This post picks up where we left of in the last one. (read it here) Here we deep dive into what you could visit in India if you had more time and we cover the State of Rajasthan here.
If you have more time at hand then Rajasthan is the recommended choice if you are wanting to get introduced to India and have a life changing Journey. Rajasthan is the desert state of India roughly the Size of Germany and the very name means the Place for kings. Rajasthan is very popular because of its forts and palaces and the experiences it offers which are diverse and can have a profound effect on a person.
The cities we recommended in the Introduction article would all be covered (refer to them here) in the same order starting with Delhi and then moving to Agra followed by Sawai Madhopur and then Jaipur.
Today we leave the Capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur behind and would now head into the interiors and explore this amazing state, Our next stop from Jaipur is a small sleepy town called Mandawa. It is located in the region called Shekawati which shot into fame on account of the beautiful painted Houses of the Merchants.
The Merchants of this region known as Marwaris accumulated their wealth through the Silk trade route caravans, by accompanying them and guiding them across the region. Upon accumulation of this wealth they wanted to be known and hence had their houses painted in bold natural colours, depending upon their wealth artists were invited from as far as Italy and the houses were painted in sceneries by the artists from European cities.
Post coming of Railways the trade route lost its importance and these merchants migrated to newer pastures leaving these houses known as Havelis. Most of these Havelis have not been lived in, in a long time and are usually looked after by a caretaker.
A walk through the lanes of Mandawa and other cities in Shekawati is like taking a walk through an open air museum. Though only 4 hours away from Jaipur, one would feel that they have stepped into a different time frame.
Your ideal stop here would be 1 night to cover Mandawa on the first day and next day on the drive to Bikaner you should have a 30-40 min photo stop in Fatehpur which again has some amazing havelis.
Your next stop on your Rajasthan trip is the city of Bikaner, a city that dates back to 1488 when it was founded by Rao Bika, the first son of the founder of Jodhpur. Just before you reach Bikaner there are the Royal Cenotpahs which can be visited, these cenotaphs showcase the evolution of Architecture and is a good photo stop enroute and doesn’t take more than 20 minutes.
Though the city of Bikaner was located in the Thar desert it was an Oasis and an important city on the trade route from which it made most of its revenue. The city takes it name from the founder and loosely translated means the Settlement of Bika. Bika built a fort in 1478, which is now in ruins, and a hundred years later a new fort was built about 1.5 km from the city centre, known as the Junagarh Fort. It is this fort that would be the highlight of your stay.
A fort like Junagarh was built over centuries with each ruler making his own additions to the same and that is why these additions are all called palaces taking the name of the builder. Hence names like Karan Mahal, Anup Mahal etc. You need a good 2 hours to visit the parts of the fort that are opened and it is a lovely experience to walk around leisurely and trying to visualize what it must have looked like during its peak.
If time permits there are a couple of other things you can do, visit the Camel Breeding farm, which works on effective breeding and use of Camel Milk, it surely is very insightful to know more about these majestic animals or you could drive out of the city to visit the Deshnoke temple also known as the Rat temple. The place is infested with rats who are believed to be devotees of Karni Goddess but despite so many rats there has never been an outbreak of Plague or any other disease.
If you are low on time, then I suggest walk through the Old city and see some amazing old Havelis with their intricate carvings and filigree work.
Your Ideal stop here should be 1 night and it would give you an excellent insight into the city.
Rajasthan is a treasure trove and your next stop is going to be another highlight of the trip, you would be heading into the heart of Desert Thar to Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer can only be described as Magical. It is one of the most amazing citadels dating back to 1156 and has been continuously inhabited.
There is more history in Jaisalmer than what many countries would offer and that is why the entire Citadel has been declared a World heritage Site.
Built entirely out of Yellow Sandstone it is also referred to as the Golden City, On the first day when you arrive it is best to just enjoy the view of the Citadel, find a vantage point for Sun set from where you can get some amazing shots of the city.
The next day you should start your day with a visit to Gadisar, the fresh water body which has been taking care of the water needs of Jaisalmer since 1367. The increase in population now threatens this lake.
There are small shrines around the lake, which is only natural in India, since Hindus like to clean themselves up before heading to the temple, so having a waterbody closeby was an ideal place to build temples as well.
From here a short drive away is the Jaisalmer fort, you will pass through a winding path with 4 solid bastions having the 4 gates to fortify the entrance, one arrives at the main square, There are scenes from daily life that greet you and no matter how much you are prepared, you would automatically lose yourself in how the scenes are playing out in front of you.
