Rajasthan abounds with impressive forts and palaces from the world renowned to the barely remembered. To us, it's the mixture of both that's intriguing.
An essential ingredient in Rajasthan’s mix is its incredible forts and palaces, erected over the centuries by its self-proclaimed aristocratic rulers, the charismatic warrior Rajputs. There are literally dozens of forts and citadels, on top of craggy hills, spread along winding ridges or on sheer cliffs towering above rivers, very often in a spot perfect for spotting the enemy from afar. In summer 2013 UNESCO created a new group listing - the first ever of its kind - for six of Rajasthan's hill forts in recognition of their unique universal value.
The most well-known of the giant forts are now surrounded by cities, such as Jaipur, guarded by three edifices, the most magnificent of which is at Amer where throngs of visitors ascend the ceremonial way on foot or on elephant back up to the Sun Gate each day. We prefer to avoid the crowds and first explore the quiet neighbouring village that has supported the fort for hundreds of years and where shepherds continue to graze their flocks in the scrubby Aravalli Hills.
At Jodhpur the Meherangarh fort towering over the city affords dreamy views of the blue washed houses below can be enjoyed from the ramparts, or you can zipline over the outer battlements, zooming over ravines and lakes with the wind your hair if you fancy a little more fun. Our favourite way to visit is to enter just as everyone else has to leave, and enjoy a private tour with the curator, wandering through the pearl and mirror palaces at your leisure and browsing the collections of howdahs, palanquins, and paintings in splendid solitude. This fort, and the one at Nagaur are the also the magical settings for the World Sufi Spirit Festival.
Monuments are all very well, but Jaisalmer is still vigorously alive. India’s last living fort it has been inhabited for more than 850 years and rises from the deserts of western Rajasthan like a giant sandcastle. It’s always been a busy trading outpost, though wood carvings and cushion covers are what’s on offer today, but push past the tie-dye bed spreads and the narrow alleyways lined with intricately carved haveli town houses are hugely atmospheric and beg for a full day of exploration.
Other forts that take a bit more getting to blissfully seem almost forgotten, despite their dramatic pasts, and can offer fabulous walking opportunities. These are the ones we'd urge you not to overlook; clambering over ruins at Chittorgarh brings Indiana Jones to mind while at Kumbalgarh there are nooks and crannies to explore without another soul in sight and perimeter walls snaking 35km (22 miles) along a series of hills to walk. The countryside views from the bastions and ramparts at both are simply spectacular and often you can enjoy them entirely to yourself.
For the ultimate Rajput experience, why not stay in a fort? Rooms often come with a fabulous view and you can explore crenulations, parapets and turrets in royal style, drink in hand, perhaps guided by your host, the descendant of a maharaja. Some of our favourites include:
For a suggestion of how to include some of Rajasthan's incredible forts in your trip take a look at our suggested itinerary or get in touch and we'll happy to plan your tailor-made tour.