Tips and things to do in India: A beginner's guide to Rajasthan

​Brace yourself for a fantastic mix of colour, contrasts and chaos.

Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, was laid out on a sensible grid system by its founder Maharaja Jai Singh II almost 300 years ago. This being India, however, the grid is often locked.

The cause of the delay may be as simple as streets sealed off for a festival parade, as bizarre as an ambling elephant and its mahout blocking a couple of lanes, or maybe some sacred cows munching some discarded rubbish in the middle of road. 

Possibly a Bollywood movie is being shot (the city is a popular film set). Or there may be no discernible reason at all.

Known as the pink city because of its many pink buildings, it is both charming and chaotic. Charmingly chaotic.

You'll likely be presented with garlands of brightly coloured flowers as you enter your hotel and your exit may be delayed by a traditional puppet show. Not a big deal as the traffic is probably still not moving.

Rajasthan is a fascinating place; a riddle inside an enigma with immense contrasts between old and new, rich and poor. Jaipur, being home to just 3 million people, is an ideal introduction to the even more serious chaos that awaits in bigger cities such as Mumbai and Calcutta.

India is one of the most frenetic – but fascinating – countries on the planet, a cacophony of sound, a 24-hour assault on the senses. Rajasthan provides just a small slice – but with a dollop of charm and a ready smile.  

There are tuk tuks and taxis, camels and horse-driven carts; the constant sound of horns, crunching of gears and squealing of tyres; the aromas of street urinals and the busy hands of beggars.

The locals are transfixed by a television broadcast of the regional sport kabbadi – which is incomprehensible to western eyes.

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Jaipur is a destination in its own right; full of ancient forts and palaces with striking contrasts between conspicuous consumption and desperate poverty; traditional cultures and Western ways. You'll find farmers who still carry milk churns on their heads and live in communal compounds, but also watch TV through their satellite dishes; tribesmen in traditional costumes chatting away on their mobile phones.

This is not a destination for those who want to wind down and relax on their holiday, but is ideal for lovers of high-energy destinations, spicy vegetarian food and multiple challenges.

Visitors to Rajasthan are up from 3.8 million to 4.5 million over the past 12 months and tourism now accounts for more than 15 per cent  of the state's income.

Sydney and Melbourne folk can now get to Rajasthan via Kuala Lumpur following the launch of AirAsia X flights direct from Kuala Lumpur to Jaipur.

Jaipur is regarded as one of most beautiful and magnificent cities of India and its rich cultural heritage is displayed in the traditions, customs, lifestyle, art, jewellery, textiles and architecture, as well as its traditional art and music.

The majestic forts and havelis, old-style mansions, the beautiful temples, serene landscapes and the rich cultural heritage have long made the city and surrounds a magnet for travellers.

The fascinating Amber Palace is a major drawcard along with the must-see City Palace, Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, Nahargarh Fort, Birla Temple and Jantar Mantar.

The City Palace is one of the most famous tourist attractions; dating back to the 19th century. The palace was built by Sawai Jai Singh and showcases a unique combination of Rajput, Mughal and European styles of architecture with an array of courtyards, gardens and special structures.

One of the most prominent landmarks of the pink city, Hawa Mahal, is located nearby – it was where women of the royal family used to live. Constructed with red and pink sandstone and symbolising the shape of Lord Krishna's crown, it is an architectural masterpiece with more than 900 intricately carved jharokhas, or small windows.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jantar Mantar is the largest of the five astronomical observatories built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the city's inventive founder. It contains  16 geometric devices, designed to measure time, track celestial bodies and observe the orbits of the planets.

The Albert Hall, brilliantly lit at night, takes its name from The Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  

Also known as the Water Palace, Jal Mahal is situated in the heart of the Man Sagar Lake, below the dry Nahargarh Hills. Its unique location and charming beauty make it one of the best photographic sites in Rajasthan. Originally built by Maharajah Sawai Madho Singh some 300 years ago, the palace was renovated by his son to beautify its exteriors with courtyards and gardens built in typical Mughal style.

