The name Rajasthan itself holds a dignified meaning, the ‘Land of the Kings’. The largest state in India borders Uttar Pradesh, famed for the Taj Mahal and India’s capital city of New Delhi, on the east. Towards the north lies Punjab, birthplace of Sikhism, which later flourished in Amritsar.
With its pretty palaces, towering forts, extravagant royals, dutiful armies, countless wars, and vast countryside, Rajasthan might as well be called the Westeros (a fictional land in the hit TV show Game of Thrones) of India. There is plenty to see and experience here, but here are four of the most popular cities on the tourist trail that you can visit, each one named after the ruler who founded it:
Jodhpur, the Blue City
Founded by Maharaja Rao Jodha in 1459
It’s not hard to recognise why Jodhpur is nicknamed the ‘Blue City’. Houses inside the city were originally painted blue to signify the Brahmin caste, but the trend was soon followed by others too, resulting in a striking landscape of rectangular blue buildings all over this desert city.
The best place to view all the blue is from Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur’s main landmark as well as its pride and joy. Construction of the fortress began in 1460 as home of the royal family, but the whole complex, which included palaces, temples, and a museum were completed during the rule of Maharaja Jaswant Singh (1638-1678). Today, the royal family of Jodhpur resides within a section in the majestic Umaid Bhawan Palace, in which parts of the complex have been turned into a museum as well as a luxury hotel.
Jaisalmer, the Golden City
Founded by Rawal Jaisal in 1156
At the heart of the arid and panoramic Thar Desert is Jaisalmer, nicknamed the Golden City due to the golden glow of the yellow sandstone buildings surrounding the hilltop Jaisalmer Fort. Inside the fort which boasts 99 bastions around its circumference, visitors can visit the Royal Palace and Jain temples, as well as traverse the many intricately-carved nooks and corners where humble homes and hippie hangouts lie.
For respite from the desert heat, locals frequent Gadisar Lake for a swim or a boat ride along the blissful waters overlooking a pol (archway), a ghat (flight of steps leading down to a river), and a mandir (temple), all elaborate in their yellow sandstone carvings.
The main attraction that draws in travellers to Jaisalmer, however, is the Camel Safari on Thar Desert. Various tours to suit different budgets are available, with the most popular one being the overnight camel safari that includes 4WD rides, camel rides, meals, and a blissful night sleeping under the stars.
Udaipur, the White City
Founded by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1553
Udaipur is not consistently named as one of the most romantic in India for no reason. The endless mountains towering over the horizon, serene lakes and the radiance from white buildings scattered in the midst of it all have earned it the moniker ‘White City’. Many others also refer it as the City of Lakes or the Venice of India.
There are plenty of attractions to fill your holiday here with excitement. Must-visits within the Old City quarter include the City Palace, Jagdish Temple, Shiva Ghat, and the Bagore-Ki-Haveli. Unlike most other Indian cities, the vibe here is more relaxed, so don’t be surprised if you end up whiling your days away in one of the many lakeview cafes or rooftop restaurants here, basking in the lovely views of palaces, sunsets, as well as hawks and storks soaring in perfect motion.
Jaipur, the Pink City
Founded by Maharaja Jai Singh I in 1727
Rajasthan’s capital and biggest city Jaipur is a kaleidoscope of scenes and sights. Tuktuks and camels move side by side on the noisy roads lined with pink sandstone buildings housing shops selling everything from assorted spices to colourful saris. Pink was seen as the colour of hospitality by then ruler Maharaja Ram Singh, who ordered blocks around the city to be painted in pink to welcome England’s Prince Albert Edward in 1876.
Jaipur’s association with pink, however, goes way back more than a century before the visit, as seen on the iconic buildings and complexes around the city. One of the most photographed is the Hawa Mahal, while other architectural wonders like the City Palace, Jantar Mantar, Amber Fort, Nahargarh Fort, Jal Mahal, and Jawahar Circle certainly deserve a spot in your travel itinerary. Together with India’s capital city New Delhi and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, Jaipur is the third city making up the popular North Indian tourist trail called the ‘Golden Triangle Circuit’.
FUN FACT: Did you notice that most of the names end with pur? In ancient Sanskrit language, pura means city, and it was adapted to combine with the name of the founder. Other similar words were mer (mountain), nagar (town), as well as garh (fort).
GETTING THERE: AirAsia X flies to Jaipur from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. For low fares and flight info, visit airasia.com.