Om Banna temple - Off-beat Rajasthan experiences

Seven off-beat Rajasthan experiences that you should try

If you’re the type that loves heritage and culture but doesn’t want to do the usual touristy stuff, then try these seven off-beat Rajasthan experiences.

We’ve been to Rajasthan a few times now, and have had our fair share of experiences. The latest was a three-week motorcycle tour across south Rajasthan, during which we had a great time doing some things that most tourists don’t get to do.

So, distilled from our travels, here are seven off-beat Rajasthan experiences that you should try when you visit.

Climb the outer wall of Amer Fort in Jaipur

Like most visitors to Jaipur, we made plans to see its famous Amer Fort. We also wanted to see the hill forts of Jaigarh and Nahargarh next door. What we didn’t realize was that the first two forts are actually part of Amer Fort’s western defences. And that the ring of hills with walls and forts on top, and with the town of Amer and the Amber Palace in the center, the whole thing, is Amer Fort.

And only when we drove up the hill to Jaigarh did we realize the scale of the fort’s defences. From up there, we could see the defensive walls on the crests of the hills across the valley from us. That’s when the idea of climbing them first came to us. And after much discussion and seeking of advice, we decided to try it that evening. But it was hard!

Worth it for the view

A series of steep stone steps led up the hill from road level at the inner gate to the fort. It took us an hour of huffing and puffing (with plenty of breaks thrown in) to get to the top. But the view (and the sunset) from up there was glorious! The best part was that there were only a few people up there with us. The stairs had obviously scared the others off. And rightly so, because getting down those stairs was harder than climbing up, and my knees ached for a week. But it was all worth it, and definitely an off-beat Rajasthan experience to remember.

Also read: Jaipur: Our motorcycle tour kicks off

Amer fort battlements, Jaipur
Those walls on the opposite hill were begging to be climbed
Rampart stairs, Amer, Jaipur
Halfway up the steep stairs
Fort walls, Amer, Jaipur
Almost at the top, with the town spilling out through the wall below
Fort walls, Amer, Jaipur
That’s a long way down!
Fort walls, Amer, Jaipur
The hills, the walls, the town and the evening light
Watchtowers, Amer, Jaipur
One of the two watchtowers. We were in the other one.
Sunset, Amer, Jaipur
The sun sets behind Jaigarh, on the opposite hill

Learn about wildlife conservation over coffee and sandwiches in Sawai Madhopur

There aren’t too many reasons to visit Sawai Madhopur, except to get to the Ranthambhore National Park next door. And visitors to Ranthambhore usually have only one thing on their mind: catching a glimpse of the park’s famous tigers.

But most don’t realize that it takes unrelenting hard work and dedication to keep the park’s wildlife (tigers included) from being wiped out. Poaching, pressure from human settlements and general disinterest constantly threaten the tigers, bears, nilgai, deer and all the other countless animals of the park.

Tiger Watch works with local villagers to reduce poaching and track wildlife movement outside the park.

Fighting the good fight is Tiger Watch, an organization that works with the government to safeguard Ranthambhore’s wildlife. Among other things, they try to reduce poaching and to track wildlife movement outside the park by involving local villagers to champion the cause. Tiger Watch was founded by Fateh Singh Rathore, who was also responsible for designating Ranthambhore a wildlife reserve.

A glimpse behind the scenes at the Dhonk Café

If you want to know more about what keeps Ranthambhore and Tiger Watch going, the Dhonk Café (dhonk is a kind of local tree) is a great place. Just off the main road to the park, the café is run by Divya Khandal and has a wall full of books on wildlife, Ranthambhore and its history. The café is staffed by local village women, whom Divya has personally trained, to help local communities benefit from the local tourism industry.

And if you’re lucky, you might just bump into Divya’s husband Dharmendra while you’re there. Dharmendra Khandal is a field biologist with Tiger Watch, and is involved in the organization’s anti-poaching and village outreach efforts. He was even featured in an article in National Geographic. So if you do meet him, sit back with your coffee and sandwiches and let him tell you what goes on behind the scenes to keep Ranthambhore’s wildlife protected. An off-beat Rajasthan experience to add to your memories of the ‘land of kings’

Also read: The first stop on our motorcycle tour: A Ranthambhore safari experience

Dhonk Cafe, Sawai Madhopur - Off-beat experiences in Rajasthan
The interiors of the Dhonk Cafe are both traditional and modern
tiger - Ranthambhore safari
This chap (and other fellow animals) is whom Tiger Watch is trying to protect
Fireworks - Sawai Madhopur
Diwali in Sawai Madhopur

Discover stone-age cave paintings in Bundi

One of our favourite off-beat Rajasthan experiences was seeing stone-age cave paintings during our visit to Bundi. We hadn’t even heard of Bundi (pronounced ‘boondhee’) before we started planning our motorcycle trip. It was only by chance that a friend recommended it. And we were so glad she did! The sleepy little town itself was a treasure trove of heritage and architecture, with old mansions and monuments strewn all over, and the massive palace looming over everything. But we discovered that Bundi had even older treasures!

