Whether you are seeking the royal India or the real India, if any place can provide you with the best of both in Rajasthan. Rajasthan is a land where swanky old vintage cars of erstwhile kings jostle for space with cows and painted camels on the streets, without hitting each other. These factors (along with many more that I have mentioned below) combined together will give you some Unique Cultural Experiences that can only be found in Rajasthan.
Rajasthan, located on the North-western side of India, is a state that houses the inhospitable Thar Desert and shares its border with provinces of Pakistan.
The present-day state of Rajasthan is a relatively recent entity, an outcome of Indian independence in 1947. The state came into being as a result of 19 princely states and two chiefdoms, who had previously signed individual “Instruments of Accession” to the newly independent country of India. While the first thing that comes into our mind when we talk about Rajasthan is the famed Great Indian Desert or the Thar Desert, the most striking feature geographically, however, is the Aravalli Range of Mountains.
10 Unique Cultural Experiences that you will only get in Rajasthan
Pushkar Camel Fair
This is perhaps one of the most colourful carnivals in Rajasthan, where camels compete with photographers. The Pushkar Camel Fair, held every year sometime in mid-November, to coincide with the full moon, presents a cultural experience that is very unique to Rajasthan. Pushkar incidentally houses the only temple devoted to the Hindu god Lord Brahma, otherwise known as ‘the creator’, one of the important gods of the holy trinity in Hindu mythology.
As you find your way across the myriad lanes of Pushkar, wondering where the commerce of camel trade is being conducted, you will be jostled into a medley of gypsies, street kids and beggars. Some of the beggars can ask for alms in foreign languages too! Pushkar Camel Fair is fun, as this otherwise quaint town, comes alive to cultural shows, bright markets, and desert characters of all sorts. Pushkar is 94 miles from Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. This five days festival celebrating the importance of camel as the lifeline of Rajasthan is backdropped against the co-existence of man and animal. Rajasthan is no easy place to live.
The City in ‘Pink’
Jaipur, the state capital of Rajasthan is a beautiful bustling city. A blend of the old and the new. Walking through the small alleys and lanes of Jaipur is the perfect start to your Rajasthan experience. So if you occasionally tend to lose orientation negotiating your way through the lanes of Bapu Bazaar and Johri Bazaar, you can always visit the city palace with its intricate architecture.
Jaipur is loaded with high-end palatial hotels and a visit to anyone of this is an excursion in itself. One of the interesting sites in Jaipur is the Step Wells of Panna Meena Ka Kund. They are rectangular shaped wells with narrow stairs going downwards. While a walk down these steps can be a challenge to people with acrophobia, nevertheless it is worth a try.
Bundi – the time machine to 15th century!
The fairy tale town of Rajasthan, Bundi, is 3 and a half hours from Jaipur. Bundi sways away from modernity and with life tucked inside the lanes filled with temples, this town refuses to move beyond the 15th century in its feel. The Taragarh Fort, with its murals and paintings, is located above the Bundi Palace in a hillock. Bundi is famous for its step wells, locally known as ‘Baoris’. The whole Bundi experience is a unique mix of your cultural experience in Rajasthan. It is an old town when each nook and corner evokes a story. A story of the glorious kingdoms of Rajasthan. The town is slightly cut-off from modernization and with a population of just over 100,000, Bundi is an experience in the simplicity of the rich culture of Rajasthan.
Chokhi Dhani – a Plethora of Rajasthani Culture
Chokhi Dhani is a collective Rajasthani cultural experience on a single platform. Located on the outskirts of Jaipur city, Chokhi Dhani with its puppet shows, traditional folk dances, and dining experiences is a first-hand engagement with the unique culture of Rajasthan. Although the whole arrangement is a set-up, the deluge of experiences resembles the tradition of Rajasthan which you will see as you move deeper into the state.
A unique experience inside the set-up is the ‘chaupal’ which translates into a hub. Here you can sit down the Rajasthani way and have a hearty local meal. If food is not your only concern, you have the camel rides, magic shows by gypsy illusionists, and a bazaar devoted to paintings, décor, and accessories with Rajasthani motifs.
The Udaipur Cultural Trail
The alluring beauty of Udaipur otherwise known as ‘The City of Lakes’ is in its grand forts and palaces. Though many argue that Udaipur is crowded with tourists, but that would be an understatement in Rajasthan. Rajasthan is the first on the list of anyone visiting India. The Royal Palace of Udaipur is the largest palace complex in Rajasthan. Located on the banks of Lake Pichola, this palace is a labyrinth of Rajasthani architecture. The colorfully decorated windows and doors, the floral designs woven in the balconies, and the exquisite mirror and marble work just oozes nobility.
And one of the most unique experiences a visitor to Udaipur must indulge in, no matter how customary it sounds, is the evening boat ride on Lake Pichola. The whole cultural medley of Rajasthan is experienced in this boat ride where scenes move from massive palaces to life on the banks of the lake, amidst beautiful sunsets. The kings of Rajasthan had a deep penchant for cars and a visit to the Vintage car museum in Udaipur will confirm that. It is said one of the cars was used in a Bond movie! And, in the end, don’t miss out on the Dharohar Dance Show at Bagore Ki Haveli. The show features a magic show, puppet dance, folk dance, tribal dance, and more.
