rajasthan’s Hidden Gems
As Curated by Voyager Voice and Vogue Contributor, Eva Ramirez
A month-long trip to India may sound like ample time but really, it’s just enough to scratch the surface. The 30 bountiful days I had there were spent exploring, learning and eating as I travelled from Kerala in the south to Rajasthan in the north. Two cities in particular left a lasting impression; Jaipur and Udaipur; and I’m itching to return to both. Known as the ‘Venice of the East’, Udaipur is a romantic city famed for its majestic palaces and breathtaking lakes. Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is a lot buzzier and known as one of India’s best shopping destinations. The former is a slower, smaller city in comparison to Jaipur, but the differences between the two means they work perfectly combined into one trip...
WHERE TO STAY...
Be a houseguest of Jaipur's royal family and lay your head at Suján Rajmahal Palace, where you’ll be surrounded by opulence and eye-watering interiors. Jaipur is a city of palaces, and this is one of it’s oldest and most treasured. There are just 15 rooms and suites, including two magnificent Royal apartments, all of which come with an on-call chauffeur and butler. The concierge here will go out of their way to make your trip as seamless and unforgettable as possible. Be sure to get a photo on the original marble staircase and enjoy a pineapple and cardamom Martini at the polo bar.
28 Kothi is a boutique guest-house in the heart of Jaipur with private gardens, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The five-room property, run by Siddharth Kasliwal of The Gem Palace, is be decorated with handprinted murals and nod to Indian heritage and has the food some of the best in Jaipur.
There really is only one place to stay when in Udaipur to have the best possible experience. Taj Lake Palace floats like a giant marble treasure in the centre of Lake Pichola, and from the initial boat ride which carries you to the hotel, the entire stay feels like a dream. Spectacular in every detail, the hotel offers 360 views of the city, the mountains and the beautiful lake.
WHERE TO EAT…
Sometimes we eat with our eyes as much as our bellies, so head to Bar and Caffe Palladio, two of Jaipur's most iconic restaurants designed by Marie-Anne Oudejans. If you fancy a non-traditional meal, eat and shop under one roof at Anokhi , an organic, health-focused cafe within a store which sells ethical and sustainable cotton clothing. Cafe Kothi is focused on gourmet Indian cuisine, prepared and presented using the finest quality of ingredients; vegetarian food with locally sourced ingredients.
For something naughtier, Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar (LMB) has been going for nearly 300 years and is famous for deep fried savoury snacks and desserts. Try the ghevar, a disc-shaped cake with a slightly porous texture which is dipped in sugar syrup - it’s a local favourite. Most Rajasthani dishes are pretty heavy as they are cooked using generous amounts of ghee, so it’s best to have smaller portions and eat slowly if you’re not used to the cuisine. Peacock Rooftop Restaurant is a nice little hideaway for dinner, as is Spice Court. Here you can taste some of the region’s spiciest dishes. A favourite of mine was Laal Maas, a chilli and garlic-laden mutton curry with a yoghurt sauce that was fiery and delicious. Luckily it’s in a courtyard, so the evening breeze should keep you cool.
Try out a traditional breakfast of Aloo Paratha, a wholewheat flatbread stuffed with mashed potatoes, green chilies, onions, garlic, ginger, coriander leaves and seasoned with warming spices. At Sai Baba it’s served hot with cube of melting butter in the middle alongside little pots of curd and dahl. Although I do eat meat, I enjoyed exploring the vast and varied vegetarian fare while in Udaipur. When I grew tired of veggie curries or rice dishes, I stuck to a simple order of dahl. It was soothing, easy on the digestive system and gave my taste buds a welcome break from the spice-loaded dishes I was often tempted by during an entire month in India.
Have dinner lakeside at Ambrai, or go for a more casual meal at Natraj Dining Hall, where you can feast on a Rajasthani Thali. One thing you’ll notice in both Udaipur and Jaipur is that people are big on snacking. With every corner you turn, you’ll encounter a street vendor selling finger food like chaat, handmade crisps and bags of salty popcorn - perfect for fueling up on the go.
WHAT TO DO…
You’ll want to spend a few hours just wandering around the city to take it in, all awash in a palette of dusky peach. First stop, climb up the Amber Fort and discover its heritage and beauty followed by Hawa Mahal, the honeycomb-looking structure known as ‘the Palace of Winds’. It’s spectacular and a walk around will leave you in awe (the audio tour is well worth it too). Just outside of the palace walls on the main road you’ll find plenty of stalls and shops to visit for handmade silk bangles, leather bags and sandals and more local treasures. If you’re lucky, you’ll also encounter Surinder and Tikam Chand perched on stools beside their grandfather’s old-fashioned box camera which dates back to 1860. For just a few rupees they’ll take your photograph and develop it there and then by hand, spooning silver nitrate out of little containers in their makeshift lightroom within the camera itself. It’s the perfect one-of-a-kind keepsake, especially as there are only a handful of these cameras still in good working condition in the world!
The Amer Fort is a lavish 16th century palace that stands atop a cliff. To avoid the crowds and queues, arrive 10-15 minutes before it opens at 8am. For an authentic night out, catch a Bollywood movie at the art deco Raj Mandir cinema. You may not understand it but it’s a fun experience nonetheless.
Udaipur ‘the city of lakes’ is more scenic than Jaipur in terms of views, so to make the most of this, head up as high as you can to marvel at it from a bird’s eye view. A ride on Mansapurna Karni Mata Ropeway will allow you to do just that. For the most memorable afternoon, catch a boat ride out to Jag Mandir Garden, where you can sip a mango bellini while looking out onto Lake Pichola. Later, head up to Monsoon Palace to watch the sunset, it was one of the most vibrant ones I have seen. The sun dominates the horizon like a big golden gong and just when you think the electric hues of orange and gold couldn't get more beautiful, the sky slowly turns a soft as pink and purple fills the sky. Back on the east bank of Lake Pichola, spend a few hours strolling around City Palace and admiring the impressive architecture of this 16th century palace complex which was once enjoyed by the rulers of Mewar.
WHERE TO SHOP…
The shopping in Jaipur is not to miss! Visit the iconic Gem Palace Jaipur, where the interiors alone will blow you away whilst looking at their amazing jewels. A must is Hot Pink, the first concept store in Jaipur and located just by Bar Palladio…slip by after lunch or dinner and snap up some of their curated colourful finds.
There is an abundance of beautiful block printed clothes, fabric and homeware in Jaipur so be sure to take some home in your suitcase. You can visit Brigitte Singh where you can see her studio housed in a Haveli or visit the shop at the Oberio Rajvilas hotel. If you are interested in taking block printing class visit, Studio Bagru.
Nehru Bazaar and Bapu Bazaar are two main markets in the pink city which sell shoes, brightly-hued fabrics, local perfumes and saris. Then head to Andraab, which is run by three brothers from Kashmir, where you’ll find featherlight scarves and beautiful shawls, all woven from the softest cashmere…