Travel outside the city by taxi or tuk tuk to explore several historic forts and monuments. Buses are the best way to reach other Rajasthan cities including Uidapur, Jodhpur and Jaiselmer – but be warned: distances are long, and temperatures can be high.

The northern winter is regarded as the best time to visit Jaipur. Fresh breezes make daytime sightseeing comfortable – and it is also the perfect time of year to enjoy an early morning balloon ride with Sky Waltz or a sound and light experience at the amazingly beautiful Amber Fort. 

Some of the most popular festivals of Jaipur take place during this time, including the Jaipur Literature Festival, Elephant Buzz and Jaipur International Kite Festival.

Winsor Dobbin travelled as a guest of Air Asia X and Rajasthan Tourism.

FIVE PLACES YOU MUST VISIT IN RAJASTHAN 

JODHPUR CITY 

Jodhpur is known as the Sun City, due to its sunny climate, or the Blue City after the traditional colour used by the Brahmins to paint their houses in the old city. It is the second largest city in Rajasthan and located in the Thar Desert in the centre of the state. Jodhpur is dominated by the Mehrangarh Fort situated on a sandstone hill. Shop for handicrafts and jewellery. 

JAISELMER 

Sometimes known as the Golden City because of the colour of the sandstone used in many of the buildings, this small city is in the Thar Desert in west Rajasthan. It rose to prominence as a major centre on the caravan routes. One of its major attractions is Jaisalmer Fort, set high on Trikuta Hill, with massive sandstone walls that glow golden in the setting sun. This is a living fort; about a quarter of the city's population still live inside. The nearby sand dunes are used for camel safaris.  

CHOCKI DHANI VILLAGE 

It is something of a tourist trap, sure, but Chokhi Dhani Village, just outside Jaipur, is the perfect place to learn about Rajasthan culture; from the largely vegetarian food, traditional costumes, village life, local art and evening performances featuring everything from fire eating to how to make local breads. Play traditional village games, ride a camel or have your fortune told. Adjacent is the Chocki Dhani resort, a luxury hotel modelled on traditional building styles. 

RAMBAGH PALACE JAIPUR 

This former palace of the Maharaja has been through several incarnations but is now a luxury hotel operated by the Taj Group. Built in 1835, it has 78 stunningly restored luxury rooms and suites. Guests can enjoy a royal Indian feast at Suvarna Mahal, the former palace ballroom built in the 18th-century French style with huge crystal chandeliers or indulge in signature treatments at the Jiva Grande Spa, which specialises in Indian wellness therapies. 

UDAIPUR CITY  

Udaipur, or the City of Lakes, is in the south-west of Rajasthan and is famous for its lakes and palace complex. Founded in 1599 as the capital of the Mewar kingdom, the principal attractions are the five lakes, the largest of which are Lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar. Boat cruises on Lake Pichola are very popular.

TRIP NOTES

FLY

Air Asia, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas and Singapore Airlines are the among the airlines that fly from Australia to Kuala Lumpur. Air Asia X flies between Kuala Lumpur and Jaipur, Rajasthan, four times a week. 

See airasia.com

See malaysiaairlines.com

See qantas.com

See singaporeair.com

STAY

The excellent Mandawa Haveli Hotel in Jaipur dates to 1896.  Room rates start from about $140 a night. See mandawahaveli.com

Other affordable accommodation choices include the delightful and authentic Narain Niwas Palace, the impressive Grand Uniara Hotel, another heritage property, and the more modern Fern Hotel, Rajasthan's first eco-friendly luxury hotel.

See hotelnarainniwas.com

See granduniara.com

EAT

Check out the award-winning Spice Court restaurant, in an upmarket quarter of Jaipur, for some authentic local dishes, including a delicious and spicy goat curry, which matches brilliantly with the local Kingfisher beer. See spicecourtjaipur.com

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