Rajasthan: A family adventure in India

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The dazzling state of Rajasthan has long lured travellers – and your children will love it too, says Amar Grover.

Years ago, my partner and I visited Rajasthan several times as backpackers. Like most travellers who work their way through what is perhaps India's most vibrant state, we were captivated by its colours, clamour and sheer intensity. Who could not be dazzled by Udaipur's Lake Pichola or fine monuments such as Jaipur's City Palace and Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort?

Rajasthan is the location for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. If the characters played in the film by Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Bill Nighy are to be believed, the state exerts a pan-generational appeal. We longed to return, but now there was Amrik (aged seven) and Dorian (four) to consider. The sun had set on youthful journeys where discomfort was once cheerfully dismissed as an "experience". We craved clean, characterful hotels that wouldn't cost the earth. We also wanted to travel around in relative comfort – no more interminable rides jammed into buses and hard-seat trains.

Happily, Rajasthan's range and quality of hotels have matured, making the possibility of an enjoyable family holiday there feasible, with a bit of planning.

Also, judicious use of trains and local taxis would save money and provide a more authentic travel experience than the beginning-to-end chauffeured car, so often used by high-end tourists.

Our budget was tight (about £100, or Rs7,780, a day, excluding flights) but time was on our side. We had almost three weeks to play with and, whatever happened, the children would be exposed to one of the most memorable tourist destinations on earth.

The broad brushstroke of our journey sketched a route from Delhi to Mumbai, via Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. First, though, some acclimatisation. We began by treating ourselves to a two-night stay in a mid-range suite at the Neemrana Fort-Palace Hotel, 120km south-west of Delhi. It was built in the 15th century and expanded down the years and its restoration melds Rajput architecture with neo-Tuscan flavours.

Tucked beside a rocky ridge, the fort's picturesque walls and bastions loom over a modest village. The boys immediately viewed the corridors as an adventure playground; a handy little plan of the complex only added to the mystique. It was the most expensive part of our stay, but it formed a relaxing antidote to the bustle of Delhi and set us up well for the next stage.

I arranged a local taxi (about Rs1,500/£20) through a souvenir shop in the village. We covered the 145km drive to Jaipur in about three hours, during which the boys were preoccupied by the semi-desert landscape of scrubby hills and a "roadscape" of fabulously painted lorries, overloaded bullock carts and the odd bus with passengers clinging to the roof.

Jaipur's Hotel Diggi Palace was our home for three nights. Formerly a noble's manor, it's now a restful haven with a large lawn fronting a decent restaurant serving Indian and Western favourites. We used local auto-rickshaws to nip around the state capital for essential sights which included the Palace of Winds (whose intricate façade of latticed windows allowed courtly ladies to watch the outside world); the Jantar Mantar (a royal observatory notable for its massive sundial); and the imposing City Palace, whose audio tour kept Amrik fascinated, particularly during our visit to the armoury with its many swords and knives.

For the next stretch, 300km west to Jodhpur, the fastest, most convenient service is the daily 5pm Ranthambore Express. It takes five hours and costs Rs354/£4.50 in an air-conditioned carriage with reserved seats. Chatty locals shared food with us, and invited the boys to play games on their mobile phones.

From the bustle on Jaipur's busy station platforms to the myriad strange smells of the Indian countryside as we chugged into the night, the novelty for the children was matched by nostalgia for us. A complimentary hotel pick-up awaited us at the station. Ten minutes later we pulled through the driveway of Ratan Vilas, a 1920s mansion with a modern annexe, excellent food and friendly staff.

Jodhpur's stellar attraction is the massive Mehrangarh Fort. It is one of the most spectacular in India, and stands theatrically on a great hump of rock high above the city. It is maintained by a trust established by Jodhpur's prominent Maharaja. Its excellent audio tours brought the complex to life far more effectively than we could by reading signs or the guidebook. A pleasant little café by the entrance provided a much-needed break from the fierce Rajasthan sunshine.

