Join Trip Leaders extraordinaire Hashmat Singh and his wife, Priya, for an incredible journey that explores not only the rich traditions of Rajasthan’s celebrated walled cities of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, with their grand forts and bustling bazaars, but also the region’s smaller towns, where the sumptuous palaces of erstwhile princely families, their empires lost to the Indian union, have been transformed into atmospheric “heritage hotels.” From the painted havelis at Mandawa and the Jain temples of Ranakpur to the traditional villages near Siana and the romance of Udaipur, Rajasthan’s glorious culture comes alive in our interactions with the people and in the arts and tribal music we have a chance to experience. The highlight of our adventure is the Holi Festival in Siana, where we mingle with the locals in a wildly exuberant event heralding the approach of spring, complete with singing, dancing, and the enthusiastic flinging of vividly colored powder and water on participants (everyone is fair game, but don’t worry—we’ll provide you with the proper clothes!).
An endless stream of visual delights. Hashmat's trips are always wonderful, and playing Holi was even more fun than expected.
— Jack H., Cockeysville, MD
Delhi, India / Neemrana, Rajasthan
After meeting in Delhi, we begin our journey with a drive to the historical town of Neemrana, set just at the edge of Rajasthan. Here we visit the local village and the baori, a 17th century step-well that goes down nine levels into the ground with pillared hallways and verandas. Overnight is at the Neemrana Fort-Palace, a former 15th century fort converted into a heritage hotel.
Mandawa, Shekhawati Region of Rajasthan
The towns of Shekhawati, a semi-desert region in north Rajasthan, are a virtual open-air art gallery, famous for the breathtaking frescoes depicting mythological, historical, and folk themes that appear on the walls of numerous forts, palaces, and havelis (mansions). Our base is in Mandawa, a fairytale town right in the heart of the Shekhawati area and the perfect place for exploring many of the nearby towns. Overnights are at the Vivaana, a beautifully restored 19th century haveli.
Bikaner / Nagaur / Phalodi
In Bikaner, we explore Jain and Hindu temples and stroll the narrow streets of this beautiful town. Heading to Nagaur, our explorations include a walk through the old quarter of town to visit many of its mosques and temples, the colorful market, and the palaces of Ahhichatragarh Fort (also known as Nagaur Fort), famous for its wall paintings and the layout of its now empty water system of aqueducts, wells, and cisterns. In Phalodi, an old caravan town and a center of trade for camels, sheep, and salt, we explore the town’s narrow lanes, havelis, and Jain and Hindu temples.
Remote and desert-bound, the golden city of Jaisalmer lies on the ancient trade route that linked India with the trading centers of Central Asia. The narrow streets of the walled city preserve a traditional way of life as craftsmen still work in ancient arts, including stone carving and silver jewelry. Our explorations include the traditional merchants’ havelis and the hilltop Golden Fort, which contains a seven-story palace with its Megh Durbar, or Hall of Clouds.
In Jodhpur, we see the vibrancy of Rajasthan on a princely scale. Seven massive gateways lead into the walled city, with its temples and palaces, gardens and lakes, and its bustling lanes and bazaars. We visit the great Mehrangarh Fort and enter a series of palaces and courtyards that house a royal collection of rare miniature paintings, silver howdahs, palanquins, armor, and royal cradles. Overnights at a boutique hotel set in the middle of the colorful old town and market, with absolutely spectacular views of Mehrangarh Fort.
Siana / Holi Festival
The wildlife of the region around Siana includes the chinkara, Indian striped hyena, desert fox, civet cat, and leopard. We enjoy a leopard-tracking safari by 4WD vehicle and visit the local village, with its potters and woodworkers. Our arrival in Siana is timed for the first day of the Holi festival and this evening we’ll attend the lighting ceremonies. We spend the following day (called Dhuleti) visiting local villages and celebrating this wildly colorful and riotous festival with them. Overnights at a simple but comfortable lodge.
Ranakpur Jain Temples / Udaipur
We head to Ranakpur, famous for its marvelous complex of finely ornamented Jain temples set in a beautiful forest where peacocks and langur monkeys roam. Our fascinating journey ends with a flourish in Udaipur, one of the most romantic cities in the world, with its oasis of palaces, traditional havelis, parks, fortresses, and temples. We stay at the legendary Lake Palace, the 250-year-old former summer palace of the Maharaja of Udaipur, one of the world’s most breathtaking heritage hotels, set on an island in tranquil Lake Pichola. Depart on Day 19 via Delhi.