What to see in Northern India: the Rajasthan of the maharajas

After a first trip to South India, I wanted to see northern India, the monumental one of the sumptuous palaces of the maharajas. The word itself "Rajasthan" means Land of the Kings, just to want to remember the fabulous kingdom of the maharajas and their majestic and romantic fortresses. Rajasthan is one of the most popular destinations for those who go to India, and it is also one of the richest (it is always very relative, in the sense that you will hardly see people dying on the street as can happen in Calcutta or Varanasi).

Unlike my first trip to the Kerala and in Karnataka, in which all my plans and travel plans were badly skipped, this time I left more informed and aware that I would have to find a car with a driver to be able to see what I had planned. It is certainly very beautiful and fascinating to discover North India by train, but you must have at least 1 month to do the same tour that I did in 13 days! Trains must be booked well in advance, it is by no means a simple thing and the times are biblical. If there is one thing you realize as soon as you arrive in India, it is that time does not exist for Indians, or rather it is never a problem. Time is a dimension that can be expanded indefinitely. Indians are never in a hurry and are unable to understand our addiction to the clock; you can look at them puffing because you do not get a dish ordered an hour before or because they are making you miss the plane, but they will not understand it. Once you have this awareness, you will put your soul in peace and you will be on horseback! You will continue to snort but in zen mode.

How to apply for India Visa

The first step for a trip to India is to apply for a visa. Fortunately, from April 2017 you can easily request (and obtain) the electronic visa (e-Tourist Visa) from the sofa at home using the computer. Find all the detailed info on how to request it in the article Visa for India: how to apply for the electronic visa (e-Visa).  

How to organize a trip to India

Arriving in Delhi, we therefore entrusted Sahid's agency, which turned out to be very serious and reliable. We agreed on a package that included a round tour of Rajasthan with a driver and overnight stays included (see below for the price). To contact him you can write him directly (in English). He can pick you up at the airport in Delhi and take you wherever you want (not only in Rajasthan, but also North India, Ladakh, Varanasi, etc.). He is a reliable and very kind driver. I absolutely advise against renting a car without a driver in India! The road is divided with other cars, but also with cows, Christians, bicycles, tuk tuk, and so on.

Solo travel to India

The trips to India have taught me that you can definitely travel to India alone, or with women only, but that you have to be a little more careful in the north of the country. As some news reports denounce, there are some problems, mainly of cultural origin. Some Indians can be morbid and quite annoying with Western women, with a preference for blondes; the important thing is not to give too much confidence if you perceive that the thing goes beyond simple curiosity. I looked like a Hollywood star… whole families wanted to photograph themselves with me. South India (Kerala, Goa, Karnataka, etc.) in general is safer and more welcoming than North India.

When to go to Rajasthan and Northern India

Also this time I have been to end of December, in the classic Christmas holidays. During the day the temperatures were spring (more than 20 degrees), but in the evening they dropped quite a bit, especially towards the desert (in Jaisalmer it was zero degrees!). Cold weather wouldn't be a problem if hotels had heating, but they don't (excluding luxury hotels of course !!). With hindsight I would have definitely brought a thermal sleeping bag and a duvet! On the other hand, I didn't see a cloud. Probably the best time to go without suffering the cold at night is October / November o February March. Definitely to avoid the summer, with the monsoons.

Health insurance is required

In India our health coverage is not valid. My advice is to always take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip (country, duration, etc.) and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online.

How much is spent in India

India, at least for now, is a very cheap country for Europeans. You spend less than 50 euros per day, all inclusive (accommodation, food, transfers, entrances, etc.). The cost of the package that I agreed with Sahid which included the driver for 13 days and overnight stays in mid-range hotels for the duration of the tour was 450 euros per person (December 2010).

13-day itinerary in North India

  • Day 1: Milan-Delhi flight and transfer to Agra
  • Day 2: Agra- Jaipur
  • Day 3: Jaipur
  • Day 4: Jaipur- Pushkar
  • Giorno 5: Pushkar- Udaipur
  • Day 6: Udaipur
  • Giorno 7: Udaipur- Jodhpur
  • Day 8: Jodhpur- Jaisalmer
  • Day 9: Jaisalmer
  • Day 10: Jaisalmer- Bikaner
  • Day 11: Bikaner- Mandawa
  • Day 12: Mandawa- Delhi
  • Day 13: return flight to Milan


What to see in Rajasthan

Agra: the city of the Taj Mahal

Agra is not actually part of the region called Rajasthan, it is located in Uttar Pradesh, but it is very close to Delhi and is a must see for anyone coming to India. Agra is to say Taj Mahal; India's most famous and most photographed monument will literally leave you speechless! This place symbol of love (it was built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his second wife) amazes for its size and beauty. The milky white of the marble is almost blinding. I had imagined it much smaller and I was ecstatic for quite a while. As you approach through the monumental gardens you gradually discover the incredible inlays of the mausoleum made from thousands of semi-precious stones that form splendid ornamental compositions, a masterpiece! The tombs of the emperor and his consort are located in an underground chamber inaccessible to the public.

