It‘s not all palaces and polo matches in Rajasthan. The desert state has plenty on offer for those who seek an adrenaline rush
Four thousand feet above the arid desert plains, and home to exotic flora and fauna, Mount Abu offers a wide variety of experiences. From four-kilometre to four-day treks past waterfalls and jungle-calls (with a little rappelling and rock-climbing thrown in), to leisurely strolls to spot the exotic grey jungle fowl and flamingos that fly in from as far as Siberia. No equipment needed, other than your legs and a nature-guide.
No mode of transport is more suited to the harsh terrain of Rajasthan than this calm, noble beast that made trade possible down the ages. Ditch the 4X4 and go camel: the ancient and exotic cities of Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Osian are best enjoyed at leisure, with smells and colours gliding past at a sedate pace. The Thar Desert is alive with an exotic vibrancy not found elsewhere in India; take it all in on a grand 10-day expedition, or do the novelty half-day ride.
Pushkar, Neemrana, Ranthambore
Imagine sitting on a cloud that drifts over the patchwork quilt of terra firma below. That is what hot- air ballooning feels like. Depending on time of the year, choose from the madly colourful Pushkar Fair, the pink city of Jaipur, the Neemrana Fort-Palace, or the wildest card of all, Ranthambore National Park. The nervous smiles and clammy palms on ascent will fade once airborne and floating, and this unique perspective of Rajasthan will be an unforgettable photo opportunity.
If aerial views are not your thing, a safari of the Sariska Tiger Reserve is a wonderful way to spend a day or two in Rajasthan. If you are lucky, you will spot the grandest land-mammal on earth, the Royal Bengal Tiger, unfettered in its natural habitat. But even on a bad day, you are likely to spot a striped hyena, the four-horned antelope, the golden jackal or the elusive lynx. Stop off at the Kankwadi Fort for a dose of historical war yarn.
The real Rajasthan is not built around concrete and asphalt, but on shifting sand and narrow, unpaved roads that used to be camel-trails in the old days. This is the mecca of the artisan, the artist and craftsperson conjuring up magic learned and handed down through centuries, and a sturdy 4X4 will get you to his or her backyard quickly. Spend time with the beautifully pagan and planet-friendly Bishnois and learn their ways. Off-road is the true Rajasthan, wild and unplugged.
This is a roller-coaster ride on four wheels, with stomach-churning drops and head-reeling spins. Careen over the ageless sands of the Thar Desert, sometimes at impossible angles and heart- thumping speeds, always seemingly on the edge of toppling over but never quite. Once in a while, stop completely to view a chinkara silhouetted against a stark horizon, or take a break to watch the nomadic gypsies celebrate life through dance.
This is how Rajasthan was won over and civilised: from the back of a horse. These desert sands have been trampled by a million hooves through history, those of traders, invaders and defenders. Trot or gallop as your skill allows. Take a grand tour of the Aravalli Range and retrace the steps of noblemen and brigands between the cities of Mewar and Marwar. Feel like a true warrior prince as you take in the sunset off the Kumbalgarh Fort ramparts.
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
Sure, you can hoof through the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort with the other tourists. Or, you can strap into a harness and get a two-hour birds-eye perspective of one of India’s most regal forts, 150 metres above the city of Jodhpur. Ziplining is flying down a steel cable in a harness, with built-in gear to slow down and speed-up. A guide regales you with tales of battle, and that is two hours well- spent, combining an adrenaline rush with a dose of history.