JAIPUR, RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK AND PLACES IN RAJASTHAN NEAR DELHI

JAIPUR

Jaipur (260 kilometers southwest of Delhi) is the capital and largest city in Rajasthan, with about 3.1 million people. It combines the wide avenues of chaotic traffic of a modern Indian city and the domed palaces, bazaars and crenelated walls of a fairy tale desert oasis. The city itself is divided into nine rectangular sectors, each presenting one of the nine divisions of the Hindu universe. Several of the city's old palaces have been turned into hotels. The train station has large encampments of pavement dwellers.

Founded by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1727, Jaipur was the stronghold of the Rajputs, who gave it its everlasting legacy in the form of various heritage sites. It is sometimes called the "Pink City" because the down area was painted pink in 1853 for a visit by Prince Albert. It also has it share of pinkish, white sandstone Mughal- and Jain-influenced sandstone buildings painted pink and decorated white borders and painstakingly carved motifs.

Jaipur was designed by architect Vidyadhar Bhattacharya in the early 18th century. Following India's independence from British rule, Jaipur and the principalities of Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur came together to form the present state of Rajasthan. Today, thousands of travelers from the world over come to explore its vibrant streets every year, sampling its delicious food and experiencing its rich cultural flavors.

Jaipur is pleasant place to go sightseeing and shopping. The city is full of exotic palaces, museums, gardens and forts, interspersed with historical monuments and gardens that testify the grandeur of the Rajput kings. Jaipur is the gateway to the royal heritage of India and remains suspended in time.

Food And Cuisine of Jaipur

Food in Jaipur is all about tradition. With the rich heritage of the Rajputana, the cuisine here is spicy and fragrant. Typical Rajasthani dishes such as lal maas, dal-bati-churma and ker sangri can be enjoyed in the quintessential Rajasthani style of sitting cross-legged on mats on the floor and digging in the sumptuous thali, which features up to 20 dishes. Laxmi Misthan Bhandar is a vegetarian restaurant in the Old City that was established in 1954. Its extensive sweet corner is a major highlight and offers some mouth-watering dishes like mawa kachori (deep fried spicy snack) and paneer ghevar (sweet made of cottage cheese and condensed milk). There are over 500 items on the menu.

Lal maas is one of the most popular and fiery dishes of Rajasthan. It is prepared with mutton and red chilli. It looks bright red and is garnished with a good amount of ghee (clarified butter) and coriander leaves. Slow-cooked for hours, the succulent meat dish is usually enjoyed with bajra rotis (Indian flatbread made of pearl millet). Often called Jaipur's culinary icon, dal bati churma is a mix of dal (boiled lentils with spices), bati (wheat rolled into dough, either fried or baked) and churma (crushed wheat with ghee and sugar). There are a variety of ways of eating this dish but the most preferred is by dipping the bati into the dal, pouring ghee on it and then putting it into the churma. The churma can also be had at the end of the meal, like a dessert.

Ker sangri is one of the most popular vegetable dishes of Rajasthan. It is prepared with the berries of the khejri trees and sangri beans, which are soaked in mustard oil with red chilli and raw mango. The dish is often served with roti (Indian flatbread) and forms an integral part of the traditional Rajasthani thali. Ker sangri is a unique vegetable in the sense that while the desert sun saps all manner of vegetation, khejri trees survive. Their roots go so deep into the ground that they can get enough water for survival. The pods of this tree are the main constituents of the dish.

Kachoris are stuffed and fried flatbreads. They are stuffed with a spicy, sweet and savoury stuffing of potatoes, onions and spices. Jaipur is very famous for onion and potato kachoris and has several iconic shops selling them. Safed maas is a Mughal preparation that is a traditional Rajasthani delicacy. It is a mutton-based dish that has a luscious texture. It draws its white color from khoya, fresh cream and yoghurt. Its gravy, which is an amalgamation of onion, cashew nut paste, cardamom, salt, pepper, ginger and garlic paste, is what makes it so delicious.

Gajak is a simple yet delicious sweet dish. A thin and flaky bite-sized sweet, it is made with nutritious sesame seeds, groundnuts and jaggery, and resembles the popular chikki. This crunchy treat gives a great start to the morning and keeps one warm during winter months. According to legend gajak originated in Morena in Madhya Pradesh. To make it, the dough is hammered until sesame seeds break down and release the oil. Many believe that gajak came into being during the Mughal era. Since the Mughals ate meat, their protein requirements could be met easily. However, the Hindu kings had to resort to vegetarian sources of protein. Thus, chana (chickpea), jaggery, peanuts and sesame seeds were mixed to provide the required energy.

Shopping

Jaipur is pleasant place to go shopping. The city is famous for its ivory and enamel work, and for glassware and marble carvings. Items that attract the attention of tourists include colorful puppets, bandhni saris, silver jewelry and lac bangles. The shops and bazaars sell gemstones, jewelry, enamelware, marble statuary, woolen carpets, cotton rugs, hand-block printed Sanganeri and Bagru cotton fabrics, brassware, exotic blue pottery made from crushed quartz, silks, quilts, and copies of antiques. The government store on MI Road, Bapu Bazaar, Johari Bazaar, and Nehru Bazaar are some places where clothing and handicraft items can be purchased. There are also stalls in Choti and Bari Chaupur. All these markets usually remain closed on Sundays.

Johari bazaar is a good place to shop for jewelry. Suranas in Jaipur is a famous jewelry shop patronized by the royal family of Nepal and other international celebrities. Princess Diana had a ring repaired at the shop while visiting India. A diamond necklace sold there for $20,000 sometimes takes craftsmen employed by the shop months to make.

Blue Pottery is an art form that was introduced by the Mughals and came to Jaipur from Persia and Afghanistan. In this style, objects are made from quartz and not clay. Materials that are used include raw glaze, sodium sulphate, and multani mitti (fuller's earth). The beautiful hues of blue and turquoise are obtained through the use of copper oxide and cobalt oxide which gives it a distinctive look. There are a number of products you can purchase including plates, flower vases, soap dishes, door knobs and glazed tiles with hand painted floral designs. There are several shops in Jaipur from where you can buy these items.

Bandhani is one of the most popular styles of Jaipur textiles. It gives a beautiful tie and dye effect to a cloth. To create this effect, the cloth is tied in various places and then dyed to make saris, salwaar kameez, dupatta etc. The colors that are mostly used in this technique are red, yellow, blue, black and green. After dying, bandhani appears in various patterns like waves, dots, strips and squares. This depends on the manner in which the cloth has been tied.

Jaipur is a hotspot for kundan jewelry and has a history of jewelry with precious gems that can be traced back to more than two and a half centuries. In addition to kundan, Jaipur is known for the manufacture of specialised jewelry such as Minakari and processing of colored gems. Moreover, it is a global center of cut and polished emeralds. One can also shop for colored gems, silver and pearls here. However, kundan remains the highlight of this royal city. Historical sources say that the art of making kundan jewelry came to Rajasthan from Delhi. Today kundan jewelry has become a choice accessory of brides. The process of making kundan jewelry is a fascinating one. It starts with a skeletal framework called ghaat. Then, wax is poured onto the framework and moulded according to design. This process is called paadh. The next step is khudai where the uncut multi-colored gemstone is laid on the framework that can be made of pure gold or other metals. This is followed by minakari, where refining is done to define the details of the design. Then, gold foils are added that hold the gems to the framework and this step is called pakai. Finally, the gems are polished in the chillai process.

