I was warned that India would be a ‘massive culture shock’, but also reassured by two of my best friends that it was the ‘most amazing place’ they had ever visited. And so I boarded the plane with trepidation and excitement about what my two weeks in Rajasthan held in store.
Delhi was our first stop in India. With a population of around 25 million it is the second most popular city in the country, after Mumbai. Though not as immediately beautiful as other parts of Rajasthan there are plenty of pretty places to admire and learn about in the city. I recommend visiting the impressive Red Fort, built originally for the emperors, and Raj Ghat is a peaceful park with a memorial where Gandhi’s ashes were scattered.
Hauz Khas village is a trendy neighbourhood where you’ll stumble across hip shops like Nappa Dori, who make leather accessories and stationery. Dilli Haat is also a good market to visit, especially if you are looking for Indian materials and souvenirs to take home. There are some very prestigious fine dining restaurants now established in Delhi, but we decided on the more casual United Coffee House for lunch, a traditional restaurant with a great atmosphere and flavoursome food. We chose to ‘go vegetarian’ for the entirety of our trip: while good restaurants in India should be reliable, it seemed easier to just cut meat and fish entirely to help us steer clear of tummy bugs.
We stayed at Lutyens Bungalow, a lovely family-run b&b which offers simple but stylish bedrooms and delicious home-cooked meals. Tuk tuks are a fun and cheap way to get around, but do haggle with the driver to get a fair price.
The only reason to visit Agra is to see the magnificent Taj Mahal. Stay at the nearby Trident Hotel, which is smart and reasonably priced. It is best to see the Taj at sunrise so wake up early and get in line for this world wonder. The glowing white temple was a labour of love built by 20,000 workers over 20 years, completely made from ivory marble for Maghal Emperors Shar Jahan’s wife’s tomb.
The Agra Fort is another nice site, with an amazing series of red and white buildings. We had a tasty meal at Dasaprakash, a local restaurant which serves vegetarian thali with dosae and sweet lassi.
Jaipur is known as the pink city as most of the buildings in the old town are painted a dark shade of pink. It is said that the city was painted this colour to welcome the Prince of Wales in 1876. I loved this artistic city, the stunning architecture and the magical history. We stayed a little outside the city at The Farm, a relaxed eco-hotel which has creatively decorated rooms and wonderful regional cuisine.
There are so many important sites to see, we managed to tick off the grand Amer Fort (with painted elephant trail), the floating water palace Jal Mahal, the sundials at Jantar Mantar and the Jaipur city palace. For something a little different visit the Anokhi Museum to learn about the art of block printing.
It’s worth spending an afternoon wandering the streets of central Jaipur. There is endless street food to try, if you dare. We indulged in sweet kachoris at Ram Dev’s, kulfi (Indian ice-cream) at Randit Kulfi and fragrant chai from Sahu Chaiwalla. We also stopped at Tikam Chand’s old-fashioned photobooth in the street, for a black and white portrait taken with his 1860s Zeis camera.
The second morning we headed to Phool Mandi, a vibrant local market which sells flowers, vegetables and spices. Afterwards I couldn’t resist travelling out of town to visit Kalpana, an amazing paper making factory, which sells the most unusual handmade stationery.
This bright and sunny city enjoys warm weather all year round. Many of the houses in the old city are painted blue, which looks amazing from up high. Mehrangarah Fort offers some of the best views of the blue city and is also a wondrous and educational museum to explore, best to visit in the morning when there are less tourists around.
We stayed in the stylish RAAS Jodhpur, a historic hotel, located in the centre of town but carefully hidden amongst the narrow streets. Ask the hotel reception about having a little trip out in their baby blue tuk tuk. We ate many of our meals in the hotel, but when we did venture out we enjoyed the vegetarian cuisine at Jhankar.
There are lots of shopping streets in Jodhpur. I had great fun choosing bangles for my family at Bibaji Churi Wale. This tiny shop has the best selection of glass bracelets in an endless variety of patterns and colours. A box of ten will cost you around £1.50.
For a quiet few days’ escape from the chaotic Rajasthani cities, head to Rohet, a rural countryside town which offers visitors a more authentic side to India. Choose to stay in the one of the luxury hotel rooms, or opt for the tents in the wilderness, for the full immersive experience. During your stay you will be taken on a village safari to see local wildlife like Blackbug antelopes and Siberian cranes and meet different tribes who live nearby (we even took part in an opium ceremony with the Bramen elderly men).
This enchanting city is a must on any Rajasthan itinerary. This scenic city is on the water, and a few of the most luxurious hotels are only reachable by boat. Devi Garh, on the outskirts of town, is a lovely tranquil place to stay, with panoramic views and magnificent suite rooms. If you’d rather stay in town, Leela Udaipur is a decadent and special option, with regal decor, thoughtful service and outstanding food.
For an alternative tourist experience, pay for a driver to take you in a tour in a vintage Chevrolet Fleet Master and enjoy the views while learning about Udaipur’s history. The main tourist site is the City Palace, an ornate building which has been beautifully restored to its former glory.
Udaipur has plenty to tempt keen shoppers, Hathipol road is a great place to buy gold and silver jewellery, and I loved the artists’ workshops which sell the miniature paintings for which the city has become known.