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21 Things to Do in Rajasthan

David Pettitt

Rajasthan is one of India’s best known regions. This princely state is a place of great antiquity, culture, culinary traditions and wildlife which draws visitors from all over the world. Whether wishing to explore one of Rajasthan’s magnificent forts, shop in some of India’s most authentic bazaars, ride an atmospheric local train or search for tiger and leopard in a national park, these are 21 of the best things to do in Rajasthan.

1. Explore Mehrangarh Fort and Jodhpur’s picturesque old town

The mighty Meherangarh Fort which towers above the picturesque blue-hued homes of Jodhpur’s old town is one of Rajasthan’s most arresting sights. This magnificent fortified structure is protected by the surrounding Thar Desert by a huge curtain wall, fortified towers and grand entrance gateways and is visible from almost every point in the city. It houses a number of palaces, temples and royal apartments. Away from the fort, visit bustling Sadar Bazaar and the textile and handicraft shops of Jodhpur’s atmospheric old city.

Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan

2. Search for tiger in Ranthambore National Park

Ranthambore is famous the world over and is Rajasthan’s premier wildlife park. One of the original Project Tiger reserves, Ranthambore is at the forefront of India’s conservation efforts and remains one of the best places in the country to see tiger. Centred on a fort and spread across the heavily wooded Aravalli and Vindhya hills, this attractive reserve is a perfect wildlife haven. Although the opportunity to see tiger is the biggest draw, the reserve supports a wide range of birds and mammals including leopard, hyena and sambar, chital, nilgai and crocodile.

Tiger at Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan

3. Spend a night in one of Rajasthan’s historic forts

Ruled for centuries by a series of wealthy royal families, there are no shortage of astonishing forts to be found in Rajasthan. Over the years, many have opened their doors to guests with more still owned and run by descendants of the original families. Bhainsrorgarh Fort is one such example where the family not only act as hosts but also show guests the surrounding area. Located south-west of Kota and nearly 300 years old, the fort sits at the centre of its own rural village and occupies a prominent position above the Chambal River making it the perfect place to experience rural Rajasthan.

Bhainsrorgarh Fort Hotel overlooking a river in Rajasthan

4. Master how to make authentic Rajasthani food

A highlight of any visit to India is the food and Rajasthan is one of the gastronomic centres of the country. For those wishing to gain some hands-on experience, Dera Mandawa, a charming 130 year old heritage hotel in Jaipur, offers an excellent one-off cookery lesson focussed on authentic and easy to cook Rajasthani recipes. Head to a local market to buy the vegetables and spices then learn how to turn these in to a range of different dishes under the watchful eye of one of the Mandawa family, ending with the chance to try what you have made!

Colourful spices at a market in India

5. Visit the remote fortified desert city of Jaisalmer

Medieval Jaisalmer is one of Rajasthan’s most memorable cities. Shimmering like a mirage in the great Thar Desert, Jaisalmer dates to the 12th century and grew to become an important staging point on the ancient trade routes that criss-crossed the region. Trade brought great wealth and an affluent merchant class who adorned the city with beautiful haveli homes and grand temples. The main walled city has changed little over the centuries and the narrow streets, exquisitely carved havelis and ancient temples are evocative and atmospheric and a joy to explore.

View of Jaisalmer Fort in Rajasthan

6. Stay in a UNESCO World Heritage Site

There are very few places in the world where you can stay in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One such place is Ranvas which is located in a section of the impressive 12th century Ahhichatragarh Fort. Rooms are in a series of havelis built for the sixteen wives of the 18th century Maharaja Bakht Singh and are beautifully decorated, however, it is the setting which makes Ranvas such a special and unique place to stay. Ahhichatragarh is a masterpiece of fort design and the sympathetic two-decade long restoration also uncovered some of Rajasthan’s finest frescoes.

Historic architecture of Ranvas in Rajasthan

7. Take a cycle tour through the old lanes of Udaipur

A cycle tour is an excellent way to gain a different perspective of an Indian city. One of the best places in Rajasthan for this is Udaipur which has a compact historic centre. The old city has numerous temples, havelis and markets and cycling allows you to encounter a wide-range of different experiences and to really get under the skin of the city. You will have your own guide, helmets and bottled water are provided and the cycling is not strenuous. Highlights include the Clock Tower and jewellery bazaar, the colourful vegetable and spice market and the City Palace complex.