Activities, Workshops and Entertainment in Jaipur

Jaipur has many places to explore and many ways to explore them: from checking out beautiful vistas in a hot air balloon to exciting light and sound shows. In the city center are many restaurants, shops and tea houses. A little away from the city center is more of a regular city, with shopping malls, movie theaters, eateries and multiplexes.

The best way to explore the delights of the historic city of Jaipur is by going on Heritage Walks. While one is usually overwhelmed by the grandeur of palaces and forts of the city, there are deeper insights into the livelihood of people here. The artisans and traders are the heartbeats of the city. One can attend workshops that delve into the traditional Arts And Crafts of Jaipur and also get a peek into the process of making them. The food streets and the markets of Jaipur are just as lively and foodies should head straight for the delicious kachoris and sweets.

Several private groups offer hot air balloon trips in Jaipur, with the most popular one taking tourists over the Amber Fort. Generally an hour long, the ride is exhilarating and the city surrounded by rolling hills, dotted with forts and palaces, looks mesmerising from the air. One can feel the excitement of soaring over palaces, lakes and forts during the safari.

Rajasthan is famous for its dances and culture shows at hotels and restaurants for tourists often feature some of these dances. Kacchi Godhi is a popular dance form of Rajasthan that originated from the bandit regions of Shekhawati. This dance is mostly performed at weddings to entertain the bridegroom's party. Dancers wear elaborate costumes that make them look as if they are riding a dummy horse. This dance is performed by men who wear red turbans, dhotis and kurtas and carry swords. They move to the beats of drums and fifes while a singer expounds upon the exploits of the Bavaria bandits of Shekhawati.

One can attend a workshop that shows the whole process of tie and dye of Bandhani cloth or see how jewelry is made. Lac bangles are a popular craft of Rajasthan. They are made of resin produced by female lac insect. They are then heated and custom fitted. One can find them in various colors and patterns and they are made of mirror pieces, stones and beads. Workshops showing how the bangles are made can be attended by visitors who can shop to their heart's content.

Amber Fort (11 kilometers from Jaipur) hosts a Sound And Light Show (Son-Et-Lumiere). The spectacular show brings to life the glorious days when the royal family used to reside here. The show is a visual treat with the Amber Fort in front of the audience and the Jaigarh Fort on the left, against the backdrop of craggy hills. The show also aims to celebrate the musical maestros of Rajasthan who have continued to bring glory and have been a source of pride for the state.

Sights in Jaipur

Jaipur is pleasant place to go sightseeing. The city is full of exotic palaces, museums and gardens. Among the city's main tourist attractions is a fabulous maharajah's palace, which occupies one-seventh of the Old City. The impressive Hawa Mahal shadows the bustling streets around Johari Bazaar.

Jal Mahal is one of the most ethereal sights in Jaipur: standing right at the center of the Man Sagar Lake. Conceptualised as a hunting lodge by Maharaja Madho Singh I and restored by Jai Singh II in 1734, it is built according to a blend of Rajput and Mughal aesthetics, with pink sandstone. The sandstone paints a vivid image against the blue backdrop of the water and the distant rolling hills. The palace is a five-storeyed building and about four storeys stay immersed when the lake is full. At night, bathed in dreamy lights, the palace seems as if it’s floating in the lake's water. In the vicinity of the palace is the gorgeous Chameli Bagh, which is a nice spot for birdwatchers. Some of the birds one can spot here includes pochard, coot, flamingo and kestrel.

Albert Hall Museum (in Ram Nivas Garden) is housed in a magnificent building built in Indo-Saracenic architectural style. Also known as the Central Museum, the , Albert Hall Museum draws its name from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Its corridors are decorated with murals reflecting various civilisations. Currently, the museum houses a diverse range of wood crafts, stone and metal sculptures, metal objects, carpets, natural stones, arms and weapons and goods made out of ivory. The museum also displays art from the Kota, Bundi, Udaipur, Kishangarh and Jaipur schools of art. The building's foundation stone was laid during the visit of Prince of Wales, Albert Edward to Jaipur in 1876 and it was completed in 1887 by architect Samuel Swinton Jacob, the then director of Jaipur PWD.

Hawa Mahal (near City Palace of the Maharajah) is a spectacular multilayer white-and-orange striped building with a profusion of windows and stone screens. It is perhaps the most photographed building in India after the Taj Mahal. Around the palace are colorful bazaar and market selling block print bed cover, tie-dyed turbans, vermillion wedding saris and gold bangles. Hawa Mahal means the Palace of the Winds.

Jaipur’s most iconic building, the pink Hawa Mahal, stands royally in the bustling Johari Bazaar. With a fine honeycomb of latticed windows, the five-storeyed monument lives to its name, which means the palace of wind. Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, Hawa Mahal was primarily constructed as a summer retreat for the royal household and was also used by the royal ladies to enjoy the lively vibes of Johari Bazaar through the white framed windows, while they themselves stayed hidden from the people on the street. Interestingly, the arrangement of the windows is said to resemble the crown of Lord Krishna. Inside, there is a museum that houses Rajasthani miniature art and outside is a hub of stalls selling handmade jewelry, leather-crafted home decor items and the region’s famous silver jewelry.

City Palace of the Maharajah of Jaipur

City Palace of the Maharajah of Jaipur (in the heart of old Jaipur) was the principal residence of the city's principal ruling family. Known for its spectacular architecture, it is part museum and part official residence of the current maharajah, Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh (born in 1998). A popular former maharaja, Sawai Bhawani, was affectionately known as "Bubbles" because of his fondness for champagne.

The City Palace is a spectacular example of the amalgamation of Rajput and Mughal architecture. Commissioned to be built by the founder of Jaipur, Maharaja Jai Singh II, this lavish palace includes the living quarters of the erstwhile royal family, some of whom still reside in a private wing. It also houses the Diwan-e-Am (hall for public audience with the king), Diwan-e-Khas (hall for private meetings of the king with his noblemen), Mubarak Mahal and the Maharani’s Palace (queen’s palace). The royal gardens were founded in 1876. Nearby is the Palace of Winds.

Mubarak Mahal houses the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, which displays the royal family’s personal belongings like garments featuring exquisite embroideries. The Maharani’s Palace showcases one of the largest collections of weapons in the country. And at Diwan-e-Khas stands two gigantic silver vessels, each 1.6 meters tall, which are said to be the largest silver objects in the world. These pot-bellied water jugs are the size of small spacecrafts. The maharajah had two of them made to carry his drinking water from the sacred Ganges to England when he went there in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII. The museum also the houses rare manuscripts, paintings, an observatory, a 90-foot sundial, large antiques and several rare artworks.

