Having been invited by Original Travel to write a piece on my most favourite places in Jaipur, we are thrilled to now invite Tom Barber back to our own blog. Tom is the Co-Founder of award-winning tailor made travel company Original Travel, is a passionate Indophile who knows wider Rajasthan extremely well. Here he kindly gives us his top picks for what do in the region beyond Jaipur...
What (else) to do in Rajasthan
India is the gift that keeps on giving, but as a first tentative toe dip into the country’s colourful, chaotic and utterly charming waters, there’s no better place to start than Rajasthan. The capital, Jaipur, is an obvious highlight, and somewhere Molly knows as well as anyone, but beyond the ‘Pink City’, Rajasthan has an astonishing array of cultural and natural highlights. Here are just a few you could experience on a Rajasthan holiday with Original Travel.
Dinner for two at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur
Jodhpur is the second of the three famous ‘J’s in Rajasthan: Jaipur, Jodhpur and finally Jaisalmer (on which more later). It’s known as the ‘Blue City’ because of the large swathes of the city painted in delicate cerulean shades. The effect is best viewed from the Mehrangarh Fort, a majestic citadel that dominates the city. Visit at night, and you can enjoy a private guided tour of the fort with a local historian and then dinner on a terrace overlooking the twinkling lights of the city far below.
Learn your future with an astrologer in Jodhpur
Astrology plays a special part in Hindu culture, based on the Vedic philosophy that defines the motivations of people across four goals of life: passion, ambition, honesty and desire for spiritual freedom. Having your fortune told is a memorable (hopefully for the right reasons) way to experience Rajasthan. In my year off I visited an astrologer in Jaipur and was told I would return with my new wife, called Mary, many years later. He got the name wrong, but my wife and I did have our honeymoon in India, so one out of two ain’t bad.
Truck painting in Jodhpur
Spend any time on Rajasthan’s roads and you’ll know that it can be a hair-raising experience, with sacred cows sometimes sitting in the fast lane, and some questionable (at best) driving. But when your hands aren’t covering your eyes, you’ll appreciate the vividly painted trucks zooming along. Each region of India has its own styles and designs, and on a visit to a local truck painter you can learn the meaning of the symbolic drawings and then paint your own section of truck.
Take the train to Jaisalmer
Given the roads, taking the train is definitely something to consider, and we always encourage clients to take the train because it gives a wonderful and authentic insight into the soul of a nation. Never more so than in India, where the big cities’ train stations are a bustling and slightly bonkers melting pot and meeting spot. Make your way past gaggles of Buddhist monks and liveried porters at Jaipur station and board the overnight sleeper to the third ‘J’: Jaisalmer, also known – following the colour coding theme – as the ‘Golden City’, due to its yellow sandstone architecture. You’ll wake up to see Jaisalmer Fort like a vast sandcastle rising from a totally different, desert, landscape just 50 miles from the border with Pakistan. Stay for a couple of days to wander the alleys of the fort, visiting centuries old Jain temples and haggling in the markets of what was once a key Silk Road hub.
Make music in Udaipur
Music is a significant part of India’s religious and cultural life; an expression of long-held traditions and artistic skills passed from generation to generation. What better place to learn more than in Udaipur, the city on the lake and arguably the most romantic spot in Rajasthan. We can arrange for an introduction to the classic instruments – sitar, santoor (like a harpsichord) and tabla (hand drums) – and traditional singing with views over the lake and famous Lake Palace.
Meet the Jungle Book characters in Ranthambore
Ranthambore National Park is the most famous in Rajasthan and home to wildlife galore in a habitat framed by lakes and ancient temples. Stay in one of the wonderful safari-style camps outside the gates by night, and by day explore the park in the hope of seeing the king of cats: the Bengal tiger. This is, for me, one of the most awesome of all wildlife experiences; even just hearing a tiger’s roar is something I’ll never forget. If you’re travelling with children (and India works amazingly for tweens and teens) you can enrol them in junior ranger programmes at one or two of the camps, where they can learn tracking skills and bush craft.
Spot leopards (and shepherds) at Jawai
Tigers aren’t the only big cats in town. At Jawai Leopard Camp you can spot spots instead of stripes thanks to a healthy leopard population, who just happen to love sunning themselves on the vast granite boulders in this striking landscape. The nomadic Rabaris shepherds, in their crimson turbans, move with their flocks (aka: leopard lunch) through the region, and it’s a very special experience to meet these shepherds and learn about their culture, traditions and lifestyle, almost unchanged in hundreds of years.
Bathing with elephants at Dera Amer
Indian elephants are another iconic natural attraction in Rajasthan, and there’s nowhere better to get up close and personal with them than Dera Amer, a lovely tranquil tented lodge under an hour from Jaipur. Here you can meet Laxmi and Rangmala, two ellies of a certain age who were once forced to carry tourists up to Amber Fort and who now love nothing more than a good wallow in the waters of the nearby river. You can go full Mowgli and jump in with them for a morning scrub.
Cook with a local family
If you go crackers for curry then I’d highly recommend learning to cook with a local family, and then enjoying the fruits of your collective labours with them to learn more about local life, and how the complex flavours that define Rajasthani cuisine are sourced and combined to delicious effect.
Enjoy a private yoga session with your flexible friend
India is the home of yoga and its practice is closely linked to the ancient evolution of Indian civilisation. It was developed from earliest antiquity to help people find unity and joy in their body and soul and is one of the six systems of Indian philosophy. Have a private session and you'll be introduced to the different postures (asanas) and breathing and meditation techniques (pranayamas) by a master yogi.
Take wild rides (and buy some stylish strides)
You don’t need to be horsey to have heard of jodhpurs, the eponymous equestrian trousers, but Rajasthan is also home to India’s most famous variety of horse – the Marwari. This beautiful breed was used by cavalry regiments for centuries, but nowadays you can enjoy rather more relaxed rides in a number of locations around Jodhpur. And when in Rome you might as well stock up on some bespoke jodhpurs from one of the city’s many super-quick turnaround tailors.