You have multiple things to visit, the Jain Temples intricately carved out of Sandstone could be your first stop. Jains are a Business class of people in India who have always enjoyed key positions namely Finance ministries with various rulers, due to their high business acumen, all the rulers across the region always relied on their shrewdness in matters of Finance.
Since they had the money and positions of importance, it is only natural that one would see some of the finest Jain Temples during your next phase of Journey.
Once you have visited the Jain Temples, you should wander around a little bit and enjoy the scenes that play out in the lanes and by lanes and then head on over to one of the 99 Bastions which would offer your spectacular views of the new city below.
Having visited Jaisalmer 50+ times, I can say from my personal experience, one never gets tired of wandering around the fort. But since there is more for you to do here, you will be heading out to visit a couple of Havelis.
One such Haveli which looks like a Ship is that of a minister called Salim Singh and hence it is also referred to as Salim Singh Haveli, this would be more of a photo stop, however the next Havli on your list the patwa haveli is spell binding. Parts of this haveli have been reconstructed and offer Insight into what it was like for the Businessmen who lived here.
On the Ground floor exists a shop who would try and sell you the patchwork (which is a speciality of the region) and other fabrics. Bargain Bargain and Bargain if you want to buy anything. Quality is good but pricing is all fluid.
There are a few more havelis which can be visited, like the Diwan Nathmal Haveli and the Chidiya Haveli but even if you give them a miss after visiting Patwa haveli it would not be a loss for you.
Late Afternoon if you are upto it, head on over to SAM Sand Dunes, 40 kms outside Jaisalmer and the western most point you can visit in India as a Tourist.
A Sunset here is magical and one could also do a camel ride to get a true feel of what it must have been like pre railways when Camels were the only means of Transportation.
2 Nights is the recommended stop in Jaisalmer, adding a 3rd Night would only be beneficial if you want to revisit everything else 2 nights suffice.
From Jaisalmer your journey would take you to the 2nd Largest city of Rajasthan, Jodhpur. About 3-4 kms before you enter you would see the mighty mehrangarh fort towering over the city.
Founded in 1456 by Rao Jodha, the city of Jodhpur is also known as the Sun City on account of the high number of days that it gets Sunshine. When you leave for your visit to the Mehrangarh fort, wear comfortable walking shoes with grip, you would need them.
The Mehrangarh fort towers over the city of jodhpur, located 122 metres above the city on a hill, you would either have a long walk up or you could take an Elevator on extra payment and save your energy which you may well need later.
In the Words of Jackie Kennedy, “If there was to be an 8th Wonder in the World it would be the Mehrangarh fort”. The fort offers you spectacular views of the City and Umaid Bhawan Palace, the erstwhile residence of the Maharajas of Jodhpur, now in parts the Royal Residence and in part a Luxury Hotel.
The rulers of Jodhpur did not really need another palace, but since the region was experiencing severe drought which left a vast majority of Population unemployed, the then Maharaja Umaid Singh commissioned the Umaid Bhawan Palace to provide employment to his population and ended up building the largest private residence in the world.
Another thing one would notice that a vast majority of houses are painted Indigo Blue, this has nothing to do with Caste system as some accounts suggest, but instead is more because of the weather conditions which makes the houses cool and the Indigo helps keeps the mosquitoes away.
The fort itself showcases artefacts collected over 100s of years, As one visits the Fort museum one can only marvel at the life these rulers lived.
The fort would take better part of 90-120 minutes to cover, once you are done with the fort and are wearing sensible walking shoes and not averse to walking (Steep descent is involved) then you would be treated to one of the most amazing Old cities in Rajasthan.
You start the walk from the Fort itself, the same passage which has been used by millions since 1456, pass through the houses of people whose families have lived here since the city was founded and after a good 20 minutes of this amazing experience you end up in the Sardar Market, the main square, towards late evening this has a life of its own, From a roadside dentist to everything and anything you can think of for your daily life is being sold here.
This is also the perfect place to buy spices, there are a lot of shops that sell spices, but I have had the best feedback from MV Spices (Google link attached) I knew MV when he used to mix them himself and sell them on a push cart, after his death his daughter took over and what I have heard is that she has done a fantastic job of maintaining quality and quantity.
Spend as much time as you can in this old city market as there would not be anything like it anywhere else. It is kind of a blend of the Bazaar in Marakkesh and Khan el Khalili in Cairo but only more colourful and vibrant.
1 night does suffice in Jodhpur unless you are staying at Umaid Bhawan in which case 2 Nights are needed to do justice to your visit.
In this case I recommend not doing anything much on Day 01 just arriving and relaxing and on Day 02, Start your Day with a Jeep Safari visiting the nearby Bishnoi Villages and visiting the fort in the afternoon as described above.
Bishnoi = 20 (Bees / Twenty)+9 (Nau/ Nine)= 29.
