Simply the best Places to Visit in Rajasthan – Part 01
If you are planning a Trip to Rajasthan then be prepared to have an adventure of a lifetime. Having started exploring Rajasthan in 1989 when I was just getting started in Travel, these are the best places to visit in Rajasthan as per me.
My fascination with Rajasthan started in 1989 when a chance trip took me to Mandawa and Bikaner, having been brought up in Delhi, I had visited Jaipur but never the interiors of Rajasthan. This trip to Mandawa and Bikaner made me curious and thus started my first solo 28 day adventure which took me to the interiors of Rajasthan.
I have returned to Rajasthan 100+ plus times since then, and am still in love with this state. What makes Rajasthan different is the people, a slow life, more time for friends, families and strangers and overall a different pace of life.
My list of Places to visit in Rajasthan is based with Delhi being the Starting point.
Located in the Jhunjhunu district in a region called Shekawati, it is pretty easy to miss this town. Mandawa and the whole Shekawati is perhaps best described as an open air museum. Painted Havelis adorn this region and specially this town. Back in the day, the residents of this region, the Marwaris were traders and made their money accompanying the Caravans that used to pass through the state of Rajasthan.
As Traders, the Marwaris are known to be the excellent Businessmen, it wasn’t long before they had started to make lots of money. To showcase their wealth they commissioned the houses to be painted with different motifs and thus came into existence the painted havelis of Shekawati.
Painted with natural bright colours, despite years of neglect they are still a beautiful site. One should ideally spend at least half a day walking around. Most of the havelis can be seen from outside and some from the inside as well. You may have to pay a small entrance to see some from the Inside.
If you are in Mandawa and have time at your hands, ideally plan to stay for 2 days, then my suggestion is to also visit Nawalgarh which is a neighboring town and has equally fascinating havelis.
From Mandawa head out to Bikaner, around 30 minutes away from Mandawa is another town called fatehpur, Fatehpur is very similar to Mandawa, however I was told by the locals that I should not miss out a haveli which has a modern motif and was probably the last one painted in this manner.
The Haveli has Lord Krishna and Radha sitting in a car being chauffeured around, quite a break from other Havelis. If time permits, do stop here.
Whether you are arriving from Mandawa or Jaipur, just before you enter Bikaner, you will notice the Chattris (Cenotaphs) of the Royal Family. Cremation ground of the Royal Family it is called Devi Kund.
The cenotaphs are a must visit on account of their beautiful architecture. The highlights include inscriptions, oral patterns, engravings, beautiful designs and splendid portraits.
The cenotaphs that were built earlier are in red sandstone, but the newer ones are in white marble. As was the norm in those days the architecture is a mix of Rajput and Mughal style.
Bikaner is also a Garrison city, due to its proximity with the border of Pakistan which is a mere 150-160 Kms as the crow flies. Most of this city is relatively flat and has a slow pace of life.
There are countless sites which one can visit here and true to Rajasthan, the more one walks around the old city, the more hidden gems once discovers. The best places to start your visit in Bikaner would be the Junagarh fort which is located in the heart of the city.
Dating back to the 16th century and built my many generations, this is an excellent example of the amalgamation of Hindu and Mughal Style of architecture. As is the case with all these forts, every stone has a story to tell. For best experience hire a local guide from the entrance, it will make the fort come alive for you.
From the Fort, one should head over to the old city, which is encircled by a 7km-long, 18th-century wall with five entrance gates. In this labyrinth of narrow, winding streets you will discover a number of fine havelis, and a couple of notable Jain temples just inside the southern wall, around 1.5km southwest of Bikaner Junction train station.
My favorite place personally in old city of Bikaner is a Haveli called Bhanwar Niwas, It offers excellent accommodation and the architecture is simply stunning. However as I realized during one of my stays here, they only serve Vegetarian food (which was delicious) and if you are someone who enjoys a drink before your meal, you may be out of luck as they don’t serve alcohol (Though this can change as I was told)
If you are just staying for a night then this is probably the only things you would be able to
Cover, However there is more to Bikaner than just the fort and the old city.