Gardens and Parks in Jaipur

Gardens in Jaipur that must be visited include Vidyadharjika Bagh and Sisodia Rani Ka Bagh. Each garden has pleasure pavilions which can be rented for parties. The newly built Birla Mandir is a unique monument with exquisite marble carvings. For the best effects see it on a moonlit night.

Ram Niwas Garden (heart of the city) was built by Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh in 1868, This historic garden houses the Albert Hall Museum, a zoo, a bird park, the Ravindra Rang Manch theater, an art gallery and an exhibition ground. People visit here for the garden's various picnic spots. It also appeals to birdwatchers as one can spot several species here.

Jawahar Circle is Asia’s largest circular park and a haven of greenery in Jaipur. The circular park is bordered by a rose garden, which is spectacular to behold. Offering a number of paths for jogging, the park is an ideal place to relax during the evening. The park was created by the Jaipur Development Authority (JDA) in 2009. The major attraction of the park is a musical fountain, which is a beautiful sight with its 270 different water effects adorned with 300 lights. The height of water in the fountain reaches even as high as 25 feet. The park organises a fountain show with artful illumination that begins at 7:00pm every day. It is definitely worth a visit.

Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar (in the heart of the city of Jaipur) is magnificent 18th century garden with large sandstone sundials and a stone observatory raised in the 18th century by an astronomer king used to determine horoscopes and schedule important events. Jantar Mantar astronomical observation site was added to list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2010.

Jantar Mantar is considered as the one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world. It houses the world's largest stone sundial. There are 16 devices at Jantar Mantar, designated to measure time, observe planetary motion around the sun, and to keep a track of celestial bodies. It is the largest of the five astronomical observatories that Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II had built. Out of five, three can be seen in Delhi, Varanasi and Ujjain. Jai Singh, who founded Jaipur, had a keen interest in astronomy. And before starting the construction of Jantar Mantar, he sent his scholars to various parts of the world to study in similar observatories. An interpretation center helps tourists understand the mechanisms of the devices.

According to UNESCO: “The Jantar Mantar, in Jaipur, is an astronomical observation site built in the early 18th century. It includes a set of some 20 main fixed instruments. They are monumental examples in masonry of known instruments but which in many cases have specific characteristics of their own. Designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye, they embody several architectural and instrumental innovations. This is the most significant, most comprehensive, 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. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

“The Jantar Mantar is an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period. The Jantar Mantar observatory in Jaipur constitutes the most significant and best preserved set of fixed monumental instruments built in India in the first half of the 18th century; some of them are the largest ever built in their categories. Designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye, they embody several architectural and instrumental innovations. The observatory forms part of a tradition of Ptolemaic positional astronomy which was shared by many civilizations. It contributed by this type of observation to the completion of the astronomical tables of Zij. It is a late and ultimate monumental culmination of this tradition.

“Through the impetus of its creator, the prince Jai Singh II, the observatory was a meeting point for different scientific cultures, and gave rise to widespread social practices linked to cosmology. It was also a symbol of royal authority, through its urban dimensions, its control of time, and its rational and astrological forecasting capacities. The observatory is the monumental embodiment of the coming together of needs which were at the same time political, scientific, and religious.

“The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is an outstanding example of the coming together of observation of the universe, society and beliefs. It provides an outstanding testimony of the ultimate culmination of the scientific and technical conceptions of the great observatory devised in the Medieval world. It bears witness to very ancient cosmological, astronomical and scientific traditions shared by a major set of Western, Middle Eastern, Asian and African religions, over a period of more than fifteen centuries. The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is an outstanding example of a very comprehensive set of astronomical instruments, in the heart of a royal capital at the end of the Mughal period in India. Several instruments are impressive in their dimensions, and some are the largest ever built in their category.”

Sights Near Jaipur

Sights near Jaipur include Ramgarh Lake (32 kilometers from Jaipur), a huge reservoir with a dam; Samoda (48 kilometers from Jaipur), the home of a former palace (now a hotel) with numerous frescoes, a garden barbecue, a royal museums and servants that worked for the former maharajah; and Ajmer (130 kilometers from Jaipur), known for its academic residential institutions and pilgrimages associated with the holy shrine of Ajmer Sharif. The arid hilly country around Jaipur is dotted with forts. The biggest of these is the awe-inspiring Amber Fort.

Gaitore (15 kilometers from Jaipur, just off the road leading to Amber Fort) is the place where former kings of Jaipur are entombed. Set against the backdrop of yellow sandstone hills, the white marble chhatris or cenotaphs here are built in distinct Rajasthani style, with the intricacy of each chhatri reflecting the stature of the king buried beneath. The most magnificent one, with 20 finely sculpted pillars, belongs to Maharaja Jai Singh II (1688-1743), the founder of Jaipur. Many believe that the carving on each cenotaph represents the taste of every king and the culture that was prevalent at that time. The word 'Gaitore' is believed to have been derived from the Hindi phrase 'Gaye ka Thor', which means a resting place for the departed souls.

Chokhi Dhani (20 kilometers from Jaipur) is a sort of Rajasthan version of a folk village. The price of admission includes a Rajasthani meal and admission to puppet shows, dance and singing demonstrations and museum that depicts the everyday lifestyle of the people of Mewar and Jaisalmer. Camel, bullock cart and horseback rides are available. Rajasthani crafts can be purchased in the "haat bazaar."

Sanganer (16 kilometers from Jaipur) is famous for textile printing and handmade papers. Sanganeri hand block printing has received a Geographic Indication (GI), Tag. The concept of the handmade paper industry was prospered by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1728, and today it manufactures supreme quality handmade paper. Sanganer is also a famous Jain pilgrimage because of the ancient Jain temple of Lord Adinath (Rishabh Dev) located here. You can visit the small town to see how the printing is done and also shop for products here.

Bagru (35 kilometers from Jaipur, on the Ajmer Road) is small village, known for it traditional Bagru prints. Bagru is a classic wooden block printing style, in which the blocks are engraved with the design which is replicated on the fabric. This craft is praised not only for its technique but also its ecological consciousness by using traditional dyes. The print patterns of Bagru are known as 'ajrakh' and the origin of this art can be traced back to 300 years. There is a specific area in the village that is a hub of Bagru printers and a walk through this area will give visitors a view of almost three dozen families who are engaged in this art form. The process is entrancing as the craftsman first wipes the cloth with fuller's earth (multani mitti) and then dips the cloth in turmeric water to give it the customary cream color. After this, various patterns are embossed on the fabric using natural dyes. The dyes of blue get their color from indigo, the red ones from madder root and green is obtained from indigo mixed with pomegranate juice. The yellow hues are taken from turmeric.

Samode Palace (40 kilometers from Jaipur) is almost 500 years old and is a fine example of Rajput haveli architecture. The palace is different in the way that it does not belong to any royal family but to a family of noblemen, the Rawals of Samode. The roots of the family can be traced back to Prithvi Singh of Amber (1503-1528), who was the 17th prince of the house of Kachwaha Rajputs, who are believed to be the descendants of Lord Rama. The noblemen of Samode have been bestowed the title of 'Maha Rawal' for their bravery and loyalty towards the throne. Visitors to Samode can experience the rural lifestyle by taking a camel safari through the village and visit local craftsmen.

