Royal Rajasthan: Tracing India’s Majestic History by Camel, Zip Wire and Hot Air Balloon

Revel in India’s majesty by embarking on an intimate and unconventional journey through Rajasthan, a remarkable realm of Maharajas, Rajput Kings and Fairy tale palaces.

At a glance

To the romantic traveller, the state of Rajasthan fulfils every dream of Indian fantasy land. Born out of a collage of ancient kingdoms and crowned the ‘Land of Kings’ in the British era, a visit promises a whirlwind of richly coloured cities, palaces and forts, bejewelled saris and moustachioed Rajputs, and royal tales bound by history and myth which echo across the mysterious ochre plains of the Thar desert – one of the driest places on earth. 

This special and surreal tour steps with you beyond India’s conventional, and gets to the very heart of Rajasthan’s legacy, prosperity and adherence to tradition; touching, tasting and understanding the intangible and the idiosyncratic which makes Rajasthan such an essential representation of the subcontinent. You will make your way from city to city, a journey through an artist’s palette with a crop of important architectural monuments at every turn. Float by balloon over the vibrant state capital of Jaipur, the Pink City, its sprawl of facades and palaces glinting like bejewelled freckles on the horizon. Soar over the Blue City of Jodhpur suspended from a zip wire, and look behind the labyrinthine walls to the high-caste Brahmin history which enfolds this spectacular citadel. Embark on camel treks with spellbinding sunset views and be pampered in the Golden City of Jaisalmer, built from sandstone. Enjoy richly painted Havelis in Bikaner and swoon at the sheer romance of Udaipur’s evocative lake palace landscapes, scents and flavours.  

From opulent cultural discoveries to seeing beyond India’s Fairy tale civilization through treks among vistas of dunes and sawtooth hills, embrace incredible India at both its most emblematic and unconventional. 

Why we love Rajasthan

When anyone asks me where they should go on their first trip to India, I invariably give them the same advice: Rajasthan. This is the state which conforms to our exotic preconceptions of India – from bulky saffron turbans and huge mustaches to snake charmers, exquisite palaces and mahouts sat atop bejeweled elephants. 

Photos used in tourism brochures and the images through which we grow to ‘know’ India are Rajasthan through and through, just like the Paris of an Eiffel Tower dominated skyline, the thatched cottages and bucolic hills of rural England; and the white-washed buildings associated with destinations hugging the Mediterranean. To travel in Rajasthan is to witness the India everyone hopes to see. 

What occurred to me about this radiant state soon after touching down in the state capital of Jaipur, was the quality of light here, unlike anywhere else I had ever experienced. Struck by this shallow surface encounter, I realized I was in love with a city because it couldn’t take a bad photo – a fact which was only magnified as I sought the secrets of neighboring city Pushkar, followed by Udaipur and Jodhpur. The charm of the Land of Kings only gets more potent as you join pilgrims visiting holy bodies of water, soak up the serenity found at sunset, and appreciate the Rajput history and sense of community – their dedication to the culture which has left such a strong mark on India. With the sight of sari-clad women and echoed stories of warrior castes, simple pleasures in market town bustle and the scents of wood smoke and sandalwood; of cow dung fires and jasmine – a lust for Rajasthan quickly develops into a lifetime obsession. 

The activities on this trip have been curated from my own memories – a love story of Rajasthan rooted in the surprising and the familiar, which will inevitably sweep you off your feet (and not just because of the quality time spent on horse, camel, and elephant-back). Designed for the discerning traveler who craves authenticity in style, you will cover the gamut of Rajasthan, traveling to the state’s colorful hubs and lesser-known treasures by train, by road and by hoof. As you stare out at the Aravalli hills at little crag-top shrines, at the endless scrubland and khejri trees, you feel like you are in limbo; weightless, lifted from the 21st century into a parallel time and universe. You are reminded of the juxtaposition India welcomes at every turn – an ancient haveli complete with Wi Fi. 

What I love, and what you will love about Rajasthan, is its ability to throw up opportunities for self-reflection and renewal. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this populous state, you suddenly find yourself all alone except for your present company, in a remarkable temple or on the shores of a deserted lake, experiencing first-hand what many consider to be a spiritual awakening. 