There are 2 sites which are located just outside the city of Bikaner, first amongst them is Karni Mata Temple also known as the Rat Temple, Located 30 Kms away from Bikaner, this is must visit, even if you can’t stand the rodents.
The legend has it (and there is always one in Rajasthan) an army of 20,000 soldiers deserted a battle and came to the village of Deshnok to hide. Deserting a Battle field was considered one of the Highest sins during those days and was punishable with death penalty.
Karni Mata, spared their lives, for this sin but turned them into rats. It is believed the 20,000 or so rats that one sees in the Temples are these soldiers who continue to serve her to this day.
One can find few white rats among those black rats who are believed to be Karni Mata herself and her four sons.
You next stop from Deshnoke should be an unusual place called, National Research Centre On Camels or camel Breeding farm. Camels are an integral part of Rajasthan, called the Ship of the desert, they were and continue to be instrumental in the day to day life of locals.
The camel farm which is open daily for Tourists (check the time to visit here, which changes from summer to winter) is a great place to understand about the 5 breeds that exist in Rajasthan and get a deeper understanding of these Magnificent creatures.
If you are someone who loves to stay at exotic places, then instead of staying in Bikaner you should stay at Gajner palace. On the Banks of Gajner lake, around 30 Kms away (45 minutes driving time) Gajner Palace was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh as a hunting lodge for him and his family but was converted to a hotel in 1976.
Built as a traditional Rajasthani Palace, it is an architectural beauty which has now been modernised to host guests. Also referred to as an oasis in the desert, due to lush green trees and a lake (which has known to overflow during monsoons)
During the days of the Rajm Many Viceroys visited and stayed here specially during the shooting season. It gained to fame on account of Sand Grouse Birds found around the Gajner Lake.
From Bikaner / Gajner ideally you will be heading in the direction of South west towards Jaisalmer, a distance of around 330 Kms (Bikaner) or 300 Kms from Gajner. This is where you see kms upon kms of barren land, a sandstone desert with its harsh living conditions. In the middle there may be a fields growing Castor Crop.
Castor (Ricinus Cummunis) is also known as the “Palm of Christ”. It belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family and is indigenous to the south-eastern Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Africa and India.
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The crop is cultivated around the world for its non-edible oilseed. Castor is a perennial crop but is grown as an annual for economic purpose.
Castor oil and its derivatives have applications in the manufacturing of soaps, lubricants, hydraulic and brake fluids, paints, dyes, coatings, inks, cold resistant plastics, waxes and polishes, nylon, pharmaceuticals and perfumes. Castor meal, the byproduct of the oil extraction process is mainly used as fertiliser
As you continue along the highway, around 174 Kms before Jaisalmer, sort of the half way mark and just before Phalodi (Phalodi is famous as Salt City. It is an old caravan centre which is still engaged in trading salt on camels) is a turn off towards your left which goes to a small place called Jamba.
Jamba is the birthplace of Jambheshwar ji, who is the founder of the Bishnoi sect. The Bishnois form a separate sect and do not mix with other Hindus and worship Vishnu in his Jambhaji incarnation. For their love and respect towards nature, they are known as the world’s earliest environmentalists.
I have visited Jamba during the months of March and September when a small village fair takes place to honour Jambeshwar ji. Though a beautiful and colourful fair, there are no exact dates known as they follow a lunar calendar and have limited online presence.
From here as you continue by passing Phalodi, which is the salt city, there is another small village which is missed by 99% of Tourists, called Khichan, Khichan as a city is best known as “Khichan – the Demoiselle Crane village”
During the period of August to March there are thousands of Demoiselle Cranes who are found in Western Eurasia and Asia, Mongolia and China migrate in the Colder months to warmer climates.
