Travelogue | 23 Feb 2024

Ride Royale: Top Palaces and Royal Destinations to Discover in India

For an avid rider interested in history, culture, palaces, forts, and royalty, there probably isn’t a better country to explore on two-wheels than India. With its rich history dating back to ancient times, India boasts architectural heritage from every era of human civilsation. India presents itself as a treasure trove of precious gems. In this detailed article, we will talk about some of the most majestic forts, palaces, and other historically royal destinations in India that you can ride to. So, gear up, turn on your engines, and prepare for a trip that will warp you back into the golden era of this incredible country.

The Rajasthan Circuit
When it comes to royalty, opulent palaces and majestic forts, there’s no other region that can match the options the state of Rajasthan, or erstwhile Rajputana, has on offer. Every single district of this majestic state steeped in rich royal heritage offers a distinct flavor of the architectural genius that makes this region reign supreme when it comes to forts and palaces. Riders can create a 10–15-day itinerary and tour this royal state visiting all the famous forts and palaces in a single trip. The ideal time to travel is from November to February when the winters are on, giving tourists a pleasant respite from the unforgivingly hot and harsh weather of this arid region. Let's have a look at the forts and palaces that this beautiful region has on offer.

City - Jaipur
The capital of Rajasthan is arguably the richest in terms of the options it offers in the form of historically significant, majestic palaces, and forts.

Amer Palace
This majestic-looking fort palace sprawls over an area of four square kilometres and overlooks a pretty lake namely Maota. Amer Fort is an exponent of Rajput architecture with Mughal influence also visible in some places. This regal edifice has a charm that will instantly make you travel back in time as you look at it from a distance. Made of red sandstone and marble, the palace has multiple sections known as Diwan-e-Khas, Diwan-e-Aam, the Sheesh Mahal, along with a temple for Shila Maata. The vast innards of the palace tell a story about the grandeur of the past times. A keen tourist can keep himself busy for an entire day discovering the incredible wonders of this grand structure.

Jaigarh Fort
Situated at about five kilometres from Amer Fort, and offering panoramic views of Jaipur City is the Jaigarh Fort. Built with fortified red sandstone walls, the palace is spread over an area of three square kilometres. A stronghold, connected to the Amer Fort with subterranean passages and built to protect the Amer palace, the Jaigarh Fort houses the world’s largest cannon on wheels of its time, known as the Jaivaan, or the victory arrow. Apart from its grand palace complex, Jaigarh also has sections namely Laxmi Vilas, Lalit Mandir, Aram Mandir, and the Vilas Mandir. Tourists can also indulge in taking a stroll around the fort’s beautiful garden or witness the palace’s grand history by visiting its armory and museum.

Nahargarh Fort
Drive a couple of kilometres higher up from Jaigarh and you will reach the Nahargarh Fort, which is another architectural masterpiece overlooking Jaipur, offering the grandest panoramic views of the city. Nahargarh houses a palace, namely Madhavendra Palace, which is the most attractive structure within the fort. Just like the Amer palace, Nahargh also has a large open-air enclosure called Diwan-i-Aam. There are also two stepwells at Nahargarh Fort. There’s also a wax museum namely Jaipur Wax Museum inside the fort. Another attraction inside the palace is the Sheesh Mahal or the Palace of Mirrors, which is created using more than 2.5 million coloured pieces of glass.

Hawa Mahal
Built in the year 1799 by Kachhwaha Rajput ruler Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the Hawa Mahal was designed by Lal Chand Ustad as an extension of the City Palace. In olden times, royal women weren’t allowed to show their faces to strangers, and the Hawa Mahal was built to allow them to look out without the outsiders getting to see their faces. The palace comprises 953 windows and is a fusion of Rajput and Mughal architecture. The five-storied structure is built with pink and red sandstone. There is also a museum located in the courtyard of the Hawa Mahal with a collection of weapons and other antique items. One can also visit other historical and architectural landmarks such as Jantar Mantar, City Palace, and the Albert Hall Museum, which are in close proximity to the Hawa Mahal.

