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Rajasthan, India: Insider’s Guide

Bertie and Victoria Dyer | June 19, 2017

The insider advice about Rajasthan, India on this page is from two of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for India: Bertie and Victoria Dyer.

Trusted Travel Expert
Bertie and Victoria Dyer

Bertie Dyer fell in love with India at age 12 and has spent as much time as possible there since. He and his wife, Victoria, lived for ten years in Jaipur, where they were married and had their first child. India Beat grew out of their desire to introduce visiting friends to the people and places they love in Rajasthan, and today the company specializes in unique trips tailored to individual interests—a type of travel experience that is rare in India, where most tours emphasize ticking off as many main sites as possible. Bertie’s areas of expertise include Moghul architecture, wildlife photography, and Indian history. Victoria’s passions include yoga, Indian cooking, and textile design—and her knowledge of boutiques and bazaars has made her Jaipur shop crawl one of India Beat’s most popular tours. Bertie and Victoria recently returned to England to have their second child, and they now spend their time traveling between their home in India and the UK. Their Jaipur office is run by a dedicated team of local employees who have been with the company from the beginning.

Travel arrangements start at $600 per day for two travelers. This is the minimum you should expect to pay.

 

Lake Palace. Photo by Bertie Dyer.

Lake Palace. Photo by Bertie Dyer.

Where to Stay and Eat

Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
Khem Villas is a family home situated on a private reserve next to Ranthambhore National Park, renowned for its tigers. There are accommodations for every price range here, from four spacious air-conditioned guest rooms, to seven luxury tents, to eight beautiful cottages. Your hosts are the owners of the property, Goverdhan and Usha, a fascinating couple. Goverdhan grew up inside the park, learning about its flora and fauna from his father, one of the world’s leading tiger experts. A doctor, he spends days in the villages, giving free health care, and visits with guests in the evening. Usha goes out of her way to look after our clients, upgrading them whenever possible.

Hotel worth the splurge
Rambagh Palace was the official residence of Sawai Man Singh II, the last Maharajah of Jaipur. It is one of the best luxury hotels in Rajasthan. As a guest, you really do feel that you’re staying in a Maharajah’s home. Every corner of the palace tells a story, from the portraits in the Polo Bar (the young prince was a prominent player) to the furnishings in the Maharani Suite, handpicked by the Maharajah as a surprise gift to his wife. In the thirties, the royal couple entertained an international crowd of luminaries, and after turning Rambagh into a hotel in 1957, they continued to manage its operations—in fact, the Maharani lived on the grounds until very recently and treated the palace as her home. Now leased to the Taj hotel group, the palace still exudes the spirit of a charismatic couple for whom hospitality, on a grand scale, was a way of life.

Restaurants the locals love
Caffe Palladio, in Jaipur is one of the most beautiful dining spots in the city. The celebrated interiors are reason enough to visit, though we also love the European cuisine and the shop filled with incredibly chic homewares and Italian imports.

The restaurant at the Raas Devi Garh Palace hotel—which is just outside Udaipur—has spectacular panoramic views over the countryside and the Aravalli hills. Many of the ingredients used in the flavorful curries are grown in the Palace garden.

Must-have dish
The classic Rajput warrior dish is lal maas: mutton curry cooked over an open fire and bursting with spices and intense flavors. Try it at Niros, one of the oldest established restaurants in Jaipur.

Meal worth the splurge
Rajasthani thali is a celebratory meal of traditional delicacies, usually including a selection of curries, bread, and rice. The sumptuous restaurant 1135 AD, located in the Amber Fort in Jaipur, provides the perfect setting for such a feast.

Rambagh Palace, Rajasthan

Rambagh Palace, Rajasthan. Photo courtesy Rambagh Palace.

What to See and Do

Don’t miss
The Bishnoi are a deeply religious people who believe in the sanctity of all plant and animal life. They live in the desert countryside surrounding Jodhpur; on a drive to one of their villages you often see blue bulls, peacocks, and wild camels. The Bishnoi believe that they themselves are directly related to the blackbuck, and in an extraordinary relationship, the antelopes run immediately toward the Bishnoi’s houses when scared. The people are warm and friendly, inviting you into their homes and showing you how they live and work; they do beautiful weaving and pottery. Spending time with them is an eye-opening and humbling experience. You come away with a new appreciation for a simpler way of life.

