From the semi-green forests of Mount Abu to the dry grasslands of the desert, from the dry, deciduous thorn forest of Aravali to the wetlands of Bharatpur, Rajasthan is vast and has an enormously varied vegetation and terrain, some of it, though quite hostile, is home to a surprising number of mammals and birds. Tiger and leopard, as well as many endangered species, find a haven here. Though known as the Desert State, Rajasthan, situated in the northwestern part of India, has a number of exotic palaces with beautiful gardens, fountains, temples and forts constructed and decorated with amazing artistry, including mirrored walls and galleries, painted streets and secret passages and dungeons.
One of the most magnificent is Kuchaman Fort, which sits on top of a steep hill 300 metres high, in the Nagaur district, along what was once part of the Central Asian trade route. A symbol of Rajasthan's glorious history, it was built by the Gujjar Pratihara dynasty as far back as 760AD. Once the site of great battles, Kuchaman Fort was known for being impregnable: its five gates are arranged in such a way that is impossible to enter without being attacked from every direction. The Fort is now a 34-room hotel, where rooms cost from £46 per night.
Jaisalmer, another former princely state, is a desert city nestling in the foothills of Trikuta, boasting colossal forts, palaces and havelis (private residences, often converted into mi-range or luxury hotels). Its 12th-century citadel, rising like a golden sandcastle from the desert, is a masterpiece of the stonecarver’s art. The town, though no longer an isolated place but rimmed with hotels and crammed with tourists, is also well worth a visit.
For a different experience in Rajasthan, step aboard the Palace on Wheels, formerly the personal railway coaches of the rulers of the princely states of Gujrat and Rajputana. For one glorious week, you can recapture the pomp and ceremony of the royal past on one of the most luxurious trains in the world. A journey on the Palace on Wheels takes you to the pink state capital, Jaipur, the golden citadel of Jaisalmer, the blue city of Jodhpur, the National Park Ramthambhor, the nine-storey Tower of Victory of Chittorgarh (built 1440 AD to celebrate the Maharana’s victory over his rival), the romantic city of lakes. Udaipur, the bird sanctuary at Bharatpur and the Mughal capital, Agra.
It’s not all history in Rajasthan. If you want to get out and about, there are water sports, horse, camel and other safaris, bird-watching trips, trekking, ballooning and parasailing adventures to tempt you.
Rajasthan has the best reputation for law and order of any state in India and is safe and secure to travel in, as well as being easily accessible by air, train and road from Delhi (260 km away), Agra and Mumbai.
© 2006 Harish Kohli.
Harish Kohli is an avid traveller who likes to share good experiential or adventure holidays for you . Visit http://www.awimaway.com to see what's new online.