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Rajasthan See And Do


Think of this little-known collection of ruins as Machu Picchu without the crowds. Once a town of 10,000 souls, it was supposedly abandoned almost overnight under mysterious circumstances many centuries ago. On the road from Jaipur to Alwar, 15 minutes south of the luxury resort Amanbagh, virtually the only thing known for sure about these ruins of palaces, temples, bathing pools, and shops is that that they were built in the 1630s by the younger brother of a renowned general and deserted a short time later. Locals call the town "Bhangarh of Ghosts" and won't visit after dark; according to legend, the desertion had to do with an evil magician who cursed a virtuous queen when she wouldn't succumb to his advances. Whatever the history, it makes for a good afternoon.

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Most of Jaipur's highlights lie within the confines of the historical center of the Pink City, so-called for the light terracotta color of the buildings. A walk around its streets and bazaar is entertainment in itself, but be prepared for a lot of hassle from touts and vendors. Two of the most popular attractions, the City Palace and the breathtaking World Heritage site Jantar Mantar (the Royal Observatory), are right next to each other and well worth a visit. Persistent would-be guides can be kept at bay if you rent an audio guide; getting there early to avoid the heat and crowds is always a good idea. Just around the corner is the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds, whose facade is more impressive than its interior. A little further afield is the Jal Mahal (the Water Palace), which is good for a quick snapshot on the way to the jewel in Jaipur's heritage crown, the Amber Fort. Just a few kilometers out of town, this stunning hilltop palace built in the late 16th century is not to be missed. The front gate can be reached by car around the back of the hill, or directly from the front by elephant, if you really feel like indulging in deep tourism. A rickshaw is a good way to get around town, but for longer excursions or days of intensive sightseeing, consider hiring a car with a driver. The brothers Anil and Mukesh Trivedi are highly recommended (91 97 82 624 606).—Vanessa Able

Jaisalmer , Rajasthan

This fairy-tale medieval fortress town surrounded by the Thar Desert is crisscrossed by labyrinthine streets. Its many havelis (private mansions) with beautifully carved sandstone facades hark back to the days when Jaisalmer was a major trading post. Jaisalmer Fort, which is on a hill in the middle of the Old City, is still inhabited, though much of its real estate is today dedicated to luring tourists. The entrance to the lofty Maharaja's Palace can be found in the main square just as you enter the gates of the fort, and the museum here is open from 9 am to 6 pm (from 8 am in the hot season). Look out for the clutch of Jain temples as you wander around the fort; the temples' compact network of intricately carved chambers is well worth visiting. Outside the fort, note the havelis, which can be visited for a small entrance fee. A few kilometers out of town are the striking domes of Bada Bagh, a memorial site for generations of maharajas dating back to the 16th century; today the domes are surrounded by a surreal landscape of wind turbines. Jaisalmer is also known for its camel safaris, which can range in length from a few hours to several days; ask at your hotel about booking.

Jodhpur , Rajasthan

Jodhpur's imposing Mehrangarh Fort, whose soaring walls, watchtowers, and gun turrets loom over the Blue City (named after its houses painted blue), is arguably one of the most impressive in Rajasthan. A short rickshaw ride or a 15-minute hike uphill from the center of town, the fortress is open from 9 am to 5 pm and is reached through a series of no fewer than seven gates. The view from the cannons at the top is remarkable. Back at ground level, head to Jodhpur's old commercial heart, the Sadar Bazaar, which is located in and around the square that houses the city's famous Clock Tower. The bustling market features all manner of goods, from food to fabrics, metals, and spices. Across town from the Mehrangarh Fort, the enormous dome and towers of the Taj's Umaid Bhawan Palace spike the horizon; travelers not staying there can visit the building's museum from 9 am to 5pm.—Vanessa Able

Palace on Wheels in Rajasthan
Tel: 877 463 4299

It's rightly called a cruise train, because this train has many of the advantages and disadvantages of cruise-ship travel. If you are a romantic, a train buff, or have limited time or limited tolerance for having to explain to people why you don't want to visit their cousin's shop, even just for looking, then you may find there is no better way to see Rajasthan than from the Palace on Wheels. Its 14 cars house two restaurants and 52 wood-paneled compartments with double beds, each with private bath and shower. The eight-day all-inclusive journey begins in New Delhi and stops at all of the major sites in Rajasthan, as well as at the Taj Mahal. This mode of travel is not everyone's cup of tea (served promptly, mornings and evenings), as you're subject to a strict schedule and cannot linger at the sites. However, the concept is so popular that two more, even plusher, palace trains are in the works.