Abhaneri (45 kilometers from Jaipur) is a small town and the home of the famous Chand Baori stepwell and Harsha Mata Temple, Rajasthan. The Chand Baori step well is an amazing display of engineering. It was created with the purpose of harvesting rainwater and has a depth of 20 meters with 13 levels. The Harsha Mata Temple is dedicated to Goddess Harshat Mata, who is goddess of joy. This temple was built in the 10th century.

Abhaneri was originally called Abha Nagri, which means 'City of Brightness'. It was built in the 9th century. Abhaneri is also known for its local dances like kalbelia and ghoomer.

Forts Near Jaipur

Royal Castle of Kanota (16 miles from Jaipur) is a 200-year old fort that has been converted into a comfortable hotel. The fortress also contains a museum with displays of armor and horse and camel saddlery, and a library with over 10,000 rare manuscripts, books and miniature paintings. Guests are welcomed with a tika placed on their forehead and a garland of flowers thrown around their neck while decorated horses dance to shehnai music.

Mandawa Fort (168 kilometers from Jaipur) is located in Mandaw, once an important city in Rajasthan founded by the Rajputs in the 18th century. The town developed around Mandawa Fort. Ensconced in the Aravallis, the fort was established to protect the flourishing trading outpost of Mandawa in the Shekhawati region. Today, it has been converted into a heritage hotel and is famous for its painted arched gateway, beautiful frescoes, exquisite carvings, paintings of Lord Krishna and mirror work. The Mandwa Fort was built by Newal Singh, the first descendant of the Shekhawati rulers. Mandawa is also famous for its beautiful havelis that are a trademark of the Shekhawati region, which is also known as the world's largest open-air art gallery.

Nahargarh Fort (northern end of Jaipur) was built to ward off enemy invasions and attacks on Jaipur. Sitting on a ridge in the Aravalli range, the fort was constructed in 1734 and expanded in 1868. An interesting story says that the fort was named after a dead prince, Nahar Singh, whose restless spirit demanded that the structure be named after him. Offering fantastic views of the city, the fort looks astounding at night, bathed in bright lights. The architecture of the fort is breathtaking in its majesty and one can see traces of Indo-European styles. 'Tadigate' is the entrance gate and to its left lies a temple dedicated to the gods of the rulers of Jaipur. Another temple inside the fort, dedicated to Rathore prince, Nahar Singh Bhomia, is also worth a visit.

An interesting feature of the fort is the Madhavendra Bhawan built by Sawai Madho Singh. It is a two-storey building with suites for both the king and his wives. The suites bear the marks of Indian architecture with European embellishments like rectangular casements along with European-styled lavatories. The rooms and suites are linked to each other via hallways and the interior boasts beautiful frescoes. The women quarters are built in such a way that the king could visit any of his queens without the others knowing. The names of all the nine queens had been emblazoned on the doors to avoid confusion.

Gardens Near Jaipur

Sisodia Rani Palace And Garden (eight kilometers from Jaipur) was constructed by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II for his queen Sisodia, a princess of Udaipur, in 1728. He gifted the garden to the queen to spend her idol time in. Laid out in a blend of Mughal and Indian styles, it is a multi-tiered garden with built-in waterways, fountains and pavilions. While the spires and the pavilions have been crafted in Indian style, the flowerbeds, fountains and water channels reflect Mughal style. A natural spring and small shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord Hanuman and Lord Vishnu are also worth visiting. The garden overlooks the palace that houses paintings of hunting scenes and scenes from the legends of Lord Krishna and Radha.

Vidyadhar Garden (close to Sisodia Garden) is a beautiful garden named after Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, the chief architect of Jaipur. The garden is planned according to the scripts of Shilpa Shastra. Its amazing artwork done on roofs of galleries, pavilions and lush greenery are definitely a sight for sore eyes. The garden lies in the midst of hills and presents a picturesque view. The walls are also noteworthy as they are decorated with lattice and mirror artwork. The garden also boasts images and scenes from the life of Lord Krishna. One can often find peacocks prancing about it the beautiful garden.

Kanak Vrindavan (in the foothills of Nahargarh on the way to Amber Fort) houses an intricately carved temple, marble columns and lattices, making it an ideal location to spend a day in. It is a great spot for sightseeing, photography and relaxing. One can also spot a variety of birds here like neel kanth, spotted dove and kingfisher. The garden was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh and is said to be emulated after a mythological garden where Lord Krishna used to play. This was meant as the king's recreational retreat. One can also find a spiritual spot here where several rivers meet. The water is considered holy here and a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu has been built nearby. The layout of the garden is quite spectacular and it is lined with trees. The walls are decorated with mirror work and jali work that reflect Mughal styles. The garden is geometrically divided into eight sections and there is a small fountain here that has been carved out of a single slab of marble. This is called Parikrama.

Jaigarh

Jaigarh Fort (15 kilometers from of Jaipur) was legendary home of the treasure of the Maharajah of Jaipur. According to legend, once in a lifetime each maharajah was led into a secret vault filled with gold and jewels and allowed to choose one piece for himself. In the 1930s Maharajah Man Singh II showed an English visitor a ruby studded, 16-inch-long golden braid that belonged to his father. The young maharajah was never given his chance to enter the vault. Jaigarh means Victory.”

Renowned for housing Jaiban, the world's largest cannon, Jaigarh Fort was constructed by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in the early 18th century. Built to protect Amber Fort from enemy invasion, Jaigarh Fort sits majestically atop a craggy hill. Though built as a military structure, there are well-planned gardens within its premises, along with a residential area for the royals and temples. The fort is well-preserved and stands in all its grandeur. It is connected to the famous Amber Fort with subterranean passages and its architecture is very similar to the Amber Fort. One can get sweeping and picturesque views of the city of Jaipur from here. The fort also boasts an assembly hall of warriors called Shubhat Niwas, a museum and an armoury. Many believe that the fort has a huge treasure buried under it.

The history of the fort is quite interesting and it is said that during the Mughal era, it became the empire's main foundry of cannon and was also used to store ammunition and other metal requirements of war. The outpost of Jaigarh Fort was protected by Dara Shikoh, who was defeated and executed by his brother, Aurangzeb. Then, the fort was given to Jai Singh II.

Amber Palace

Amber Palace (12 kilometers north of Jaipur) is a former royal residence that sits on a hill above a lake on the lip of a rock ridge. Attracting over 500,000 visitors s year, the magnificent fort was commissioned in 1592 by Maharaja Man Singh I. It is a fine blend of Rajput and Mughal architectural styles, and boasts a grand palace, temples and several ornate gates. Built entirely of red sandstone with white marble work, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is a picture of opulence and grandeur, set against a stark desert backdrop and rolling hills. According to UNESCO: Amber Palace is representative of a key phase (17th century) in the development of a common Rajput-Mughal court style, embodied in the buildings and gardens added to Amber by Mirza Raja Jai Singh I.”

One can either walk up the wide winding uphill road to reach the main gate of the fort or hire a cab. As you get closer to the massive gate, you realise why it was considered almost impregnable by the enemy, when the royal family used to reside here, before they shifted the capital to Jaipur. As you enter, you cross the Suraj Pol (sun gate), which leads to the main courtyard called Jaleb Chowk. Diagonally opposite is the Chand Pol (moon gate). From Jaleb Chowk, a flight of stairs leads up to the small Siladevi Temple, whose doors feature relief work in silver.

The main palace is up next. It includes the Diwan-e-Am (hall for a private audience with the king) with carved columns and latticed galleries, the king’s apartments, the gate Ganesh Pol with beautiful arches, and Jai Mandir or Sheesh Mahal. Stand at one of the many arched windows of the palace and take in the rolling shrub land stretching up to the horizon and the scenic Maota Lake at the foot of the fort. Even after centuries, it’s easy to imagine yourself as a Rajput king, who would stand here and survey his kingdom.

Sheesh Mahal or the mirrored palace is one of the most popular attractions here that draws the largest number of tourists. It is breathtaking with fine marble work and cut-glass and mirror inlaid designs on ceilings and walls. It is said that at night, as earthen lamps flickered inside the hall, the numerous mirrors reflected the light, creating the atmosphere of a start-lit sky. Hire a guide or an audio guide to know more about the legends of the fort. In the evening, watch history come alive in a spectacular sound and light show.

Amber Fort hosts a Sound And Light Show (Son-Et-Lumiere). The spectacular show brings to life the glorious days when the royal family used to reside here. The show is a visual treat with the Amber Fort in front of the audience and the Jaigarh Fort on the left, against the backdrop of craggy hills. The show also aims to celebrate the musical maestros of Rajasthan who have continued to bring glory and have been a source of pride for the state.

Overlooking the Amber Palace are two forts that took a hundred years to build: Jaigarh and Nahargarh. The forts can be reached a steep path by jeep, (US$2), by foot (free) or roundtrip the back of an elephant decorated in paint and bangles ($10.35). Ticket for the latter can be purchased at the Office of Elephant Booking at the taxi stand for elephants at the bottom of Amber Hill. Sometimes so many elephants use the route there are elephant traffic jams.

Wildlife In And Around Jaipur

Sambhar Lake (70 kilometers from Jaipur) is a large inland saltwater lake famous for birds, surrounded by a stark but stunning white landscape. The word 'sambhar' means 'salt' and the lake is named so as its surrounding regions have high concentrations of salt. This lake has been classified as a Ramsar site (wetland of worldwide animation) and is home to flamingos, which are a major attraction of this place. One can also spot a large number of pelicans here. Sambhar lake has been mentioned in the epic Mahabharata as well and the story says that the lake was part of the kingdom of a devil lord called Brishparva. Goddess Shakambari Devi turned the plains of the town into a mine of precious metal. However, since people were worried that such wealth would corrupt many, the goddess turned it into a reservoir of salt. Sambhar Lake is one of the largest inland saltwater lakes in India.

Nahargarh Biological Park (12 kilometers from Jaipur on the Jaipur-Delhi highway) is a part of the Nahargarh Sanctuary. Spread over an area of 720 hectare in the Aravalli range, the park is famous for its varied flora and fauna. Over 285 species of birds call this park home, among whom the most sought-after is the rare white-naped tit. Ram Sagar, located within the park, is one of the best spots to watch our feathered friends. The park houses animals like Asiatic lions, Bengal tigers, hyenas, panthers, wild boars, Himalayan black bears, wolves, deer, sloth bear, crocodiles etc. Moreover, it also conducts research and educates people about the existing flora and fauna.

A Nahargarh jeep safari is an exciting way to see the wildlife at the park. The tour starts from Amber Fort and takes one through Nahargarh Biological Park. One can spot a variety of birds along with 13 lions that are housed here. The safari then takes one to Shikargah, which has two hills facing each other, and Kali temples. One can see the lovely wildlife in the forests around and explore the stepwells that were once used for irrigation.

Jhalana Safari Park (outskirts of Jaipur) sprawls over an area of seven square kilometers and is home to about 15 leopards and is best known for its leopard safari. Besides leopards, the park also has has panthers, hyenas, desert foxes, golden jackals, chitals, Indian palm civets, blue bulls, jungle cats and many kinds of bird and other animals. The park also includes a majestic shikar oudi (a small house used during hunting expeditions) built in 1835 by Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh (1835-1880), a big temple of Kali Mata, and a Jain Chulgiri temple.

Ranthambhore National Park

Ranthambhore National Park (155 kilometers from Jaipur near the town of Sawai Madaipur, a three hour train ride from Jaipur) has traditionally been regarded as the best place in the world to see tigers in the wild, both because there are a lot of tigers there and the thin brush in the park is conducive for viewing wildlife. What makes Ranthambhore particularly interesting is that not only can you see tigers in the bush you can also find them roaming the ruins of mosques, temples and palaces built by Muslim and Hindu maharajahs. Relatively tame, the tigers have altered their normal nocturnal habits and are quite often seen during the day. They have no fear of tourists and their vehicles.

Ranthambhore National Park covers 392 square kilometers (116 square miles) and is set around Ranthambhore Fort, a 10th century ruin set on a 750-foot high rock plateau. The park’s diverse topography is a mix of rolling hills and crags, meadows, lakes and rivulets.. Sprawled over the Aravalli and Vindya ranges of mountains, Ranthambore consists primarily of dry deciduous forest dominated by dhok trees, scrub jungle and grassland, There are no dense forests or bamboo thickets. The park is being encroached on by villages on the perimeter of the park boundaries. Poaching has been problem. In 1980s it was not uncommon to see seven different tigers in two days. In the early 2000s there were only 25 tigers in the whole park. Now there are over 60 of them

Ranthambhore National Park was once the private game reserve of the royal family of Jaipur and is now part of the Rajasthan Hill Forts UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO: “Situated in the middle of forest, Ranthambore is an established example of forest hill fort and in addition, the remains of the palace of Hammir are among the oldest surviving structures of an Indian palace.” The 10th century Ranthambore fort dominates the landscape of dry-deciduous forest. The Bakula region is among the thickly forested areas of the sanctuary that has various waterholes and pools. Thus, an abundance of wildlife can be found here.

In the park there are lots of monkeys, sambar, chital, peacocks and interesting birds such as the tree pie, which has a yellow belly and a long black-and-white tail. . Troops of monkeys sometimes storm minibuses, expecting to be given bananas. When a tiger is spotted word quickly gets out and a scrum of vehicles converges to that point it was seen. Among the other animals seen here are leopard, marsh crocodile, hyena, jackal, jungle cat, caracal, sloth bear, nilgai (blue bull antelope), fox, Indian wolf, chital, sambar deer, wild boar, chinkara, Indian hare, mongoose, monitor lizard, rhesus macaque and langur. There is an incredible variety of birds, including Boneliis eagle, crested serpent eagle, great Indian horned owl, grey partridge, painted partridge, quail, spur fowl, painted stork, black stork, white-necked stork, spoonbill, green pigeon and ducks.