The Cranes from western Eurasia spend the winter in Africa whilst the birds from Asia, Mongolia and China spend the winter in the Indian subcontinent. Khichan has now become one such stop and the number is reported to be increasing. This is attributed to the organised and natural feeding done by the village community, twice a day during the birds entire sojourn to the town in the months of August to March, with November to February being the peak season.
If you happen to be crossing Khichan during this time you must Stop as it is a sight which has no parallel.
From here you would reach Pokhran, which houses the Fort Pokhran, the 14th century citadel also known as “Balagarh”,
The was the premier fort of the chief of the Champawats, the clan of Rathores of the state of Marwar-Jodhpur. Fort Pokhran is open for visitors and is being currently run as heritage hotel by the royal family of Pokhran.
However Pokhran shot to fame in 1998, when India conducted its 5 Nuclear blasts here, making it a Nuclear State.
Here the road bifurcates into 2 directions, turn right and you are on the way to jaisalmer, or turn left and you would be on the way to Jodhpur.
A straight drive for around one and half hours to two (depending upon Military Traffic) would bring you to the Golden City of Jaisalmer. A few kilometres before you reach, a mushroom like structure starts to come into the view. Resting above the Trikuta hill is the Citadel of Jaisalmer.
Known as the ‘Golden City‘ due to the generous sand dunes which give it a golden hue and Fort clad in Yellow sandstone which shimmers in the colour of golden honey.
There is no shortage of things what one can see in Jaisalmer. From the citadel where once can just walk around for days to the city around the fort with its hundred of havelis.
Ideally you should have arrived here by late afternoon and still have some daylight left, if that is the case, head over to one of many elevated places in the city to enjoy the Sunset. Some hotels have stunning view of the city as the sunsets, if your’s does not then head over to either Bada bagh or Sunset point. There are many such places in the city.
Around the city are the Gadisar and Amar Sagar lake which were the primary source of water for the city and where you usually start your morning sightseeing trip of the Golden city.
It is best to engage a guide for the entire day when visiting Jaisalmer as it is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of alleys. Ideally visit the Citadel in the morning and continue on to the jain Temples built between the 12th and the 15th Century. From here you should continue on to one of many bastions which offer an amazing view over the city of Jaisalmer.
Head out of citadel to the city which offers some beautiful havelis for you to see. The most popular ones are Salim Singh Haveli, which has a balcony which looks like a ship sailing in the desert. Diwan Nathmal Haveli with its beautiful elephants and halls. (Needs a ticket and has a small shop selling stuff)
From here there are 2 more havlis that are beautiful to look at, Chidiya haveli (Bird Haveli) and Patwon Ki Haveli. Both of these have intricate workmanship and shops inside which can also be considered Tourist Traps, if you intend to buy anything here please remember to bargain a lot.
This should have taken you around half a day your entire morning if done at a good pace, You can either head back to the hotel for lunch or try one of many restaurants in the city which offer a view of the city. Post lunch if you have the time do wander around soak in more of this city.
Later in the day, if you truly wish to experience something special head over to SAM Sand Dunes. Located around 40 kms away from the city, the last point permissible for civilians due to its proximity to the Pakistan border.
Over the last few years a number of Resorts have also come up in SAM which give you an opportunity to spend the night in the Desert. However if you are not planning on doing so, your typical stay here would be 3 hours or so.
Arrive in SAM and go for a Camel Ride over the Sand dunes to one of the many places where you can enjoy the Sunset. From where you sit you have an amazing view of the Golden Sand and the sun gently setting in the far distance.
From this point onwards you could either choose to spend an evening in one of the many camps and have dinner and return, simply return back to Jaisalmer or spend the night in the desert.
If you are the adventurous sort, my top experience has been to camp out in the desert. Being in the Tourism Industry, I planned a 1 night safari on camels and with a Cook to spend a night in the Thar Desert. To this date that has been one of the most memorable experiences for me.
This was becoming too long so I spilt this into 2 parts. Places to Visit in Rajasthan Part 2.
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