When people think of India they often think of Maharajahs, majestic forts, romantic palaces, mustachioed turban wearing gentleman, elephants…...the list goes on. To me, there is only one Indian state that truly captures these exotic preconceptions, and one that should be on every first time visitor’s itinerary, and that’s Rajasthan.
When I first visited India over 20 years ago, I spent a lot of time travelling the length and breadth of Rajasthan. I fell in love with the place - the riot of colour, the vibrancy, the food, the smells, the people, the culture - everything about it was different to any other place I had ever experienced.
So when I planned a return to India recently with the Hubby, Rajasthan was always going to be top of the list. 20 years ago, the luggage was a rucksack, my budget was about £5 a day and the accommodation was, shall we say, a little basic. This time I was geared up with matching luggage, heading to hip hotels and the Hubby had loosened the purse strings (a bit) - the way I was travelling had changed, but would Rajasthan still be the same?The first thing I noticed on returning is how the cities have sprawled and the traffic was even more deafening and manic than I ever remembered; drivers hurtle down either side of the road undertaking and overtaking, hand on horn, only diverting from oncoming traffic when they’re seconds from death.
The tourist numbers have also increased. Back in the day, Rajasthan really was more for the backpacker and the avid traveller; now the place is full of families looking to experience a different type of holiday. In terms of the tourist, Rajasthan has definitely changed to reflect the way India has developed. This is the place for luxurious accommodation at its best: Maharaja’s palaces all faded on the outside but chic and stylish on the inside and complete with Armani clad staff; funky cubes in the desert; glitzy purpose built resorts that are made to shimmer like diamonds; and serene tented camps where you hear nothing but bird song.
But the real Rajasthan, the beauty, the culture, the heritage is still there. The rawness that I fell in love with 20 years ago exists on the streets and life goes on as normal with no airs and graces put on for the tourist: colourful fruit and vegetable stalls jostle with blood stained animal carcasses drying out in the sun; brightly coloured sari clad ladies toil in the fields or carry bags of rocks on their heads; children play on the streets under a criss cross of electrical wires and crumbling buildings; and then there’s the overpowering scents and stenches. A trip to Rajasthan will open your eyes but this is a land of smiles and people are proud of where they live and are happy to share it with you.
In terms of sights, Rajasthan has it all from architectural pleasures: Jaipur’s Palace of the Winds and Amber Fort; the majestic Mehrangarh Fort which looms over Jodhpur (which by the way has one of the best audio tours I’ve ever taken); the romantic Lake Palace in Udaipur and the amazing Jain temples at Ranakpur. Then there’s the wildlife of Ranthambore where you can try to spot tigers (we unfortunately didn’t but could sense their prowling presence) and the vast Thar Desert where it’s possible to escape the hustle and bustle of city living and truly have peace and quiet (a rarity in India).
I read somewhere that in India, if you haven’t seen 10 amazing things before 11am you’ve had a lie in - I’m glad to say in Rajasthan it’s as true today as it was 20 years ago.
The Hubby and I travelled from Delhi to the game reserve of Ranthambore, on to Jaipur, Jodphur, the Thar Desert, Udaipur and down to the beaches and backwaters of Kerala.
If you want to experience something a little different for your next holiday and would like to take a dip into India then please contact me - I can design a bespoke and truly special itinerary for you.
(Images: The Hubby and me)