Rajasthan's Rich Tapestry

For years it had been building. India was calling and I was finally ready to answer. But as much as I’m a confident solo traveller I know this is one place where I don’t want to go it alone.
June 2024

For years it had been building. India was calling and I was finally ready to answer. But as much as I’m a confident solo traveller I know this is one place where I don’t want to go it alone. Instead I decide to hand all of the planning and logistics over to the experts so I can let myself live in the moment and absorb everything India has to share with me. And as soon as I see that A&K sign in Delhi airport arrivals, I know I’ve done the right thing.

I’m dazed and delighted after the long haul flight as our driver joins the dodging and weaving dance I’ll get to know so well on the roads. ‘Traffic lanes are just a suggestion’. Our guide smiles reassuringly. ‘The three things drivers in India need are good horns, good brakes and good luck’.

I feel like my luck is definitely in as we arrive at The Imperial where kings and queens, movie and rock stars, and world leaders have stayed before me. The first hotel in New Delhi when it opened in 1931, The Imperial is a mix of Art Deco, Victorian and colonial styles and has retained its sense of history while enjoying a luxurious freshening up during an extensive refurbishment in 2023. As for the art on the walls, that’s worth more than the hotel itself with more than 5,000 pieces from the 17th and 18th century.

In the morning after my first delicious dosa, a traditional crepe-like breakfast that has me instantly hooked, we meet our A&K guide Suryaveer Singh Shaktawat AKA Sunny. A former professional cricket player for India, Sunny is as warm as his name suggests and has a passion for sharing India’s history, heritage, culture, arts, and spirituality. As we later discover, he also happens to be a direct descendant of the founder of the Mewar Kingdom, allowing us to learn about the world’s oldest-serving dynasty from someone who shares the same blood.

Next we’re introduced to our coach driver, Varender Singh, or as we're invited to call him, Malli and his assistant J.P Singh, who we call Mama. I soon discover that the best seat on the coach is up front where I can watch Malli calmly drive us through the most intense traffic scenes featuring trucks, cars, buses, bikes, tuk tuks, cows, donkeys, dogs, goats, and the occasional camel. Mama brings us cold drinks to keep us cool and hydrated in the Indian heat.

Our first outing takes us from New Delhi into Old Delhi where the wide, tree lined avenues that architect Sir Edwin Lutyens planned when the capital of British India moved from Calcutta, (now Kolkata), to Delhi in 1911, change to narrow bustling roads and labyrinths of laneways.

After introducing us to the Jama Masjid, Delhi’s impressive 17th century Mughal-style mosque designed by the architect and engineer who created the Taj Majal and Red Fort, Ustad Ahmad Lahori, Sunny leads us to a row of rickshaws. And after taking our seats we’re treated to a sensory overload ride through the crowded, narrow alleyways around Chandni Chowk, one of Delhi’s oldest and busiest market areas.

Lunch is a chance to try the local street food, in a more refined way at the Haveli Dharampura, a 19th century mansion that has received a UNESCO award for Cultural Heritage Conservation. Then we travel back into New Delhi to see the first garden-tomb in India, and the inspiration for the Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb that was built for the Mughal emperor in the 1560s.

It’s a day full of new sights, smells and tastes, and it’s just the beginning. Our nine-day Splendours of Rajasthan journey will take us around India’s famous Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and then keep on going to Udaipur and Jodhpur.

Along the way we see an array of UNESCO World Heritage sites including the Taj Mahal, where we have the chance to see the light change on the marble dome at sunset and sunrise, the red sandstone Agra Fort, the Amber Fort in Jaipur, the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur and the Ranakpur Jain Temple.

Every site has a thousand stories to tell. At the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur I find myself standing in the 18th century astronomical observation site that includes the world’s largest stone sundial, where astronomy and astrology took great leaps forward. In the City Palace in Udaipur I become fascinated with miniature paintings and their intricate details painted with single hairs from a squirrel’s tail. And at the Abhaneri village in Rajasthan I’m transfixed by the geometric patterns in the Chand Baori, one of the largest and most beautiful stepwells in the world that was built over a thousand years ago.

Every night we are treated to the next level luxury of some of India’s most magnificent hotels. Upon arrival we’re welcomed with rituals for our health, wellbeing and happiness and showered with rose petals as we take in our spectacular new surroundings. I never want to check out of any of the places we stay, and yet my heart expands once again as I fall in love with our new home.

After The Imperial in Delhi starts our journey in style we move to the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra where every room has a view of the Taj Mahal, then to the opulence of the Leela Palace in Jaipur, and onto the magic of the Oberoi Udaivilas’ Mewar and Mughal inspired architecture with views over Lake Pichola. For our final hotel we share a palace with a king.

The Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur is still the home of the Jodhpur royal family who continue to live in a private quarter while guests enjoy the rest as a Taj Hotel. Moments before we see the dome above what was once the largest private residence in the world, Sunny has a surprise for us. We’ve been invited for drinks with His Highness, Maharaja Gaj Singh II.

Following a quick etiquette lesson in the Heritage Room where portraits of the Maharaja and those who came before him look on, we’re joined by the 38th ruler of the House of Marwar who ascended to the throne when he was just four years old when his father died in a plane crash. In the 1970s Prime Minister Indira Ghandi stripped royal families of their privy purses leaving Gaj Singh with the maintenance costs of the palace, the Mehrangarh Fort and more.

While many royal properties have since fallen into ruin, the enterprising Maharaja turned to tourism and not only changed his own life, but the Heritage Hotel movement in India and Rajasthan travel too. As the Maharaja smiles as he shares his stories I feel honoured to have the chance to smile back at a man who has done so much for his people.

The next day we get to see local ecotourism in action with a visit to the Bishnoi village and meet members of a community that dates back to the 15th century. Founded by Guru Jambheshwar the Bishnoi people are known for their unconditional love of wildlife and nature, and we watch potters making traditional pottery on a foot-powered treadle wheel before visiting a hut in Salawas for a weaving workshop.

We’re already eating out of Roopraj Prajapati’s hands as he shows us the dhurry or rug making skills his family has used for more than a hundred years. When he starts covering the ground with colourful rugs I know that just like Richard Gere, who sat in this very spot before me, I’m not leaving without a special souvenir.

And as I say goodbye with my hand woven yoga mat under my arm I’m already grateful for all of the memories of India that it will carry home.

Contact one of our expert Journey Designers or talk to your travel advisor to learn more and start planning.

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