Rajasthan’s opulent capital is a magical land brimming with desert camps and lakeside palaces. Sitting on the edge of the Thar desert and surrounded by the Aravali hills, the Pink City boasts of hilltop forts, bustling bazaars and the best pyaaz kachoris you’ll ever taste. Among the places to visit in Jaipur, the grandiose pink sandstone Palace of Winds, or Hawa Mahal, towering over the hustling streetscapes and the majestic City Palace are the ones attracting the most tourists. The 18th century old astronomical observatory of Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is a UNESCO world heritage site and a major tourist attraction. Perched proudly on the top of a hill is Amber Fort, dating back to the 16th century. The red sandstone structure houses palaces, temples, gardens and a lake inside its premises. One of the most favoured things to do in Jaipur is to walk through the lively Bapu Bazaar, and come out with bags stocked with bandhani-printed sarees, lac bangles, meenakari trinkets and blue pottery. And while you’re at it, shop for some string puppets or kathputlis that make for some excellent souvenirs. Galtaji temple, also called the Monkey Temple, is another must visit. If your eyes just can't get enough, visit Amber Fort, which has its own 600-year-old story to narrate, through its spectacular light and sound shows, cultural performances and folk music. Rajasthani tailored clothes, jewellery and handicrafts are a huge hit as souvenirs, for their exquisite mirror work, embroidery, leather and splashes of colour. Some famous places this illustrious workmanship can be bought from are Rajasthali, Anokhi, Johari bazaar and Sireh Deori Bazaar, but remember to bargain. Central Museum and Albert Hall museum are great places to learn about Rajasthan's rich history and culture and also to buy handicrafts. The Jaipur Literature Festival, the world's largest free literature festival, is dear to almost every bibliophile around the globe. Here, enjoy literature and music, amidst the likes of William Dalrymple, Stephen Fry and many other renowned writers and personalities. The 5-day festival is hosted in Diggi Palace, which gives people around the world an insight into Rajasthan's captivating cultural heritage. For those interested in pampering their palates with the flavourful Rajasthani cuisine against the backdrop of a picturesque village should visit Chokhni Dani. For a regal experience, a stay at the Suvarna Mahal is a must visit.
Udaipur beckons tourists from all over the world with its romantic landscapes and ethereal monuments. Bordered by the crags of the hazy Aravallis, the city that was established in the 16th century by Maharaja Udai Singh, is now a major heritage tourism hotspot for India. With a seductive old-warm charm, opulent palaces and lively bazaars, tourists will never run out of places to visit in Udaipur. Some enchanting attractions in the city include the filigreed walls of Bada Mahal, the mountain pass of Haldighati, the lavish gardens of Saheliyon ki Bari and the placid waters of the Jaisamand Lake. The shimmering Lake Pichola hosts numerous things to do in Udaipur, such as a boat ride through the lake to the Jag Mandir Palace, from which you can witness the most stunning sunset. For those with a penchant for automobiles, the Vintage Car Museum in the Garden Hotel, hosts a fantastic exhibit of vintage vehicles. Udaipur's cuisine comprises of Rajasthani staples such as the flavoursome dal baati choorma and gatte ki sabzi. Popular eateries here include Chandni, Ambrai, Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel, Lotus Cafe and Mayur Rooftop Cafe. Hotels are easily available in Udaipur, and several retain their old world feel.
Popular, colourful and culturally rich, Jodhpur is one of Rajasthan's most beautiful cities. It is also known as the Sun City of India and is said to have been built in the 15th century by a Rao Jodha. This city was earlier known as Marwar and is currently the second largest city of Rajasthan. From the stunning Mehrangarh Fort (from where you can see the stunning blue city), Umaid Bhavan Palace to the bustling Sardar Market, there is tons to do and explore in this touristy city. If you like your holidays to be quiet and laidback, Jodhpur may not be for you – atleast for the first couple of days. There is too much to keep you busy. Like almost all cities in Rajasthan, there are historical forts and palaces to explore and admire. Do carry a scarf and water for your afternoon expeditions should the heat tire you out. There are also umpteen restaurants and small cafes in Jodhpur which offer you delicious food and are also very welcoming. Jodhpur is also a great place to meet like-minded travellers. Jodhpur is well connected to all the major cities of the country via rail, road and air.
Mount Abu is the only hill station in the deserts of Rajasthan. Among forts and palaces, this quiet hill station is quite popular with local tourists as well as visitors from across the country. A place of great religious reverence to the Jain community, the Dilwara Jain Temple is a set of five temples, all belonging to a different century. The temples are carved out of white marble and depict scenes of Gods and Goddesses and are a must visit for their architectural brilliance. You can also spend a day at Nakki Lake. Lying in the hills, this lovely lake offers boating opportunities to visitors. The Mount Abu Wildlife Sanctuary is another wonderful way to spend your time on this hill station and can take up your entire day, so do keep yourself free. For trekkers and adventure enthusiasts, the Guru Shikhar is the highest peak in the region and trekking here is a memorable and adventurous experience, though if you aren't an experienced trekker, you may need a little help! There are numerous hotels and guesthouses here, though depending on the type of traveller you are, it might be a good idea to do a little bit of research before settling on a place to stay.
