Rajasthan is a large desert state in northwest India that borders Pakistan to the west and stretches east almost to Delhi. The majority of the land is arid plain, wrinkled with occasional low hills and covered in sparse, thorny vegetation nourished by seasonal monsoon rains. Jaipur is the capital, with about 2.3 million inhabitants. Picture a people who have adapted to such terrain: fiery and independent by nature, colorfully garbed, and, ultimately, utterly hospitable.
WHEN TO GO
The best time to visit is from November to February, when the only hardship, weather-wise, may be that it is not quite warm enough for the hotel pool. After February, the heat builds up to the point that even the camels start dreaming of a ski vacation. In July, the monsoon rains come along, cooling things off but washing roads out.
HOW TO GET THERE
Most visitors arrive in Rajasthan from India's capital, New Delhi, in the north, or from Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, just to the east.
The most pleasant way to arrive in Rajasthan (and to tour it) is by train. The first-class cars, especially on the "super fast" trains, such as the Shatabdi Express, are modern, clean, and comfortable and give you a superb window on India. (There's also the super-luxury-train option, the Palace on Wheels.) Get rail schedules and fares at the Indian Railways' Web site, www.indianrail.gov.in. Click on "Trains between Imp. Stations," and then, if you wish to purchase a ticket online, "Internet Reservation." The online process can be frustrating, though, so the simplest way is to arrange for a travel agent, recommended by your hotel, to have tickets waiting with the concierge.
For travel to Udaipur and Jodhpur, flying is often best. Opt for one of the new private carriers, which offer better service and more reasonable ticket prices than Indian Airlines. Of the new carriers, Jet Airways has the most flights; the 55-minute hop between Jaipur and Udaipur and the two-plus hour jaunt between Udaipur and New Delhi are among the most popular routes. Tickets can be purchased online (www.jetairways.com).
For the past several years, there have been no scheduled flights in or out of Agra, apparently because of a bureaucratic squabble. There is talk, however, of restoring service eventually.
Touring Rajasthan by car is manageable, but you should consider hiring a driver when you rent an auto. Negotiating roads oneself should be left to the steel-nerved. For a good midrange car with air conditioning, expect to pay about $150 a day, including the driver and his overnight expenses. But distances are great enough that a more sensible approach is a combination of road, rail, and air.
Taxis are readily available at airports, and are economical around town. Settle on the price with the driver up front. If the driver seems reasonable, and agreeable, you can also negotiate for a half- or full-day local sightseeing rate. Typically, that might run $15 for four hours and $25 for eight. It's much more expensive if your hotel arranges a taxi, however: Expect to pay as much as $15 per hour.
Department of Tourism, Government of Rajasthan
Government Hostel Campus
Paryatan Bhawan, M.I. Road
Tel: 91 511 05 957
India Tourism Jaipur
Hotel Khasa Kothi
Tel: 91 141 237 2200