From $2,450 per person.

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Pushkar , Rajasthan

The annual Pushkar Camel Fair, which runs for about eight days in November each year, is the number-one reason most people visit Pushkar, three hours west of Jaipur by car. Attending this legendary event of barely organized mayhem is well worth the effort at least once in a lifetime. The occasion draws thousands of camels, a seemingly equal number of men ready to race or trade them, desert wives desperate to shop, and pilgrims eager to cleanse themselves in the sacred waters of Pushkar Lake. The holy lake has more than 52 bathing ghats (steps), and the surrounding town is supposedly one of the oldest in India. Outside of camel season, Pushkar draws mostly backpackers and religious devotees, including scores of wandering mendicant sadhus, who might offer you a blessing by the lake (a "Pushkar passport", the red string bracelet you are given, will ward off too much hassle from other holy men by the ghats), a puff on their opium pipe, or a nugget of the marijuana derivative bhang. (Be on alert for "special lassies" spiked with the stuff.)

Pushkar's compact size renders it walkable from end to end, and most of the crowds usually congregate along the busy main strip, the Sadar Bazaar, where you can buy all manner of cheap bric-a-brac, including jewelry, ceremonial trinkets, and fashions aimed at the transient hippie contingent. At the western end of the bazaar is the Brahma Temple, one of very few in the world devoted to Hinduism's highest-ranking divinity. Work up the energy for a hike up the hill to the Savitri Temple, which offers amazing views of the town, then kick back with a chai to watch the sunset behind Pushkar's romantic domed skyline from the Sunset Café on the east side of the lake.—Vanessa Able

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Ranthambhore National Park
Sawai Madhopur

If you ever hope to see a Bengal tiger in the wild, this 150-square-mile park of brushy trees and tall, dry grasses—ideal cover for the big cats—is the best bet. These beautiful animals are tolerant of the paparazzi, and with a bit of luck, you can get close enough by vehicle to hope they've eaten recently. However, as a result of poaching, there are fewer than 30 tigers here, so sightings are not a sure thing. Also, there are ongoing efforts to have vehicles banned from the park, so check for the latest developments before you go.

Entry is by permit and is limited to a handful of park-authorized vehicles each day; make arrangements through your hotel (we recommend the two tent encampments of Aman-i-Khás and the Oberoi Vanyavilas) and expect to pay about $60, including permits, for a three-hour safari. Generally, the morning safari is best for sighting game in the summer, and the evening best in winter. The town of Sawai Madhopur, near the park entrance, is eight hours by nerve-rattling road from New Delhi, four from Jaipur (also the site of the nearest airport), and six from Agra. The Sawai Madhopur train station has service from New Delhi and Jaipur.

The park is open October through June.

Udaipur , Rajasthan

Udaipur is without a doubt one of India's most beautiful towns—though, sadly, overzealous touts and shopkeepers tend to mar the city's otherwise enchanting mood. The landscape of the historical area that surrounds Lake Pichola is marked by the Mughal-inspired facade of the monumental City Palace as well as by the Lake Palace Hotel that sits on Jag Niwas Island. Udaipur is a small town and easy to explore by foot: A day or two can be spent wandering the streets from Hanuman Ghat across the footbridge to Gangaur Ghat and up toward the City Palace, which is open daily from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Along the way is the towering 17th-century Jagdish Temple dedicated to Vishnu, and just down the hill is the clutch of hotels and boutiques that surround Lal Ghat. Don't leave Udaipur without taking a boat out onto the lake: The City Palace organizes boats that leave from its own palatial docks and drop visitors off for lunch or tea at the Jagat Niwas Palace. Cheaper, no-frills boat tours can be taken from Lal Ghat. The Monsoon Palace, perched atop a hill to the west of the city, is just an empty shell yet nonetheless offers breathtaking views of Udaipur and the surrounding countryside.—Vanessa Able

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.