Rajasthan is a large state with a lot of history. Among all of the states I have visited in India, traveling in Rajasthan has been the most intriguing thus far.
For an outsider, Rajasthan tourism is touted the most. The term “Golden Triangle” (ie. Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) has become part of everyday vocabulary for travellers interested in visiting India. So, the question that comes up is, where should you go? Is Jaipur good enough? Should you travel to Jaisalmer? Here are my thoughts based on my experiences, for whatever it is worth : ).
The list is sorta kinda from East to West as you travel in Rajasthan and not according to any type of ranking.
Amber/ Amer Fort – The most popular fort in Jaipur. It has elements of both Rajput and Mughal influence. The “Sheesh Mahal” is beautiful along with the large gateway (Ganesh Pol) that is adorned with beautiful paintings. The large courtyards give you a glimpse of what life might have been like when the fort was active. The ingenious air conditioning system within the fort demonstrates how people did manage to cope with unkind summers. The walls extending around the fort are impressive… you almost wish you had time to walk on the walls… although I am not sure if you are allowed to.
Impression – This fort is an UNESCO World Heritage site and it deserves the tag.
Other forts to visit if you have the time
Nahargarh Fort and Jaigarh Fort – These forts were on our list to visit but, traffic on the way to Amer Fort killed our available time and we could not visit. Would love to visit them sometime.
Chittorgarh Fort – Another fort which is an UNESCO World Heritage site. It seemed like there were fewer visitors at this fort. It is a large living fort (living in the sense many people live here). All of the sights are easily accessible by car, but, you do have to walk around to explore once you find a parking spot.
The fort contains beautiful temples, secret passages, and intriguing living quarters. For example, you can see Queen Padmini’s Palace from a distance as the palace itself is surrounded by water.
Another notable place to visit is the temple were the famous Lord Krishna devotee Mira Bai spent her days.
You can also visit the site where thousands of women and children committed suicide through “Jauhar” – a concept where death is preferred to capture by the enemy. The Victory tower next to the Jauhar site has intricate carvings that give you insight into the architectural influences of the time.
But, by far, for me, the most jaw dropping site was the Eastern Gate where you can see the vast plains in front of you (currently look like agricultural lands) and the hills at a distance. You can almost imagine the enemy army approaching the fort and the army preparing itself.
Bottomline: Simply spectacular!
Kumbhalgarh Fort – This is also an UNESCO Wold Heritage Site. During peak tourist season, reaching the entrance is an adventure in itself. However, once you are inside, it is breathtaking. You have to be reasonably fit to explore this fort. A steady, steep walkway leads you to the palace areas within the fort. As you walk higher, the line of sight expands as well and you can see the fort wall far into the horizon.
If you have seen the fort walls of Amer Fort (Jaipur) and the walls of Chittorgarh Fort, you may wonder why this particular fort wall is special. There are two reasons I believe: 1) you can literally see how far the fort wall extends from various vantage points and 2) you can see how wide the walls are in various sections.
Other notable places within the fort include: various temples near the entrance, the building considered to be the birthplace of Maharana Pratap and paintings on the walls within the palace. You can also see two active village settlements within the fort walls. According to our guide, the folks living in these villages trace their ancestry back to the times when Maharana Pratap ruled in the area.
Spending just a couple of hours really does not do justice to this fort. I truly wish we had an additional two to three hours to spare so that we could have walked on a significant section of the wall.
One word: jaw dropping, especially against the serene surroundings
Udaipur City Palace – During peak tourist season, there is only one word to describe it – human zoo! Once again, you need to be reasonably fit to enjoy this palace. A steep incline walkway leads you from the parking lot to the entrance. The first part of the palace has many tight spaces that can make you feel claustrophobic. Then there is a door which has a “No Entry” sign… but, surprisingly, everyone goes through the door and that is where you enter the museum part of the palace. From stunning glass inlay work in Mor Chowk to beautiful rock sculptures, you can see some pretty cool artefacts. You finally end up in a large courtyard that makes you wonder — where did everyone go?!
After exploring the Palace, you have an opportunity to take a ferry ride to explore Lake Pichola. Do not miss out on the opportunity. You will end up enjoying two things: 1) seeing the entire facade of the Udaipur Palace from a distance and 2) enjoying a snack at Jag Mandir Island Palace (a mandatory stop that is well worth it).
Bottomline: Mor Chowk and Lake Pichola make this a special palace worth visiting.
Mehrangarh Fort – This is how I will remember it – the only fort with a really nice museum store and an elevator to take visitors to the top of the fort. Seriously : )
The exterior wall of the fort is quite impressive and you can see it from far. The views of Jodhpur city are quite nice from different parts of the fort. Within the fort, there are a number of rooms where you can see everything from the King’s clothes to his bed. There are also some of beautifully decorated rooms that give you insight into the past.
Umaid Bhavan Palace – Most of it is now converted into a hotel. Impressive building along with a small museum.
Final word: A stopover worth considering on the way to Jaisalmer or Udaipur
Jaisalmer Fort – Another living fort which is an UNESCO World Heritage site. There are small hotels located within the fort walls where you can stay and get a feel for the life within the fort. The palace itself is small when compared to the structures in other parts of Rajasthan. However, what makes Jaisalmer special is the access you get to the Thar Desert.
First impression – Gypsy land or an outpost- being in the North Western frontier of India, you actually feel like a nomad. The place feels simple yet wholesome. If you are a StarTrek buff, this city can really give you the feeling of a place where many paths cross you as you wander within India.
Junagarh Fort – An extraordinary and “crazy” fort that gives you a glimpse into how various kings left their mark by showing how they were influenced by other countries around the world. On a more serious note though, it is a fine example that demonstrates how information was exchanged among different cultures and how the locals were influenced by it.
The fort also contains a very impressive museum of sorts dedicated to vehicles, including a plane among other things.
Final thought – “What the….” Just kidding of course.
If you are interested in the Camel Research Centre in Bikaner, then consider visiting the city and the fort. The Junagarh fort is definitely wholesome in the sense every king who lived there has left his mark clearly unlike any other fort in Rajasthan that I have visited. The paintings and the work done on the walls are impressive. However, I am still skeptical about whether it is worth the effort to go all the way there… it does have good air connectivity though with flights to Jaipur and Delhi!
So there you have it – my impressions of the various forts in Rajasthan. Of course, there are many more that are not mentioned here including Ranthambore fort and Gagron fort which are also UNESCO World Heritage sites. Both these forts and many other smaller ones just did not fit neatly into our itineraries while exploring Rajasthan. Hopefully one day we will make it happen!