excursions Company, which specializes in private, luxury tailor-made tours of Rajasthan, Their attention to detail, pre-trip planning sessions and service on the ground is unparalleled.
Written by DLX Contributor Beth Doane.
All images courtesy of Beth Doane.