With its soaring forts, glistening palaces, rugged countryside and dramatic desert landscapes, Rajasthan is quintessential India at its best. The state sparkles with the romance, chivalry and heroism of days old, and is forever abuzz with lively celebrations of colour and spirituality. Whether you’re in an opulent city or a rural village, you’ll have countless opportunities to meet the locals and get under the skin of the country, while soaking up the aroma of fragrant spices that fills the air. Our India Specialist Ellis explains how, for her, Rajasthan offers a taste of the real India.
What makes Rajasthan so special is that it combines everything I love most about India in one state. I think traditionally, people think of the north of India as being the place to go to experience that frenetic buzz for which the country is famous; to explore bustling cities teeming with people, punctuated with elaborate palaces and forts that will leave you utterly speechless and in awe. In contrast, the south is known as a calmer and more relaxed region, where life takes on a slower pace and you can enjoy a breath of fresh air. However, what I think people don’t realise is that Rajasthan can offer you both of these extremes. Cities such as Jaipur and Jodhpur will give you your fill of busy Indian life, while the endless rural regions will show you a totally different side to the country – chat to the locals, watch farmers tend to their crops and soak up the stunning landscapes. What’s more, the range of properties on offer will enrich your experience even further, from staying in a working palace in the heart of a city, to a rural fort where you can bathe in a Jacuzzi with endless views over the Indian countryside.
For me, it’s the rural pockets that really steal the show, and have the added benefit of being so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I relished the opportunity to escape the busy cities and go in search of incredible wildlife (tiger and leopard safaris are both on offer in national parks in parts of Rajasthan), explore tiny untrodden villages and soak up the breathtaking scenery. One of my personal highlights was heading out by Jeep to explore the expansive landscape of the Thar Desert. I was lucky enough to meet some Rabari people who were travelling through the area with their livestock, in search of food and water to nourish their animals in an otherwise dry and quite unforgiving environment. They were so welcoming and friendly and happy to share their stories with our guide, enabling us to chat with them and gain a unique insight into life in this region. From there, we drove to some nearby salt flats and our guide served us a cup of chai while we watched stalks flying over the pan against an incredible sunset backdrop. There’s no greater end to a day in the countryside.
One thing that’s true no matter where you stay in these rural parts of Rajasthan, is that there is little to no light pollution. In my experience, there are few better places for stargazing, and there’s nothing I love more after a day of exploring the local area than sitting back and marvelling at the mesmerising blanket of stars above. Most properties will light a campfire to keep you warm in the evenings, which creates a great place to gather with other guests and discuss the day’s adventures. And finally, how could I conclude without mentioning the food. Indian cuisine is one of my all-time favourites, and you can’t beat the home-cooked meals served up in many of the family-run properties of rural Rajasthan. Often they will even offer cooking classes, allowing you to delve into the family kitchen and learn the tips and tricks of Indian cooking in the most authentic way.
So even in Rajasthan, known for being loud, vibrant, colourful and busy, there are little gems that offer tranquillity and natural beauty. You just have to know where to find them…