To those of us living in Chicago, India is a gateway to all things historic and traditional. Of the top tourist attractions in India, Chicago city dwellers find tourist places in north India the most enchanting. I am convinced that the Swami Vivekananda Way in Chicago will one day lead me to the fulfilment of my long cherished dream of visiting Rajasthan, one of my favourite destinations for vacations. My interest in Rajasthan grew ever since I stumbled across the fact that the Maharaja of Khetri, Rajasthan was one of the eminent elites in India that received Swami Vivekananda on his return from the stupendous success he achieved at the World Religions Conference. Coming back to Rajasthan the host to all things in the history of Rajputana coded in pink, I have made a check list of places to visit in Rajasthan and major Rajasthan attractions that I believe will help me. I am sharing my ideas and will appreciate any feedback that helps me prune the itinerary of my Rajasthan tours and travels.
What to See in Rajasthan?
Rajasthan attractions can be divided into three categories for the sake of simplicity: forts & palaces, religious shrines and nature & wildlife. If you are a history buff you can never have enough of the resolute and beautiful forts and palaces built by the Rajput rulers of their times. Religious shrines of Hinduism and the Sufi tradition are all time favourites with American visitors and also with tourists from Western Europe. Rajasthan also offers one of the best experiences with royalty of a different kind- lions.
Forts in Rajasthan: Symbols of Rajput Valour and Honour
If you are travelling from New Delhi, I believe Jaipur should be the first stoppage. Jaipur is one of the top tourist spots in India. The walls of Hawa Mahal, Nahargarh Fort, Jal Mahal and Amer Fort literally talk to the visitors and speak of the numerous legends of local warriors and chiefs of the Rajputs that have held their freedom dearer than anything else. I also wish to stop over to see the Chittorgarh Fort, the place associated with the legendary Maharana Pratap, a cult Rajput hero celebrated far and wide in Indian history as the man that defied odds to stand up for his motherland. The vast expanses of space inside the palaces like the City Palace, the Fateh Prakash Palace and the Shiv Niwas Palace in Udaipur, I am told epitomize the grandeur and aesthetic sensibility of the Rajput dynasties of rulers and their love of art. Yet another place high on my aspirational list is the Jaisalmer Fort built in the eleventh century and one of the rare living forts in the world today. I have learnt that one fourth of the population continues to live within the confines of the walled city inside the Jaisalmer Fort.
Religious Shrines of Hinduism, Jainism and Sufi Traditions in Rajasthan
As much as Rajasthan is noted for larger than life forts and breath taking palaces it is also known for temples and religious shrines that showcase the confluence of diverse beliefs. On my list of major tourist attractions in Rajasthan are the Pushkarnath Temple dedicated to the Hindu God of Creation, Brahma in Ajmer and the Gaumukh Temple, the Adhar Devi Temple and Shri Raghunathji Temple in Mount Abu. It is interesting to note that the sacred Pushkarnath Temple is one of the very few temples in the world dedicated to Lord Brahma and visitors to the temple premises are welcomed by hoards of rats that swarm the place but do not harm them in any way. I also hope to see the Dilwara Temple in Mount Abu, a sacred spot of Jain worship with stunning engravings on stones. Ajmer boasts of the historic Ajmer Sharif Dargah devoted to the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chisti. The Ajmer Sharif Dargah is one of the top tourist spots in India pertaining to the Sufi tradition of Islam and finds millions of visitors across the world.
Date with Royalty at the Ranathambore National Park
How can a list of the top tourist spots in India exclude a rendezvous with the royalty of wildlife? The Ranathambore National Park in Rajasthan is the home to a tiger reserve set amidst the scenic beauty of the arid soil in Rajasthan. The species of animals found includes leopards, sambar deer, chital , neelgai and last but not the least, tigers. Safari timings vary across seasons in the morning and evening but the durations usually stay in the range of three to three and half hours. The extreme type of weather here mandates that you carry light cotton clothes if visiting in summer and warm woollen clothes of the heavy variety if visiting in winter.
Rajasthan is not just a top tourist attraction in India. It is the confluence of art, architecture, history, culture and nature under the same roof. Geographically Chicago is thousands of miles from Rajasthan India but like many others I have nested Rajasthan in my heart.