Rajasthan abounds with stunning but extremely popular highlights, so it is extremely tempting to stay “On The Beaten Track” and focus on a very classic route, rushing from one monument to the other, especially if you have a limited amount of time at hand. This is all the more true as regular trains connect those major points of interest very efficiently and very cheaply, keeping you focused on few places.
There are nonetheless real jewels or typical aspects that do not receive as much attention as they deserve (do hardly expect to travel Off The Beaten Track in Rajasthan, though). And more often than not, this doesn’t mean that you have to add a long way… Some of these attractions are actually near major highlights or between to “hotspots”. There, a chartered taxi is a very efficient and not all too expensive alternative: count 7 to 8 Rupees per kilometer – do not forget that you have to integrate the drive back, though!
Of course it is always best to spend at least one night in each place (especially in Chittorgarh, Nawalgarh, and maybe Bikaner), to be able to enjoy the visit before or after the crowd and to use the best light for taking pictures.
Here are 10 highlights that I truly enjoyed and where I met generally less visitors than in the major attractions of Rajasthan – Especially fewer large tour groups:
- Ranakpur – The Most Delicate Jain Temple
This Jain Temple of white marble is one of the five major pilgrimages of the Jains. Built in the 15th Century, Ranakpur is one of the largest and most important temples of the Jain cult. The main temple, the Chaumukha Mandir (Four-Faced Temple), is dedicated to Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankar (a person who has conquered Samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth, and provide a bridge for others to follow them from Saṃsara to Moksha, the liberation). No less…
Ranakpur exhibits the most delicate carvings, on its walls of the 29 halls, on the 80 domes and on the 1.444 (!!!) unique columns, all in white marble. Like Kumbalgarh, this temple makes a fascinating stop between Udaipur & Jodhpur that should not be missed!
- India’s Great Wall – Kumbalgarh
The huge fortress of Kumbalgarh rests on a hilltop, 1.100 meters above sea level. Most remarkable indeed, but what makes it truly stand out among so many other stunning forts in Rajasthan is its 36 kilometer long wall. Absolutely unique! The walls of Kumbalgarh don’t just encircle the fort. No, the walls extend far into the hills. Very much like the Great Wall of China…
Unfortunately, Kumbalgarh is no longer the well-kept secret I experienced it back in 2013. Back then, an Indian family and a couple of foreign tourists crossed my path, but otherwise my only companions in this maze of a castle were some groups of monkeys. In 2015, I discovered that this place has become popular with Indian families. Consequently, hotels pop-up like mushrooms in the surroundings. How long it will take until large tour groups arrive?
- Chittorgarh (Chittaurgarh)
The long, long wall of the Garh (fort) located at Chittor, running along the top of a hill 180 meters above the surrounding plains, greets visitors long before they arrive at Chittor. Thirty overwhelming kilometers of wall encircle the fort that spreads over an area of nearly 700 hectares. Only once up do you understand that this is actually a tabletop mountain… Now a UNESCO World Heritage, the Fort studded with a series of Historical Palaces, Gates, Temples and even 2 prominent Commemoration Towers.
The history of this Fort, one of the largest in India, epitomizes Rajput romanticism, chivalry and tragedy: in 1303, 1535 & 1568 Chittorgarh was under attack from a more powerful enemy. Each time, its people chose death before dishonor, performing “Jauhar”: the men, wearing saffron martyrs’ robes, rode out from the Fort to certain death, while women and children immolated themselves on huge funeral pyres.
- Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri, with its 40 different buildings, all built by Mughal Emperor Akbar, definitely left a lasting impression on me. I found his personal airy, multi-story palace particularly striking, one of the most superb structure I have experienced in Rajasthan. He also treated each of his wives to their own palace, each different, each remarkable.
- Chand Baori Step Well – Abhaneri
Build at the beginning of the 9th Century, Chand Baori is the deepest and the largest Step Well in India, and definitely worth the stop on a trip from Agra to Jaipur, as is Fatehpur Sikri. It consists of 3,500 narrow steps over 13 stories!
- Rock Art near Bundi
Kukki has personally discovered paintings that are 5.000 years old and is eager to share this discovery with visitors. The price for Kukki’s services? Give as you like! This – by the way – I heard again and again during this trip, from TukTuk drivers, tour guides… which increased my state of despair when it came to estimating what a decent price was!
A beautiful gorge with lots of green trees and large pools at the bottom, once the hunting ground of the Maharana, must have provided a gorgeous environment for those pre-history dwellers, who drew animals and people onto the rock. Kukki described with great enthusiasm how he had searched the area since his youth and had come across a lot of rock paintings: animals and people drawn into the rock with reddish and black color, some clearly visible, some fading…
The site is on the way from Pushkar to Chittorgarh, and makes a nice change to Mughal Architecture & Palaces…
Junagarh Fort is the main reason why you should go to Bikaner… This Fort was built by the ruler of Bikaner, Raja Rai Singh at the end of the 16th Century, a general in the Mughal Army of Akbar. Best visit the complex with the excellent audio guide that also explains the intricate relations between the Maharajas from Rajasthan and the Mughal Empire. Inside you find one of the most refined palaces that exist within a fortress.
Once I Bikaner, you should hire a cab and drive about 30 kilometers to “Karni Mata Temple”. There is absolutely nothing special about the “Rat Temple”, if it weren’t for the “Holy Rodents” that inhibit this place. Absolutely weird… and filthy! The legend states that Karni Mata’s youngest son was brought back to life here and thus she decreed all her descendants to be reincarnated as… “Kabas”, or Rats!
On the other hand, the Old City of Bikaner is absolutely void of interest: the few interesting Havelis cannot be visited and the traffic is maddening, with motorbikes and rickshaws ignoring pedestrians even more than in other Indian cities, if that is possible… I had never experienced such aggressive traffic in India!
Probably the only spot I visited somehow Off The Beaten Track in Rajasthan, the area around Nawalgarh abounds with remarkably decorated Havelis (traditional homes of merchants, with one or more courtyards). Especially the mural paintings in these houses are splendid! Part of the region’s appeal comes from the fact that these works of art can be found in tiny towns, partly quite remote and difficult to reach. Yes, finally a place in Rajasthan where you will be on your own while visiting stunning places…
A unique aspect of the art works at those many Havelis is the combination, in the wall paintings, of traditional subjects, such as mythology, religious scenes & images of the family, with modern aspects, such as brand new inventions like trains…
The only drawback is that Nawalgarh is difficult to reach in the first place, and that you will need a car with a guide to simply be able to find the various Havelis…
- Street Life
Walking down some busy streets in India can be scary and maddening… The masses, the density of people, the traffic, the omnipresence of animals, the noise, the smells… All your senses will be assaulted! But this is probably the only opportunity that you have as a visitor to get a small glimpse of the live of many Indian people.
Just wander outside the tourist ghettos, find some local “real market” (not the bazaars for tourists, the markets where you can buy spare parts, vegetables, furniture, clothes, construction material, … or whatever one can need!), and get lost until you feel like going back to an oasis of quietness and take a Tuktuk back to your hotel…
- Holy Cow Spotting
Yes, they are everywhere in Rajasthan! On the streets, on highways, at markets stealing fruits and vegetables, at the doors of houses begging for some food or simply blocking the way, you name it!
Yes, they are disruptive! Traffic can be maddening and violent in India, but a Cow will never be bothered, even if she decides to lay down in the middle of a busy intersection or even a highway.
And it is good fun observing them… Simply take the time to stroll the streets and open your eyes… And do not forget your camera for some really good shots!