Rajasthan, India | Catriona Matheson

picture-10A hidden jewel in India’s crown, Rajasthan is a place like no other. GUM invites you to explore the extraordinary cities of India’s largest state. Think camels, curries and lots of blue paint…

If India is a feast for the senses, then Rajasthan is the dessert. From the colourful, hectic disorder of city streets to the tranquillity of its serene desert, Rajasthan offers the traveller a culturally rich experience. Steeped in history, its magnificent forts and beautiful architecture tell the story of kings and warriors, tragedy and romance. Jump in head-first and you will fall in love with India’s most majestic state, a hidden jewel in India’s crown.

Roughly the size of Germany, Rajasthan is territorially India’s largest state and sits on India’s north-western border with Pakistan. It is relatively easy to get to and travel around with a multitude of sights and activities to keep you entertained. It is home to the vast Thar Desert and the Aravalli Range; one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges. It is also a shopper’s paradise with vibrant textiles, stone and wood carvings, and quality silver jewellery. However, Rajasthan is particularly impressive due to its unique and unforgettable cities.

You will feel like you’re dreaming when you first set sight on Jodhpur, Rajasthan’s ‘Blue City’ on the edge of the Thar Desert. Thousands of flat-roofed stone houses are crammed together, all covered in a wash of blue. Apparently, residents of Jodhpur have been painting their houses for decades, believing it to keep their homes cool and repel mosquitoes. You’ve got to wonder why only Jodhpur is in on the secret. Maybe I’m sceptical, but I think somewhere in Jodhpur is a paint-making dynasty, counting their rupees in a big blue mansion.

North of Jodhpur and further into the Thar Desert sits the equally intriguing city of Jaisalmer, also known as the ‘Golden City’ due to its sandy roads and grand, sandstone buildings. Known for its magnificent fort, scattered monuments and impressive, majestic architecture, just to be in Jaisalmer is an experience in itself as you feel like you’re living in a giant sandcastle. I overheard a tourist exclaiming Jaisalmer was like ‘God’s sandpit.’ Indeed, you can sit in a roof-top café overlooking buildings that although are very grand, look like they would crumble if it rained at all.

Jodhpur and Jaislamer are just two of many places worthy of a visit in Rajasthan. It is such a vast region that it is wise to spend time planning your trip. You should also research the social norms of the region as like most of Asia, certain caution should be exercised with regard to cultural awareness. Be sensitive to the cultural values, customs and taboos in the places you visit. For instance, as much as you would dislike a ‘farmer tan’, dress modestly and you will get a warmer welcome from the locals.

For most westerners, travelling to India for the first time can be quite a culture shock. The heat can be intense, the food incredibly spicy, the cities congested and the people often uninhibited when they see you walk down the street. Even buying a bottle of water can be difficult if it means haggling, dealing with foreign money, a language barrier and making sure the seal of your bottle hasn’t been broken and that you’re actually in fact paying for tap water, which on a sensitive western stomach is likely to give you horrendous diarrhoea, and no one wants that on their holiday.

The trials and tribulations are part of the experience. Yes, travelling in India can occasionally be hard work, your time there is largely dependent on the style of trip you’re looking for. In Rajasthan, you can stay in five-star hotels, or you can sleep on overnight trains to save money. You can trek on a camel into the Thar Desert and sleep under the stars, or you can see the dunes from the window of an air-conditioned jeep. You can eat local cuisine from a street vendor with your fingers for 20 pence, or you can enjoy a western dish at a top restaurant, knife and fork included. Your trip to Rajasthan can be tailored to be the trip you want. Just remember to check the seal of your bottled water.

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