A Journey through... Rural Rajasthan

| April 11, 2011

Mark Hathaway explored rural Rajasthan  on a 3-week journey taking in Agra and the major highlights of Rajasthan including Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. These cities are famous for their majestic forts, the Taj Mahal  and of course the beautiful Lake Palace in Udaipur. These places are without a doubt must-see stops on any tour of Northern India.

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However, I was also fortunate enough to be able to include some more ‘off the beaten track’ places. Away from the big cities, rural Rajasthan gives visitors a glimpse of a totally different side of India. Some of these places feature gorgeous boutique hotels to stay at which are real hidden gems. They are often overlooked, which is why I would like to highlight a few of the places that I visited on my travels between Agra and Udaipur.

Agra, home to the Taj Mahal , is now a relatively big, bustling city. Yet only 2 hours to the east of here lies Chambal Safari Lodge. Travel there and you are in a different world of peace and tranquillity.

At Chambal you can choose from simple rustic cottages or colourful suites. Not surprisingly wildlife is the real highlight here and indeed the Lodge closes for the low season from May – September not just because of the monsoon, but also the lack of wildlife during that time. The Chambal river is one of the most pristine and unpolluted in India, due to the lack of industry and the fact that it is not considered to be a holy river. The area is rich in birdlife and crocodiles and Gangetic Dolphins can also be seen. A boat trip through the beautiful ravines of the river is an ideal way to see all that is on offer.

Moving to the south is Ramathra Fort, approximately a 6-hour drive from Agra. Arriving in the dark we were not able to appreciate the stunning position of the fort – we had to wait until the next day for that. We could however, appreciate the wonderfully warm welcome from Ravi Raj Pal, whose family have owned the fort through the generations. Dating from the 17th Century and abandoned for 60 years Ravi and his wife returned to restore it to its former glory.

Although a heritage property they have opted for a more contemporary, chic look, and the 6 rooms are simply gorgeous. Particular highlights are the two upstairs suites with huge balconies and the option of an outside bath and shower, as well as an indoor bathroom. It was from one of these suites that I was able to get my first glimpse of my surroundings the morning after we arrived. The fort is positioned overlooking a lush green valley and Kalisil Lake - the views are simply stunning. Once again wildlife is a real feature here and boat trips on the lake as well as guided walks to local villages and cave temples can be organised.

Moving on we came to Bhainsrorgarh Fort. Another family owned property, Hemendra Singh who manages it with his brother was very insistent that we arrive in daylight! This was the only way he said that we could truly appreciate all that the fort had to offer.

And so we moved as fast as we could on the rural Indian roads- no easy task as the local farmers decided that this was the ideal time to move their herds of cows. Thanks to the skill of our driver though and with dusk fast-approaching we caught our first glimpse of the fort. Immediately, it was apparent why Hemendra was so keen for us not to arrive in the dark. Perched on top of a cliff it is a truly spectacular sight. We arrived just in time to enjoy sunset from the rooftop terrace and the stunning views over the river and surrounding countryside.

In contrast to Ramathra, at Bhainsrorgarh they have kept the heritage look in all the rooms which certainly adds to the atmosphere. Also, while Ramathra is very much in the countryside with no civilisation nearby, Bhainsrorgarh overlooks the local village. As we sat enjoying dinner and a chilled beer on the terrace all the sounds and music of Indian village life could be heard. Light sleepers need not be alarmed though – once in the rooms the thickness of the walls more than blocks out any noise!

About 4 hours to the west of Bhainsrorgarh we reached the village of Shahpura and the gorgeous Shahpura Bagh. En route we took in the town of Bundi with its scenic fort and numerous stepwells. The latter are beautiful, but sadly many are in a state of neglect and in need of a good clean.

Shahpura Bagh itself is the epitome of a luxury boutique guesthouse in the middle of the Rajasthani countryside. The husband and wife team of Maya and Sat whose ancestral home this is are perfect and charming hosts and make you feel really welcome. Although you can choose to dine by yourself, I would strongly recommend accepting their invitation to join them for dinner. The food itself is delicious- proper home-cooked Rajasthani food.

For those who want to be lazy there is a lovely pool in the gardens and complimentary cocktails are served here in the evenings. If you are looking to be more active then you can explore the local village, trek to a nearby hilltop temple or go boating or birdwatching on the many lakes that are a short drive away.

Departing Shahpura Bagh we had a 4-hour drive and we were in Udaipur. Home to the beautiful Taj Lake Palace Hotel in the middle of Lake Pichola and the majestic City Palace, we were suddenly back on the well-trodden Rajasthan tourist track.

After several days in the tranquillity of the Rajasthan countryside we were ready once again for the buzz and excitement of Indian city life.

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