City - Udaipur
City Palace

Situated on the banks of the beautiful Pichola Lake, the City Palace is the most iconic palace of Udaipur, also known as the City of Lakes. One of the largest palaces in Rajasthan, and among the most impeccably preserved ones, the City Palace complex has 11 smaller palaces within. Featuring a fusion of Rajput, Mughal, and European architectural styles, the palace is also home to two luxurious palace hotels, the extremely popular City Palace Museum, and a school as well.

One of the most majestic places to visit in Rajasthan, the Udaipur City Palace is built in granite and marble and has a multitude of attractions inside to keep an avid tourist busy for an entire day. Offering fantastic views of Lake Pichola and the city of Udaipur from its various balconies and towers, the City Palace is home to a rare collection of paintings, artifacts, chandeliers, armor, and weaponry from the olden times. Fans of all things equestrian would also find the royal family's horses at the stables next to the museum as an area of interest.

Kumbhalgarh Fort
Built by Rana Kumbha between 1443 and 1458, the Kumbhalgarh Fort is also known as the Great Wall of India, owing to the massive walls surrounding the fort. Located around 84 km from Udaipur, Kumbhalgarh Fort has several buildings inside, namely Badal Mahal, Kumbha Palace, and Temples. Many smaller structures like water reservoirs, baoris, chhatris, etc punctuate the vast expanse of the fort premises. One of the most prominent structures inside the fort is the Badal Mahal, which is also the highest point of the entire fort and is divided into two interconnected sections - the Zanana Mahal (The Palace for women) and the Mardana Mahal (The Palace for men). The fort is also important as it is known to be the birthplace for Maharana Pratap, one of the warrior kings who took the fight to the Mughal Emperor Akbar and became a source of inspiration for his people. The ride to Kumbhalgarh is a scenic one, and the entire area is a picturesque setting that would leave an everlasting impression on a rider.

City - Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer Fort

The Jaisalmer Fort is unlike any other fort in Rajasthan, or even India for that matter. One of the very few living forts in the world, the Jaisalmer fort is a bustling city where a quarter of the entire old Jaisalmer’s population still resides. One of the largest forts in India, this fort is an architectural marvel, where the walls are built with interlocking rocks without using any mortar. A traveler’s delight, the Jaisalmer fort offers panoramic views of the Golden City Jaisalmer and has many small shops, restaurants, and homestays where one can just chill and relax for hours on end.

While some of the key attractions inside the fort are the Raj Mahal (Royal palace and temples, the real attraction is the opportunity to witness the culture and lifestyle of the people who are still living inside this beautiful structure. Also known as the Sonar Kila or the Golden Fort, owing to the yellow sandstone that it is made of.

City - Jodhpur
Mehrangarh Fort

A majestic fort that overlooks the Sun City, Jodhpur, and boasts to be one of the grandest medieval structures in India is the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. Built by Rao Jodha, after whom the city of Jodhpur also got its name, the Mehrangarh Fort is built on a hillock and is visible from most parts of Jodhpur.

Covering an area of around five square kilometres, the Mehrangarh Fort boasts of walls that go as high as 120 feet and as wide as 65 feet in places. Inside the main fort, you have several smaller palaces namely Moti Mahal, Phool Mahal, and Sheesh Mahal among others. Each one of the palaces is renowned for their beautiful carvings, architectural design, and art.

The fort is also home to the Mehrangarh Museum, which has an exquisite collection of artifacts, royal costumes, weapons, paintings, and musical instruments, providing an insight into the history and lifestyle of the Marwari rulers. Also located within the fort complex is the Chamunda Mataji Temple, dedicated to the goddess Chamunda. Various events and cultural festivals keep taking place in the fort from time to time, the most notable among which is the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF).

