In my book, Rajasthan is the region that makes for the most romantic journey – from the royal palaces of Udaipur and Jaipur to the tiger preserves of Ranthambore National Park – while still offering the spiritual element many visitors to this vibrant and exotic Hindu-majority country seek. Leaving India without feeling inspired by its people – most of whom have unfathomably little in life other than their beliefs – is impossible.
Utterly romantic Udaipur sits nestled amid hills on palace-lined Lake Pichola, which shimmers with ever-changing blue-purple hues as the oppressive heat of day eases into the starry calm of night. Its famed white-marble Lake Palace, now a five-star Taj hotel, seems to float mid-water (shown at right; courtesy of Taj Hotels), while the smaller sandstone Jag Mandir Palace is best visited by boat at sunset to enjoy the 360-degree views. The city’s focal point is the massive City Palace, which delivers astounding lake and mountain panoramas and wonderful insight into the lives of the royals who lived there. Stay at either the ornate, authentic circa-1746 Taj Lake Palace to actually feel like a maharaja, from $406/night, or the luxurious and exuberantly modern Oberoi Udaivilas, a recreation of an Indian palace with fabulous grounds and restaurants, from $354/night.
Jaipur, “the pink city,” astounds with its ornate City Palace, one-of-a-kind Hawa Mahal (The Palace of Winds, built in 1799 with 953 windows as a grandstand for the palace’s women) and hilltop Amber Fort Palace, whose rugged exterior belies a gilded interior of truly memorable beauty. Stay in style at the Taj Rambagh Palace, a five-star gem that was the home of the Maharaja of Jaipur until 1957, from $354/night.
To see tigers in the wild and enjoy a sexy tented “safari,” head for Ranthambore National Park, home to about 32 magnificent tigers and other assorted species and open October 1 to June 30. Retreat at night to a lavish canopy-bedded tent (shown at left; courtesy of Oberoi Hotels) at Oberoi Vanyavilas where the dining, pool, and spa are anything but untamed, from $724/night.
And what would a trip to India be without a visit to the Taj Mahal? The fabled world wonder (shown above) is located in Agra and was built in 1643 by Shah Jahan in memory of his late wife Mumtaz Mahal. Arrive at dawn and stand in awe as the sunrise bathes its iconic white-marble dome and minarets in shades of mauve and pink. Stay in a room with a Taj Mahal view at Oberoi Amarvilas, and wake up and fall asleep with its beauty just 2,000 feet away, from $469/night.
You can tour Rajasthan and Agra in style with a private journey set up by Greaves India, whose wonderful drivers and guides make the trip all the more memorable. Check out their “Jewels of India” itinerary.