Tigers, Poaching and Conservation in Ranthambhore National Park

Ranthambhore has traditionally been popular with tourist who want to see a tiger. According to the 2014 census of tigers, there were 62 tigers in Ranthambhore National Park. The number of tigers was 48 in 2013 and 25 in 2005. Due to the recent increase in the number of tigers, the park is planning to transfer a few to other parks.

The number of tigers dropped 45 in 1990 to 27 in 1996. At that time many tigers had been poached. In one notorious poaching spree between 1989 and 1992, 18 tigers were lost to poachers, even though 60 guards were patrolling the forest. One group of poachers confessed to killing 15 tigers in the park in a two year period. Mogiya tribesmen around the park were paid between $100 and $300 for animals they killed with high powered rifles and shotguns. Poachers often said the tigers were shot outside of the park where they sometimes strayed. In 1999 only 16 tigers were counted. When U.S. President Bill Clinton visited in 2000 he saw two tigers. The tigers seen by Clinton were gone a few years later.

Encroachment by villagers and grazing animals that live outside the park has been another threat to the tigers. At one time 100,000 people lived inside the park and their animals caused degradation of the tigers’ habitat. In response many villagers have been forced to move outside of the park. They have complained that "animals are more important than people". Efforts have been made to direct money earned from the park into programs that help the local people.

Tourism in Ranthambhore National Park

Few people knew of Ranthamphore until 1986 when the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited there. Soon afterwards it became a major tourist destination, attracting abut 70,000 tiger watching tourists and 300,000 Hindu pilgrims visiting the Ganesh temple inside the park. Tourists also visit Ranthambhore Fort. It is possible to trek around a mosque and three temples inside the fort.

Visitors usually stay in camps on the outskirts of the park that can be reached by jeep from Sawai Madaipur. One of these camps, Sher Bagh, meaning Tiger garden, is comprised of a dozen tents arranged around a grass lawn. Each tent has its own bathroom facilities. The camp is open from October through mid April. The $180 a night fee includes transfer from the railway station and meals and afternoon tea. Safaris are conducted four-wheel drive jeeps and open air minibuses. Jeeps safaris cost $55. The jeeps are recommended. The minibuses are noisy and more likely to have obnoxious tourists.

Shoba Narayan wrote in the Washington Post: “I chose to visit Ranthambore because it has the infrastructure in place for luxury tourism. There are several five-star properties, including Aman-i-Khas, Oberoi, Khem Villas and its neighbor, the Sher Bagh, where Priyanka Gandhi -- India's Caroline Kennedy, if you will -- was vacationing with her family when I visited. These game lodges offer the solace of luxury amid the stark wilderness of Rajasthan. [Source: Shoba Narayan, Washington Post, March 22, 2009]

“My tent at Aman-i-Khas, on the outskirts of the park, was about the size of my one-bedroom apartment in New York. Bigger, actually. An open, loftlike space, it was furnished in natural-color canvas and leather with every creature comfort you wouldn't think to ask for. The heated beds, for instance, offered a warm respite after the cold jungle. Each tent had a "batman" who appeared when we rang and conjured up our desires.

“And I felt absurdly happy because of an additional amenity: The laundry service was free, or rather, it was included in Aman-i-Khas's stratospheric rates. One of my pet peeves is luxury hotels that charge $1,000 a night and then nickel-and-dime you over peanuts in the mini bar or items of laundry. At Aman, you could throw your dirty clothes into the bamboo basket and they would be returned that evening, pressed and perfumed, in time for the game drive. And there was no mini bar in the tent. You could drink the house wine free or pay extra for specialty brands.

“Next to Aman-i-Khas are two boutique hotels run by local Indian families. One afternoon I walked down to Khem Villas, run by Goverdhan "Groovy" Singh Rathore and his wife, Usha. Khem Villas is a little more than a year old and made Conde Nast Traveler's Hot List in 2007. At $400 a night for room and board, it isn't cheap, but it is roughly half of what the Aman group charges.

“Rathore grew up in Ranthambore. His father, Fateh Singh Rathore, was the original Tiger Man of Ranthambore, having been involved with Project Tiger from the beginning. The senior Rathore still lives nearby and works to protect the tiger's habitat from encroachment by nearby villagers. He has leased his land to the uber-luxe Oberoi Vanyavilas, another tented camp down the road....At all the resorts, most guests go on every dawn and dusk game drive to maximize their chance of seeing a tiger. A tiger in the wild looks different from the ones you see on Discovery Channel. Ours was massive, weighing almost 300 pounds and over six feet long.”

Tiger-Spotting in India's Ranthambore National Park

Shoba Narayan wrote in the Washington Post: “Our convoy set off at dawn -- 5:37 a.m., to be precise -- into the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, India. Toting binoculars and cameras, wearing hooded jackets and gloves, and carrying a thermos of hot masala chai, we were searching for that most elusive of creatures, Panthera tigris tigris, also known as the Bengal tiger. [Source: Shoba Narayan, Washington Post, March 22, 2009]

“Green parrots screeched overhead. A peacock took flight in hues of purple, startlingly graceful for a bird so big. Spotted deer skittered away. Indian gaur (bison) looked up inquiringly as we whizzed past in our four-wheel-drive vehicles. Monkeys chattered as they swung through the trees. The sun rose. An hour passed, then two...Nothing quite equals the sight of a tiger in the wild. It isn't the frenzied excitement of a rock concert or the whooping delight of a last-minute touchdown. It is quietly overwhelming, if that makes sense. Breath becomes shallow, hair stands on end and skin gets goose bumps.

“My encounter began as most do, with pugmarks, or footprints, by the dirt road. Still in the vehicle, we followed the tracks, aided by the alarm calls of birds and monkeys, racing hither and thither through the undergrowth. Then we saw her, a tigress stretched out in the sun after feasting on a fresh kill. We stopped at a distance, not wanting to scare her away: a nonsensical construct, really, for tigers are "apex predators" that fear nothing but guns. Ranthambore's craggy terrain makes it a good place to sight these secretive, solitary, nocturnal beasts....We edged closer. Cat eyes, both arrogant and dismissive, took stock of us, eyes that could mesmerize a man. Her name was Malliga, the guide said. Or was it Maya? I wasn't paying attention. Look at the stripe behind her ear, the guide said. Notice the break. That's how we identify her.

On his experience tiger spotting, Michael Kerr wrote in The Telegraph: Ranthambore is unusual among Indian reserves in having too many tigers, which is why some have been moved to Sariska, another Rajasthani reserve. Ranthambore covers 5,000 square miles, an area reckoned to be big enough to support 32 tigers. On the day we visited, a month ago, it was said to be home to 40. Perhaps that is why our encounter seemed to be almost by appointment. [Source: Michael Kerr, The Telegraph, June 8, 2010]

“We entered the park at 6.30am. Barely half an hour later, our guide noticed that three jeeps were converging on the same patch of ground. We joined them, and saw a tiger – a female of four-and-a-half years old, he said – emerging from long grass. She picked her way between the jeeps, went down an incline and came up again, no more than 25 yards from the rear of our vehicle. For a few moments, as if declaring: "I shall now make myself available for photographs", she lay down on the track, close enough for my compact camera to register the glint in her eyes. The black tracking collar around her neck did not diminish by a jot her elemental power.

