Big palace forts of Rajasthan - the grandeur of old India
The north-western state of Rajasthan truly earns its name as the "Land of Kings" ('Raja' means king). There are nearly 50 palaces and grand forts spread across Rajasthan. It may not be possible to visit each and every one, and honestly, a lot of them may feel similar after a while. So if you would much rather see the biggest and best, here are the main palaces of Rajasthan visitors should not miss.
Amber Palace, Jaipur
|Climbing up to the Amber Fort with an elephant ride.|
Also known as Amber Fort, Amber Palace is a perched atop a hill not too far from Jaipur city. Since you will most likely begin your journey across Rajasthan from Jaipur, Amber Palace makes for a good start to whet your appetite. The palace was build using red sandstone and marble, but much of its glamour is in its interiors. Of note is the impressive Sheesh Mahal (or Mirror Palace) with its intricate artwork of glass bits that adorn the ceiling and walls. Amber Palace gives you great views of Jaipur city and one can easily spot the City Palace of Jaipur, which is now the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Aside from the views, available in courtyard of Amber Palace are elephant rides to take tourists on a path around the palace.
On your way to Amber Palace, stop by Hawa Mahal for some photos. And on your way back from Amber Palace, you can even drop by Jantar Mantar, a park housing a collection of astronomical instruments built centuries ago. Both attractions are unique to Jaipur.
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
|You can see the whole city of Jodhpur from Mehrangarh Fort.|
The main attraction in the city of Jodphur, Mehrangarh Fort is another hill-top palace. Situated 400 feet above the city, from up here, visitors can see why Jodhpur is called "Blue City". From the viewpoint by the canons overlooking the city, visitors will see the blue walls that adorn many of the houses below. It's always suggested to visit Mehrangarh Fort early in the morning, as that's when the blues appear in their right shade. Much the fort has now been turned in to a well stocked museum, in fact housing the largest historical collection among all the palaces of Rajasthan. Palatial rooms of former rulers, rooms devoted to displaying just palanquins and royal baby cribs, an armoury, paintings and a variety of turbans are all on display.
Mehrangarh Fort is as much a museum experience. Tourists can climb down a few steps to Chamunda Mataji Temple, the only Hindu temple inside the Fort. Here's a bit of trivia. Did you know that scenes from The Dark Knight Rises were filmed near Mehrangarh Fort? See if you can spot the location when you visit Jodhpur.
If you wish to stay in an actual palace when in Jodhpur city, check into the Umaid Bhavan Palace. One of the world's largest private residences, and the seat of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, much of Umaid Bhavan Palace has now been turned into a luxury hotel.
City Palace, Udaipur
|The City Palace is unique in that it is located on the banks of Lake Pichola, offering a majestic view of the lake and hills in the distance.|
The city of Udaipur is famous for its lakes, making this Rajasthani city a little different from the rest. The City Palace complex comprises of Shiv Nivas Palace and the smaller Fateh Prakash Palace, both of which have been converted into luxury hotels since the 1980s. The City Palace is unique in that it is located on the banks of Lake Pichola, offering a majestic view of the lake and hills in the distance. If you are James Bond fan, you can relive the intrigue and glamour showcased in Octopussy, which was famously filmed at City Palace and at the Lake Palace, the latter of which situated on an island in Lake Pichola. In fact, boat rides from the banks of the City Palace hotel take guests to the Lake Palace. The boat rides also go around Lake Pichola and through the canals and underbridges that helped Udaipur earn the nickname of "Venice of the East".
Housed inside the City Palace Complex is a museum, luxurious restaurants and halls rented out for special events and weddings. Who knows, you maybe lucky enough to witness a grand Indian wedding on your visit here. Not too far outside the City Palace is the royal collection of cars owned by the Maharaja of Udaipur. It includes classic cars from Rolls Royce, Morris, Ford, Mercedes, and other American brands.
|Standing amidst the Thar desert, Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest fortifications in the world.|
One of the largest fortifications in the world, Jaisalmer Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and quite a sight to behold. Situated in Jaisalmer city, the Jaisalmer Fort complex is perched atop Trikuta Hill, with the town on one side and on the other, desert sands that extend all the way across the border into Pakistan. Standing amidst the Thar desert, Jaisalmer Fort feels like a city within a fort. Inside, visitors can get a panoramic views of Jaisalmer city from the top of Maharaja Palace. Unlike the other palace forts above, traders and small shops can be found inside Jaisalmer Fort, many of them selling souvenirs and traditional Rajasthani wares to the hundreds of tourists that visit the fort daily.
Being so close to the desert, visitors to Jaisalmer Fort can't miss out on the chance to go for camel back rides on the sand dunes of the Thar. It's also a prefect venue to watch the sun set over the desert. At night, seek higher ground and a hotel room with a good view of Jaisalmer Fort. The entire fortress hill is beautifully illuminated and glows at night.
Although there are forts and palaces spread across the entire state of Rajasthan, seeing the above four palace forts should give you a sense of scale the majesty of Rajasthan has to offer. Many of the other palaces have since been converted into luxury hotels. For a bit of variety, Kuchaman Fort in Nagour district and the very English-looking Raj Niwas Palace in Dholpur are worth a quick stop on your journey. For something away from the popular tourist trail, Chittorgarh Fort is a truly spectacular sight. It is the largest hill fort in India and one of the grandest, replete with ponds and lush grrenery. If you are in Udaipur and don't mind the 82 kms ride to Mewar, the hill fort of Kumbhalgarh is a stone fortress that has the second longest wall in the world.
The many palaces and hill forts of Rajasthan, each with their unique majestic qualities, are what makes a visit to Rajasthan a 'must' when in India. It doesn't get any bigger than the ones listed above. The sheer magnificance of these palaces and hill forts are sure to complete your royal Indian experience.