When people think of India, ultimately forts and palaces come to mind. After all, they're a significant part of India's rich history, and they've been featured in countless photos and documentaries.
Hence, it's not surprising that these architectural marvels are high on people's "must see" lists when traveling through India. The majority of India's forts and palaces are located in Rajasthan, where they were built by the ruling Rajputs (before being captured by the Mughals), and the Pink City of Jaipur has a particularly large number of them. However, you'll find them scattered through other states as well, as remnants of the Mughal era.
1.Udaipur City Palace
Romantic Udaipur is known as the city of palaces and lakes. At the heart of it, overlooking famous Lake Picola, is the City Palace Complex and it's still partially occupied by the Mewar royal family today. They've done an outstanding job of developing it into a tourist destination that intimately presents the history of the Maharanas of Mewar. The "jewel in the crown" is the City Palace Museum.
The Museum comprises both the Mardana Mahal (King's Palace) and Zenana Mahal (Queen's Palace), which make up the City Palace. Constructed over four and a half centuries, starting in 1559, the Museum is the oldest and largest part of the City Palace Complex. The architecture is the main highlight, along with the priceless private galleries, artwork, and photographs.
2.Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
Mehrangarh Fort, perched atop a hill rising 400 feet above the city of Jodhpur, is one of Jodhpur's top attractions. The Fort was occupied by the ruling dynasty of Rathores (a senior branch of the Rajputs). Construction on it started in 1459. However, most of the Fort, as it stands today, was built from 1638-78. It has seven entrances, with the main one being at the northeast gate, Jaipol.
The Fort is impressive as a well preserved heritage structure. Yet, there's so much more to discover inside. One of the highlights is the museum, which houses an outstanding collection of fine and applied arts from the Mughal period of Indian history. It even has the only professional museum shop in India. The Fort's ramparts are lined with antique artillery and offer a panoramic view of the "Blue City". Want a romantic evening dinner? The Chokelao Mahal Terrace restaurant serves traditional Rajasthani cuisine, while the city sparkles below. The Fort is also an evocative setting for music festivals.
3.Amber Fort, Jaipur
Amber Fort gets its name from the small heritage town of Amber (also known as Amer) that's situated around 20 minutes from the Pink City of Jaipur. The Fort's main construction was started in 1592 by Rajput ruler Maharaja Man Singh. It was added to over the years by successive rulers and continued to be occupied by them until Jaipur was built. Now, it's one of Jaipur's top tourist places.
The Fort's architecture is a magnificent blend of Hindu and Mughal influences. Made out of red sandstone and white marble, it consists of a series of courtyards, palaces, halls, and gardens. Perhaps, the most beautiful part of it is the Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace) with its intricately carved, glittering walls and ceilings. You can learn about the Fort's history in the evening sound and light show. (Take this Sound and Light Show with Dinner Tour from Viator if you don't want to have to organize your own transport).
4.Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan
Evocative sandstone Jaisalmer Fort is particularly remarkable as it's the only living fort in India. As well as 4,000 odd residents, the Fort has around 200 shops, 40 hotels and restaurants, a palace complex, intricately carved havelis (mansions) of rich merchants, and several temples inside it.
The Fort was built in 1156 by Bhati Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, after whom the city was named. It was the scene of many battles. However, alarmingly, its condition is now rapidly deteriorating. Illegal construction has been prevalent inside the Fort. Sewerage lines have become blocked and waste water has been seeping into the Fort's foundations, making it unstable. The government has announced that it intends to ban all hotels and restaurants from the Fort.
5.Jaipur City Palace, Rajasthan
Located at the center of the Old City of Jaipur, the City Palace Complex was built mainly between 1729 and 1732 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. The ruler of nearby Amber (where he occupied Amber Fort), he decided to shift his capital to Jaipur in 1727, due to a growing population and increasing water shortage.
Successive rulers continued to make additions to the Palace right up to the 20th century. These days, the royal family lives in the towering Chandra Mahal part of the palace (their family flag flies atop it when the Maharaja is in residence), while the remainder has been converted into the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II museum.
The most eye catching part of it is Pitam Niwas Chowk, the interior courtyard that leads to the Chandra Mahal. It has four beautifully painted doors, or gates, representing the four seasons and dedicated to Hindu gods Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh, and Goddess Devi (the mother goddess). The peacock motifs on the doorway of Peacock Gate are particularly stunning.
6.Maharaja's Palace, Mysore, Karnataka
As far as Indian palaces are concerned, Maharaja's Palace (commonly referred to as Mysore Palace) is relatively new. It was designed by British architect Henry Irwin and constructed between 1897 to 1912. Owned by the Wodeyar dynasty, Wodeyar kings first built a palace in Mysore in the 14th century. However, it was demolished and reconstructed numerous times -- the previous palace, made out of wood in Hindu style, was destroyed by fire. The current palace has been built in Indo-Saracenic style, a combination of Hindu, Muslim, Rajput, and Gothic influences.
The Palace's predominant feature is its marble domes. Inside, some would say its glitzy opulence is over the top. As well as private and public audience halls, there's a marriage hall, pavilion of antique dolls, armory, royal painting gallery, and collection of sculptures and artifacts. Unfortunately, photography isn't permitted inside though.
7.Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan
If the thought of experiencing a magical sunset high over Jaipur appeals to you, you won't want to miss visiting Nahargarh Fort.
Perched up on the rugged Aravali Hills, it was built in 1734 by Maharaja Jai Sawai Singh II as a place of retreat and to help defend the city. The Fort was never attacked though. However, it found fame in 2006, after scenes from the movie Bollywood movie Rang De Basanti were filmed there. Unfortunately, much of the original Fort has become dilapidated. It's worth visiting for the magnificent views though.
There's a cafe, called the Durg Cafe, at the Fort where you can enjoy a chilled beer or something to eat. It's open until 11 p.m. However, it's government run and the service is quite ordinary.
8.Red Fort, Delhi
One of Delhi's top attractions and most famous monument, the Red Fort stands as a powerful reminder of the Mughal emperors who ruled India. Its walls, which stretch for over two kilometers (1.2 miles), were built in 1638 to keep out invaders. However, they failed to stop the fort being captured by the Sikhs and the British.
The Fort's Old Delhi location, opposite Chandni Chowk, is fascinating as well as close to Jama Masjid -- another marvelous treasure of the Old City and the largest mosque in India.
The Fort is open daily except Mondays, and a sound and light show is held there in the evenings. (Viator offers a book online Red Fort Sound and Light Show with Dinner tour).