We were now just over a week into our trip. From here to Udaipur our itinerary involved more remote destinations. So, through a local travel agent, we arranged for a car with driver for the next six days. We bumped across the now-singed country south from Jodhpur towards the Aravalli Hills. Acacia-dotted plains were interspersed with farmland and whitewashed shrines atop rocky outcrops. After four hours, we stopped at Ranakpur's Jain temple which boasts some of India's finest sculpture; we reached Kumbhalgarh by dusk after a further hour's drive.

Kumbhalgarh is Rajasthan's highest fort. Set in gorgeous hilly countryside, it is crowned by the so-called Cloud Palace, encircled by about 15km of walkable walls and dotted with medieval temples. The best accommodation is The Aodhi, which is also the closest option to the fort. Some of the more decorative suites resemble those of a converted palace.

Lightly forested hills fell away on all sides and, in nearby villages, you can still see water wheels powered by bullocks. Up in the fort, beyond the spooky orange-daubed statue of Hanuman, the monkey god, we explored huge crenellated walls, bastions and mysterious temples. Within the walls numerous trails and paths led off to a couple of rustic hamlets.

After three nights, we headed on to the small town of Ghanerao and its simple castle hotel. From Kumbhalgarh there's a mildly adventurous four-hour walk down through the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary; our guide cost Rs800/£10.25. It followed a ridge just below the Cloud Palace before descending steadily into thicker forest past an old hunting lookout. At the bottom, a mostly level trail took us past a network of clear streams and lakes towards an impoverished village near the main road.

Charming Ghanerao Castle more than makes up in character and atmosphere for what it lacks in polish. Quirky rooms – some with dinky pavilion balconies, stained glass and mirror inlay walls – lie off deep courtyards or are hidden away up narrow stairways.

We had the place to ourselves, the boys relishing their new-found role as mischievous young princes playing on its terrace and among the enigmatic courtyards.

Udaipur lies about three hours' drive away. It is unquestionably one of the loveliest places in Rajasthan, with its imposing creamy-white palaces with domed cupolas that overlook the shimmering waters of Lake Pichola. We stayed at the Jagat Niwas Palace – actually a noble's haveli, or mansion – which is central, well run and very popular. Both its al fresco restaurant and the best rooms overlook the lake.

We took the City Palace tour and went on a sunset boat trip where, at dusk, hundreds of bats emerged from their tree-top slumber to swirl about and swoop low over the water. We enjoyed the sound and light show accompanied by Indo-gothic tales of chivalry and bravery.

Wonder and excitement all round. We hadn't tired of Rajasthan, and only the onset of a new school term for the boys thwarted a longer, bolder trip. They still talk about India, and the strange snapshot memories of places, smells and sights that it offers. And we're still talking about our next visit.

Travel essentials: Rajasthan

Getting there & around

* Flights from Heathrow to Delhi and Mumbai are operated by BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com); Virgin Atlantic (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic.com); Jet Airways (0870 910 1000; jetairways.com); Kingfisher Airways (0800 047 0810; flykingfisher.com); and Air India (020-8560 9996; airindia.com).

* Expect to pay from Rs1,500 (£19) a day for a car with a driver.

Staying there

* Neemrana Fort-Palace Hotel (00 91 941 405 0068; neemranahotels.com). Three-bed suite from Rs7,560 (£97) extra bed Rs540 (£6.90) B&B.

* Hotel Diggi Palace, Jaipur (00 91 141 2373091; hoteldiggipalace .com). Palace suite Rs6,000 (£77), extra bed Rs1,000 (£12.85) B&B.

* Ratan Vilas, Jodhpur (00 91 291 261 4418; ratanvilas.com). Family rooms from Rs7,077 (£91).

* The Aodhi, Kumbhalgarh (00 91 295 424 2341; hrhhotels.com). Family suites from Rs7,920 (£102).

* Ghanerao Royal Castle, Ghanerao (00 91 293 428 4035; ghaneraoroyalcastle.com). Family suites from Rs5,400 (£69).

* Jagat Niwas Palace, Udaipur (00 91 294 242 2860; jagatniwaspalace.com). Family rooms from Rs4,675 (£60) extra bed Rs1,045 (£13).

When to go

* The tourist season is October to March. For those with children, Easter is a good option; some hotels reduce tariffs by April.

More information

* Visas: in.vfsglobal.co.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor