There’s a good reason why Rajasthan is one of the most visited states in India. It’s packed with natural beauty ranging from the vast desert planes to the jungle where tigers and leopards live. It’s dotted with interesting cities and lovely villages, and blessed with a mouthwatering cuisine and number of colorful festivals. It’s nothing short of stunning. Yet, what makes Rajasthan unique is the incredible number of beautiful forts, palaces and temples that are scattered around the state and that proudly rise from the desert landscape – at the top of hills, facing lakes or just in the middle of nowhere, resembling the images of castles in fairy-tales. I liked all of them, for different reasons. But I find that five of them are simply unmissable. So, here’s my pick of the top five architectural highlights of Rajasthan.
Amber Fort, Jaipur
A fine example of Rajput architecture, Amber Fort can be seen from a distance, as it rises up a rocky mountainside some 11 km from Jaipur. It is mostly meant to be a royal palace. Made of pale yellow and pink sandstone, and white marble, it is divided in four sections, each with its own courtyard.
As it is located on top of a hill, a number of visitors opt to ride elephants to go up. Due to the known mistreatment of these beautiful animals, the most ethical option, which has been adopted by On The Go Tours, is that of either hopping on a jeep, or to simply walk up.
Junagarh Fort, Bikaner
This is one of the most impressive forts of Rajasthan. It was built between 1589 and 1593 by Raja Rai Singh. The city of Bikaner has developed around it, and indeed the view of the city from the fort is impressive. The main structures within the fort are the palace and the temples, and there are beautiful courtyards, kiosks and balconies, all built in red sandstone. The tiled floors, the intricately decorated doors, and the walls are a work of art.
There is an interesting museum inside the fort, with an exhibit of manuscripts, jewels, royal costumes, dresses, headgear and even palanquins and a collection of medieval arms.
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
The spectacular Mehrangarh Fort rises from an impregnable, rocky hill standing 120 meters above the skyline of Jodhpur. Built around 1460, there is no doubt that this is one of the most beautiful forts in India. It is still run by the royal family of Jodhpur, and it is packed with history and legend. Inside, there are several palaces and courtyards, as well as a good museum that showcases various palanquins, and elephants’ howdahs (the seats placed on the elephant back in order to ride).
The sunset views from the fort are stunning, but even more so is the view of the fort itself, from a distance, as reflected on the pond in front of it.
Jaisalmer Fort, Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer Fort has been taken to a whole new level. This isn’t just a complex of temples and palaces, this is actually a living urban centre, where more than 3,000 people still live. It is a mix of intricate narrow alleys lined with houses and temples, as well as shops, guest houses and restaurants. It was founded in 1156 in the desert outpost of Jaisalmer and subsequently reinforced several times.
The Fort is currently facing major structural issues and conservation problems, with the ground it stands on collapsing little by little, due to the unrestricted use of water caused by the increasing number of tourists. The local authorities discourage visitors to actually stay in any of the hotels in the area.
The Havelis, Alsisar
A much smaller city compared to the others mentioned, Alsisar well deserves a visit – if anything for the fantastic laid back vibe and quiet atmosphere. Yet, it is the havelis of which it is packed that make it a really interesting stop on a tour of Rajasthan.
Although havelis have been used for a number of different purposes – they could be temples, mansions or simply houses – the ones in Alsisar were mostly used as business centres. Here merchants could stop to rest during their business trips and discuss business, while women could only observe from behind a fence.
And there you have it – Rajasthan’s top five architectural highlights. Yes, Rajasthan really has it all. It is one of the must-see states in what is a must-see country. It is packed with beautiful, thought-provoking attractions that will make visiting an unforgettable experience.
Claudia Tavani is a former human rights lawyer and academic. She left her career to follow her real passion, which involves rafting down mighty rivers, zip lining across canyons and trekking to the craters of active volcanoes. Through her blog – My Adventures Across the World – she shares anecdotes and stories, she hopes to inspire others to travel, she gives plenty of travel tips and occasionally goes on a rant. She’s on a mission to hike up all volcanoes in the world! To see more pictures of Claudia’s India trip with On The Go, check out her Instagram gallery.