City - Bikaner
A trip to Rajasthan isn’t complete unless you have paid a visit to Bikaner, a small town established by Rao Bika in 1488. The tiny little town is home to some splendid forts and palaces, as well as smaller havelis that mesmerize visitors with their breathtaking architecture and intricate carvings. An absolute must-visit among these includes the Junagarh Fort, which is at the heart of the city of Bikaner. The Junagarh Fort was originally smaller in size until it was turned into the grand structure that it is in 1589. Unlike most other forts in Rajasthan, which are built on hillocks to provide protection against enemy attacks, the Junagarh Fort is situated lower, emphasizing the fact that it was built as more of a recreational residence than a fortress meant for defense purposes. The red sandstone fort is representative of the Rajput-Mughal architecture, which is evident in other Rajasthani forts as well. Inside the fort, there are multiple palaces including the Badal Mahal Palace, the Anup Mahal Palace, the Phool Mahal Palace, the Hawa Mahal Palace, the Gaj Mandir Palace, and the Vikram Vilas Palace.

Junagarh isn’t the only Fort in Bikaner though. If you are in the city, you should extend your stay for a couple of more days and revel in the grandeur and beauty of several other forts and palaces as well. Some of these beautiful palaces have now been turned into heritage hotels. The Lalgarh Palace and the Laxmi Niwas Palace are two such mentionable edifices. Gajner Palace, another grand palace built on the banks of Gajner Lake, was a hunting lodge but has now been converted into a hotel. Apart from marveling at its architectural brilliance, you can also indulge in activities such as desert safaris, boat rides, bird watching, or garden walks while being at the Gajner Palace.

City - Chittorgarh
Chittorgarh Fort

The Chittorgarh Fort is one of the largest forts in the country with a rich history dating back to the 7th century and was later the capital of the Mewar region. Featuring massive walls, this enormous fort has a whole bunch of palaces, temples, and water reservoirs inside its sprawling premises. Among the palaces, you have the Rana Kumbha Palace, Padmini’s Palace, Jaimal Palace and Patta Palace. The most mentionable among the temples is the Meera Bai Temple dedicated to the poet-saint Meera Bai. The Gaumukh Reservoir is another important structure. The water reservoir resembles a cow’s mouth and used to be the primary source of water supply within the fort. Featuring a fusion of Rajput and Mughal architectural styles, this fort also houses the Vijay Stambh, or the Pillar of Victory which was built by Maharana Kumbha to commemorate his victory over the Sultan of Malwa. Another prominent tower inside the fort is the Kirti Stambh, which is dedicated to Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankara. A symbol of Rajputi bravery and courage, the Chittorgarh fort attracts tourists from around the world and offers panoramic views in addition to its architectural prowess and historical significance.

Now, while Rajasthan can be called the capital of India when it comes to forts and palaces, there are plenty of castles and palaces spread across other parts of India as well. Let’s have a look at them one by one

The Mysore Palace - Mysuru
Mysore Palace, also known as the Amba Vilas Palace, is one of the most opulent places in India, located in the city of Mysuru in the state of Karnataka. The grand palace was commissioned by the Wodeyar dynasty and designed by British Architect Henry Irwin. Built between 1897 and 1912 the new grand new palace replaced an old wooden structure that got destroyed in fire. A fusion of Hindu, Islamic, Rajput, and Gothic architectural elements, the Mysuru Palace is quite unique in its style.

The palace is home to an exquisite golden throne studded with precious stones, known as the Rajagadi, which is displayed during the Dasara festival. Then there is the Public Durbar Hall where the Maharaja held his annual public audience during the Dasara festival. A part of the palace is also converted into a museum showcasing the royal artifacts, clothing, jewelry, and other belongings of the Wodeyar dynasty. The palace has its traditional association with the Dasara festivals, witnessing a ten-day celebration and culminating into a grand procession through the streets of Mysuru. The Mysuru palace is at the heart of all the activities associated with the Dasara festival and comes alive during this time. A testament to the royal heritage of the Wodeyar dynasty, the Palace is known for its flawless architecture, cultural significance, and vibrant celebrations during Dasara, making it a must-visit destination for palace lovers.

Golconda Fort - Hyderabad
Golconda Fort is in the city of Hyderabad, which is the capital of the state of Telangana. It’s a historic fortress known for its strategic location, architecture, and rich history. With its origins dating back to the 13th century, the fortress gained prominence when the Qutab Shahi dynasty turned the original mud structure into a granite fort with great fortifications. Built on a hill, the Golconda Fort is a tasteful fusion of Hindu and Islamic styles. A highlight of the Golconda Fort is its acoustics. The clapping of hands at the gates of the fort can be heard at the highest point of the fort which is about a kilometre away. Another story about Golconda, which was also known for its gold mines, is that the famous Kohinoor diamond originated near the fort. The Fateh Darwaza or victory gate is the fort’s main entrance.