Again, on our friend’s recommendation, we got in touch with Om Prakash Sharma, AKA ‘Kukki’. A self-styled explorer and archaeologist, Kukki (pronounced like ‘cookie’) turned out to be a somewhat eccentric old gent with boundless energy and enthusiasm. He whisked us off on a two-hour drive out of town, to the lovely Bhimlat waterfall. From there, we walked along the rocky gorge of the river for another half-hour.

Back in time, to the dawn of mankind

Suddenly, Kukki dragged aside some thorny branches near the edge, revealing a narrow path between the rocks that led to a rocky overhang right on the edge. And there, on the rock wall, were marks left by our Stone Age ancestors, between 10,000 and 50,000 years ago. Made using haematite (a kind of red stone), the marks had seeped into the rock, and had only faded a little over the millennia.

What was even more amazing was that the series of cave paintings had been made at different times over thousands of years. This meant that quite a few stone-age travellers took shelter here, separated by the millennia. The local tribespeople still consider the place sacred today, and use it for religious ceremonies.

Also read: Bundi, a town lost in time

Bhimlat waterfall, Bundi
Imagine what these falls would look like during the rains!
Bhimlat gorge, Bundi
The river flows through this gorge and into the lake beyond
Overhang at Bhimlat gorge, Bundi
One of the many overhangs over the gorge.
Bhimlat gorge, Bundi
A gorge-ous view. Ha ha.
Kukki, Bundi
Kukki explains the significance of a painted figure
Abstract cave painting, Bundi
An abstract pattern, one of the oldest paintings in the group
Cave painting, Bundi
A depiction of people frightening away a predator
cave painting, Bundi
A hunting scene, the most recent painting. But still made 5,000 years before the pyramids.
Kukki role play, Bundi
Kukki in the throes of role play!

Stroll through the massive Chittorgarh Fort by night

They say Chittorgarh Fort is the biggest of all the hill forts of Rajasthan. It’s definitely one of the most impressive, as we saw when we spent a few days there on our motorcycle tour. It was big enough to hold an entire town, and there’s still a small village inside the walls.

The fort usually closes at sunset, and no one’s allowed inside the walls after that, except for the residents of the village. Luckily for us, we were staying in the village itself. Our homestay, the lovely Padmini Haveli, was the only accommodation inside the fort itself. So we could explore the village and the fort after dark, if we wanted to.

What life is really like inside the fort

Sadly, because we weren’t there long, we only managed a short stroll back to our homestay from the Kumbha Palace after the sound-and-light show. That walk was still special, though, because we saw what life was really like inside the fort, and without all the visitors. We even saw some locals playing a volleyball game under floodlights, on the grounds of the illuminated museum building.

I wish we had had the time for longer walks, especially because lots of the buildings and monuments were still illuminated into the night. Still, we experienced Chittorgarh Fort by night, an off-beat Rajasthan experience very few visitors have.

Also read: Chittorgarh Fort: ancient, massive and imposing

Chittorgarh Fort - Sunset view from Padmini Haveli
A spectacular view of the sunset from our roof
Chittorgarh Fort - Langur playing on water tank
A young grey langur plays on a rooftop water tank
Chittorgarh Fort - Museum
Volleyball on the left, museum on the right

Do a street food trail in Udaipur

With all its lakes and palaces, Udaipur is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Rajasthan, if not in the whole of India. But that also makes it one of the most popular. Even at the quietest of times, you’ll see lots of tourists making the rounds of the popular sights. And that’s made the main sights of Udaipur a little touristy, with everyone trying to make the most of the throngs of visitors.

But if you want to see the other side of Udaipur, the side that only the locals see, then all you have to do is step off the beaten path and into one of the by-lanes. And trying the local street food is great way to do that.

