India is an intriguing yet overwhelming place. It is a melting pot of several religions, several hundred languages, and several million people. Due to its staggering size, it can be difficult to know where to start when planning a trip there. Luckily a helping hand isn’t far away. We’ve stripped India back to basics, compiling a list of India’s highlights and more importantly, how, where and when to see them. Exploring the nooks and crannies of its cities, discovering its ancient charm, experiencing its age old rituals, and falling under the spell of India’s irrepressible charm makes for an adventure you will never forget.
Guide to the best hill forts in Rajasthan
Rajasthan is famous for its impenetrable hill forts – imposing structures that tower over the surrounding landscape and create excellent viewing points for surveying the state. With so many magnificent pieces of defensive engineering across Rajasthan, we asked our specialists to pick out their top five hill forts...
1. Mehrangarh Fort
Jodhpur’s skyline is dominated by the glorious Mehrangarh Fort, regarded as one of the most magnificent forts in all of India. Defined by its spectacular architecture, Mehrangarh Fort was built in the 15th century and boasts stone walls 125ft high. The base of the fort is a rocky hill, and stands 400m from the ground. The views of the “Blue City” from the top of the fort are jaw-dropping and highly recommended. Significant features of the fort include seven monumental gates – some still bearing the marks of past battles – and the beautiful Chamunda Mataji Temple. Be sure to visit the excellent museum located within the fort, which houses some interesting artefacts (pictures, relics etc.) of Indian courtly life.
2. Amber Fort
11km short of Jaipur, the Amber Fort was founded by Maharaja Man Singh in 1592 AD, and later expanded by Maharaja Jai Singh I. This fort is a favourite tourist attraction in Rajasthan due to its stunning architecture and historical significance. The royalty and opulence of its past rulers is still evident within the walls of the fort, particularly in the third courtyard that houses the apartments of the Maharajas. The quarters here are beautifully decorated with frescoed arches, sandalwood doors and marble panels. The royal palace is a particular draw, constructed from yellow and pink sandstone and white marble with adjoining courtyards. From the palace you can admire splendid views of the country and Lake Maota below.
3. Jaisalmer Fort
Another World Heritage Site, the amazing Jaisalmer Fort gets its name from the Rajput ruler (Rawal Jaisal) who founded it in 1156 AD. It is largely made up of yellow sandstone (acting as a camouflage against the golden Thar Desert) and so is nicknamed the “Golden Fort”. Over the centuries successive rulers have expanded upon the foundations laid by Rawal Jaisal, and today it is one of the largest fortifications in the world. The fort’s use is not constricted to the past however, with approximately 3,000 of Jaisalmer’s people living within its walls. A major draw of the fort is the enchanting royal palace (The Raj Mahal), but its winding lanes also offer beautiful Jain Temples, vast havelis, ninety-nine bastions and four huge gateways. This wonder of architecture is a must-see for anyone visiting or passing through Jaisalmer.
4. Kumbhalgarh Fort
Kumbhalgarh Fort’s huge ramparts, curved bastions and giant watchtowers all tell romantic tales of the battles and Kings of the Rajput era. It was initially built in the 15th century by Rana Kumba, and despite many attempts to take it over Kumbhalagarh continued to prove virtually impregnable. Part of the reason for the fort’s excellent defensive record is that it stands about 1100m above sea level and boasts walls that extend for 38km (second in length only to The Great Wall of China). Today Kumbhalgarh is still in excellent condition and is open for public exploration. Within the walls there are pretty gardens, step-wells, canon bunkers and over 360 temples to discover. Always popular is the Badal Mahal (Palace of the Clouds), which houses beautiful rooms decorated with oil paintings and painted in white, turquoise and green. Another draw of the palace is that it is believed to be the birthplace of the famous warrior Maharana Pratap. The best time to capture a picture of Kumbhalgarh is at night, when the walls and ramparts are lit up to make the whole fort shine spectacularly bright against the night sky.
5. Ranthambore Fort
Nestled amidst the lush greenery of the Aravelli Hills, Ranthambore Fort was built during the 10th century to protect the land and people of the Ranthambore kingdom. It was under constant threat of invasion due to the fact that it oversaw the trade routes between North and Central India. To maximise its defences, the citadel was raised to a dizzying 700m, with fort walls that extended for 7km. Over the centuries the fort has been occupied by many rulers, and for a time before 1947 the land surrounding the fort was used as a royal hunting ground. Much of the structure of the original fort is still intact today (including seven large gateways) and is protected as a World Heritage Site. Within the fort are some interesting historical sites, including several Jain temples. Perched on top of a hill, the best views of the city and beyond are said to be found from the walls of this ancient fortress. If you are in Ranthambore for safari, then a visit to the fort is an excellent way to spend an hour or two.