Cities In Rajasthan
The capital of Rajasthan is universally known as the ‘Pink City’ due to the colour of the buildings in the old part of the city. This colour was chosen in honour of a visit by British royalty in the 1860s and has remained in vogue ever since. The area inside the walls of the Old City is arguably one of the most interesting market areas in all of India and time wandering around in the labyrinth of lanes, alleys and bazaars is a highlight of most people’s visit to Jaipur.
Major landmarks and sightseeing highlights in and around Jaipur are plentiful. Amber Fort on the city’s northern fringe is often the first fort people encounter while touring Rajasthan and it is truly an amazing sight, perched high above the valley floor on an imposing ridge.
The City Palace, still occupied by the descendants of Jaipur’s last maharaja, is another popular place with visitors, and hints at the opulence and sumptuous lifestyle which was the preserve of the rulers of much of India prior to independence. Among the unlikely objects to be found in the Palace’s myriad rooms and courtyards are two massive silver water-carrying vessels, touted as the largest such containers ever made. It is worth contemplating when you drink bottled water in Jaipur that over a century ago, the maharaja of Jaipur took his own water with him in these vessels during a journey to Britain, fearing that the water there would make him unwell!
Opposite the City Palace is the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory which dates from the 18th century and houses a selection of weird and wonderful time pieces (including the world’s largest and most accurate sundial)- this is truly one of the quirky highlights of Jaipur. A local tip is that the kulfi (cardamom flavoured buttermilk ice cream) which is sold in the streets around the City Palace is probably the best in India. Many people shy away from ‘street food’ and this is probably wise if you have a sensitive stomach, but if anything can be said to be “worth the risk” Jaipur kulfi would top the list!
While the other main cities of Rajasthan are often nicknamed due to a predominant colour, Udaipur prefers instead to dub itself as India’s Most Romantic City. While this is open to conjecture, the description of Udaipur as the most picturesque city in India would take some refuting.
The Old City is built around the shores of manmade Lake Pichola and the iconic Lake Palace Hotel sits in the middle of the Lake- this is a real postcard view and one of India’s most photographed sights. Udaipur’s City Palace dominates the skyline above the Old City- this vast 5 storey building hides many secrets in its mazelike interior and some of the rooms are staggeringly ornate examples of just how over-the-top some of the former rulers of India’s princely states could be in terms of style. Udaipur’s old city and markets are not quite as diverse as those in Jaipur but it is definitely worth exploring here too- the city is well known for the quality of the work produced by its silversmiths and, more famously, the style of miniature painting which developed here in the heyday of the Rajputs.
For fans of James Bond, Udaipur holds a special place as being the main location for the film Octopussy, shot here in the early 1980s. This remains a matter of (evidently) huge civic pride in Udaipur and there are still many restaurants which show the film nightly to entertain their diners. For something a bit more ‘traditional’, Udaipur has many superb restaurants on terraces overlooking Lake Pichola- a meal or a drink with a view of the shimmering lights of the city is quite unforgettable (and the entertainment is more what you’d expect too- Udaipur is famous for its classical music.
Jodhpur – the Blue City (take note- apparently Rajasthani mosquitoes are repelled by a light blue colour, hence the dominant hue of buildings in Jodhpur) – is another wonderful place to linger for a day or two during your sojourn. The city is dominated by the colossal Meherangarh Fort – it could hardly have been better positioned by its 15th century founders, sitting as it does on atop a long, steep-sided ridge with commanding views in all directions.
Still under the control of the royal family of Jodhpur, Meherangarh gives one of the best impressions of how a fort looked and operated during its heyday. Beyond this monstrous fort, the old city of Jodhpur is a fascinating place and its spice and textile markets are a true feast for the senses.
Jaisalmer is India’s equivalent of a Wild West frontier town- standing in splendid isolation in the midst of the vast Tahr Desert with sand dunes stretching to every horizon. The atmosphere in Jaisalmer is quite different to that of anywhere else in Rajasthan. The Fort here is often likened to a giant sand castle and its ochre-yellow colour gives rise to the nickname of Jaisalmer – the Golden City.
One very unique thing about the Jaisalmer Fort is that it is a ‘living fort’- implying that it is not just a monument but a ‘town-within-a-city’ and supports a substantial permanent population. It is worth noting that the major downside of this is that many hotels and business exist inside the fort- the strain this puts on the ancient plumbing (in particular) is massive and is causing the Fort to deteriorate. For this reason we don’t offer accommodation inside the Fort. Jaisalmer grew during the early part of the last millennium as an important rest point on the ancient Silk Road from Central Asia to Europe and was always something of an outpost in the desert.
The modern highways to and from Jaisalmer (Bikaner and Jodhpur are the two nearest major centres) are excellent and although the distances are large the journeys are very comfortable. Which is perhaps more than can be said for riding a camel into the sand dunes around Jaisalmer- to many people this is an unmissable part of the experience of coming here, while others will find the idea of spending time bouncing around in the desert perched on a camel’s hump to be something to be avoided at all costs! Jaisalmer is the centre for camel safaris in Rajasthan- rides of anything from an hour (to see a spectacular desert sunset in the dunes) up to multi-night camping safaris are possible. We recommend a short ride before you sign on for anything longer- the somewhat unusual gait of the camel makes riding one a unique experience indeed!
Bikaner is the least visited of Rajasthan’s major cities but that is not to say it is any less interesting than the others mentioned above. India the relative lack of tourists makes for more genuine interactions with local people and more opportunities to experience the ‘real’ India up close.
The 3 most well known sights in Bikaner are its Fort, Camel Breeding Centre and, nearby at Deshnok, the (in)famous Karnimata Rat Temple. But perhaps the best thing of all about Bikaner is the Old City area, alive with traders and shoppers but remarkably unaffected by tourism.
There are also some truly spectacular heritage accommodation options in Bikaner.