“She turned her gaze on the lake below, sideways towards our camera lenses, then back on the lake. The deer grazing 100 yards away at the lake's edge were clearly the more compelling sight. She went down the incline into cover, settled again for a few moments, then rose. We saw her ears prick, the powerful shoulders rise, the stalk begin. As she tensed, so did we. A young deer was heading her way. The deer bounded forward. The tiger edged a few feet ahead, and waited. Then, spooked by something, the deer was off. A peacock was still wandering dangerously close but the tiger, it seemed, had decided that something more substantial was needed for breakfast. She moved off into longer grass to bide her time.”

Pushkar

Pushkar (120 kilometers west of Jaipur) is the home of the famous camel fair and where Brahma, the Hindu Lord of creation, performed a sacrifice by letting a lotus blossom fall from heaven. It struck the earth in three places, and water sprang forth, creating the lake.

Sprawled around the serene Pushkar Lake, the quaint town of Pushkar boasts a dramatic landscape of sand dunes, lakes, hills and forests. Steeped in spirituality, Pushkar, literally translated means lotus flower, and is believed to be the seat of Lord Brahma. Thus, Pushkar is among the rare places to house a temple of Lord Brahma. A red-spired structure that was built during the 14th century, it invites devotees from far and wide. According to legend Lord Brahma once dropped a lotus on the ground, leading to the immediate creation of a lake, which he later named after the flower.

The soul of Pushkar vibrates in its streets and one can enjoy the city through the labyrinth of alleys and lanes, bazaars and the ghats. The Pushkar Fair (Pushkar Mela) that features a fete of cattle, horses and camels is famous all over the world. It is a seven-day affair that takes place during the months of October and November. The liveliness of the fair attracts nearly 2,00,000 people every year, including vendors, buyers and sellers of horses, camels and buffaloes. Various stalls such as those of handlooms, snacks, sweetmeats, ice crushes, bangles, camel saddles are set up to attract visitors.

Ajmer

Ajmer (130 kilometers west of Jaipur) is known for its academic residential institutions and pilgrimages associated with the holy shrine of Ajmer Sharif. Founded by Ajayadeva, an 11th-century Rajput ruler, it has traditionally been a trade center with cotton mills and nearby marble quarries. This city of about 550,000 residents and a Jain temple, the tomb of a Muslim saint, and a palace among its historic sites.

Encircled by the craggy Aravalli Hills that overlook Ana Sagar Lake, Ajmer has a diverse religious and cultural atmosphere and is often filled with pilgrims visiting Ajmer-e-Sharif, the Dargah (a shrine built over a grave) of Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, the founder of the Chishti order, the main Sufi sect in India. Dargah draws pilgrims all year round, but is particularly crowded with them during Ramadan and on the anniversary of the death of the saint.

Being the seat of the Chauhan kings, who established the city, Ajmer is speckled with grand forts, ancient temples and a vibrant history that can be seen in its Arts And Crafts. The city is also the gateway to the town of Pushkar, which is considered a major Hindu pilgrimage spot. Sprawled around the serene Pushkar Lake, with a dramatic landscape of sand dunes, lakes, hills and forests, Pushkar is noted for its famous fair held during the months of October and November that draws more than 2,00,000 footfalls.

Ajmer boasts a richly woven history, from when it founded by Raja Ajaypal Chauhan to when Prithviraj Chauhan was killed by Muhammad of Ghor in the 12th century. It was later conquered by the Marwar dynasty in 1532, followed by the rule of Mughal dynasty under Akbar in 1559. It was emperor Akbar who gave Ajmer the status of a full-fledged province. Mughals continued to rule Ajmer until 1770 when it was surrendered to the Marathas. Finally, in 1818 Ajmer was passed on to the East India Company by the Marathas.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is Sanganer Airport, which is about 135 kilometers from Ajmer. It keeps Ajmer well-connected with major Indian cities. By Road: Ajmer is well-connected by road as it is located on the Golden Quadrilateral National Highway 8, midway between Delhi and Mumbai. By Train: The Ajmer Junction railway station lies on the Delhi-Jaipur-Marwar-Ahmedabad - Mumbai railway line. The station is well-connected with major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Allahabad, Lucknow and Kolkata.

Sights in Ajmer

Ajmer-e-Sharif (in the heart of Ajmer) is one of the most sanctified Sufi shrines in the country. Dargah Sharif or Ajmer-e-Sharif invites devotees from across the globe, who come to pay homage to Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. He was known for his secular ideologies and noble teachings pertaining to peace. The street outside the Dargah is lined with shops selling a wide range of articles like perfumes, sweets, flowers and 'chadars' or cloth, which are offered to Khwaja.

As one enters the Dargah, one needs to go through a series of massive doors made of silver with striking carvings. They open into a courtyard that houses the tomb of Moinuddin Chishti, carved out of marble. The Dargah has a gold plating on top and is guarded by a railing made of silver and a marble screen. The evening rituals include Mehfil-e-Sama, which is an enthralling experience for visitors. Don't miss the massive cooking utensil called badi deg while you are leaving the Dargah compound. It is believed that throwing money in the vessel will make all your wishes come true.

Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra (on the outskirts of Ajmer) is a ruined mosque built in the Indo-Islamic style of architecture. The word 'adhai' means two and a half in Hindi and it is said that the mosque was constructed in two and a half days. Designed by Abu Bakr of Herat, the adhai-din-ka-jhonpra has 10 domes, which are supported by more than 100 pillars. The walls of the main hall are chiselled into small screens to allow sunlight to enter. The mosque's interior has a main hall supported by numerous richly decorated columns. The adhai-din-ka-jhonpra can be visited after you have made your prayers at the Dargah Shareef, which lies 500 meters away

Near Delhi in Rajasthan

Neemrana Fort Palace (150 kilometers northeast of Jaipur and 120 kilometers southwest of Delhi) was built in 1464 and now is a heritage luxury hotel that is ensconced in the Aravalli ranges. Once the seat of Rajput king, Prithvi Raj Chauhan III, this fort preserves its antiquity, while boasting a very modern and comfortable setting. Situated in Alwar, Rajasthan, the majestic fort is sprawled over an area of 10 hectare, comprising lush hanging gardens, large pools and state-of-the-art rooms, all of which come furnished with plush interiors. Some notable features include spacious balconies that provide a sweeping panoramic view of the surroundings (you can almost feel like a king surveying his kingdom!), beautiful paintings and antiques that reflect traces of colonial charm and Rajasthani heritage. There are a total of eight wings in the fort and each room has been given a distinct name, according to which it has been decorated.

The fort looks resplendent at night when it is bathed in the soft glow of numerous lights. Tourists can enjoy various cultural events that are held in the premises during weekends or take part in thrilling activities like zip-lining. You can also enjoy a vintage car ride or sample Rajasthani and French delicacies at the restaurants. Boasting three huge conference halls, the fort is an ideal venue for business meetings and social gatherings, all of which can be conducted in relaxing surroundings. Neemrana is a much sought-after venue for wedding ceremonies as well.

