Rajasthan gives a sneak peek in the gaudy world of royalty. It is often termed as ‘Maharajaland’.a trip to Rajasthan takes you back to class VIII history, but only in a far more interesting way. It has the old India regal charm. Last year I went on a fortnight trip to Rajasthan with family. Rajasthan, the largest state of India, has many beautiful places to visit. The biggest mistake to do is to try to cover all the cities together- firstly, it is going to be a real long journey, tiring and not to mention the budget. So we covered Pushkar, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Mount Abu, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Jaipur. We started our journey to the city of fort and palaces on 26th January 2019. We traveled by Rajdhani Express at 04.50 pm. as it is in the name, Rajdhani Express welcomed us cordially with facial towels, buttermilk, and bottles of water. Later, in the evening we were provided with tea and coffee, cheese sandwich, samosa, laddoo, and salted almonds. For dinner, we ordered both Indian veg and non-veg as well as non-veg continental meals. The meals were quite fulsome. In the morning we started with tea and coffee and later on with bread, butter, fresh fruits, and boiled eggs. On asking for tea another time, the staffs were happily at our service. We were supposed to reach New Delhi by 10 AM. The train was delayed and we reached an hour late at 11 AM. As my brother is in the tourism industry, he conducted the entire trip, keeping it tireless. At New Delhi station we were received by Tiwari Ji, our driver and guide throughout the trip. After settling the language and ourselves, we were off to Rajasthan en route Haryana. We stopped at Mannat Dhaba NH 48 for lunch. We fed our empty stomachs with some delectable garlic and butter naan, dal makhani, dam aloo, kadai paneer and mini jalebis. After lunch, we headed to the first stop of our trip Pushkar. PUSHKAR: Pushkar, a district in Ajmer, is located on Pushkar Lake, a sacred Hindu city with 52 ghats. It has hundreds of temples. We reached our hotel at around 7.30 PM. we stayed at Hotel Pushkar Heritage which amazed our hearts with some alluring views and warm services. The temperature was 7oC at night. The next morning we went to visit 14th-century Jagatpita Brahma Mandir at 7 AM and Pushkar Lake. The temperature was 6oC in the morning. The lanes leading to the temple and the lake resembled the lanes of Benaras. It was peaceful and was only filled with a few locals. We returned to our hotel, had a widespread buffet breakfast and left for our next destination, Ajmer Sharif. Ajmer Sharif, the famous sufi shrine, is believed to be one of the most auspicious mosque in India. The shrine has the grave of the famous 13th-century Sufi mystic saint Moinuddin Chisti. It is believed that Ajmer Sharif never returns its visitor’s empty hand; all our wish comes true. The place is quite crowded with its daily visitors and tourist, both. CHITTORGARH: Our next stop was Chittorgarh, the land of brave Maharawal Ratan Singh and the epitome of beauty queen Padmini. This place witnessed many battles and lots of bloodsheds. It is famous for the 13 KM long Chittorgarh Fort which has a great history behind it. Get hold of a guide to explore the real history that lies in between every brick of the fort. This place will blow your mind with its great architecture and will give you goosebumps on recalling the harrowing sacrifice of Rani Padmini by jumping into the pyre of fire to protect her dignity. She was accompanied by Rajput women including pregnant women and girls to avoid capture, enslavement, and rape by Khiljis when they are facing certain defeat during the war. UDAIPUR: The next stop of our trip was Udaipur. We stayed at Hotel Yalka. Udaipur, the historical capital of Mewar is also known as the “city of lakes”. The “Venice of East” has 8 lakes. The City lake is believed to be the most beautiful lake in the city followed by lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar Lake. The best attraction of the city is the City Palace, situated right beside Lake Pichola. It has several other palaces in the palatial complex. The style is flamboyant and it is the biggest palace in Rajasthan. The City Palace was built concurrently with the establishment of the Udaipur city by Maharana Udai Singh II and his successor Maharanas over a period of the next 400 years. The Maharanas lived and administered their kingdom from this palace, thereby making the palace complex an important historic landmark. There are palaces of 11 separate