Highlights

  • Glide in a hot air balloon over Jaipur’s Pink City and the Amber Fort 
  • Soar on a zip wire over the blue Brahman buildings of Jodhpur, the most exhilarating way to see this city in all its beauty 
  • Watch the sun melt into the sands of the Thar desert on a sunset camel safari 
  • Bond with and bathe an elephant for an entire day before riding your new friend in the traditional style of a mahout 
  • Visit Bikaner’s extraordinary Karni Mata temple, one of India’s weirder attractions home to a mass of holy rats 
  • Relish a luxury experience with spa treatments and a massage in a boutique Rajasthan  haveli  
  • Seize the chance to spot leopards, wild cats, and eagles just beyond your doorstep in a safari of the unspoiled Jalore National Park 
  • Learn about traditional dance, folk art and how to cook local food in a focused cultural sojourn around the city of love; Udaipur  
  • Become better acquainted with ritual and spiritualism in the holy haven of Pushkar
  • Ride horses across sand dunes, stay at a boutique ranch and stargaze under crystal clear, glittering skies 

Day 1 – Tales of Delhi: Captivating History and Culture Vulture Tour

Welcome to Delhi, an assault on your senses. First impressions come when you’re greeted at the airport and transferred to the hotel.

In this veritable slice of culture vulture wonder, your knowledgeable guide will take you on a personal and intriguing journey through Delhi’s historical hotspots, including the Red Fort, Hindu temples and dizzying trips through the chaos of daily life. This three-to-four hour tour will take you back in time to India’s first War for Independence in 1857 against British colonial forces, then traversing into sights associated with Mahatma Gandhi’s more peaceful struggle. You’ll stop to enjoy a delicious vegetarian street food meal and some piping hot chai with the locals, before exploring a nearby market, where goods on offer range from sparkly wedding garments to cow poo on a string (yes, seriously). Following the tour, your guide will organize a rickshaw back to your hotel – an essential cultural rite of passage – or if you’re keen to keep exploring Delhi, provide further tips and suggestions. 

Day 2 – Delicious Delhi: Sumptuous Local Street Food Tour 

Jump on a rickshaw with a local guide, lacing a path down a maze of narrow lanes and through the hot hustle and bustle of bazaars, to go beyond clichéd curry and try food you’ll be craving long after leaving this enigmatic city. Begin on Chandni Chowk, the main artery of Old Delhi and cool off with some dahi bhalla from delectable street food stall Natraj – a tangy, spicy and sweet treat of yogurt, lentil fritters, fruit, and chutney. Sample a rabri faluda near 17th-century mosque, Fatehpuri Masjid, a surprising cocktail of sweet noodles and milkshake. Make for an authentic stuffed paratha at Parathewali Gali, if you can find room.

As evening falls, you will be hosted by a friendly, local English-speaking family and share a traditional home-cooked meal – experiencing famous Indian hospitality at its finest. 

Day 3 – Mandawa – Host of Havelis Private Architectural Tour 

It’s an early pick-up for the transfer to Mandawa, a small 18th-century settlement in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan which sits away from the wandering eye of tourism. This pleasant place is famous for its lavish Havelis – or private Indian mansions: roam rambling courtyards and learn about opulent décor as you are led around famous residences such as the Hanuman Prasad Goenka Haveli, Murmuria Haveli, and Gulab Rai Ladia Haveli, a house with particularly exotic wall murals of varying nature: see if you can spot some of the more exotic (erotic) depictions which have been partially erased by reserved residents. Stay in Haveli-style accommodation to complete your truly immersive experience. 

Day 4 – Bikaner: A Rickshaw tour of Rajasthan’s Rainbow City and Rat Temple

Arrive in Bikaner by early afternoon to relax at your hotel before your three-hour tour of Rajasthan’s most colorful city – a rich artist’s palette of Rajput history, fairy tale forts and palaces, and surrounded by a sea of ever-changing, undulating dunes of the Thar desert. By cycle rickshaw, your cheerful English-speaking guide will expertly weave you through the streets of Bikaner to whiz past the bustle of bazaars and daily life. You’ll stop at Bika Ki Tekri (Old Fort), the architectural feat of Junagarh Fort, along with the sprawling lawns, blooming flowers, and peacocks of Lalgarh Palace. Sit tight for your last stop; take off your shoes and go barefoot into the Karni Mata Rat Temple; cringing or cooing at the 15,000 rats who live and are worshipped there. Unwind for an evening meal for a happy end to the day and have your fill of a typical Rajasthan thali – including rich delicacies cooked with milk and buttermilk to save water around the desert belt. Sigh. 