Then you have the Bala Hissar Pavilion where the grand celebrations of the kings and rulers took place back in the day. Featuring a sophisticated water management system, Golconda Fort stands as a testament to the architectural brilliance of its builders. A symbol of the cultural and historical richness of the region, the Golconda Fort is one of the most significant historical sites in India.

Ujjayanta Palace - Agartala
Ujjayanta Palace, located in Agartala, the capital city of the northeastern state of Tripura is a charming palace. The grand palace doubled up as the State Legislative Assembly up to 2011 but is now the State Museum of Tripura. Known originally as the Agartala Palace, the structure was constructed during the reign of Maharaja Radha Kishore Manikya in 1901 and served as the royal residence. A blend of Hindu, Islamic, and Western architectural elements, the palace features massive domes and vast courtyards. Located in the heart of Agartala, the palace has sprawling rose gardens, which is a sight to behold for the tourists. With a central hall that leads to several wings and chambers, the palace has three domes, and two grand elephants made of bronze at its entrance. Now serving as the state museum, the palace is home to memorabilia that reflects the cultural heritage, history, and traditions of Tripura. There is also an art gallery with paintings depicting the life and times of the royal family and the people of Tripura. With its fantastic architecture, sprawling gardens, museums, art galleries, and a stunning light and sound show in the evenings, the Ujjayanta palace is an unmissable piece of architectural excellence for tourists and history enthusiasts.

Agra Fort - Agra
Agra Fort, also known as the Red Fort of Agra, is a historic fortress located in the city of Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is an impeccably well-preserved fort. Built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar between 1565-1573, the fort served as the residence of the Mughal emperors until the capital was shifted to Delhi. Built using red sandstone, the fort is a blend of Islamic, Persian, and Indian architectural styles. Inside the fort, you have a multitude of palaces, mosques, audience halls, and gardens, while on the outside, the fort has a reinforced red sandstone wall. Key structures inside the fort include the Diwan-i-aam, Diwan-i-khaas, Jahangiri Mahal, Khas Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Moti Masjid, Shahi Burj, and Musamman Burj. There’s also the Agra Fort Museum inside the fort that displays a collection of artifacts and exhibits related to the Mughal era. With its rich history and architectural prowess, the Agra Fort is a must-visit site for those interested in exploring India's cultural and historical heritage.

Red Fort - Delhi
A symbol of India’s independence ever since August 15, 1947, when the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, raised the Indian flag above the fort, Delhi’s Red Fort, or Lal Qila, is one of the most important forts in India’s history. The Red Fort was commissioned in 1639 when the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan decided to move the Mughal capital from Agra to Delhi. The fort served as the main residence of the Mughal emperors. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most iconic landmarks in the country, the fort is a prominent exponent of Mughal architecture and employs red sandstone and intricate decorative elements in its construction. With hints of Indian, Turco-Mongol, and Persian styles in its design, the Red Fort is an octagonal structure with an outer wall length of about 2.5 kilometres. Inside the fort, there is a covered bazaar street namely Chatta Chowk along with a drum house namely Naubat Khana where the musicians played music to announce the Royals’ arrival. The Diwan-i-Aam and Diwan-i-Khas halls, Rang Mahal, or the Palace of Colors, which used to be the residence for the Emperor’s wives and mistresses.

Another attraction is the Mumtaz Mahal, named after Shah Jahan’s wife, which is a red sandstone pavilion. The Lahore Gate and the Delhi Gate serve as the main entrances to the fort. Visiting the Red Fort is like taking a journey back in time to the Mughal era, and it’s an experience that leaves you spellbound.

Whether it's the royal palaces of Rajasthan, the historic forts of Delhi and Agra, or the strategic fort of Golconda, each destination has its unique charm and tales to tell. So, gear up, embark on a royal ride, and immerse yourself in the captivating history and architecture that India has to offer.