Travelling from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur you would have seen lots of people in white coloured turbans, these are Bishnoi, they follow the 29 percepts of their guru and hence are referred to as Bishnois. Of the 29 percepts ten are directed towards personal hygiene and maintaining good basic health, seven for healthy social behaviour, and four tenets to the worship of God. Eight tenets have been prescribed to preserve bio-diversity and encourage good animal husbandry.
So depending upon your choice you could do 1 or 2 nights in Jodhpur. If you are doing 1 night leave Jaisalmer by 0700 hours else you could afford to leave a little later.
From Jodhpur you have a Choice go straight to Udaipur or if Jainism interests you and you wish to see exquisite architecture with work that defies imagination then visit Mt.Abu first and spend at least 1 night there before heading over to Udaipur.
Do note that the Dilwara Temples only open at 12 Noon till 1800 and don’t allow Photography or Videos.
If you plan on visiting Mt. Abu the I recommend depart Jodhpur at 7 AM. Once you arrive at Mt. Abu visit the temples that very afternoon itself. (remember they open at 12 noon and stay open till 1800)
Dilwara Temples would take you around 2-3 hours to visit. Late afternoon I would suggest you visit the area around Nakki Lake and find a good spot for enjoying the Sunset.
1 Night would be enough for you if you time it right. The next day you will drive to Udaipur.
If you are not visiting Mt. Abu but driving straight to Udaipur you would first be visiting Ranakpur temples along the way, these are Jain Temples, known for the exquisite architecture specially the carvings on Marble.
Ranakpur allows for photography and Videos to be shot. Once you have visited the Ranakpur temple then you would cross the Leopard region called Kumbalgarh National Park and continue to Udaipur.
Udaipur best described as the city of lakes, was founded in 1559 along the banks of Lake Pichola, apart from Lake Pichola there are 6 more lakes in and around the city.
Due to its location in the Aravalli Hills and the lakes it is also referred to as the Romantic city. To do justice to Udaipur one needs to spend at least 2 nights here.
The Majestic Old city, the city Palace, the Lake Palace (Luxury Hotel in the middle of Lake Pichola) all add to the beauty of the City. To best appreciate and enjoy the city one should plan to spend the first afternoon (if time permits) exploring the Old city basically the area around Jagdish Mandir.
Though touristy but it still offers you an insight into the life. There are lots of small cafes around where one could sit for hours and enjoy the Sun set overlooking the Lake Pichola.
The next day start your day with a visit to the City Palace Museum, the construction of which started in 1559 and was built over the next 400 years, Inside you will find a fusion of Hindu and Mughal style of architecture depending upon who built what part and what they liked in terms of style. One courtyard would lead to next and one does not know what to expect as one exits one and enters another one.
Exploring the city palace is a wonderful experience and shows us the grandeur of the bygone era. From City Palace you should visit the Jagdish Temple, the same area where I had recommended you spend some time the day before and visit the temple itself which has really beautiful architecture.
From here you should head on over to the Garden of the Maidens, Sahelion Ki Baari, this garden was primarily built as a Picnic spot for the royal women where they could come and enjoy themselves, with lots of fountains they could have a feeling of being in paradise.
The Gardens are located at a lower level than nearby lake and pipes had been laid in such a manner that all the fountains etc worked on the pressure system, the water from the lake would flow down at speed and this would power all the fountains.
Post lunch one should do a boat ride on the lake pichola, This would give you an opportunity to see the city from the lake and adds a completely different perspective to the city. During the boat ride you would also have an opportunity to visit the jag mandir, the second island on the lake where once the builder of Taj Mahal spent time along with his wife when he was in exile.
2 Nights are a minimum here to enjoy the city and if you are once again someone who like to take it at a leisurely pace you could even spend longer here.
Udaipur has fantastic hotels and these in turn offer a lot. It would be the perfect destination to unwind before your onward Journey. From Udaipur you could fly to Mumbai or Delhi and then fly out of India or even extend your stay further by visiting one of the many beaches or explore Ayurveda.
This journey depending upon how you choose to pace yourself, could be between 14-18 days but what it offers in terms of History and Culture is more than what any other destination can in such a short time.
Leverage my 3 decades plus of expeience as a Traveller and let me help you craft the perfect Itinerary for your Trip. This would be made in Consultation with you and would help you maximise your time in India.
If after that you wish to have it booked, I would get it booked for you locally which would
A) give you a Huge price advantage 15-20% cheaper than what you would pay in your Country.
B) You will benefit from last minute upgrade deals that are made available locally.
If you are searching for best Places to visit in India and have zeroed in on North India and the area of Interest is Culture