Sariska National Park (60 kilometers northeast of Jaipur) is a 776-square kilometer (300-square-mile) reserve in Rajasthan established on the former hunting ground of the Maharajah of Alwar. A long narrow heavily-forested valley forms the heart of the park and a paved road runs down the middle of the valley where tourists often see tigers and large herds of deer. Tourists that see the large numbers of animals often wonder why there is so much concern about diminishing wildlife. But looks are deceiving. Artificial waterholes have been dug to lure animals to the road while the rest of the park is nearly void of animals. Much of the grass in the park has been grazed by cattle even though a wall was built to keep them out.

A highways goes through the park. It is used by people visiting a Hindu temples dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey god. About 2,500 people and 35,000 cattle live in 28 villages in the park. Poachers took many tigers and leopards. In 1988 a census recorded 45 tigers. A year later there were only 16. A survey in October 2004 counted 15. A survey in February 2005. found none. Ironically. Sariska is where Project Tiger began. In recent years some tigers from Ranthambhore National Park have been transplanted to Sariska.

Mandawa Fort (160 kilometers west of Delhi, 120 kilometers north of Jaipur) is one of the architectural gems of the region. Such is the grandeur of the fort that it has often been the backdrop of movies like Bajarangi Bhaijan, Love Aaj Kal, Mirzya and Jab We Met. Built in 18th century and perched atop the Aravalli Hills, the fort houses many rooms, featuring antique decor, beautiful paintings of Lord Krishna and other gods and goddesses and intricate mirror work. Its painted archways are also a treat to the eyes. Founded by a chieftain named Mandu Jat, the Mandawa Fort grew under the Shekhawat Rajputs. It speaks a lot about the rich history of the region and boasts unique features of Rajasthani architecture. Visitors can shop in the local market in Mandawa, which offers magnificent brass items, colorful textiles and handicrafts. Further, the royal family has been supporting a girl's school here wherein the visitors can interact and participate by obtaining the necessary permissions. Other notable places to visit include Gulab Rai Ladia Haveli, Lakshminarayan Haveli, Mohanlal Saraf Haveli and Chowkani Haveli, which are adorned with beautiful fresco paintings.

Shekhawati

Shekhawati (160 kilometers from Jaipur in northeast Rajasthan) is often called the "open air" art gallery of Rajasthan. It refers to a region with towns and villages that were home to medieval Shekhawati communities famous for their painted houses and high quality frescoes made between 1750 and 1930. The cenotaph of Shardul Singh and the adjacent Gopinath Temple contain the oldest frescoes. Other frescoes have been painted on havelis (mansions with courtyards), forts and temples.

Situated in the northern desert reaches of Rajasthan, Shekhawati is full of grand havelis with beautiful frescos and murals, and ancient temples and stepwells adorned with intricate carvings. A reflection of the opulent lifestyle of the wealthy merchants of the region, Shekhawati boasts the legacy of the traders who bestowed it with its architectural gems. Every nook and cranny of the district is alive with the vibrancy of colorful paintings that are almost like a picture story, revolving around religious legends, folklore and highlights of its lavish past. Most of these havelis were abandoned by their owners, when they migrated to other parts of the country for trade. Today, they have been restored and turned into museums, heritage resorts and hotels.

Shekhawati (also spelled Shekhavati) lies on a major trade route between the ports of Gujarat and the large towns and cites in the north. A large number or rich traders set up shop here and tried to outdo one another to see who could make the greatest paintings. The Italian technique of fresco buono was used for the earlier paintings and the later ones used chemical instead of natural paints and dyes.

The painting are found everywhere: on walls, balconies, ceilings, arches, pillars, The domes of cenotaphs at cremations grounds and even the rims of wells. The most spectacular works cover the walls and ceilings of entire rooms. Blue, gold and maroon are prominent color. The subjects and themes of the frescoes encompass traditional mythology, local legends and folklore, Rajput everyday life, and stories attributed to historical figures and characters from Rajput epics. There are also some images of English ladies, motorcars and early aircraft.

The history of Shekhawati is rooted in the Matsya kingdom and has also been mentioned in the ancient Indian texts of Rig Veda and Manusmriti. Rao Shekha from Dhundhar established Shekhawati with its capital at Amarsar. He divided the region into 33 villages that were fortified with mud and stone forts. A prominent trading center of the 14th century, Shekhawati is now a tourist hub in Rajasthan

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is at Jaipur, about 2.5 hours away. By Road: The place is well-connected with State Highway 8, 37 and 41 that provide direct routes to Jaipur, Delhi and Bikaner. By Train: The nearest Railway station is the Jhunjhunu Railway station that is connected to major cities like Jaipur, Delhi, Indore etc.

The towns of Sikar (70 miles from Jaipur) and Jhunjhunu (115 miles from Jairpur) are both convenient starting points for visits to the Shekhawati region. Both of these town have frescoes and havelis worth seeing. The main centers of Shekhawati art are Ramgarh, Fatehpur and Lachhmangarh.

Churu

Churu (200 kilometers east of Delhi, 175 kilometers north of Jaipur) is known for its shifting sand dunes and is a gateway to the Thar desert. Dotted with grand havelis that boast 50-100 rooms, adorned with intricate fresco paintings, interestingly, Churu has no royal history. These havelis were homes of rich and prosperous merchants, who inhabited the area. The paintings in the havelis are a reflection of the owner's lifestyles, or a depiction of the fashion of that time, like travelling in a car or a train. You can almost feel the past knocking at the door, such is the beauty of the paintings, which appear as bright as if they were painted yesterday. The doors of the havelis are also intricately designed and one can spend an entire day admiring them as no two of them are alike. Churu provides a beautiful landscape, where the skyline bursts with colors during sunset on one side, and the moon peeps out of the water on the other.

Founded in 1620 AD by the Nirban clan of Rajputs, Churu is a small city that connects Pali to Ambala. It is also a religious seat of the Nath sect of Sadhus, who worship the marble statues of their deities. Other places of attraction include a 400-year-old fort, which is located at the center of the city. Mantri Haveli is yet another noteworthy spot to visit in the area. Churu is also noted for chhatris ( elevated dome-shaped pavilions). With a large number of women engaged in hand embroidery, one can get a plethora of handmade products that reflect the cultural ethos of the region. Shekhawati was a part of Bikaner before independence and has beautiful temples of Salasar Balaji and Babosa Maharaj.

Ratangarh Fort (200 kilometers from the city of Jaipur) was built by Surat Singh in the18th century and is known for its grand gateways, monuments and a clock tower known as the Ghantaghar. Surrounded by ethnic villages and brilliant stretches of landscape, the fort makes for an attractive tourist stopover. The Ratangarh Fort has been named after Maharaja Ratan Singh, son of Surat Singh. It is said that it was attacked twice by Thakur Prithvi Singh, the son of Churu king, with the support of Maharawal Laxman Singh of Sikar in 1815 and 1816. While guarding the fort, its caretakers, Lal Shah Syed and Purohit Jethmal, were killed. This has been mentioned in the inscriptions in the fort. The grand fort is located in the middle of the city and has four gates and boundary walls.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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