rulers who used to sit together in this sprawling complex that was started in 1559. Exploring the entire palace made us crave for some more royalty and we, thus, ended up at The Sunset Terrace, Taj Fateh Prakash Palace for lunch. James Tod, a British administrator, said that Udaipur is “the most romantic spot on the continent of India”. The Sunset Terrace is a perfect candlelight dinner spot, with open-air ambiance beside a beautiful blue and far-off caustic lake Pichola. You will find Jal Mahal situated right in the middle of this beautiful green alkaline and to its one of the sides, is situated Hotel Leela palace. We spent the evening in a boat amid this calmness. After wrapping up the palace tour, we left for Maharana Pratap Smarak. The site is apportioned to Maharana Pratap Singh and his loyal horse Chetak. It provides the tourists with some picturesque view from the hill-top. It echoes the stories of defiance and glory of a true Rajput. The next day we headed for other tourist spots like Saheliyoon ki Bari, full of fountain and kiosks, a lotus pool and marble elephants. Then we went to the last spot, Government Tribal Museum where we saw a wide range of Rajasthan tribal masks and weapons and other tribal masks and weapons from every corner of the world. This place gifted us what Rajasthan is best known for- Puppet show. MOUNT ABU: After bagging a load of memories from Udaipur our restless hearts went to Mount Abu. We stayed at Sunset Inn. It is a hill station in Aravalli range, Pindwara. It is a craggy place surrounded by forests. It is famous for the famous Jain temple- Dilwara temple which was built between the 11th and 16th centuries. It is famous for the use of white marble and intricate marble carvings. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the premise. Mount Abu is also famous for Nakki Lake (nail lake). There is the Toad Rock on a hill near the lake. Toad rock is so-called as it looks like a toad about to jump into the lake, from the side of the rock facing the lake. Get in touch with the locals to delve into the depths of the lake. They claim that there was a king who ordered that whoever dug a lake with his nails overnight, would marry his daughter. It is based on the love story of the sage Rakshiya Balam. On your way up to Mount Abu, you will find a lot of monkeys and beautiful birds. It is very close to Gujarat and you will find mostly Gujaratis, have come to spend a weekend in serenity. After enjoying boating in this bottomless beauty, we went to witness the tranquil and gorgeous sunset at Sunset Point. One can either opt for a horse ride or hand pulled cart to climb one kilometre for the magnificent view, but walking through the woods enhances the mood to a different level. The next day we checked out and went to Guru Sikhar, the highest point of Mount Abu (5650 ft.). Way back to Mount Abu we stopped at Prajapati Brahma Ashrama. It is considered to be one of the best places for meditation. JODHPUR: The second largest and the most well planned city Jodhpur is flamboyant and full of colours. The two principle attractions here are Umaid Bhawan Palace and Meghrangarh Fort. We stayed at Hotel Prem Beacon. Umaid Bhawan Palace, one of the largest private residences in the world, is named after the great Maharaja Umaid Singh. The palace has total 347 rooms- a part of it is under Taj Hotels and another is put up to showcase the antiques of the rajputana; from jewelleries to weapons to antique cars. The museum has a small shop where you will find a variant collection of replicas of antique jewelleries. Do not forget to try the creamy kesari nutka kulfi here. We returned after the trip to Umaid Bhawan Palace to our hotel. It was winter and it called for the famous and mouth-watering Rajasthani dessert, Ghewar. Next day went to Jaswant Thada after having a heavy breakfast of poha, idlis, sambhar, and chutney veg sandwiches, milk and corn flakes and chocolate milkshake. It was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh of Jodhpur State in 1899 in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, and serves as the cremation ground for the royal family of Marwar. This is the most peaceful place of Jodhpur. I instantly connected with the harmonious ambience. People, all around the world, come here in search of peace and to mediate. Cold morning breeze, composure and the tune of Ravanhatta (Rajasthani string folk music instrument) created an engaging surrounding as if enchanted by a magician. Meherangarh Fort is an architectural masterpiece. Built in around 1459 by Rao Jodha, the