Day 5 – Jaisalmer Temple & Bazaar Experience with Sunset Camel Safari

A full day of guided sightseeing in Jaisalmer will introduce you to the colorful bazaars, Gadisagar Lake, Patwa Haveli, Jain Temples, and Jaisalmer Fort. Jaisalmer has an extraordinary medieval feel, with golden sandstone town walls and narrow streets lined with exquisitely carved buildings. Although Jaisalmer is smaller than most other towns in Rajasthan, their Fort is one of the largest in the entire world, built in 1156 with 99 bastions and climbing to a height of 100m. After lunch, you will be taken to Patwa Haweli, one of the largest Havelis in the city famous for exquisitely carved pillars and extensive corridors and chambers. Jaisalmer also boasts some fascinating Jain temples such as Shri Chandraprabhuswami Temple and the Laxminarayan Temple and after lunch, you can stroll around the temple complex. In the evening, head to the Thar Desert for a sunset camel trek through the golden sand dunes and watch the sun melt into the sand before heading back to your hotel. 

Add on: Osian Village Camel Safari 

Your driver picks you up for a transfer to Osian in the Thar Desert, a typical Rajasthani village. Osian was a great trading center between the 8th and 12th centuries, but today it is noted for its cluster of Brahmanical and Jain temples. Using the tented camp as your base, hop on a hump for a camel ride for a safari to visit some of the surrounding villages and uncover Rajasthan’s most colorful communities and spectacular desert landscapes. Camp in a tent under the clear night’s sky as the world closes its eyes and cloaks the plains in velvety, twinkling darkness.  

Add on – Jaisalmer: Luxury Spa Experience and Yoga Class

The ultimate regal flourish can be found in this slice of desert luxury – a luxury boutique haveli where you’re treated to the ultimate pampering, spa and beauty treatments to suit your skin. Relax with your welcome drink, and enjoy a steam bath followed by a one hour’s full-body ayurvedic massage, each re-attuning your body, and mind in an authentic heritage environment. Stick around for your one hour yoga and meditation class in the garden held during the evening. 

Day 6 – Jodhpur – Blue City Soaring Zipwire Sky Run

Gaze out at the stretches of sand on the train ride to Jodhpur, as the sun rises over the desert on a new day. Breakfast on the train anchors you in the authenticity of what it is to be in India and on the move; delicious fare for only a few rupees. This afternoon you will survey the views of Rajasthan’s precious sapphire city by soaring like Batman 115 meters above its crenulations and moats, moving at speed over glittering cubes of Brahman architecture which sit like jewels of baked blue far below you. This really is the alternative view of one of Rajasthan’s most beautiful cities which tourists rarely get to see: gliding above it for a regal birds’ eye view.

Day 7 – Jalore Wildlife Sanctuary and Private Luxury Bungalow Stay

This privately-owned wildlife sanctuary provides a natural jungle haven for couples and groups to explore undisturbed. Staying within the park itself is only possible in groups of up to eight, making this an intimate connection with Mother Nature and friends, including desert foxes, leopards, wildcats, eagles, vultures, and deer just outside the door of your typical native-styled bungalow. Choose from a three hour morning or afternoon jeep safari, escorted by a guard, along with a local park warden with nature expertise who will share their wealth of knowledge on the local ecosystem and help you to spot wildlife. 

Day 8 –Love in Udaipur: Palatial Boat Cruise, Luxury Lunch & Arts Show 

This tour allows you to embrace the storybook clichés and swirl straight into romantic old-world Udaipur – a city of fairy tale palaces jutting from glittering lakes. Arriving by road from Jalore in time for a late lunch, your driver will escort you to a rooftop dining experience with unparalleled views of Lake Pichola, perfect for spending some quality time with that special someone, or multiple loved ones. After having your fill of exquisite fare, take to the water for your chartered boat ride reservation to Jag Madir palace in the center of the mystical Lake Pichola, for an ultra-private and romantic experience.  By evening, catch the cultural program at a local museum – a vibrant and enchanting display of Rajasthani puppetry at the special theatre (called a Kathputli) and traditional dance, among other fascinating folk arts.

Best date, ever.  

Add on – Food Fit for Kings Udaipur Cooking Class

The maharajas of Rajasthan are known for their lavish dining habits. Now you can replicate these in the safety of your own kitchen, with an authentic cooking class offered by some unsung masters of spice who will show you some of the nation’s best kept cooking secrets. From vegetarian dishes for all occasions to snacks and the ideal spiced chai, these recipes have been within this family for generations. Enjoy the regal feast you have created whilst overlooking the romantic Lake Pichola and the City Palace. 

