While the word ‘desert’ often conjures up the image of an arid and inhospitable landscape, it also evokes a sense of mystery and silence under endless starry skies. The combination of solitude, shifting sands and shimmering moonlit nights lends deserts an enchantment that is intoxicating for travellers who have experienced it once – they want to keep going back again and again.
Breathtaking sunrises, picturesque villages and incredible landscapes make India’s Thar desert a unique vacation destination.
From the sand dunes of Khuri to the grandeur of Bundi, there are many little know spots in Rajasthan that offer a travel experience way beyond ordinary.
Located on the outskirts of Jaisalmer, the little village of Khuri lies surrounded by extensive sand dunes within the Desert National Park. Yet to make a prominent mark on the tourist map, Khuri is less crowded than the more-popular Sam village nearby. The village has a number of rustic guesthouses – traditional huts with clay-and-dung walls and thatched roofs – where one can stay to soak in the solitude of the place. A camel ride during sunset at Khuri is an experience not to be missed – with the golden sand, sculpted by the wind into smooth curves and ripples, making a spectacular sight.
The ancient desert town of Osian, 65km north of Jodhpur, is renowned for its stunning temples. Known as the ‘Khajuraho of Rajasthan’, Osian was an important trading centre between the 8th and 12th century. It had a dominant Jain community whose wealth left a legacy of exquisitely sculpted, well-preserved temples. While the Sachiya Mata temple has an beautiful walled complex where both Hindus and Jains worship, the Mahavira Temple surrounds an image of the 24th tirthankar (great Jain teacher), made using sand and milk. The village also co-hosts the colourful Marwar Festival with Jodhpur every year in September/October.
Perched on the edge of the Thar desert, Khimsar nestles amidst sand dunes that seem to roll into eternity. Khimsar’s appeal lies in the magnificent 16th century Khimsar Fort that unfolds its glorious past through its battle scared walls and turrets. One of the finest architectural marvels of Rajasthan, this fort has been awarded the ‘Grand Heritage Award for Excellence’ – the highest recognition bestowed upon any heritage property by the Department of Tourism, Government of India.
In the heart of the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan lies the beautiful small town Mandawa. It is famous for its palatial havelis that are adorned with colours, carvings and Shekhawati art. The merchant communities of Mandawa, a once-bustling market town, built these ornately decorated havelis as a symbol of their wealth. Centuries later, the merchants have migrated to other regions, but the magnificence of these beautiful havelis still make Mandawa a must visit desert destination.
Set in the lap of the Aravallis, enveloped by rocky outcrops and a huge granite rock, Narlai is a tranquil getaway. Situated in one of the most beautiful parts of the state, the quaint village is reminiscent of a Rajasthan that few see today. Narlai is also home to Rawla Narali, a 17th century hunting lodge of the Jodhpur royal family. With its carved wooden doors, delicate jaalis (stone lattice work screens) and sepia portraits of ancestors, this erstwhile hunting lodge has a rustic charm that evokes the memories of an bygone era.
Dramatically perched at the edge of the shimmering Chambal river, Bhainsrorgarh Fort can leave a visitor awestruck by its beauty. Built by Rawat Lal Singh in 1741 AD, Bhainsrorgarh was once an important fortified outpost of the kingdom of Mewar, that included Chittorgarh and Udaipur. Situated southwest of Kota, this rambling 18th century fort is today a family run boutique hotel. Exploring the sleepy villages nearby is like being in a time warp, as is boating on the calm Chambal river at dusk.
From the magnificent Bundi palace to the unconquerable Taragarh fort, Bundi is home to some of the finest examples of Rajput architecture. Named after Bunda Meena, the chieftain of the Meena tribe that once inhabited the region, Bundi experienced its days of glory under the reign of the Hada Chauhans who founded the Hadoti state in the 12th century. Today, it is a captivating town with narrow lanes, vibrant blue houses, stepwells, bazaars and a temple at every turn. Few places in Rajasthan retain so much of the magical atmosphere of centuries past as this little town that is also home to the famous Bundi style of painting.