The call of jalebis

During our last trip to Udaipur, we were struck by a craving for jalebisand so we spoke to some locals at the Jagdish Temple who pointed us towards Jai Bhole Mishthan Bhandar. We made our way there along narrow streets full of people, and that had snack shops every few metres. If we had stopped at even half of them, we would’ve been full long before we got to our destination. But we kept our sights firmly fixed on our goal, and were rewarded with fresh, crisp jalebis. 

Still, if you want to do something different in Udaipur, you should definitely try eating your way from the Jagdish Temple to Delhi Gate. That would definitely be an off-beat Rajasthan experience to remember!

Also read: Udaipur: Our last stop after two weeks on the road in Rajasthan

Potato chips, Udaipur
Bags of different-flavoured potato chips
Fried snacks, Udaipur
More fried goodies!
Deep frying moong dal
Moong dal being deep-fried
Jai Bhole Mishthan Bhandar, Udaipur
Our destination: Jai Bhole Mishthan Bhandar
Success! Fresh jalebis, hot and crisp!

Pray for a safe journey at the motorcycle temple on the Jodhpur-Udaipur highway

If you’re travelling between Jodhpur and Udaipur, chances are you’re taking either a flight or a train. But if you happen to be driving (or riding) like we were, you might want to stop at the temple of Om Banna near Pali to pray for a safe journey. At a shrine built around a motorcycle!

The ‘miracle motorcycle’

The story goes that, some 30 years ago, Om Banna was riding his trusty Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle along that highway, when he hit a tree and died. When the police took the bike to the police station, it mysteriously disappeared and turned up at the spot of the accident. They tried again, and the same thing happened. After a while they gave up and left the bike there.

Over time, word of the miracle motorcycle spread, and locals built a shrine around it. Today, hundreds of travellers on the highway stop there and pray to ‘Bullet Baba’ Om Banna and his motorcycle for a safe journey. If you’ve got a driver, chances are they’ll stop here anyway, even without you asking, just like ours did.

Stopping at Om Banna’s temple was definitely a special off-beat Rajasthan experience for us. Though why people would pray for a safe journey to a motorcycle that killed its owner is a confusing to me.

Also read: Eight great reasons why you should visit Rajasthan, the ‘land of kings’

Om Banna temple - Off-beat Rajasthan experiences
Om Banna’s Royal Enfield Bullet
Om Banna temple - Off-beat Rajasthan experiences
The shrine’s loyal caretakers

Spend time at the royal cenotaphs outside Pokhran

Pokhran isn’t a place most people have heard of. Even if they have, it’s probably only because India conducted its first underground nuclear test in the desert somewhere near there. But if you’re driving between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer (as we were, because we couldn’t get a train ticket), you’ll pass through this little desert town. And if you do, keep an eye out for the royal cenotaphs (also called the Shakti Mata Chatriyan) off to the side of the highway.

The cenotaphs (royal memorials) are about half a kilometre off the highway on the side opposite the town. They’re pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and you have to cross a set of train tracks to get there. But once you get there, they’re very impressive.

We didn’t realize how tall and elaborate they were until we got there.

When we checked the cenotaphs out on the way back from Jailsalmer, we didn’t realize how tall and elaborate they were until we got there. Sadly, they’re not very well maintained. When we visited, it seemed like it was a popular place among evening drinkers, and there were bottles and other remains in corners. Still, visiting the beautiful royal cenotaphs at Pokhran is an off-beat Rajasthan experience that not many have had, I’ll bet.

Royal cenotaphs, Pokhran - Off-beat Rajasthan experiences
The stone ramp up to the cenotaphs
Royal cenotaphs, Pokhran - Off-beat Rajasthan experiences
Our driver Bhagirath poses at one of the memorials
Royal cenotaphs, Pokhran - Off-beat Rajasthan experiences
The cenotaphs are out in the middle of nowhere
Royal cenotaphs, Pokhran - Off-beat Rajasthan experiences
Pillars, pillars and more pillars

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    1. Maybe there aren’t as many Rajasthani people as there are Punjabi people? 😀 It should definitely be on your itinerary if you’re heading to India, though!

    1. Thanks, Karen! Rajasthan is one of the most popular states in India for tourists because it’s got lots of ornate architecture and colourful culture. You should definitely visit if you’re thinking of an India trip!

  1. What a wonderful place with so much history and culture. Thank you for sharing and so nice to read about all the unexpected wonders you uncovered!

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