Situated close to the vibrant city of Jaipur, Alwar is a perfect weekend getaway. Home to the wonderful Sariska Tiger Reserve, the grand City Palace and the stunning Siliserh Lake, Alwar offers you a mix of history, architecture and nature. Though the Sariska Tiger Reserve is perhaps the best way to spend your time in Alwar, you can also spend a little time exploring the lake and Government Museum. When visiting the reserve, do book a safari in advance lest you miss out on a great slot. Early mornings and early evenings are the best way to explore the reserve. Boasting of tigers, including the Bengal Tiger, the reserve is home to the Indian Leopard, Indian Jackal, Sambhar and Wild Boars. Of course, you'll also spot monkeys making a ruckus and a crowd of Neelgais and that is quite fun to watch as well. Avoid eating anything while on the safari since it's a strict no. The Siliserh Lake is another lovely spot where you can indulge in a bit of boating and a delicious lunch. The food here is a bit on the expensive side but it's totally worth it. While here, you can also take a trip to City Palace. You may feel that there are tons of palaces around Rajasthan that are way more beautiful, but this one has its own charm. Away from the chaos of the main city, it offers you a respite from dilapidated, ill maintained forts. Do try food at one of the restaurants in the city. Not only is the food delicious, the hospitality is warm and adds to the meal.
The City of Rajputs, Bundi, maybe not as popular as other cities in Rajasthan, but nevertheless is no less captivating. The city is cloaked by hills on three sides and is home to a number of palaces and forts. It is believed to have got its name from a tribal head Bundi who called it ‘bunda ka nal’, which means narrow way. A monumental prodigy that has stood the test of time is the Garh Palace. The walls with contemporary paintings and manicured gardens make the palace or fort a spectacle in itself. The many stepwells or baoris inside display the strong engineering skills from centuries ago. The riveting wells go very deep and are considered to the primary form of harvesting rainwater. Raniji ki Baori is one of them with elegant tall pillars and beautiful carvings. The Taragarh Fort or the Star Fort is a colossal that has been stunning people with its architecture since the ancient past. Alongside the fort is the Bundi Palace that houses the many murals and frescoes. Hadoti Palace or Nawal Sagar Palace are perfect if you want a royal stay at Bundi. Neither are the streets of Bundi as choked as the other cities nor are the attractions crowded with tourists, making it just the quaint town you want for a relaxing trip. Namaste Cafe, Lakha and Kipling Cafe promise delectable meals to satiate your palate.
Day 1: New Delhi - Nasirabad - Pali - Abu road - Palanpur (810 km) The day before we were supposed to leave finally arrived, and Aarti woke up with a terrible cold and cough! At that moment it seemed as if this trip was not meant to be. Still, we were determined to go, and Aarti took the day off to rest and be in a shape to travel the next day. As is tradition with us, we left early morning the next day at 4:15 am. We’d been warned by friends who’d left for a holiday in Rajasthan a few days before about early morning jams near Manesar. And half an hour after leaving, we found ourselves stuck royally in precisely such a jam right after IFFCO chowk. We tried to bypass some of it by taking a detour into the by-lanes of Gurgaon, but were unfortunately able to avoid only about 3 kms of the jam, the reason for which was a very long truck’s unsuccessful desire to take a U-turn in the middle of the highway! We managed to clear the jam by 6:15 am, and decided to stop at McDonald’s for breakfast before we actually started our journey. Finally, at 6:45 am, with our stomachs full and the jam behind us, we zoomed away! The NH 8 is in a terrible state, with work on in full swing to make it a six lane highway. Also, traffic was a lot, and thus our average speed was pretty less. We reached the cut for Ajmer at 9:45 am, and thereafter the road was as smooth as butter! To reduce time, we took the cut for Nasirabad instead of going through Ajmer. The left for Naisrabad goes further towards Chittaurgarh, which is currently the fastest way to reach Udaipur. After that, we took the right towards Mangaliyawas, and the State Highway was fantastic albeit narrow. With 4 laning of NH8 in progress, our average speed till Beawar was quite slow. As we took the right towards Pali, our stomachs started growling unbearably, and we broke for lunch at the Sendra Valley Resort. All in all, the 450 kms took us about 10 hours with only a half an hour break for breakfast. While our average speed initially was pathetic, the wonderful road after the Jaipur bypass more than compensated for it. All this while, Aarti was still feeling quite unwell, and hence had not driven at all. After we took a left from Barr towards Pali, the road till Sirohi is a decent two-laned highway with average speeds of 80 to 100 kmph. We reached Sirohi at sunset, and were bored of driving on straight roads since morning. Hence, we off-roaded a bit to settle our nerves, and carried on. As it started getting dark, the highway too turned beautiful as we approached Mount Abu. We’d scoured the map, and decided against our initial plan of staying the night at Mount Abu, and zeroed in instead on Palanpur as our night halt. When we finally caught the expressway at Jhadoli, we were in for a total treat! What roads! World class is an understatement. As we whizzed past several sleepy villages, we realized that we should have caught this expressway long back, and that even though it would have been a much longer route, the drive would have been effortless. We reached Palanpur, the diamond district, at 7:45 pm, and went straight to check out the two hotels Aarti had read about in the super book on Gujarat we’d bought – the India Guide on Gujarat. In half an hour, we’d checked into a decent hotel called Way Wait, and then proceeded to have a colourful, although average, Gujarati thali for dinner. As we ate, a disturbing thought that had occurred to me before the start of the trip suddenly became a harsh reality - chicken would definitely be in short supply on this trip! Thus our first day on the road came to an end. Aarti was still not feeling well, so we decided to rest properly the next day and leave late by about 11 am. In hindsight, I think we had taken a sub-optimal route. Upon our return, during a discussion in a thread with Tanveer (tsk1979) and Ramky (ramky1), it turned out that the best route towards the Little Rann of Kachchh would've been Delhi - Chittaurgarh - Udaipur - Ahmedabad - Little Rann of Kachchh. Although the distance would have increased by about a 100 km on this route, but better roads would've lead to eventually some saving on time and lesser risk of getting stuck in a bottle-neck.