Lake Pichola and the City Palace complex in Udaipur India

8. Discover Jaipur’s bazaars and unearth its craft heritage

Jaipur is celebrated throughout India for its arts and crafts. During Jaipur’s history distinguished citizens have encouraged and sponsored the city’s craftsmen and artisans, a tradition that has continued to the modern day. Traditional methods continue to be used to produce many valued and highly prized items with skills passed down from generation to generation. Head on foot through the lanes of Jaipur’s old city to discover Jaipur’s artistic heritage in the workshops of bangle makers, gold and silver casters, book binders, gemstone traders and foil makers.

Old man sitting in his shop in India

9. Visit one of Rajasthan’s ancient tribes

The Bishnoi community are one of the ancient tribes of Rajasthan. Desert dwellers, the Bishnoi predominately reside in the Thar Desert of central Rajasthan in small villages and farming communities. A 500 year old Hindu religious sect, the Bishnoi aim to live in harmony not only with each other but also with their environment, following a series of 29 rules that, in part, protect nature and wildlife. Nature is worshipped in all its manifestations – women suckle motherless deer, they have died to save trees and will go hungry to provide food for animals.

Bishnoi villagers in red saris attending their crops in rural Rajasthan

Photo credit: Kandukuru Nagarjun

10. Bird watch at the reserve of Bharatpur

Bharatpur is the location of the Keoladeo National Park which is one of the leading bird sanctuaries in the world. Originally a hunting estate for the Maharaja of Bharatpur, today the reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to over 360 species of bird including large numbers of aquatic birds that overwinter from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia. Many local migrants such as storks, spoonbills and egrets come to the park to breed between July and October whilst from October onwards birds from further afield start to arrive at the reserve.

A blue and orange coloured Indian roller in a national park in India

11. Experience rural Rajasthani life in a small homestay

There is no better way to obtain a true understanding of everyday life in Rajasthan than to spend a few days at a small rural homestay. One of the best is Shahpura Bagh, a delightful and comfortable 400 year old family home set in 30 acres of garden and pasture land that was originally granted to the family by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan. Shahpura Bagh is located in the small market town of Shahpura, roughly midway between Jaipur and Udaipur. Spend your time here on walks or cycle rides, visit the town or explore a neighbouring 17th century fort.

view of Shahpura Bagh in Rajasthan

12. Visit Rajasthan’s finest Jain temple complex

Temple aficionados will immediately be drawn to Ranakpur which is home to arguably the finest temples in Rajasthan. Belonging to the Jain religion, the site at Ranakpur dates to the early 15th century. The undoubted highlight of the complex is the towering Adinatha Temple which is symmetrically planned around a central shrine and has numerous spires, gateways and porches all beautifully proportioned and delicately carved. The interior of the temple is supported by 1,444 exquisitely engraved pillars, each one unique to the next and featuring intricate designs.

Marble spires of the Ranakpur Temples in Rajasthan

13. Attend the atmospheric Pushkar Camel Fair

The small village of Pushkar is the location of Rajasthan’s best known livestock fair. Held annually each November, the fair attracts traders and pilgrims from far and wide who gather for several days of horse dealing, livestock trading, camel racing, food, music and dance. The scene on the dunes is good natured but busy and chaotic, with stall holders, performers, itinerant musicians and street vendors all vying for business. There is also a religious aspect to the fair and on the final night, in the light of the full moon, pilgrims gather to bathe in Pushkar’s holy lake.

Sunset at the Pushkar Fair in Rajasthan

Photo credit: Koshy Koshy

14. Take a memorable journey on a local train

Most visitors to India wish to experience a train journey. Carrying 8 billion passengers a year and with over 75,000 miles of track, India has the fourth largest rail network in the world so the possibilities are almost endless. The majority will most likely only encounter one of the excellent express services that link India’s major cities or board one of the iconic hill railways, however, for those looking for something more adventurous a journey on a regional local train can be arranged. One of the best can be taken from the small rural town of Deogarh where the line and equipment date from 1923.