fort is situated 410 feet (125 m) above the city and is enclosed by imposing thick walls. Inside its boundaries there are several palaces known for their intricate carvings and expansive courtyards. A winding road leads to and from the city below. The imprints of the impact of cannonballs fired by attacking armies of Jaipur can still be seen on the second gate. JAISALMER: Our next stop was Jailsalmer. On our way to Jaisalmer we had our lunch at Chowki Dhani resort, situated in the middle of the desert. We please our greedy stomachs with garlic and butter naan, Sarson Sak Chicken, Meethi Chicken, Egg curry, Lsooni achari Fish tikka and Moong dal ka halwa. We also visited Jaisalmer War Museum. The city is a former medieval trading centre and a princely state in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, in the heart of the Thar Desert. It is known as the “Golden City” due to its unique golden sandstone architecture. We stayed here for three days and two nights. On day one, we went to unveil the mystery hidden behind the great Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress). One of the best ways to connect to a place is by trying to communicate with the locals. In one of my encounters with a local pan shop owner I got to know many secrets of Sonar Kella and once he got to know that i am a Bengali, he thanked me. For the locals over there, it is because of the maestro Satyajit Roy who made Sonar Kella and Jaisalmer world famous through his film Sonar Kella. Hire a guide to seek the entire story of the making of the film Sonar Kella and the parts and bits of the fort shown in the movie. Adjacent to the fort you will find large number of residences of the locals. Along with the fort you should also visit several temples and other attractions like Zalim Singh ki Haveli, Patwon ki Haveli, Gadisar lake where you can enjoy boating. That afternoon we had typical Bengali lunch with bhaat, dal, aloo posto, mach bhaja, dim er dalne and khejur aamsotter chatniand misti doi. We rested for the rest of the day. Th next day we checked out and went to experience the much waited Thar desert. The most amazing thing here is to stay in the tents, mostly situated at Sam Sand Dunes. We stayed at Winds Desert Camp, Kanoi. Most of these camps provide complimentary breakfast and dinner and the world famous Rajasthani Folk dance in the evening. After checking in, we went for camel ride followed by a 30 minutes Paragliding experience while my parents opted for Desert Jeep safari. Watching the entire desert from above was a life changing experience for me. In the evening we returned to our tents where the local folk dancers welcomed us with arati and refreshments and then began the fun. The striking performance by the folk singers accompanied with cultural dance created magic in the air. We all joined the dancers around the bonfire over some hot and crispy fries. To experience royalty further, we enjoyed the performance over a hookah. When the singer started with ‘Kesariya balam padharo mhare desh’ we had the true cultural taste of Rajasthan. The glittery starry night is what that tends me to go back to Jaisalmer again and again. After the performance we enjoyed the dinner with ‘daal baati churma’, the esteemed part of Rajasthan. The temperature at night was 9oC. BIKANER: With a box full of memories and a heavy heart we stepped towards Bikaner. We went to the famous Karni Mata Temple first. It is situated at Deshkone, 30 km from Bikaner. The temple is not only the house of Karni Mata, but also the haven of about 25,000 rats. Legend has it that Laxman, son of Karni mata, drowned in a pond in Kapil Sarovar in Kolayat Tehsil while he was attempting to drink from it. Karni Mata implored Yama, the god of death, to revive him. First refusing, Yama eventually relented, permitting Laxman and all of Karni Mata’s male children to be reincarnated as rats. Eating food that has been nibbled on by the rats is considered to be a “high honour”. If one of them is killed, it must be replaced with another one made of solid silver. We had our lunch with varities of parathas- paneer, onion and gobi ke parathe for a roadside dhaba. Then we checked-in to Hotel Laxmi Residency. We rested for the entire day. Next day we first went to buy some bhujiyas, Bikaner is world known for. Then we went to Junagarh Fort and Lal Garg Palace. Historical records of Junagarh Fort reveal that despite the repeated attacks by enemies to capture the fort, it was not taken, except for a lone one-day occupation by Kamran Mirza. Kamran was the second son