rajasthan-india

Along the north-western edge of India on the border of Pakistan, Rajasthan is often referred to as “the land of kings”. The country’s largest state, it’s a vivid fuchsia and marigold-tinged jewellery box, scattered with romantic remnants of epic sandcastle forts, crumbling havelis, fairy-tale palaces and throbbing pastel-coloured cities. Set against an evocative backdrop of wild desert scenery and jungles, where leopards and tigers still roam free, it is not surprising that this must-visit destination has earned a place on most travellers’ wish lists.

Jaisalmer

In the midst of the great Thar Desert on the westernmost edge of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer – also called The Golden City for its span of sandstone buildings that become the colour of honey as the sun sets – is known for its enchantingly ornate havelis, vibrant bazaars and a looming fort that rises magnificently from the sandy plains. Inside, its still-inhabited warren of narrow streets are lined with beautifully carved Jain temples and crumbling medieval buildings that house charming B&Bs, shops swathed in colourful textiles, fragrant restaurants and the private homes of about 4,000 residents.

While 4AM might seem like a ridiculous hour to wake up when you’re on holiday, getting to Jaisalmer in time for the sunrise is worth it. Similarly, a romantic camel ride along the rolling sand dunes at sunset is just as evocative.

WHERE TO STAY

The Serai

There’s no better place from which to venture into the vast desert landscape and the mesmerising sweep of Jaisalmer than from The Serai. Set over 100 acres of scrubby land about an hour east of the city, the property takes the royal caravan sites of Rajputana to new levels with a series of 21 luxury tented suites. The food benefits from its Relais & Châteaux connection and the hotel’s devotion to fresh, seasonal ingredients from its own garden.

Jodhpur

Rajasthan’s second-largest city, Jodhpur is presided over by the mighty Mehrangarh, an imposing, muscular fort and architectural masterpiece built in 1460. Head to the top for a bird’s eye-view of the Brahmin-blue city that begins at the base of the fort and sprawls out to the 16th-century city wall. Inside, a tangle of medieval streets are a chaotic cacophony of blaring motorbike horns, heady fragrances and throngs of people.

TO STAY

RAAS Jodhpur

The perfect location from which to delve in and out of the chaos of the city, you can’t get better views of Jodhpur’s imposing Mehrangarh than from RAAS. Located right at the base of the fort, the hotel is a hip conversion of an 18th-century haveli that seamlessly stitches together four original buildings and three new additions. While each room has a view of the fort, the best spot to enjoy it is from Darikhana, the first-floor al-fresco restaurant that serves up regional Rajasthani specialties.

Umaid Bhawan Palace

While there is no shortage of palace-style hotels in India, Umaid Bhawan Palace is the real deal, for a portion of it is still home to the Jodhpur royal family. The rest has been restored into a 65-room showstopper set within 26-acres of pristinely manicured private gardens. Perched high on a hill towards the outskirts of the city, it’s best to end your stay here because, once ensconced, you’ll never want to leave.

Pushkar

Thought to be one of the oldest settlements in India, Pushkar is a Hindu pilgrimage town that unfolds from a central holy lake and also has one of the world’s few Brahma temples. Away from the humming soundtrack of prayers, chanting and drums, the town is also famous for its annual camel fair, a colourful event where 200,000 or so visitors descend on the region for a riotous festival of camel trading, carnival rides and holy rituals.

Explore the holy town and the surrounding region on camel back by booking a safari, which can be anything from an hour to a full day’s excursion.

WHERE TO STAY

The Westin Pushkar Resort & Spa

Located on the outskirts of the city, the 98-room property is a calming oasis designed for outdoor living from the open-air lobby to the villas, which are equipped with a private plunge pool or outdoor balcony. A brand best-known for wellness, The Heavenly Spa with its seven treatment rooms is the perfect end to a day spent wandering around the bustling streets of Old Pushkar.

Udaipur

Udaipur is a former royal capital and arguably one of the most romantic destinations in the world. Magnificent palaces, temples, havelis and lively bazaars jostle against the sacred ghats that line the shimmering lake front, all backed by the rugged folds of the Aravalli Hills. One of the best ways to view Udaipur’s glassy lakes is from above. Sign up for a hot air balloon ride for a thrilling and unique perspective.

TO STAY

RAAS Devigarh

The palace to end all palaces, RAAS Devigarh is one of those hotels that will remain in your memory forever. Located about half an hour from Udaipur, it is far from the madding crowd, but close enough for excursive strikes to the city’s famed landmarks. If you’re struggling to tear yourself away from four-walled luxury, assuage any guilt by taking it all in from the balcony of your minimalist suite.

Taj Lake Palace

Built in 1740 as a summer retreat, the Taj Lake Palace floats on the calm surface of Lake Pichola. And while the location is unconventional, this is a Taj Hotel, which means rooms – many with private balconies – are modern with all the prerequisite bells and whistles from air conditioning to satellite television.

Jaipur

Rajasthan’s capital city is an intoxicating mix of old and new, where wide streets are colourfully chaotic thanks to mopeds, buses, rickshaws, people and camels. At the city’s heart, the City Palace is still home to the former royal family and, away from the mayhem, on the outskirts, is the magnificent Amber Fort – the Pink City’s crown jewel.

A walking tour through the old city is the best way to discover Jaipur’s gems, such as the Palace of the Winds and the City Palace.

TO STAY

Sujan Rajmahal Palace

The former home of the Jaipur royal family, this property has now been meticulously restored to feature bold wallpapers – inspired by the stone carvings that embellish the forts, palaces and havelis in the region – that enhance the original details such as the tall bay windows, grand marble staircase and elaborate chandeliers. Don’t miss out on breakfast in 51 Shades of Pink, a cheerful and vivacious room inspired by rosy-hued city.

Alila Fort Bishangarh

A decade in the making, this hotel sits in one of the few warrior forts to be transformed into a heritage resort. Perched on top of a granite hillock, with surrounding views of the arid Rajasthani landscape, the property is a unique getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city, but close enough for day jaunts to Jaipur’s famous landmarks.

Amanbagh

Among the rolling Aravalli Hills, Amanbagh sits within the grounds of the former campsite for royal tiger hunts. Now re-shaped into a modern Mughal Palace, with daily pool-side yoga sessions, a spa offering Ayurvedic treatments and Sariska National Park on its doorstep, this hotel is a true getaway.

Ranthambore

Once a hunting ground of the Maharajas of Jaipur, today Ranthambore National Park is the best place to spot wild tigers. Set over 1334 sq km of jungle, bordered by hefty ridges, the park features the central 10th-century Ranthambore Fort with ancient temples, mosques and crumbling hunting pavilions scattered around it. Take the time to visit the fortification – now a UNESCO World Heritage site – worth it for the sweeping widespread vistas of the park.

TO STAY

Aman-i-Khas

On the edge of Rajasthan’s Ranthambore National Park, Aman-i-Khas is an intimate, secluded haven of just 10 canopied Mughal-style tents. Taking the lavish history of Maharaja’s hunting parties to new heights with deep sandstone soaking tubs; a tented spa with Ayurvedic oil massages; and a private butler to boot, the property is the ideal base for tiger-spotting jaunts to the park.

 

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