Day 9  – Jaipur: Chokhi Dhani  – Quintessential Culture Feast

Transfer to Jaipur in the morning with time to freshen up during the day before your village culture experience this evening. Chokhi Dhani is a concept capturing the vibrant spirit of Rajasthan and ensuring an ideal Rajasthani experience – a kind of Disney-fied authentic small village that offers a concentration of the state’s iconic culture. Wander around watching puppet shows, trapeze artists, dancers, camels, and elephants; enjoy head massages and have your fortune told.  Here is the perfect chance to see the real Rajasthan, the villages, the paintings, Bani Thani art, the wall decorations, the cultural dance performances, the ‘manuhar’ (a delicate request to eat to your heart’s content), the traditions, the costumes and the essence of royalty which reverberates throughout Rajasthan’s history. When entering Chowki Dhani, you will be given a traditional welcome with tikka and aarti (prayers), along with a folk music dance performance. The traditional thaali dance, wandering camels, locals serving lassi from earthen pots all transfer you to a different world altogether: the perfect evening. 

Add on – Jaipur: A Happy and Authentic Elephantine Experience

Unlike many elephant rides and shows in the Jaipur area, a day trip to Elefantastic Farm offers an honest, cruelty-free and unforgettable day bonding with the well-loved elephants who call this place home. Spend time getting to know this majestic animal by giving them a good stroke and learning the elephant language through the mahout, or elephant carer, before temporarily taking over the job yourself and bathing your elephant whilst sitting on his or her back. Really, the way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach – so feed your friend to gain their trust, before sitting down to a home-cooked meal yourself at Founder Rahul’s own home.  The day closes with an unforgettable bareback ride on your elephant, learning commands to bring you even closer and build a bigger bond with these beautiful beasts.  

Day 10 – Pushkar Desert Horse Riding Adventure and Boutique Ranch Stay

Your driver will collect you after breakfast for this extra special additional experience in the holy lake town of Pushkar – a town where, besides the beautiful temples, the transcendent aura of many Hindu pilgrimages and the perfect balance of backpacker bohemia, you can enjoy a horse riding adventure from the unique eco ranch hotel you will be based at, trekking in the desert with a well-seasoned riding professional. The friendly atmosphere, home-from-home red brick coziness and family-cooked vegetarian meals provided under Rajasthan’s twinkling, star-studded sky make this a one of a kind hospitality experience as well as a wildlife escapade. 

Add on – Pushkar: Hindu Temples, Holy Lakes, and Spiritual Rituals Day Tour

With a private road transfer from Jaipur, embark on a pilgrimage to Pushkar – the “rose garden of Rajasthan”. This hot sandstone town dances around its own colorful, watery reflection – the holy lake in its center which is one of a handful of highly revered Hindu pilgrimage spots. Learn about traditional Hindu practices as you are guided with a wealth of knowledge around the Brahma Temple, participate in a holy puja ritual, an offering to the Hindu gods, and soak up the spiritual magnetism of this city unlike any other in Rajasthan with a walk by the ghat (lake), where pilgrims take their ceremonial baths. Enjoy an authentic, sumptuous lunch at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the city, before heading back to Jaipur as the sun melts away, bathing the arid landscape in a surreal cerise glow. 

Day 10 – Early Rise Private Pink City Balloon Flight

Take to the skies for an early-morning adventure back in time with your significant other, gliding peacefully over Jaipur’s ancient pink city and the spectacular Amber Fort in a hot air balloon – an unconventional and otherworldly way to become better acquainted with Rajasthan’s capital. The colors are exquisite from up here, a dappled artist’s palette of ochers, oranges, dusty pinks and shades of the green cast by cloud shadows. See the morning blanket of blue sky reflected on still lakes, and trace the zig-zag lines of the fort with your finger. Below, Jaipur just begins to wake, the market traders setting up shop before the hustle and bustle mounts. Savor this rare piece of harmony before your return to Delhi as you dance on the breeze, floating suspended over time. 

Day 10 – Transfer Jaipur to Delhi

It’s time to take the short flight back to Delhi to make your international flight. On leaving the state of Rajasthan, it’s hard to believe that this whimsical land straight from the pages of an Indian fairytale wasn’t more than a mirage. Was this a figment of your wildest imagination? A dreamscape of sandy desert dunes, opulently dressed Rajput locals, camels and elephants crossing the streets, flashes of color in buildings, bold saris and bright-tasting cuisine like you’ve never sampled before. Like a film reel winding through in your head, you leave your footprints in the sand, and Rajasthan leaves its indelible footprint in your mind.