Top 10 things to do in Rajasthan

Thereís far more to Indiaís largest state than multicoloured fortresses and the Taj Mahal. If youíre looking to delve a little deeper into the lesser-known step wells, street food stalls and sand dunes, then here is where your quest for the real Rajasthan begins to take shape. Climb aboard our overnight sleeper train to cultural enlightenment as you find out which rural villages to visit and how to view the city streets and their local inhabitants from a much more eagle-eyed angle.

1. Take the train

Traveling by train is not just an efficient and affordable means of getting around Rajasthan, itís also a great way to have an authentic Indian experience as you sit, stand or sleep alongside local people. Train rides from Delhi to Agra, and beyond, are fantastic for small guided groups with tickets, bunks and seats all organised in advance. Listen, watch and join in as kids play, families chat and a chorus of chai wallas, Bhangra beats and constantly sliding doors help to create the soundtrack to an extremely atmospheric overland adventure. Donít forget your ear plugs!

2. Desert adventures

The vast Thar Desert extends across 200,000km2 of northwest India, creating a natural border with neighbouring Pakistan. More than 60 percent of the desert sits within Rajasthan and thereís no better way to watch the waves of shifting sand dunes than atop a camel. Setting out from the ĎGolden Cityí of Jaisalmer encourages all of your Arabian dreams to come true, with visits to dhanis (small villages), stories around the campfire and nights under the stars.
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3. Ranthambore National Park

Once the hunting ground of the Maharajahs but now better known as one of Project Tiger’s original protected reserves, Ranthambore National Park is a worthwhile addition to a Golden Triangle itinerary. A 4WD safari at dusk is definitely the best way to catch a glimpse of those burning bright eyes, while a walking tour of Ranthambore’s 10th century fortress also makes for an enjoyable option if you fancy exploring on foot.

4. Stay in a heritage hotel

Checking into a heritage hotel in Rajasthan lets you enter an era that was dominated by the Raj and revelled in hunting parties, the finest of foods and some right royal socialising. Black and white photos reveal more about a heritage hotelís previous occupants whilst shaded wicker chairs, chess tables and decadent architectural designs allow for a spot of R&R and respite from the midday sun. Massages, swimming and henna tattoos may all be available for guests although sitting under an ornate arch on the roof and watching the sunset may be all that you need.

5. Jaipur street food

Sometimes street food shopping can be a little overwhelming, and in Jaipur youíll certainly be spoiled for choice, with veggie samosas, kachori (spicy pastry parcels), mirchi bajis (batter-covered, fried sweet chillies), masala chai (spiced tea), jalebi (fried swirls of batter soaked in syrup) and sev (fried chickpea noodles). Eating here can require a touch of courage but therein is the fun. Best advice is to watch how the local diners do it before following suit: donít be shy; ask questions, smile and remember itís ok to try before you buy.

6. Birdís eye views

You donít need to take a budget-busting balloon flight to view Rajasthan from up above. Practically every hotel will have its own roof terrace, while rooftop bars and restaurants offer everything from cold Kingfishers to delicious daal dishes. Watching the world go by from on high provides a unique look at life on the ground. You can learn the best way to successfully cross the road like a Rajasthani, what goes on in the industrious rooftop kitchens and where to watch eagles, monkeys and cheeky squirrels making the most of their concrete jungles.

7. Rural village walks

Amid the urban chaos, be sure to take the time to appreciate day-to-day life in some of Rajasthanís rural villages. Madhogarh and Tordi Garh provide a complete contrast to city living with a guided walk allowing you to find out more about the work, the properties and the environmental pressures facing families living off the land. Colourful wedding invites adorn front doors; cows, pigs and goats cut through narrow alleyways; and traditional potters spin their wheels while the shouts from dusty, lumpy cricket pitches add to the often humbling appreciation of rural village life in India.

8. Park life

Nowhere else do Rajasthanis relax quite like they do at an urban park. Although greenery can be sparse, youíll find benches, walkways and sporadic patches of grass from where to watch the world wander by. Games of cricket and volleyball, workers strolling on their lunch breaks and young families enjoying an oasis of peace; seek out an urban park and before you know it youíll be chatting, playing and people watching with everyone else.

9. Step wells in Bundi

Step wells are an often overlooked architectural achievement in India. These beautiful stone clad structures provide steps to the source of groundwater, where women and children would come to fill their ceramic and copper water pots and stop for a natter along the way. Built by the ruling royals, and often displaying designs that are reminiscent of palatial grandeur, no trip to Rajasthan is complete without stepping back in time in Bundi.

10. Cooking classes in Udaipur

The beautiful city of Udaipur is the perfect place to discover the secrets of Rajasthanís regional recipes, with everything from rotis and naan breads to the most flavoursome sauces, covered in a hands-on cooking class. The tastes and smells of India are so evocative, and learning how to recreate one or two delicious dishes in your own home will help keep your travel memories alive.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Nick Kenrick] [Chadni Chowk, Delhi: Karthikeyan K] [Train journey: Santulan Mahanta] [Ranthambore NP: JULIAN MASON] [Jodhpur view: J A N U P R A S A D] [Bundi step well: Hemant Shesh]