Exploring Rajasthan’s Fort Cities

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

INDIA9 Rajasthani woman

Rajasthani woman

Despite being mostly covered in the barren sands of the Thar Desert, Rajasthan is one of the most visited states in India. Some 700 years ago, Marco Polo traversed this desert route with caravans bearing the finest treasures of the world. Oases and towns became resting places for camels and their handlers and traders. These settlements expanded as market towns and forts were eventually built to protect the mercantile trade. Its complex history and colorful culture has been shaped by the Jain, Muslim and Hindu religions through the centuries.

Rajasthan’s capital Jaipur and other regal cities of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur remain as oases surrounded by the rolling desert dunes of the Thar Desert.

Pink City

JAI18 Hawa Mahal Pink Vity

Hawa Mahal Pink Vity

Known as the “Pink City”, Jaipur was established in the 17th century by Maharaja Jai-Singh. The name is somewhat misleading as the colour of many of the city’s heritage buildings are more a rusty red colour due to the accumulation of sand and grime on top of what was once pink paint.

The pinkish façade of the Hawa Mahal is one of India’s most recognisable images. Otherwise known as the Palace of Winds, this very ornate 18th century building features over 900 latticed stone windows. Travellers to this part of the world can witness firsthand the grand palace forts and the intricately carved temples in their appreciation of one of the world’s greatest concentrations of heritage buildings. However, despite India’s developing middle class and wealth, cows still roam the streets and carts pulled by camels ensure that visitors know they are in well and truly in India.

Apart from the Hawa Mahal, Jaipur’s other main attractions include the City Palace, Jantar Mantar, Amber Palace and Johari Bazaar. Jantar Mantar Observatory resembles a disordered assemblage of sculptures but this fascinating outdoor area has been used for centuries to make accurate astronomical observations. City Palace dominates the centre of the walled city and the current Maharaja and his family live in a private section of the fort while the public can visit attractions such as a textile museum, royal and armoury decorated in ornate frescoes and surrounded by landscaped gardens. Johari Bazaar is one of the region’s most colourful bazaars with the liveliest banter from eager sales people trying to enthuse visitors into buying a variety of souvenirs and colourful textiles. Brightly dyed saris and strikingly coloured turbans are a feature of Rajasthan.

Blue City

India 6 Meherangarh Fort from blue houses Jodhpur


Meherangarh Fort from blue houses Jodhpur

In Jodhpur, the Meherangarh Fort overlooks a sea of blue buildings which give rise to it being known as the ‘Blue City’. The rulers of Jodhpur, known as the House of Marwar, amassed immense wealth with just some of it on display in the fort for inquisitive visitors. The current Maharajah lives in a private section of the newer and more expansive Umaid Bhavan Palace with all its art deco grandeur. Sections of this palace have been converted into a luxury hotel which is especially popular with Bollywood stars and visiting dignitaries.

Lake City

INDIA16 City Palace on Lake Pichola Udaipur

City Palace on Lake Pichola Udaipur

In the far south of Rajasthan, Udaipur is possibly India’s most romantic city with the City Palace dominating the picturesque Lake Pichola. Visitors can enjoy a lake cruise around Jag Mandis and Lake Palace (formerly known as Jag Niwas) Islands with their white marble palaces. The Lake Palace is now home to a luxurious and expensive hotel managed by Taj Hotels. The property was one of the backdrops used in the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy, which was partly filmed in the district.

Desert City

INDIA19D Shanti Restaurant overlooking Jaisalmer

Shanti Restaurant overlooking Jaisalmer

Arriving into Jaisalmer across the arid Thar Desert by train is one of the world’s great railway trips in a country that boasts many exotic rail journeys. Sand-blasted golden sandstone buildings dominate the old city with Jaisalmer Fort being the most obvious. This UNESCO World Heritage Site remains a living fort that unlike others in Rajasthan is occupied by residents and full of homes, bars, cafés, shops, restaurants and boutique hotels. Several places offer open-air rooftop bars with lounge seating covered in colourful pillows that make the ideal place to chill out at the end of the day over a chilled Kingfisher beer.

Despite there being an ever-present commercialism along the narrow streets and alleyways, the fort city is definitely a highlight of a journey to Rajasthan. While most guidebooks have detailed maps of the fort, it is a great place to get lost in as its alleyways are lined with jovial merchants hawking all manner of souvenirs. Often it’s their sales banter that makes a stroll through here memorable, and while they all hope visitors will stop at their store, they have been in the business long enough to appreciate that not all visitors are shoppers. There are several magnificent havelis in and around the fort. These were, and in many cases still are, the homes of wealthy merchants. Being strategically located, goods carried on camel caravans have passed through Jaisalmer for centuries. Most havelis have façades of ornately carved sandstone latticework making them some of the most beautifully decorated domestic buildings in India. Some have been converted into commercial enterprises but others remain as grand homes for well-to-do merchants. It’s possible to visit several that have been renovated or are in the process of being renovated.

Camel treks into the Thar Desert are popular with adventurous travellers who can spend from one night to up to a week wandering from village to village in the remote parts of the Thar Desert. For some visitors, a short camel ride across the Sam Dunes on the outskirts of the city before evening drinks back in their hotel is sufficient adventure.


There are no commercial rights to Jaisalmer and the train tends to sort out the travellers from the tourists, although the sleeper beds are quite comfortable and the journey is an exciting one.

Heritage Homes

For travellers who appreciate fine heritage hotels, Rajasthan has many hip and happening hotels. Several magnificent heritage properties across the state have been converted into boutique and luxury hotels. It ‘s difficult to narrow the choices down but here are some properties that stand out. In Jaipur – Rambagh Palace
( and Raj Mahal Palace (; Jodhpur – Marugarh ( and Bal Samand Lake Palace (; Jaisalmer – Garh Jaisal ( and Gorbandh Palace ( and Udaipur – Garden Hotel (

Travel File

Getting There
Malaysia Airlines ( flies direct to New Delhi several times per week and from there, Jaipur is 300km to the south (five hours’ drive). Alternatively, fly from New Delhi to Jaipur on Jet Airways (, or catch a train (the ‘Shatabdi Express’ or the ‘Pink City Express’). A luxury train, the ‘Palace on Wheels’, visits Rajasthan’s imperial cities over a seven-day period. There are domestic flights to Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur for those in a hurry but travelling by car or train enables visitors to see the dramatic landscapes of Rajasthan. Jaisalmer is only accessible by road or train.

Best Time to Travel
Weather is a big consideration as summer can be perilously hot. It is wise to travel during the cooler months from October to March.

All visitors to India need to obtain a visa before they travel. This takes time and money and is best dealt with by a good travel agent who will, however, normally charge for such a service.

India Tourism:

Read more:

Source: The Expat magazine December 2015

"ExpatGo welcomes and encourages comments, input, and divergent opinions. However, we kindly request that you use suitable language in your comments, and refrain from any sort of personal attack, hate speech, or disparaging rhetoric. Comments not in line with this are subject to removal from the site. "


Catherine Williams

Was just here in October. Udaipur and Jaipur. Spectacular!

Click to comment

Recent Stories

More Posts
To Top