of the Mughal Emperor Babur who attacked Bikaner in 1534, which was then ruled by Rao Jait Singh. The 5.28 hectares large fort precinct is studded with palaces, temples and pavilions. These buildings depict a composite culture, manifest in the mix of architectural styles. The Lal Garh palace was built between 1902 and 1926 in the Indo-Saracenic style. The building was commissioned by the British-controlled regency for Maharaja Ganga Singh (1881–1942) while he was still in his minority as they considered the existing Junagarh Palace unsuitable for a modern monarch. Ganga Singh decided that the palace should be named in memory of his father Maharaja Lal Singh. JAIPUR: The last stop to our trip was the capital city. We stayed at The Pearl Palace Heritage. Famous for being the “pink city” and for its wonderful palaces, I should have developed a somewhat romantic vision of Jaipur. The reality is a dusty, noisy and crowded city (even by Indian standards) that is used to tourists with plenty of money and little time to negotiate. After the arrival we asked our driver to take the rest of the day off and we opted for some local shopping. We went to Johari bazaar and Nehru bazaar. Jaipur is a shopping paradise for shopaholics. We enjoyed some roadside fries with mutka kulfis. Next day we got ready and went to visit Amer Fort, the palace of Jodha Bai. We got late for the elephant ride to the palace. Before visiting the Amer Fort we went to Hawa Mahal. Made with the red and pink sandstone, the palace sits on the edge of the City Palace, Jaipur, (which was closed due to Maharaja’s visit) and extends to the Zenana, or women’s chambers. Only 11 kilometres away from the capital city of Jaipur, Amer Fort is clad in pink and yellow sandstone and is a part of an extensive complex. Built by one of the most trusted generals of Akbar, Maharaja Man Singh I in the year 1592, Amer Fort served as the main residence of the Rajput Rulers. The Amer Fort through its large ramparts, several gateways, and paved paths overlooks the Maotha Lake in the town of Amer, which used to serve as the capital of the erstwhile Jaipur princely state. The fort is big enough that it will take you at least two to three hours to explore it in detail, and you can also choose to avail of the audio guides to lead you through this fascinating building while explaining the history of the place. Getting an elephant ride up the stairs to the Amber Fort is also a popular tourist activity. The fort sees over five thousand visitors daily and rightfully, the Amer Fort was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list as part of the “Hill Forts of Rajasthan” along with five other forts. Then we went to Jal Mahal and the wonderful scientific park Jantar Mantar. The Jantar Mantar, in Jaipur, is an astronomical observation site built in the early 18th century. It includes a set of 20 main fixed instruments. They are monumental examples in masonry of known instruments but which in many cases have specific characteristics of their own and the best preserved of India’s historic observatories. It is an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period. Outside Jantar Mantar, you will find the best mutka kulfis of Jaipur. Give them a try. After this we went to bur some puppets and had our lunch at 1135 AD which serves the best laal mash one can ever have. We kept the last day at Jaipur entirely for shopping. Our driver took us to a government shop at Jaipur for shopping. From bedsheets to salwar suits, from saree to statues, from jootis to jewelleries, everything was available there. We saw the block painting technique at the shop. The government shops provide home delivery service so shop your heart out without any burden of extra language. Later, in the afternoon, we had lunch at Rajasthan Royal Restaurant and packed our bags to go to the airport. Our driver dropped us at Jaipur airport and bid us bye. From desert scrub to holy lakes, one thing that is hard to grasp for the first-time (or even repeat) visitor is the sheer size of the place. In researching a state of contrasts, I was happy to find that the relatively well-developed tourism infrastructure is matched by the gradual appearance of eco-friendly options. More than that, were the options which make an effort to connect visitors to Rajasthani culture beyond a superficial level. To understand Rajasthani culture is to glimpse the rich village life and tapestry of Rajasthan. Marwari culture is seen in all its colour not in Rajasthan’s bustling cities, but in its quieter villages and desert camps.