Busy train station in India

15. Discover the beautiful havelis of Shekhawati

The charming market town of Mandawa sits at the heart of the Shekhavati region of northwest Rajasthan. This area is known for the splendid examples of its haveli architecture, historic traditional homes with large interior courtyards and decorative frescoes. Although many Rajasthani towns and cities have havelis, Shekhavati, and Mandawa in particular, have the greatest proportion of these buildings in the best condition. Murals depict local life and show the historic wealth of the region and there are also a number of grand temples and monumental stepwells to visit too.

Traditional Shekhawati haveli with stencilled designs in Rajasthan

16. Learn about Rajasthan’s nomadic camel herders

Historically camels played an integral role in pastoral Rajasthani life. Over the centuries many communities throughout the region led nomadic lives and the camel was a mainstay of this – ideally suited to the climate and providing sustenance to its population. Although in modern day India the importance of the camel has diminished, for those wishing to know more about the camel’s role in Rajasthani society, a visit to the LPPS Camel Conservation Centre can be arranged. Here it is possible to see camels being milked, the milk being delivered to the dairy and how it is processed.

Man in orange turban with his herd of camels in Rajasthan

17. Visit Rajasthan’s only hill station

Mount Abu is the sole hill station in Rajasthan. Set along a wooded ridge far from the sun-scorched plains of Rajasthan and Gujarat and a morning’s drive from Udaipur, Mount Abu remains a popular retreat for those wishing to escape high summer temperatures. Mount Abu is also close to the beautiful Jain temples at Dilwara which are known for their intricate marble carvings and attract pilgrims from across India and the 9th century Shiva Temple of Achaleshwar. For the more active, there are a number of lovely countryside walks in and around the town.

Sunlight streaming through trees in Mount Abu, Rajasthan

Photo credit: Antoine Gady

18. Stay in one of India’s finest tented camps

The thirteen elegant tents of Chhatra Sagar provide some of the most memorable accommodation in Rajasthan. The tents are pitched on a dam overlooking a lake that is noted for its birdlife and guests are looked after by the welcoming Nimaj family. Each individual tent has fixed bathrooms, a small dressing room and a veranda from which there are exceptional, uninterrupted views. Due to its location, surrounded by farmland and small villages, a stay at Chhatra Sagar allows guests to experience rural Rajasthan in a way that few other properties allow.

The tented camp of Chhatra Sagar in Rajasthan

19. Search for Rajasthan’s rare and elusive leopard

Few people realise that the Aravalli Hills are one of the best places in Rajasthan to see leopard. A remote wilderness area of craggy granite rock formations, caves, wooded hills and dry riverbeds, the Aravallis provide a perfect habitat for leopard. Search for these elusive big cats with experienced trackers and drivers and spend time at one of western Rajasthan’s largest reservoirs which attracts a large number of different migratory birds. This region is also home to nomadic Rabari herdsmen who have inhabited this landscape for centuries.

A leopard on a track at a national park in India

20. Explore Rajasthan in comfort aboard a luxury private train

Travelling by private luxury train is a unique way to see and experience Rajasthan. Two of the best known of Rajasthan’s luxury trains are the Palace on Wheels and the Maharajas Express – the former an established and famous service, the latter a more recent, but equally upscale, introduction. Both trains offer week-long journeys from Delhi and cover all the main forts, palaces, wildlife reserves and religious sites including Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park, Udaipur and Agra. Alternative Maharajas Express departures also incorporate Gwalior, Khajuraho, Varanasi and Lucknow.

Interior of a cabin onboard the luxurious Palace on Wheels train in Rajasthan

Photo credit: Royal Indian Trains

21. Visit the extraordinary rat temple at Deshnoke

Arguably Rajasthan’s most unique religious complex, the Karni Mata Mandir Temple at Deshnoke is better known throughout the subcontinent as the ‘rat temple’. Dedicated to a 15th century female mystic called Karniji who was worshipped as an incarnation of Durga, mice and rats are encouraged, looked after and fed with sweets and milk in the belief that they are reincarnated saints. The temple itself dates to the 1600s and has enormous sliver gates and beautiful white marble façade carvings added by Ganga Singh at the turn of the 20th century.

Rats drinking a holy offering of milk at the Karni Mata Temple in Deshnoke, Rajasthan

Photo credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbera

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