The Blue City of Jodhpur
Approximately 220 miles from Jaipur is the heritage city of Jodhpur. True to its name, old Jodhpur with its blue coloured houses, gives you the feel of Rajasthan lost in old royalty. The towering Mehrangarh Fort is visible no matter where you stay in Jodhpur. The tradition of painting homes dates back to centuries. And if tour guide fables are to be believed, it was originally done as a measure to safeguard from mosquitoes.
The bazaars of Jodhpur offer unique shopping experiences. The shops around the clock tower are ancient and the indulgences are very cultural and traditional. The recipes of some of the food outlets are as old as the establishments itself. The best way to visit Jodhpur is to blend in. The locals are friendly and love to talk. If you are in Jodhpur, the Marwar Village excursion is a must. It provides a peep into the lives of the Marwar community living in mud-houses, on the fringes of the Thar Desert.
The Phad painting art and culture in Bhilwara
Phad paintings are detailed works of art indigenous to Rajasthan. With a history of more than a thousand years, these paintings are done on a long piece of canvas and artists creates painting based on folk stories. The Joshi family in Bhilwara, a town, 168 miles from Jaipur has been practicing this unique culture of Rajasthan for centuries. There is a school now in Bhilwara to teach this form of painting and art students from across the world come here to learn this form of painting.
The Wildlife Experience in Ranthambore
Rajasthan is not just about magnificent palaces and Thar desert. Located at the junction of the Aravali and Vindhya hill ranges, Ranthambore National Park is one of the largest and most renowned national parks in India.
Ranthambore which was one of the favourite hunting grounds of the kings of Rajasthan, is a famed National Park now, especially for the Royal Bengal tiger. The National Park, known for its rich wildlife is also a heritage site in India. Enclosed by dry and deciduous forests, the Ranthambore Fort with its ruins always presents an archaic picture. While a trip to Ranthambore is essentially a wildlife-based one, the whole journey is a lesson in human beings accord with nature for ages. What differentiates Ranthambore form other major wildlife parks in India is that nature amalgamates with culture. The huge forts and monuments inside the park is evident of this blend.
The Unique culture of Karauli
A town grounded with history, Karauli is 4 hours’ drive from Jaipur and a 2-hour drive from the Taj Mahal city of Agra. While the town might not fit the description of a regular tourist’s circuit in Rajasthan, there is no dearth of things to do in Karauli. It is a busy town layered with temples, forts, and rivers. The City Palace of Karauli is a storehouse of the rich culture of Rajasthan. Filled with stone carvings, antique paintings, and detailed stone screens, this palace is a very readable canvas into the history and legacy of Rajasthan. The markets in Karauli presents the perfect opportunity to try out local foods. The streets are filled with shops selling all kinds of local wares ranging from spices to bangles to local produce.
The Desert Flavor of Bikaner
A desert city in Rajasthan, Bikaner is less popular compared to Jaiselmer, Jodhpur, Jaipur, or even Pushkar. But this old town is dotted with ancient houses by the rich Mughal inhabitants of the city. The Mughal architecture with its distinct half-moon shaped roofs over the windows and the detailed window decors are all over the old part of Bikaner. Camel Safaris which are available all across Rajasthan perhaps find their most authentic experience in Bikaner. Just a few miles away is the rat temple or the ‘Karni Mata temple’ and as per local belief, if you spot a white rat your coming days will be filled with good luck.
You are already lucky if you are in Bikaner. The Junagarh Fortin this city, an embodiment of the rich cultural heritage of Rajasthan is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture built by the Maharajas of Rajasthan.
Interesting Trivia: the havelis (opulently decorated courtyard houses) of Bikaner, which were built by wealthy merchant class over 200 years back, have all been deserted. The families of these traders and merchants have moved to cities like Mumbai and Kolkata.
Taste of Rajasthan
Food in Rajasthan is as rich as its culture. A traditional meal in Rajasthan is a gastronomic platter. Most of the local cuisine here is laced with Indian spices and the use of clarified butter is rampant. Historically, Rajasthani food coincides with the fact that it was made for warriors who had to be fed a diet that is nutritious and had to last for days. Rajasthan cuisine has more variety for vegans, but their lamb curries are spicy delights. Not to mention their desserts, which in itself are separate dishes to the foreign taste bud.
Cultural Tourism in Rajasthan
Tourism is a developed trade in Rajasthan. With approximately 15% of its revenue derived from tourism, one of the unique features of cultural tourism in Rajasthan is that it employs a sizeable number of skilled and educated women. In Rajasthan, the community is involved in tourism and this translates into a unique cultural experience to a visitor.
Rajasthan has managed to position itself in the cultural tourist map of India. For anyone visiting India for the first time, Rajasthan is always on the itinerary. From high-end palatial hotels to more modest boutique accommodations, the Rajasthan experience is embedded everywhere. The local excursions have been streamlined and marketed well. And these are all readily available to the digital-savvy tourists. There is so much to do in Rajasthan and no matter what activity you indulge in, no matter how modern it is, you cannot escape the cultural flavour. The whole landscape of Rajasthan is itself a tryst with a cultural legacy. Here faith, belief, and sentiments of people sync with the business of tourism.
This blog-post was co-authored by Amitabh Sarma. An avid traveller and an ardent trekker, Amitabh loves to explore destinations by road and has already clocked more than 140,000 km on motorcycles across India.
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