Off the beaten path in India’s Rajasthan

In Adventure & Discovery, Holiday Reviews - Asia, Holiday Reviews - India by Natalie Bannister

Romance, adventure, dreamy accommodation and cultural wonders – it all comes together in India’s majestic Rajasthan, making it a must-visit for couples. India-regular Natalie Bannister shares her top spots for an escape you’ll never forget…

Related article: The Romance of Rajasthan

Take in the beauty of the desert without forsaking any level of luxury at Samsara Desert Camp

Desert days at Samsara Desert Camp

Head to the Thar Desert to experience a few nights in a luxury tented camp. We stayed at chic and alluring Samsara Desert Camp & Resort, an oasis hidden away in the dunes of Dechu, a two-hour drive out of Jodhpur, where you can take in the beauty of the desert without forsaking any level of luxury.

Access to the camp is from the main resort – guests are taken on an exhilarating off-road adventure by an open-air jeep up and over the sand dunes. It really gets the heart racing for what’s waiting ahead at camp. 

Samsara Desert Camp & Resort is an oasis hidden away in the dunes of Dechu

Your 24 hours in the desert camp goes a little something like this: hitch a ride on a regally-attired camel across the dunes, watching women from the local villages as they harvest the yellow mustard flowers and cumin fields below, their colourful saris as much a contrast to the desert as the surprisingly-green farm fields. Find a comfy seat afterward, G&T in hand, to toast the sunset, before settling in on plush bolster lounges by the outdoor fire to feast on equally-fiery Rajasthani delights, all while folk singers and drummers and silver-laden dancers make magic under the stars. Sleep it all off in the comfort of a luxuriously-appointed tent (it’s more of a plush suite, really!), before waking up at dawn to hike up the windswept dunes. You might just spot a train of camels passing by, the camel bells jingling and their herdsmen singing folk songs. It’s an unforgettable experience.

The desert camps of the Thar Desert are an ideal pitstop en route to Jaisalmer, the Golden City, and the last outpost of Rajasthan. Jaisalmer is distinguished by its yellow sandstone buildings, vibrant bazaars and sprawling hilltop fort, as well as the rolling sand dunes of Sam. 

The incredible 15th-century Jain temple of Ranakpur – image by Natalie Bannister

Temple-spotting in Ranakpur

Hidden away in a village in the Pali district of Rajasthan is the incredible 15th-century Jain temple of Ranakpur – one of India’s biggest and most important Jain temple complexes. Ranakpur is more than just a convenient stop on the road trip between Jodhpur and Udaipur – it’s about halfway between the two cities by car – but is a jaw-droppingly exquisite example of the white marble carving of the ancient Jain religious sect.

The temple is an exquisite example of the white marble carving of the ancient Jain religious sect – image by Natalie Bannister

With 29 halls and 84 idols, elaborate domes and over a thousand intricately-carved pillars, the temple is an architectural masterpiece. Each pillar is unique – bar one. As the resident priest explained to us, it was purposefully created slightly skewed because only God can achieve perfection. Be sure to stop for lunch (wood-fired pizza) in the courtyard of the charming little La Pizzeria on the road out of the village – the best Indian pizza you’ll find this side of Italy. 

Savista Retreat

Sumptuous stays at Savista Retreat

Escape the hustle and bustle of Jaipur and travel about 45 minutes out of the city to spend a few nights at Savista Retreat, a stunning eco-retreat run by owners Bhanwar and Radhika, who are determined to share their ancestral home with guests in a way that is anything but your typical hotel experience.

Set on 12-acres of cropland, the estate embraces sustainable living, with a farm-to-fork ethos. Savista grows all of its own vegetables and grain, and everything is free from chemical fertilisers and pesticides, making the delicious three-course, home-cooked meals here a nightly treat to remember.

Savista Retreat is set on 12-acres of cropland

In keeping with the slow life, Savista’s guest rooms are limited to only 14 in total – we had the entire place to ourselves for the week we stayed here (total bliss!). This allows the delightful hosts to connect with every guest staying with them, and tailor the experience to suit each individual. Guests can combine sightseeing with simple pleasures, relaxing by the pool or lounging on one of the daybeds on the sprawling rooftop, with views across the countryside – absolute perfection, especially at sunset!

A range of activities and cultural experiences can take you from doing a block-print workshop one day in the nearby village of Bagru, to riding through the local villages by camel cart, or driving to the hidden Chand Baori stepwell in the village of Abhaneri, or the incredible monkey temple of Galtaji, an ancient Hindu pilgrimage site. Savista is the perfect short break on the road to the holy city of Pushkar. 

Inn Seventh Heaven – image by Natalie Bannister

People-watching in Pushkar

Set on the shores of one of India’s holiest lakes, Pushkar has a magnetism like nowhere else in India – a town where the holy versus the hedonistic. It’s a city where Hindu pilgrims, Sadhus(wandering holy men) and a devout Brahmin community coexist with spiritualists and backpackers in search of their own kind of nirvana. It’s bohemian and laidback, and for intrepid couples who want to experience the real heart of sacred India, this is absolutely the place to be, even if only for a few days.

Pushkar Sarovar (Pushkar Lake) is considered the holiest lakes in all of India – the spot, it is said, where the god Brahma dropped a petal from his lotus flower, falling from the universe and landing here to create these sacred waters. Locals and Sadhus gather on the ghats every morning to bathe in the pure waters, while sunset makes way for the evening aarti(ceremonial songs and offerings) at the temples that dot the lakeside. It really is such an intoxicatingly beautiful scene. Find a table at any one of the simple rooftop restaurants that line the ghats here, and settle in for the magic.

Pushkar has a magnetism like nowhere else in India – images by Natalie Bannister

A constant soundtrack of chanting, drums, devotional songs and gongs competes only with the sounds of the local Indian cows that rule the streets and alleyways. But it’s camels that rule the desert, and Pushkar has the most famous of them all, as the home to the annual Pushkar Camel Fair which takes place from October to November (dates change every year according to the Hindu calendar month of Kartik).

There are some great accommodation options to choose from around Pushkar, but we always choose to stay at the super-chilled Inn Seventh Heaven, a hundred-year-old haveli which has been restored from disrepair and converted into a small hotel. I love its casual vibe and the many charming nooks for relaxing, and the rooftop restaurant here serves some of the best food in town (try the traditional Rajasthani thali – a platter of the region’s best dishes). You won’t get a cold beer to wash it down with (Pushkar is strictly a dry town with no alcohol served anywhere), but you can lose hours taking in the view out over the rooftops and temples. Simple perfection in sacred India.  

Related article: Romantic India: 5 locations couples will love