Hidden gem
After a visit to the Amber Fort, just north of Jaipur, stroll through the adjacent village to the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, dedicated to resurrecting this traditional art. The hand-printed fabrics in its collection are stamped with carved wooden blocks in beautiful patterns—the artisans who work here will show you the entire process from start to finish; if you want, you can even print a T-shirt with your own design. The story told here is a fascinating one: Block printing was nearly extinct in the 1960s when the Anokhi family came from England and took an interest it; the Anokhi factory now employs some 3,000 people and thousands more work in what has become a thriving industry. The museum is housed in a restored haveli, or mansion, that is itself worth a visit. On your village walk you’ll see fruit sellers with carts, shops supplying basic needs, cows ambling along the narrow roads—in short, life in a small community that moves at an easy pace.

For an even more hands-on introduction to block printing, we arrange private workshops just outside Jaipur in Bagru. These workshops provide a fascinating opportunity to spend time with a local printing community and to create your own block-printed textile art under the guidance of a master-printer.

Cheap thrills
For less than a dollar you can have a delicious vegetarian lunch with the other visiting pilgrims at the Jain temple in Ranakpur, two hours from Udaipur on the road to Jodhpur. The temple, a white marble jewel, is in a hidden valley where, once upon a time, it would have been protected from invaders. The meal is served in a hall furnished with rows of benches, the curry cooked in a big pot over a wood fire in the center of the kitchen floor. This shared experience is something you would miss if, like most tourists, you were to stop at a hotel for lunch after visiting the temple.

Downtime
For complete relaxation, spend a day by the pool at Amanbagh, an oasis of palm and eucalyptus trees and Mughal-inspired architecture once used by the maharajah of Alwar on tiger-hunting expeditions (the word aman means “peace” and bagh means “garden”). For something more active, saddle up one of the Marwari horses at Mihir Garh and ride through the Thar desert, pausing to visit the Bishnoi villages.

Best for thrill seekers
The most amazing view of the Blue City is from the immense Mehrangarh Fort, a superb example of Rajput architecture that occupies a cliff above Jodhpur. Flying Fox runs six zip wires from the top of the fort to the bottom. You’ll fly down the mountain like Spider-man.

Contact Bertie and Victoria

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Best Time to Go

The weather in Rajasthan is best from October to the end of March.

Worst Time to Go

May through July. You’ll bake in the heat, be doused with rain, or both.

Biggest Rookie Mistake

Doing too much. Try to see the whole of Rajasthan in seven days and you will spend most of your time on the road or in airports. We recommend allowing two weeks if you want to visit the major cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur, in addition to Delhi and the Taj Mahal. Three weeks is brilliant!

Scam Alert

Travelers to India—and especially to Rajasthan—love to shop for fine jewelry because the prices are so good, but you need to go somewhere reputable, otherwise you may be sold glass instead of diamonds. (One of our favorite shops is the Gem Palace in Jaipur.)

Tipping Tip

Ten percent in restaurants is considered normal. You should tip in the local currency (Indian rupees) and not in foreign currency. Drivers and guides will also expect a tip.

Airport Intel

You cannot enter the terminal without your ticket and your passport, so make sure both are easily accessible, as they will be checked several times. This is also applicable on domestic flights.

Don’t Forget to Pack

A sweater and a jacket. Rajasthan is a desert region, and the temperature plummets after sundown; from November to February, nights can be quite cold.

Instagram Moment

Your private elephant-back safari begins at a farm in the countryside outside Jaipur, where you are met by a mahoot, a well-cared-for elephant, and a supply of bananas (those you will feed to the elephant; you will be able to partake of an excellent homemade lunch or dinner following your safari). The landscape of semi-desert terrain and irrigated fields is the perfect photographic backdrop.

Bragging Rights

Wind your way by torch and candlelight to the rooftop of City Palace in Udaipur, where a sumptuous feast awaits. A member of the palace staff will meet your party at the gates and escort you past the palace guards, resplendent in their uniforms, to a private rooftop terrace. There you’ll be attended by turbaned waiters and entertained with traditional music and dancing (the fire dance is amazing). The view is of the sparkling lake on one side and the city lights on the other.

Rajasthan’s capital city is a shopping mecca, with wonderful textiles, jewelry, and amazing bazaars—but it’s also a befuddling maze. Let us lead you to the best shops and introduce you to fascinating people You can discuss gemstones with Samir or Siddharth Kasliwal, whose family owns the Gem Palace; jewelry with Lala and Vishal at Tholia’s Kuber; and textiles with any number of experts, including Theirry Journo of Idli, Muba and Muza of Andraab, and Swati, owner of Swati Ubroi.

Reviews

We saw and experienced so much.

Suzanne Nash | August 20, 2017

Sensitive to our needs

Lynne Barnard and Jon Erickson | April 13, 2017

Good communication

Kathy Gordon | April 12, 2017
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