Rajasthan: Historical intrigue… and beautiful buildings
Ever dreamt of seeing some of India’s most wonderful buildings? In this article, we introduce you to some of the finest structures in Rajasthan.
A land of desert landscapes, otherworldly palaces and imposing forts, Rajasthan is one of India's most fascinating states. Its long and interesting history has left it peppered with pretty buildings and dramatic old military sites that are not only to be admired in terms of aesthetics, but also for the stories they tell.
Today, we are going to share with you some of our favourite buildings in Rajasthan. As they are so rich in history, we believe travelling with an experienced tour operator can make all the difference to your trip, simply because this will help ensure you benefit from expert knowledge as you go on your voyage of discovery into colossal forts and opulent palaces.
Hawa Mahal, Jaipur
Jaipur is one of the best cities to visit in India if you're eager to see amazing buildings with interesting tales behind them. Perhaps the most striking is Hawa Mahal, which is also known as the Palace of the Winds. Immediately recognisable thanks to its honeycomb-like facade and pink sandstone walls, this building was constructed in 1799 and, quite remarkably, is roughly just one room deep.
It was constructed with the purpose of allowing ladies at court to see life unfolding below, while remaining in purdah (unseen by men or strangers). Today, you can share that experience by heading inside and looking out from one of the tiny windows that give the front of the building its famous honeycomb appearance.
What's more, from the top of the building you will also be able to spy two of the other structures on our list – the City Palace and Jantar Mantar.
City Palace, Jaipur
The City Palace in Jaipur blends traditional Rajasthani and Mughal architecture, and is a fascinating place to visit. And indeed, with it spanning approximately a seventh of the walled city, it is perhaps a little difficult to miss.
The complex includes buildings, courtyards and gardens and, as it was added to across the centuries, there are structures from various eras, which makes it an all the more fascinating place to visit. Among the highlights are the 19th-century Mubarak Mahal and the beautiful Diwan-i-Am, the latter possessing a spectacular painted ceiling and housing a stunning art gallery. Also be sure not to miss the armoury, which displays one of the nation's finest weapons collections.
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
One of a number of observatories constructed by Jai Singh II, Jantar Mantar dates back to the 18th century. This is among the more unusual places you'll visit during your travels through Rajasthan, at first glance looking like a collection of strange – and giant – sculptures.
But these are no sculptures. In fact, the gigantic structures of Jantar Mantar are astronomical instruments designed to help people take accurate readings with the naked eye – and the facility is still very much in use today. It is also a living reminder of Jai Singh II's passion for astronomy.
Junagahr Fort, Bikaner
Rajasthan is peppered with imposing forts, and Junagahr Fort in Bikaner is among the most impressive. Built by the then ruler of Bikaner, Raja Rai Singh, in the late 16th century, this fort bucks the trend of typical Rajasthani strongholds by not occupying a hilltop position – despite its lack of elevated position, its nearly kilometre-long wall and 30-plus bastions have been more than adequate defences over the years.
As you explore, look out for the carved handprints on Daulat Prole (one of the gates), which commemorate the wives of soldiers who committed sati. A less grim window into the past is Anup Mahal Chowk, which has some beautiful screens, and the Gaj Mandir – the intensely opulent suite of Maharaja Gaj Singh.
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur is one of the most imposing, impressive forts in the entire country. What's more, it is still run by the royal family of Jodhpur, making it a piece of living history – and indeed, it does have a long history and incredible stories behind it.
Dating back to the 15th century, this fort seems to emerge directly from the rocky hill it was built on, with its base merging with rock. The sheer size of the fort, which is among the biggest in India, coupled with it being built on a 120 metre high hill, makes it an intensely dramatic site – even more so if you believe the story that a man was buried alive in its foundations to help secure the fort a good future.
You can see the marks that history has left all over the site. On the Dodh Kangra Pol, which was once an external gate, you can see the damage left by 19th-century cannonball fire, while the Fatehpol was built to commemorate the Mughal defeat by Maharaja Ajit Singh.
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