THE forts, palaces and havelis of India are like something out of Arabian Nights. Complete with camels wandering nearby, the encroaching desert sands, women in brilliant saris and the smell of spices in the bazaars, they are a huge attraction for tourists visiting states such as Rajasthan and Gujurat.
Jaisalmer fort, Rajasthan
The Jaisalmer fort is actually a bustling part of the city of the same name which lies on the edge of the Thar Desert. Hotels, restaurants, shops and homes all jostle for space within its crumbling sandstone walls. Dominating the town, the fort dates back to 1156AD and boasts a Royal palace, Jain temples, beautiful havelis and massive gateways.
Wankaner Palace, Wankaner, Gujurat
Also known as the Ranjit Vilas Palace, this multi-turreted example of Rajput architecture has featured in Bollywood films and still has a living Maharaja on site. It was built in 1920 AD and features all the swords, shields, portraits, vintage car collection and hunting trophies you might expect of a royal family. It is beautifully situated on the Gadhio hill overlooking Wankaner and now open for paying guests as a heritage hotel.
Amber fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan
One of Rajasthan’s most picturesque forts, this one lies on the outskirts of Jaipur above the Maota Lake. The red sandstone and marble palace is an opulent visiting experience with mirrored walls and ceilings, latticed screens, flower frescoes carved in marble, impressive gates, sandalwood doors or those embossed with double leaf silver. A highlight of a visit is the elephant ride up to the rampart of the fort, the same means of transport royalty once used.
Balaram Palace, Palanpur, Gujurat
This neo-classical palace was actually once the hunting retreat of the Palanpur Nawab. It’s now a heritage hotel situated in the stunning Aravellis of northern Gujurat with 13 acres of grounds featuring gardens and flower beds.
Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
If you’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises you’ll have already caught a glimpse of the impressive Mehrangarh Fort lying above the blue city of Jodhpur. Its gates and armaments are impressive, as are the views of the city below, but it also has an excellent museum.
Prag Mahal Palace, Bhuj, Gujurat
The Italian Gothic architecture of the Prag Mahal was completed in 1879 featuring local sandstone and Italian marble. Damaged by an earthquake in 2001 and burgled in 2006, the palace has had a rough time of late but is now repaired and open for viewing. From the bell tower there are fine views of the city.
Lake Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan
Often espoused as the most romantic hotel in India, the Lake Palace luxury hotel, formerly Jag Niwas, was once the royal summer palace of the Mewar dynasty. It was also used as the home of Octopussy in the James Bond film of the same name. The movie is regularly shown around the city in restaurants and cafes at night.
Havelis, or private mansions, are a feature throughout India particularly in Rajasthan and Gujurat. Many are influenced by Islamic architecture and have inner and outer courtyards, several stories, intricate carvings, columns and sculpture. Many have now been converted into hotels and tourist attractions.