Close to Agra don't forget to visit Fatehpur Sikri, the ancient lost city. The city was a masterpiece of Indo-Islamic art, was the capital of the Mughal empire for a short period and abandoned before 1600 due to lack of water. The great Jama MasJid mosque is wonderful, as are the red sandstone buildings. Fatehpur Sikri is a magical, timeless place that is absolutely worth visiting.

Jaipur: la capitale del Rajasthan

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan. Once here you will have to divide yourself between the modern city, super chaotic but fascinating, and the pink buildings that characterize it. The most important monument to visit is located a few kilometers outside the city center and is theAmber Palace, one of the most beautiful royal palaces in all of Rajasthan. This palace perched on a hill was the seat of the ancient state capital and expresses the beauty and perfection of Rajput architecture to the maximum. It is accessed by a monumental staircase (which can be traveled on foot or on the back of an elephant); inside you can visit the royal apartments of the maharaja and the magnificent panoramic terraces.

Also worth visiting in the old city of Jaipur, especially the part enclosed within the old walls. There is theHawa Mahal, the famous 5-storey beehive palace built by the maharaja to allow court women to observe the daily life of the city, and the imposing City Palace which encloses several palaces, courtyards and gardens. If you want to give yourself a Western tone, go for a drink at Steam in the Rambagh Palace Hotel.

Pushkar: the sacred city

Pushkar is a magical and spiritual town, home to Hindu pilgrimages to its famous temple dedicated to Brahma (one of the few in the world). I liked it very much! The town is really very small, it is all enclosed around the Pushkar lake, you can go around in a couple of hours, but it is worth getting lost in its alleys and sitting on the banks of the lake to admire what happens. Among the many, it is populated by gurus / pseudo priests who propose to perform lucky rites for tourists. Obviously there was a lot of curiosity and I didn't hold back! Just when it came to drinking the lake water from his hands I didn't feel it, .. cholera was lurking! Given the great spirituality of the city, Pushkar does not eat meat and does not drink alcohol.

Udaipur: the most romantic city in India

Udaipur it is by far the most romantic city in Rajasthan (of all India actually) and the one that most represents it. Like Pushkar, also in this case the city has developed around the great lake Pichola overlooked by beautiful buildings. Above all stands the majestic City Palace; the ancient palace of the maharajas is the largest in all of Rajasthan and is so large that, in addition to the part that can be visited with the various royal rooms, they have pulled out 3 extra luxury hotels! Speaking of hotels, you will see the world famous from afar Lake Palace Hotel in the middle of the lake which is one of the most romantic hotels in the world. Unfortunately, for some years now, it can only be accessed if you stay there, and it has truly prohibitive costs for us humans. I also recommend that you take the trip to the island of Jagmandir, in the middle of the lake, and eat on the shores, for example at the Ambrai Restaurant which offers a magnificent view of the City Palace and the whole lake.

Jodhpur: the blue city 

The first thing you will see upon entering a Jodhpur is the imposing Mehrangarh, the fortress that dominates the city from the top of a rocky spur. This royal palace is a true architectural masterpiece and is still run by the descendants of the Maharajas of Jodhpur. The palace has 7 large doors which lead to the residential complex, full of courtyards and Rajput style buildings. Also nicknamed Sun city, due to the constant presence of the sun and clear weather Jodhpur is also called the blue city, for the large number of houses painted with indigo (the houses of the brahmins). Under the fortress there is the maze of medieval streets that characterize the old city, with the Clock Tower and the colorful bazaar. Jodhpur for me is one of the most fascinating cities in northern India, I found it really impressive (even if very chaotic). 

Jaisalmer: the city in the desert 

After Jodhpur it was the turn of Jaisalmer, an ancient fortified city located in the desert, very close to the border with Pakistan. The ancient city is enclosed within the mighty crenellated walls of Jaisalmer Fort, which hide a maze of alleys with magnificent buildings. You enter the fort through a series of very large doors that lead in front of the palace of the maharaja, an elegant 7-storey building. Inside the fort there are also 7 beautiful Janist temples, all connected to each other, and all with extremely worked reliefs. Jaisalmer is a truly beautiful town! Go to one of the many terraces on the walls to sip a tea while looking at the desert. 

Bikaner: the temple of rats

A Bikaner there is the famous temple of rats (of the storytellers transformed into rats according to the legend). Although I have seen more mice and rats than Christians in my life as a researcher, this experience was quite strong and my stomach suffered. Luckily I wasn't the only one! Panic attacks are also commonplace among Indians. The disturbing thing is that there are entire families who live together inside the temple with thousands of rats, from the series: Leptospirosi nun te temo! Moreover, if a rat runs on your feet it also brings luck! I said NO, avoiding it as much as possible. An experience to do in any case! Unique temple in the world!

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